Boj: Chapter Eight

   Great grandfather was considered a handsome man in his prime. By the time Boj knew him, great grandfather had moved from handsome to distinguished. The difference between handsome and distinguished, great grandfather explained patiently, was the increased number of wrinkles, multiplied by the bald spaces on one's pate.

   "Handsome you can be before the crows nest in your eyes," great grandfather told Boj, his eyes twinkling, "and before the carrion eater's come to snatch bald your head."

   Boj laughed, because great grandfather smiled. That was enough reason for Boj to laugh.

   Great grandfather was not stooped with age. At least he was not stooped in his back or shoulders. There he was straight and strong, muscles diminished but his body held rigidly erect by the habit of four score years and five.

   He was bow-legged, however.

   "A slick pig I could not catch in a dirty alley," great grandfather told Boj and smiled.

   "What is a slick pig doing in a dirty alley?" Boj asked, laughing, as usual, but bewildered.

   "Running between my bow legs," great grandfather said and they both laughed at the thought of a slippery pig, a dirty alley and great grandfather. Great grandfather never ate pork and hated filth. He washed ceremonially five times a day in a common day. He washed his arms from above the elbow to the fingertips, pushing the soap and water down to his hands, off his fingers and out into the sink.

   Great grandfather would not be in an alley herding a pig.

   He had finally given up on finding his missing shoe.

   "God,who is invisible, has a use for my left shoe, which is manifestly physical." great grandfather told Boj after their prayers one night. "That shoe is important, you mark my words."

   "There are cosmic arrangements," great grandfather told Boj. "In one, there exists God alone, invisible, omnipotent, eternal. In the other cosmic reality there is the place God pleases to abide with people and pets and things. To this realm, God brings all the good things from His other reality to sad humanity, a race for now caught in the present, where evil can yet dwell."

   "One day," great grandfather said, "days will end. God will overwhelm time with eternity. This is what we call judgment and all of us fear divine judgment but without good cause for fear. There at the moment when God ends moments God will be there still, loving and helpful."

   "I will find my shoe then," great grandfather concluded. "Mark my words."

   This was the second time in one evening's vespers that great grandfather had mentioned his lost shoe and God's eternal plan to overcome time and the need to mark his words.

   Boj could not imagine what use God would have for a single shoe. He could not imagine where, or how, to mark great grandfather's words. Perhaps he should get a pencil or a Magic Marker but it was late and he was tired. Could the word marking wait until morning? He was just a small boy then, only seven, and he did not know if unmarked words would keep overnight.

   "Can I mark your words tomorrow?" Boj asked, and great grandfather smiled. Boj would have laughed, then, but he could not hold open his eyes.

   "Yes, my precious boy," his great grandfather said. The old man reached over to pat Boj's thin shoulders, breathed in his little boy, late evening, after bath, soap and pajama in clean sheets smell. He remembered his own boyhood, his father and his son and his grandson and now his great grandson. The little, thin shouldered boys changed as to name and hair color but the little boy smell never changed.

   "Mark my words tomorrow," great grandfather said. "Mark them well before you get old enough to hate old people. My words will keep over the night hours, dear, little, boy, heart of my heart. Remember what your old Papa told you. Don't forget."

   And he sat there for a long time on the edge of Boj's bed, weeping for his own ancient boyhood. He wondered how he smelled back then.

   One night great grandfather eschewed the evening meal to take Boj for hot dogs and soda, with peanuts for desert. He wanted to teach Boj baseball but he could no longer throw or catch or hit or run. He could buy tickets, though, and hire a car to take them to the stadium gate. He could watch. He could tell the little boy the lore of the game; Ruth's mighty swings, Jackie Robinson's steal of home, the basket catch of Mays, the grace of Seaver; the game before additives and agents.

   The stands had a stale, old nacho smell to them, great grandfather thought. The water used to nourish the grass field shot out of sprinklers but was pumped from the bottom of a nearby, fetid lake. The five year drought had ruined so many other things. Now it demeaned the Grand Old Game.

   On the field a blue shirted umpire struggled down to his crouch behind our home team's stubby catcher. In his youth the umpire assayed the role of star on many a team himself. In those days he ran with the piston legged gait of a mule deer. Now he groaned his way down to a crouch each time, wishing his knees were once again cartilage lined, or at least, that we would pay for a taller catcher.

   The first few batters made futile gestures, somewhat like swings, at the high heat brought by the home team pitcher. The high fastball is the most seductive of pitches because it is so honest. The high heat is not some sneaky backdoor curve, miserably sent to freeze the heart and buckle the knees. No, the high fastball bids one come and die.

   Hit the high fastball and the reverse of its energy carries it far and fast. Miss the high heat, fail to get the bat head through the strike zone in time, all the while the wrists popping and the top hand folded over the bat; then you know true humiliation. To miss the high fastball is like missing a kiss from the girl you are sure turned your head the fastest. The rest of your life, you are doomed to wonder what might have been.

   "That boy, there," great grandfather told Boj, gesturing with a mustard stained hand, one in grip of a half eaten hot dog, dripping with relish as well, "that boy, there," he said again, as though to start his thought or find it, "that boy there, the one in the on deck circle, he can hit his way onto first base."

   Great grandfather stopped to ruminate, coughed loudly and thought.

   "He can hit his way on to first base but look at him," he continued. "Congress will have to award him second base. There is no way he can run to second lugging that big gut around with him."

   Great grandfather said it and he cackled. Hot dog bits flew off his dentures.

   Boj was happy. Around him he could see smooth faced girls look doe-eyed at their dates. Boj wondered if he would ever have a girl to look at him that way, or if he would want to have a girl.

   "Do you miss great grandmother?" Boj asked and regretted it immediately.

   All the air went out of great grandfather. He let his meal drop. He spilled his soda on the empty chair back in front of him trying to get the cup to his lips. He was not cackling now. For a long time he was silent.

   "Yes," he answered, an inning later. "You are half a man without your woman. You have to find someone else to do for."

   Boj had forgotten his question and wondered what great grandfather meant. Who was half
a man? Why did this half a man have to do for someone? He looked all around him, at the couples, and the fathers and the sons and the daughters and the doe-eyed girls. He could not see that any of them, men or women, were half of what they had been an inning earlier.

   They relaxed in their seats, old man and small boy. The evening and the night were one good day.

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