That’ll Learn You

baseball smallWhen I was twelve, I caught a fastball with my face.


Seeing a supernova on the back of my eyelids should have been what made the event memorable but it didn’t.  That honor went to my coach, who grunted himself off the bench and ambled out to the plate. I suppose he felt duty bound to check on me.  If I were dead, he could at least say he did that much.

When he finally arrived, he took his time thinking of something meaningful to say.

“It’s good you got hit,” he told me, “it’ll learn you not to crowd the base.”

I might have been stunned by the ball but not by what my coach said. Growing up in the 1950’s was like that. Every adult I knew had a warped sense of what was good.

My dad was the worst. He was a plumber with eleven kids who thought a house with one bathroom was a good thing.

“It’ll teach ’em patience,” he told my mother.

The trouble was, we had too many girls for patience. I don’t know what it is about girls and bathrooms but I learned from an early age, a bathroom always has a sister in it. Even when I bought my first house, the law held true. It had two bathrooms. One for me and one for my wife. Sure enough, the first time I went to use my bathroom, one of my sisters was in it.

Finally, after years of suffering in silence, my brothers and I approached our old man. “Could you please build a bathroom in the basement?” we pleaded.

My dad grunted and took his sweet time thinking about it before telling us, “Boys, you gotta solve your own problems.”

So we did. My brothers and I left the bathroom to the girls and took to visiting a willow tree growing by the side of our garage. When we had anything more complicated, we went to a neighbor’s house.

Fortunately everyone in our neighborhood had big families and none of them kept a count of their kids. This allowed us to wander in and out of their houses like they were our own (except for the ones with too many girls of course).

In that way, we made a lot of friends and by extension, my dad made a lot of friends. It made him proud. He boasted constantly how his kids always found a way around life’s obstacles.

The willow tree made him proud too.

“Look at that thing,” he told his friends in the neighborhood, “you ever seen a tree grow like that?”

Author: Almost Iowa

29 thoughts on “That’ll Learn You”

  1. I took a line-drive to the head as a teenager. Spooked me from playing for years after that. I started back up while stationed in California (who isn’t lured by the idea of baseball in December?) Then, I took a line drive to the tip of my thumb–breaking it quite thoroughly. After that, I took up chess. Thanks for the dubious pleasure of the walk down my own memory lane. At least no foliage was assaulted in my story.

    1. While chess seems safer than baseball, the truth is we just don’t know, since chess injuries are grossly underreported. To be injured with dignity requires that one risk being injured.

  2. The 1950’s? I remember those, kinda. What I “don’t” remember is getting hit in the head with a baseball bat, maybe because I was a toddler and not conscious at the time. I heard they carried me home and from then on, we played “kickball”. Safer 🙂

    What was it about that time, that nobody went to Doctors, either?

    1. Doctors?

      That is back when doctors lived and worked in the neighborhood. It cost a whole $15 for stitches when I put an elbow through a window and my dad never let me forget it.

      1. I fell out of a tree, but was too scared to tell. Crawled in our car until I could walk—it was very bad and I still have trouble with my back. Heck, we couldn’t afford a doctor and even at that young age, I knew it.

  3. I well remember those not-so-good-old-years. This brought back a lot of memories. Great piece.

    1. Those were golden years for children when you consider the degree of social trust and freedom we enjoyed. In the summer, my friends and I rode bikes from sunrise to sunset. We raided apple trees, fished for carp on the Mississippi and got into all kinds of trouble.

      But then there was the belt…. In our neighborhood, it was perfectly acceptable for parents to beat kids – even kids who were not theirs…

    1. When I am home, I make it a point to walk around the block every day. Our block is six miles around. Once when driving a leg of that walk, my wife commented, “Look how that little tuft of corn sticks up so much higher than the rest.”

      A little further down the road, she noticed the same thing again.

      Then she noticed me snickering.

      “NO!!” she said.

      “Yes,” I told her, it is just one of the joys of country life.

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