When I was twelve, I caught a fastball with my face.
The supernova exploding on the back of my eyelids should have 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 the 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?”