June 30, 2011 —
The multi-flora roses are in bloom. Their sweet, spicy fragrance meets you along the old paths. These great bushes of white roses, entwined with grape, humming with bees, are long ago escaped and gone wild. They encroach the roadsides and are taking over the old pastures.
My cousins and I played baseball in these now overgrown fields. The grass was cropped then by the Herefords my uncle pastured there. Buttercup and bull thistle—whatever a cow wouldn’t eat—grew tall.
The baseball pasture was also the realm of “Old Jake”—an enormous Hereford steer. We were told to keep away from him. It was never a comfortable game, since there was always the possibility of Jake’s imminent arrival to what was undeniably his turf.
In those days my cousins called me “the disadvantage.” I was the only girl, and a handicap due to my lack of skills, the fact that I didn’t have a glove, and my sheer disinterest in baseball.
It’s funny now. “Who gets the disadvantage,” they said when choosing sides. That was me—a hanger-on with tangled hair and a blue sweatshirt with the words “I Warm up to People.” The oversize sweatshirt was given to me by my sister who worked then for People magazine in NYC. A freebie from the company that she wouldn’t be caught dead in.
It might seem a clichéd story—to be the last person always picked in gym class or the one always alone at the lunch table—except for the personal details. The details are always uniquely our own, but sharing them make our stories all that more universal.
When we weren’t playing baseball this time of year, we were helping in the hayfields, or using a black light to collect moths. My cousins and I also had a “story club.” It met every Thursday and we read what we had written, then awarded prizes of blue, red and white ribbons—just like the Danish system from the Delaware County Fair. I laugh to admit that we had pen names and wrote stories such as “Old Jake’s Remorse,” featuring a ghostly version of the appalling creature himself. We were a silly group—but it made me feel alive to write those stories. Writing is by nature unsettling but for me it was also instinctive. Live wired. Still, it has taken me this long to admit, even to myself, that I am a writer without feeling completely unworthy of the calling.
This week my son turned 13. It is hard to let go of the little boy he was. When I think about the silent, anxious teenager I was, it may seem strange, but I need often to remind myself that my children are not me. They are comfortable at school. And yes, they like gym. They have their own experiences. Their own paths to follow. They will find their own rocky pastures and rose bushes.