PLAY BALL

VerneMy father, Verne, grew up playing fast-pitch softball as a farm kid in western Illinois. He loved the game, and the pitcher’s role in the game. Even while serving in East Africa as a bush pilot, he played every chance he got, usually with other ex-pats. Lorraine is my mother. Wes and his wife, Mary, are my uncle and aunt, who have passed away. The others mentioned in the writing are childhood friends of my father and missionaries who used to play ball with him. “Hum that pea” is a colloquialism my father used. It translates to “pitch that ball.”

My father passed away on July 13, 2018. This piece was written after that event and is totally fictional. It was a way for me to process my own grief at what I knew would soon be coming. It helped me ground the passing from death to life in specific language.


“Verne! Come on! We need you.”  Wes called to his brother.

Verne cocked his head. “What’s going on?”

“We’re playing ball.  I told them you were the best pitcher I knew, so I came to get you.”

“Great. Let me get my ball and glove.” Verne struggled to get out of his recliner.

“No need. I saw your old glove on the bench, waiting for you.”

Verne finally stood and took a step toward Wes.

“You think it’ll still fit?”

Wes nodded. “Sure, you broke it in ages ago. You should see who we’re playing today.”

Verne smiled at his younger brother. “Who?”

He was breathing easier. His strength was coming back.

“A team called ‘The Mighty Warriors’.”

Then Wes laughed.  “Oo-ee, they are good!  I was watching them warm up.  I think we can take ‘em, though. Especially if you come pitch for us.”

Verne chuckled. “You think so?”

They were quiet as Verne’s gait became steady, then swift. 

“So, who’s on our team?”

“Oh, all the gang. We’re all waiting on you.”

“The Reisenbegler boys?”

“Yup.”

“Don Ricker?”

“Yup.”

“Glenn Noble?”

“Everyone you ever wanted to play with will be there.”

“Where’re we playing at?”

“The old sandlot.”

Verne’s laugh was full now.  “I can’t remember the last time I was there.  Why are ’The Mighty Warriors’ coming to the sandlot? Where are they from? Clinton?”

Wes laughed again. “Nah. I’ll let them tell you. I think they come from all over creation.”

“Kind of like our Inter-Mission Team.” Verne commented.

Wes just smiled.

“Oh, wait.” Verne stopped in his tracks. “I’d better tell Lorraine. “

Wes stopped too.  “She knows.  She’ll be coming later. I know she won’t want to miss this.”

“You sure she knows?”

“Positive.”

“Did Mary call her or something?”

“Something like that,” said Wes.

“Well, okay then. Let’s go hum that pea!” Verne started into a jog. His body had slimmed down, his face had lost its wrinkles, his heart was beating fast and strong. He lifted his head and laughed fully at the sun.

“This is gonna be good!”

Wes ran alongside his brother.  They took the shortcut to the sandlot: across the old cow pasture, over the fence and through the river.  It was no problem. The day was warm and breezy. Perfect for a ball game.

He sat in the lift recliner, a slight smile on his face.  Lorraine touched his arm.  It was cold.

Her eyes filled with tears; her heart bursting with sorrow, gratitude, relief. She wept.

He’s no longer suffering. We’ve made it to the end. An imperfect man in an imperfect world, but a life well-lived.

Lorraine wiped her tears and pushed the call button. A nurse would be here soon. Verne

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