Fruits of the Earth
At 7:20 P.M. I'm sitting in the front seat of my dad's big, long, gas guzzling, four-door family sedan. The last of daylight glistens on our man-made pathway to the object of my desire - the Dodger game. The game starts at 7:30 P.M. at a place forty miles down the broken yellow lines ahead of us.
This is the third year that my dad has taken me to a Dodger game. He's promised me one game a year while I'm growing up. Just one game a year might not sound like enough to get excited about, but when there are three other kids in the family, as in mine, and money is watched closely, as in mine, a one-on-one trip with Dad without my nagging sisters is a treat to look forward to-something to brag about to my friends. Above all, it's something to remind my pesky sisters of.
My true benefactor, however, is my uncle Harry, my dad's brother, who once a year gives us two free tickets that he gets through work. Uncle Harry is younger than my dad and always does fun things. He spends a lot of time on the road as a traveling salesman and amateur explorer. We don't get to see him often, but when we do he always has something neat to give us-like the fossil rock he gave me for my last birthday. "It's six-thousand years old," he said as he handed it to me in a big box. There were imprints of little bugs and spiders and stuff all over it. Uncle Harry is like a kid; only he's grown up. He has investments. I want to be just like him when I grow up. I want to travel and dig for fossils and have investments too.
Uncle Harry knows my father well. He knows I need a male role model and that my dad isn't cutting it. We never talk about it, but we both know. Sometimes I wish my dad were just like Uncle Harry. At times I wish my dad were Uncle Harry. I guess that's a bad thing to wish. I guess I'm supposed to be grateful for the dad I have. But I want attention, the unconditional kind, not the kind you have to compete for.
Uncle Harry used to tell me about the games he went to all over the country. He would tell me about how if you got to a game early you could meet one of the players and have your favorite baseball signed. He even me Maury Wills and Sandy Koufax once. Maury was MVP (most valuable player) in '62, Sandy in '63. Uncle Harry had his picture taken with them. "Wow, that would never happen to me," I told him, my voice trailing off. He understood
So once again my father and I are off to a baseball game-late like the last time and the time before that. And once again I will miss running into a player before the game (they will all be in the dugout or out on the field by the time I get there), and once again I will miss the first three innings.
I suppose it's an adolescent pie-in-the-sky hope of mine to get to a Dodger game before it starts. I'm always ready early. Unfortunately, I have to rely on grown-ups to get me places farther away than I'm allowed to ride my bike, and Dad has a way of finding things to attend to at the last minute. On family trips it's typical to hear my mother yell, "We're leaving now, honey-this is not the time to start changing the oil!" as she sits in the front seat of the car, craning her neck out the passenger window and holding my youngest sister on her lap (this was decades before children's car seats) while my other two sisters and I fidget in the back seat. Our family has learned to eat a hearty meal before leaving for a party or dinner because by the time we arrive… well, sometimes a few desserts are left for the six of us to share.
I've never had a chance to get to know my cousins. They're always leaving as we are coming.
The aisles seem long when we are so horribly late. This is the third time now that my dad has aimlessly wandered into a grocery store on the way to the yearly Dodger game. I walk behind him about ten paces. I'm mad. Steaming mad. He will not tell me what he is going to buy to snack on. I tell him those hot dogs at the game sound just fine to me. I've never had one of those.
"No," he tells me, "they're just too expensive. Besides, they're bad for you. Take this TV dinner, for example-a complete meal with Salisbury steak, mashed potatoes, peas, and apple pie. It has many more vitamins than some hot dog."
"But Dad, I reply, "TV dinner? How are you going to cook it? Borrow the oven at the hot dog stand?" "Just an example Son, just an example."
Down the aisle he goes, with me grudgingly tailing behind. "How about these canned beans?" He asks me out of the corner of his mouth while he studies the variety of brands.
"Is that what you want Dad? Canned beans? I mean, do you want to be sitting at the game prying open a cold can of beans with a pocket can opener?"
Now it is 7:38 P.M. and 17 seconds. I have this new watch that tells me the exact time, right down to the second. I got it for my last birthday, the same birthday Uncle Harry gave me the fossil rock. I know-to the second-how late our family has been to every gathering we have been invited to since I began wearing it. This will be my first log for the baseball trip.
I tail me dad to the bread aisle. This is good because the bread aisle is right next to the produce aisle, which is where he usually finds what he wants. After a few minutes in front of the sourdough muffins, his hands in his pockets and his tall body rocking back and forth on his heels, he turns around and heads straight for the bananas. Uncle Harry wouldn't do that, I think. Uncle Harry would take one look at me and see the hole in my stomach just waiting for an extra long hot dog with lots of mustard, mayo, relish, and onions. Uncle Harry would have driven right past the grocery store.
Bananas, plums, apples, pears. Fruits of the earth fill Dad's basket. I think of the Garden of Eden. I picture Eve, hidden behind big green leaves, her hair flowing across her shoulders. Lining her pathway are rocks, about the same size as the one my uncle Harry gave me, with happy little bugs and spiders on them, like the ones on my rock. Eve is standing there on the pathway, and as Adam walks toward her (covered, of course, by big green leaves), she holds out he hand to him. She hands him a baseball.
It's 7:43 P.M. I think Dad might be finished. I think he is headed for the checkout stand. I close my eyes and say a quick prayer. "Please God, I want to go to the game. I'm just a kid. I need someone to drive me. Please God, make my Dad drive me, now." I open my eyes and Dad is gone. I look to the front door and see him waiving to me. "Come on boy, let's go to the game!"
It's only a mirage; I peer around the end display and down the aisle. There he is, looking at the soups.
"All you have to do is add boiling water," he says to me from twenty some-odd feet down the aisle. His voice drowns out the clerks' as they babble over their green and red phones. "I love this stuff!" he yells to me.
"Why," he continues, "I keep some in my glove compartment, just in case of an emergency!"
"Be prepared, Dad," I say to myself aloud. I'm now seething and frozen in place above four squares of linoleum halfway down the aisle from him.
"You'd better be prepared, Son!" he yells to me. "Prepared for what, Dad?" I hiss under my breath. "To get somewhere on time? Or to have something to eat 'cause everyone got there before me and ate all the food?" My father is too absorbed in soups to notice the pulsating anger in my boy-sized frame. (In all fairness I must tell you that my father follows his own advice with regard to being prepared. He keeps, along with the soups, a pan, wood, and matches in the trunk of the family car. We could all eat a hearty meal should we ever find ourselves stranded.)
Dad is now standing in a spot close to the back of the store. Obviously, he is not motivated to get to the game on time. I need to find and implant into his psyche some incentive to leave. To do this I must forget about myself and my needs. Not an easy task for a pre-teen, but crucial if I am ever to get where I want to go.
I look at all the fruit in his basket. "Dad," I say calmly, "I sure would like some of that fruit."
"Well, Son," he replied, looking down at me as we stand beside the wire grocery cart harboring his cache of naturally acidic foods, "I'm proud of you. Fruit is good for you, you know."
I have to be careful. If he thinks I'm hungry (which I am), he might try to hold me back from sinking my teeth into his store of fruit, just to teach me patience. He might shop in the store a little longer, too. I need him to really want me to eat this fruit, NOW. Before I could eat it, of course, it would have to be weighed and paid for. And after it was all paid for (cross my fingers), there would be no reason to linger any longer.
"Dad," I say, "you're right about fruit being good for me. And even though I'm not hungry right now, I know I should eat some, because I need to watch my health."
My timing is right. The mood is right. My prayer has inspired me to use correct tactics, and I can see the desired response brewing in my dad's brain. I stand motionless, my eyes fixed on the small gap between his two front teeth as his lips begin to part. My ears are slanted forward, ready to hear him say it. "Then Son, let's pay for this and eat to our health." I nearly drop to my knees as he pauses, and then my Dad mouths in slow motion, "a n d l e t ' s g o t o t h e G A M E!"
He has to pay exact change. He is six cents short. There's a fifty-cent piece in his wallet, but he won't break it. "Might be worth something someday," he says. He makes me run to the car and dig up a nickel and a penny that he thinks might be under the driver's seat. By the time I get back, he has let the lady behind him through with her two carts of food. "Don't disturb the clerk," he tells me.
"Can't we just give him the six-cents?" I plead. "He will lose his concentration, Son. We can wait." The lady has coupons for absolutely everything in her carts. I want to throw Dad's fifty-cent piece in front of a train.
I'm lucky to get out of the store, and I'm lucky to be in the car heading for the stadium. The roads are clear of traffic. "Of course," I tell myself. "Everyone is already at the game." I support this theory by looking at the Dodger's parking lot. It's full. Every parking lot I have ever been to has been full when I got to it.
The only good that ever comes from being late is not suffering the embarrassment of having someone I know, or for that matter hardly anyone at all, see me wobbling up to the entrance of the stadium with two big bags of fruit just purchased by my triumphant dad. The bags, stuffed to overflowing, wouldn't make such an amusing sight if my father's large frame were carrying them. But they are nearly a third of my stature and at least as wide as I am. I'm a pile of fruit on stilts embedded in tennis shoes.
At least my Dad remembers the tickets this time. (My Uncle Harry reminded me to remind him to bring them.) We find our seats easily. It is now 9:20 P.M. We sit down. He opens one of his bags of fruit. And for the third time in my life I watch my father turn to a complete stranger and say, "Mister, would you care for a plum?"
Copyright 2000 Chris Plante. All rights reserved.
All rights reserved under the International and Pan American Copyright Conventions. No part of this publication may be reproduced, stored in a retrieval system or transmitted, in any form, or by any means, electronic, mechanical, recorded, photocopied, or otherwise, without prior permission of the copyright owner, except by a reviewer who may quote brief passages in a review.