June 12 – As I think back on my early childhood, and my remembrances of being part of a big family in those old days, ninety years ago, I don’t remember thinking that it was strange that there were five boys and two girls in that family. Why? Because most of the kids I knew in school had big families too.
[ One big and happy family ]
One of my classmates, though, didn’t fit the pattern. Betty. She was the ONLY child in her family! Of course, that made it much easier for her to receive what she wanted. Just ask her parents and they went to the store to buy it. Strange, because as I sit here thinking of the old days, I can easily bring to mind several families that had only two or three kids. Why? Because it was so unusual. But I really can’t bring to mind right now the names of any of the “regulars” who had sisters and brothers to spare.
And you can guess whose field was used to set up a baseball game, our favorite game of all! We almost had enough kids of our own, but when those others were added, we had a lot of fun. Besides when my dad was not working so hard and had a bit of free time, and my mom joined us, we enjoyed every bit of family time. Since none of the parents of the other kids ever came over to play at our field down the hill and across the creek, they were amazed to see that our parents played with us.
When I was about five or six and couldn’t really play yet, I still wanted to be where the action was! My brothers tried to keep me out of the area because they were afraid I would get hit with that speeding ball thrown by Pa, the pitcher. Since we didn’t have quite enough kids to make up teams, Pa was usually our pitcher, and Mom the catcher.
[ Even Pop took a swing now and again ]
As I think back about that right now, I wonder how she managed to keep her cool and continue playing—especially since she didn’t even have a catcher’s mitt to protect her bare hands. Well, in those days, nobody used a glove because that was not something we could afford. Sometimes, Mom would drop the ball, the batter would scramble off to first base, and one of us back-up kids would rush off to bring the ball back to her. That ball was hit pretty hard by my big brothers, and wore out before it should have!
Sometimes when the game had lasted for quite some time, Mom would pick up the bat and stand ready at the plate to smack that ball into the outfield. If one of the brothers caught it, we would cheer for him, but most of us felt sorry for Mom if she struck out! One day, when she was standing in position, ready for the ball to come from Pa’s hand, and I was nearby, he threw it just as I was crossing in front of Mom.
Now if you have never been hit by a ball that could knock you out, you will never really understand what happened to me. When the ball hit my head, I sank slowly to the ground (by the way, parts of this story was told to me over and over later by my brothers who had warned me so often not to walk across the plate—NOT EVER!) My brothers rushed in from the outfield, and the bases, Pa shot to the plate and Mom fell to the ground to see if I were still alive.
Those are the times when minutes seem like hours. Finally, when I could, as my dad always said, “see straight,” I opened my eyes and clung to Mom, who was gently running her fingers through my long hair. Pa was kneeling by her, and my brothers, every one was wondering what they would do without their sister!
Several of the neighbor kids ran home to tell their parents about the accident, and they had come over to see how I was. The lump on the side of my head had swollen to a real size! Mom chose a couple of my brothers to carry me up the hill to the back door of our house and on into the kitchen where she took care of me the best she could under the circumstances.
In the first place, we had no refrigerator, which meant there was no ice to put over the lump to take down the swelling and the pain. But, we did have a big well from which we pulled up buckets of water for daily use in the house. (We didn’t yet have running water in the house.) So Mom would send one of the boys to draw the water from time to time to make sure the “hot” water bottle held cold water.
[ Brothers Rich and Pete ]
I remember that Rich, three years older than I, sat by my side as I lay on the couch, reading to me from an old story book or from one of their school books. Not that I remembered very much of what they read. I just wanted to be up and about outside again, ready to watch another ball game, and then take part in one when I was old enough! Dale just reminded me of the story I had told him about my oldest brother, Roy, who was the batter several years later when once more I ran in front of that fast ball. This time it connected with my forehead! I can well imagine that the entire family wondered, as the old song goes, “When will you ever learn?” – CHRIS