Opening Day and Dad

2:18 p.m., top of the fifth. Tigers 3, Minnesota 0. I sit in my favorite chair with my feet up on the ottoman and a cup of coffee in my hands. Relaxing to the soft sound of the low voices announcing all the game plays, I am reminded of my father. Dad loved listening to Ernie Harwell call the games decades ago…when Ernie was a permanent fixture on Detroit television in the early spring, summer and autumn. Those dulcet tones, I remember well.

The TV was a small screen in a twelve by fourteen foot “front” room…our tiny living room in our modest two-bedroom wooden home in Detroit, just outside of Hamtramck, Michigan. The black-and-white images on the television screen, a common sight in a low-to-mid income home in a blue-collar neighborhood comprised mainly of factory-line workers, was the focal point of our family’s indoor viewing pleasure. Mom was usually busy in the kitchen preparing our meal. Didn’t matter which meal we are discussing here, Mom prepared them all. Brother and sister, if not sitting next to Dad on the couch watching the game, were outside playing with friends somewhere in a one-to-three block radius of home. And, me? I was probably lying across the bed in the room I shared with my sister, reading. I was always reading, or drawing. If it wasn’t a schoolbook, it was a novel, or a sketchpad. The voice of Ernie Harwell would float in and out of my conscious state, only noticeable when I had a reading pause, for contemplation or other reasons, or if Ernie raised his voice in excitement, for a home run, or a fantastic play. I think I remember Ernie extending syllables at important moments, like, “Loooooong gone,” or similar exclamations of baseball glory. Being the daughter-not-particularly-interested-in-sports-of-any-kind, I was aware of my appreciation of the game only recently. In moments of awakening interest that jumped up to surprise me over the years, I occasionally found myself reveling in Red Wing playoff games, Michigan football, Nicklaus golf, a horse that had a chance at the Triple Crown, Olympic gymnastics or swimming, or the eighty-four-mile-per-hour pitch Price just threw. Detroit 4, Minnesota 0, top of the seventh.

The world, as I now live it, is a very different place compared to the world I knew as a child, young teen, or twenty-something newlywed. My quiet-yet-loud, grumbling-yet-happy, devout Catholic father was a bit of an enigma. His sternly knit eyebrows could relax in an instant when we, as children, caught him in a bit of family fun. Dad might gear up (bushy eyebrows coming together) for an onslaught of kids running in from playtime outside, sweaty, dirty, happy. But then the eyebrows would resume normal position when we all sat down to another excellent meal prepared by our loving mother. Or the volume might reach ear-piercing levels when Dad yelled at an errant driver, such as myself, trying to find first gear on our three-on-the-tree, stick shift, 1964 Plymouth. Remembering my dad’s soft-to-yelling reminders as we sat at a stoplight that had just changed, “The light is green, The Light Is Green, THE LIGHT IS GREEN!” I’m afraid I run out of fingers and toes on which to count the number of times I stalled that poor, old Plymouth. Finally my sweet father let an older nephew take a turn at driver’s training tasks with his eldest daughter, whose last tear-drenched, learning-to-drive-with-Dad experience included the following statement: “I will never learn to drive.”

3:39 p.m. Top of the ninth, one and two, strike three, “Tigers begin 2015 in an impressive fashion.” Twins 0, Tigers 4. “Opening Day in the ‘D.’”

Price “got the job done.” 56 degrees outside and the Tigers win our home opener. Fastest pitch time I saw, Price, 94 mph. Fun, fun, fun. Nice, nice, nice. One hundred sixty-one games to go.

Dad would have been pleased. Thinking of him now, gone over twenty-five years, my dear father was the redwood of the family unit. Tall and strong, with muscled shoulders and arms, tapered down to his hips, he strikes an impressive pose in my memory. When I was a child, nobody was as strong as my Daddy. When I was a child, nobody could protect our family as well as Daddy could. When I was a child, nobody could knit those brows, yell louder, walk faster, fix the car better, or be at Mass at our family parish earlier, than my Daddy. Dad did not walk me down the aisle at my wedding; he marched me down that aisle, double-time.

I stop typing to pet my dog, who has popped up by my side with tail wagging, demanding my attention. After a rousing round of “Where’s your toy?” my dog finally accepts my need to continue typing.

There are times when I try to calm myself. Petting my dog is usually the best way to stem the very regular tide of unwelcome nerves that threaten to encroach and dampen my day, week, or month. Sometimes composure eludes me. A chunk of time spent in my backyard, sitting on my covered patio, watching my dog run around, concentrating on the trees growing in my yard, can bring back the peacefulness I seek. That type of peace is what I refer to as “achieved calm.” It is purposefully sought by my active mind. To achieve my best state of mind, I would call “natural calm,” I have to feel the aura of my father. This cannot usually be planned, as in the scheduled baseball game viewing. It is a feeling that washes over me, with a breeze through the trees, the sighting of a penny on the sidewalk, a light rain hitting the windshield of the car on a cloudy day. My only living companion at such a time is my dog… or it may just be me. A gentle roll, the feeling washes over me and I am calm.

I have never seen an actual redwood in person, but, then, I take that back… as I stare into the depths of my memory and see my Father, standing tall.

Note: 2015 baseball quoted references are drawn from live viewing on Fox 2 Detroit station covering the Detroit Tigers home opener on April 6, 2015.

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