Youth in a box

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I’d been wondering what happened to my youth.

Last week Jessica unpacked a box that must have been sealed the day we emptied mom’s attic. And there lay my childhood.

A scrapbook from my Cub Scout days – plywood cover secured with leather laces, my name permanently scorched across the cover with a long-gone wood-burner – page after page of pictures, scissored from magazines, of really old cars: Duesenbergs, Cords, Packards, Studebakers, Excelsiors and the like, cars that were already old when I wasn’t.

There were grade school report cards, black-and-white pictures with scalloped edges like you got from mail-order photo labs in the fifties, my first pocket-sized address book and an assortment of less-interesting stuff.

And a baseball glove.

Everybody’s old glove brings back memories of 12-year-old heroics, night games after which you bicycled home – pedaling toward dinner, racing through stretches of darkness interrupted by pools of light puddled under electric moons, glove swinging from the handlebars, hoping you’d be seen in your sweaty-but-sponsored team jersey and your stirrup-pants dirtied by desperate slides into second and third … memories all-but universal for male baby boomers.

When Dad bought me that glove – once the first burst of elation was behind me – I tucked a baseball into the pocket, folded it in place, secured the arrangement with twine and slipped it under the edge of my pillow. For a week or more I slept comforted by the smell of new leather and the certainty that someday I’d be Bill Mazeroski or Bobby Richardson or Al Kaline. (I knew I’d never hit like Mantle or Maris or pitch like Bunning.)

Leading up to April’s first practice, I borrowed the little can of neatsfoot oil, oiled up the glove and sharpened my fielding skills, bouncing ragged baseballs off a tree in the back yard – an old tree with buckled bark and odd protruberances that guaranteed the ball would carom toward me at unpredictable angles.

That Rawlings glove meant hours in the backyard with dad. It meant mom would spend summer hours jack-in-the-boxing from her bleacher seat and yelling (she was that kind of mom; don’t get me started on those stories) at the umpire.

All of that in a single, dusty cardboard box closed up so long ago the once-clear sealing tape had clouded and yellowed.

I closed the box and replaced the tape… pretty much all that’s left to do with your childhood.

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