If my phone rings in the middle of the night, I will always think it’s my grandpa…
calling for help.
Because he couldn’t breath.
And he needed my dad to take him to the hospital.
The last time he did that was in 1990. The extra extension was outside of my bedroom. I remember it ringing. I lunged for the phone only to hear my grandpa’s voice, wheezing and asking for my dad…his son.
He died that fall.
During that spring, I had to make a tough decision. The sport I loved was quickly becoming the sport I hated. I was caught between sticking with it – and leaving it – making everyone around me happy – but me unhappy.
I drove to the hospital, four blocks from my house but a mile from the school, and walked into his room. He was hooked up to oxygen and an IV and sat in bed. I was in athletic shorts, my hair in a messy bun high on my head, and a tshirt streaked with sweat and dirt.
“How was practice,” he asked.
I could not answer him, looking instead at the floor – wondering what to say.
I didn’t need to say anything.
“Do you still have fun playing,” he asked.
I shook my head, unable to trust my voice. I was admitting it aloud to someone for the first time in a month.
“Look at me,” he insisted, and I raised my head to him for the first time all evening.
“You quit. You quit because it is no longer fun. You quit because it’s no longer worth it,” he commanded.
I started to protest – but he anticipated my words, “and you send your Dad to me. You send my son to me. Softball should feed you – should entertain you – should be fun. If it isn’t – for whatever reason, you walk away because it is no longer fulfilling the definition of the game. And if your dad doesn’t understand, I will make him understand.”
In that moment – in that instance, he freed me of my burden. He freed me to leave what I loved but was beginning to hate. SO I went to school the next day, played my uniform on the desk of my coach, and did not apologize for how I was feeling.
By the end of the season, I learned I was the one who broke the ice.
I was the first to quit saying that the game was more important than the team..
Ten others had quit behind me.
My dad begged. My dad insisted I give it more time. My dad worried I was hasty.
And when my tears did not satiate him in terms of understanding where I was.
His dad made him understand.
He forced him to understand.
And all because my grandpa stood beside me.
He bought me my first pair of cleats two years before, and then he said walk away – it’s not worth it. Love the game, don’t let anyone make you hate it.
And I did.
That summer, a few weeks after I quit, I was approached by a women’s slow pitch softball team. It was made up of women who were coming home from college but still loved the game. That summer playing left field instead of catcher, I re-embraced the game. The following summer, I rejoined them and laughed as much as I swore.
And I knew my grandpa looked down on me (he had passed the fall of 1990)..
When I started college, I had a chance to try out for the softball team. I did – and became the starter for the college team. I played all four years. I laughed, I swore, I had bruises so big that someone would have wondered who was abusing me. But it didn’t matter – I was having fun. I felt like I was doing what I should be doing – my grandpa would be proud.
Amanda Palmer released a song this week about Things….and in it, she mentions her grandfather.
It brought me to tears.
My grandfather was important to me.
He was an influence.
He is still with me – and that’s good and bad.
Because of this final memory.