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Tripping
by Claude Jones

NOTE FROM THE AUTHOR:

Understanding the love of baseball is not easy for some who never dreamed of playing for the St. Louis Cardinals. John Grisham came near catching the vision in A Painted House. I listened to Harry Carry and Jack Buck artfully describe each and every Cardinal game played after darkness, or what ever propelled KMOX’s 50,000 watt signal to travel to Pontotoc. Our one radio and link to the world beyond the red hills of the Pontotoc Ridge was an RCA radio/record player encased in a wood cabinet. The record player did not play; no records were in our house anyway. The radio was missing knobs but could be tuned or the volume adjusted by sticking a finger in the knob holes and bending the first joint of the finger to be able to reach the cogs that were supposed to attach to the knobs.

The signal from St. Louis came and went with the changes in the atmosphere, and the only aid to the reception would be to place one’s hand flat against the east side of the wood cabinet. Had carpal tunnel or rotator cuff tears been in vogue in 1957, no doubt the unnatural bending of the tuning finger or the awkward angle of palm against the east side, near the RCA-Victor label, would have caused irreparable damage to my pitching arm.

Cow pasture baseball has gone, never to return. The bad hops on infield grounders caused by an inadvertent cow track or the sand filled tow-sacks for bases would surely infuriate or deter some youngster today. We were just glad to get to play.

I didn’t appreciate Mr. Raymond Ball for letting us play in his pasture. I wish I had told him how much it meant to me. Mr. Layton let me play in games he really shouldn’t have. Mr. Norris could have caught my fastball behind his back with his long slab, but he didn’t. I can’t but think back at how lucky I was to have had the opportunity to play in cow pastures with men who cared how a young boy felt.

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TRIPPING


“Stand up and walk, watch where you are putting your big feet,” my big brother shouted back at me. I scurried to my feet, not bothering to brush the twigs and grass thatch that had imbedded themselves in the slack skin covering the bottom of my knee. I walked quickly, without limping as long as my brother looked back, but when he turned and started walking in his long strides I gave in to the pain in my left knee and right ankle. Limping on both legs at the same time quickly proved impossible so I chose the knee pain as the most important and certainly the injury most easily visible if someone chose to question my limp, so I gave in to the left leg.

My big brother was in a hurry to get to the Primrose Baseball Field. The community baseball field was only a carefully mowed portion of Raymond Ball’s cow pasture. The location for the ball field in Primrose, though dependent upon Mr. Ball’s generosity, was the logical spot in and around Primrose since it was the only flat spot in the community not plowed, rowed and planted in cotton or corn.

Though Mr. Ball claimed no interest in baseball, he had been seen rushing to the pasture, ahead of spring and summer showers, to broadcast fertilizer on the baseball field. Even the community gossips chose to ignore the darker green of the grass on the Primrose Baseball Field and the lushness of the Bermuda grass growing in the infield diamond, compared to the rest of Ball’s pasture.

I wished my big brother loved baseball and that baseball was the incentive for his rush to reach the ball field. I loved baseball. I honestly believed that one day I would be playing baseball for the St. Louis Cardinals. The draw that lengthened and quickened my brother’s steps and cause him to short cut our trip through Wilson’s Woods had nothing to do with stitched cowhide or Louisville Sluggers. While I had quickly changed from my Sunday Church Clothes into cut-off jeans, T Shirt and baseball cap, he put on starched and creased blue jeans with his best peach colored shirt. He lingered in front of the mirror, combing and re-combing his hair and turning the collar of the shirt up in back to touch his hair. I didn’t dare rush him because he had protested so loudly my wanting to go with him and, only after my pleading to our mother, he had reluctantly agreed I could tag along with him. I didn’t want to miss one minute of the game, but he continued to primp. He would sit in the shade and flirt with Nancy Ball all during the game. He would have to ask me, on the way home, who had won the game -- just in case Daddy asked him at supper.

I was surprised to see him cut off the Harmony Loop gravel road and turn onto the woods road that ran through Wilson’s Woods. One brush of a stray limb protruding over the logging road we would walk could quickly undo the careful combing of hair or un-turn the preciseness of the raised collar. As we turned west onto the shadowed trail, I smelled the aftershave lotion we kids had bought Daddy for his birthday. I burned with disgust, but chose to stay quiet.

We hurried through the woods, missing the birds' songs, the squirrels' chatter and the flora's summer magnificence. At Wilson Creek my brother got a running go and jumped from bank to bank of the creek. I had to climb down the steep red bank and wade the creek.

“Throw over the glove so if you fall in you won’t get it wet.” He grumbled as I scrambled up the root-infested bank of the other side of the creek. “I don’t know why you had to bring that old glove anyway, you aren’t going to get to play.” I might not get to play today, but I had played before; almost every time Primrose was way out front or too far behind to catch up Mr. Layton would put me in. Mr. Norris Cox even let me warm up with him almost every game and he bragged on my good arm and encouraged me to throw my knuckle ball to him. I had even caught two foul balls during one game. I could not go to the game without my glove.

We reached the ball field just as Mr. Layton was shaking the balls and bats from the burlap bag by the home bench. I looked at Mr. Norris, and he said, “Get a ball, boy, and see if you can burn my glove hand.”

I knew I could not burn his hand. Mr. Norris was the first baseman and had a long thin first baseman’s slab for a glove.

My brother didn’t even look at us. He brushed his fingers through his hair and waved at Nancy Ball, who stood in the shade of the hackberry behind third base. What a waste, I thought.

I was tossing the ball, loosening up to get ready to play baseball. My brother was warming up to play hardball.

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Claude Jones writes:
"I have lived all my life in Pontotoc, Mississippi -- raised on a farm where we milked cows, raised cotton, corn, and had a peach orchard. I've worked for Pontototc Electric Power for 31 years. My wife Ann and I have two sons, both are pharmacists, and we have two grandchildren."


Want to read more of Claude’s writing at USADEEPSOUTH? Click these links:
Who Has The Edge?
Two Poems
Two Poems - II
Mules Gold
Mama
Rewind

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