Man on Second


It’s about a thousand years ago back in my childhood.

I’m in my grandmother’s house in the living room - the room with the big, tall clock and the slim, silver pendulum that endlessly swings one way and then the other. I’m looking back through the dining room toward the kitchen. And I’ve just realized something big. Really big. This time I hadn’t run from the kitchen into the living room. I had walked.

Why was this big? Because before this I always ran from room to room. Always. That’s how you got from one room to another when you were a certain age. You ran.

But not this time.

And I remember thinking: Something’s changed. Something’s happened.

Another hundred years: I’m a bit older now, but I’m still at my grandmother’s house. The neighborhood kids and I always go out and play in the vacant lot and in the woods next to the vacant lot. On the other side of the woods there is this fence and beyond the fence there is this cow pasture with cows in it.

Okay, later I learned that the easiest way back to my grandmother’s house when you were on that side of the woods was to squeeze through the fence and walk to the gate at the other end of the pasture. Then grandmother’s house was just down the street.

But back then I didn’t know that. The fact is that I – or none of the other kids I played with - ever went beyond the fence into the cow pasture. We just never did that. When we went back to where we lived we always went through the woods and then up the street past the old warehouse and then to our homes.

Then one day I didn’t.

On this particular day – I don’t remember why – I was all by myself standing next to the fence at the edge of the woods. It was time to go back to my grandmother’s house. Maybe she was waiting lunch on me. In any case, for whatever reason, standing there next to the fence, this thought came to me: Why didn’t I try to cross the fence and walk up the pasture to the gate?

Well, the truth is I didn’t know if you could make it back to my grandmother’s house through the cow pasture. I thought I could. It seemed logical.

Just why not? I told myself. Perhaps I even told myself, just why the hell not?

So I did it. I squeezed my way through the fence and started up the pasture and came to the gate. And there it was, my grandmother’s house, right down the street. And as I stood there next to the gate and looking down the street to my grandmother’s house, I remember thinking: Something’s happened. Something’s changed.

* * *

I clearly remember the first time someone called me a “man.”

My grandmother had asked me to run an errand up to Johnson’s store and pick up some flour. I was a bit older then and was really into the Cubs, so, naturally, I took my Hank Sauer glove – the one with Hank Sauer’s signature on it – and also my ball – also the one with Hank Sauer’s signature on it. Well, I was walking up Oak Street and had just turned onto Maple Street when I ran across a mother walking with her small boy. I remember what followed clearly. The little boy looked at me and then said to his mother, “Why is the man wearing a big glove?” The mother said, “Shhh.” “But why is he?” said the little boy. “You silly,” said the mother.

I pretended I hadn’t heard what the boy said and continued up the sidewalk. But when I got a certain distance I turned and looked at the boy. He was a lot younger than me. I mean, he was so young he could have been hugging a teddy bear. But here was the thing: For the first time ever someone had called me a “man.”

But I knew I wasn’t a man. Not really. For one thing, I was too small. For another, my grandmother called me Curtie. When my real name was Curtis. Even the high school girl, Barbara Miller, who babysat me when grandmother couldn’t be at home, called me Curtie. One time I tried to explain to her that my real name was Curtis and would she please call me that. For a while after that Barbara called me Curtis, but then she started calling me Curtie again.

Another example: When I got to Johnson’s store the Baxter brothers were in there doing all the talking with Mr. Johnson. The Baxter brothers ran the garage and filling station across Highway 6 and must have been on their lunch break or something. Tom Baxter had big, bulging arms but also a big, bulging stomach. You didn’t think he was athletic at all. But he could sure hit home runs for the Addison softball team. Bob Baxter was too old to be a regular on the team, but sometimes he was used a pinch hitter.

Anyway, Tom Baxter was leaning on the counter telling some story about a tractor a farmer had brought in and how they had to clean the pistons out, yes sir, and Bob was sitting in one of the two chairs around the