Five-year-old Danny Modoc stomped downstairs, the look of a champion on his face. His parents had asked him to change into something to wear to the school’s Open House evening, the year-end event where every kid gets to show off his best stuff for an hour while family and friends walk from science fair exhibits to band performances to the art show. Danny took their instructions seriously, and if I didn’t laugh, it was because I was too stunned and his parents too wise.
Stapled to every part of his white tee shirt was a baseball card. Dozens and dozens of baseball cards.
See, Danny was in tee ball, the pre-baseball sport for wee athletes where the ball isn’t pitched but knocked off a standing tee by a kid with a two-foot bat and a loose swing. Think beginning beginners. Kids love it and so does everyone who has a pumping lung because it is just so darned cute to watch the little guys swing with all their bitty might and run their hearts out down the baseline. And he collected baseball cards, nearly a requirement that year.
There he stood, happy to be supporting his school and Babe Ruth and Jackie Robinson and anyone else who took the game to the edge until the next player surpassed him and set the bar higher yet. Danny was covered in baseball cards, shoulder to shoulder, neck to hem, front to back, and maybe even up inside his shirt. Mickey Mantle, Hank Aaron, Sandy Koufax, Rod Carew, Ted Williams, Jo DiMaggio, Cy Young, Yogi Berra, Ted Williams. Just ‘cause I didn’t name your hero doesn’t mean Danny didn’t wear the player’s card. The kid beamed, his eyes sparkling from a shiny clean face, his posture as noble as a king’s. I can imagine the discomfort of the staple points prickling his bare skin, but like any athlete who goes the distance for his sport, he didn’t flinch.
Danny was ready to go to Open House.
Smart parents, his. They said not one word of discredit but followed their little boy out the door, proud of his imagination and pluck and individuality.
That evening happened 35 years ago. I’m not a huge baseball fan. When I attend a game, I’m more interested in the popcorn and hot dogs, the seventh inning stretch, and the people watching, who I watch, than the game. Don’t have a favorite team or one I despise, don’t know who’s hottest at home plate this year or balancing their mitt on their nose and do not care. But I like Danny and I’ve never forgotten his iconic stance.
So much so that Danny is in one of my books. He’s a character in The Tree House Mother. Now he’s a pre-school-aged girl named Haley, on her way to attend the formal fiftieth wedding anniversary for her great-grandparents at a chichi restaurant in the high end district. Her own parents, while not willing to offend the venerable generation twice before them, are also unwilling to curtail their daughter’s confidence. Haley has an intuitive sense of the honor the occasion demands. She’s taken the package of sparkly pink cardboard tiaras purchased for her fifth birthday party the next week and is wearing one on her head. Also one on each wrist, and she’s stapled the other five to the hem of her dress, making it extra special. Toothache sweet pink. Shiny with rhinestones and sparkles. Fancy with feathers. Extra special.
When she walks into the banquet hall, everyone turns to look. Stops talking. Wonders what the hell is wrong with her parents, who are, by the way, dressed absolutely appropriately in ball gown and dark suit. For letting the kid show up dressed in glitz and trash. The temperature of the room cools two degrees as everyone sucks in and heats up five degrees as they all exhale. How dare the kid’s parents?
No one says the words but everyone knows the script.
But then, Haley is just so darned cute, and she is only four-going-on-five. Guests try to clip their grins, but really.
And then, Haley does something even more special. She walks right up to Great-Grandma Essa, takes the tiara from her own wrist, and puts it on Essa’s elegantly styled silver hair. It detracts from the diamond and pearl necklace at her throat and takes attention away from the off-white silk suit. And brings the first genuine smile to the old lady’s face that evening. First smile that month. See, Essa’s oldest son died of cancer a month before the party, and she just hadn’t felt up to celebrating. But the arrangements had long been made, the money couldn’t be returned, and everyone else in the family decided that Great-Grandma Essa needed this party to take her mind off her sorrow. Insisted she attend.
They were all wrong.
They were all right.
No one could bring a pinprick of joy to an old woman who had just buried her son. Except for the little kid who knew GG Essa was sad but didn’t understand why, who knew that what GG Essa needed was a pink tiara to feel really special.
And now you know how I write. I steal. I watch the people around me, I take what I witness, and turn it into story. Be careful what stuff you staple to your clothes. You might make an appearance in my next book.
Baseball card image courtesy Pixabay.com
Tiara image courtesy easyfreeclipart.com