Waiting for Grandfather

family comedy by Michael De Stefano

Excerpt: As cool as a cucumber, Munchk went strolling up to the plate. I was nervously wringing my hands together and squirming about in the stands. As she had all summer long, Karen was right beside me, assuring me that Munchk would succeed, but I could sense she was also growing nervous.

The stands had in them Corellis of every generation. Aside from our family, it seemed half the neighborhood was on hand, along with all the soon-to-be seventh graders, and everyone was on their feet and chanting Liz-zee, Liz-zee, Liz-zee. Even Fat Danny O’Rourke and Gabby Kearns were among those wildly chanting. The chanting seemed to surge and swell, its collectiveness becoming greater than the sum of its parts. Those on the field, and those enveloping the field, slipped into an alternative reality, a heightened state producing a rarefied and singular moment owning the capacity to wall off the rest of existence. This is the beauty of sports; it allows us to exist in a bubble, an impenetrable membrane, and embrace those rarefied moments only it can provide.

Perhaps a bit anxious, Munchk, who hit more than her share of balls up the middle, got out in front of the first pitch and lined it foul several feet to the left of third base. Everyone in the stands ducked the oncoming missile, including yours truly, the most infamous ducker of them all. There was one among the crowd, though, who did not bother ducking. Not to suggest that his reflexes were not in good standing. They were. But not everyone is the sort who ducks.

At the end of the stands stood a very tall and powerful-looking man—perhaps more powerful than his soon-to-be sixty years would suggest. For sure, this was not the sort of man who makes a habit of ducking. A man who, when not quite an adult, left the bosom of his home for the rat race of a big city, and in doing so unburdened his parents by taking along his two unruly brothers to look after and support, was hardly the type to duck. After the ball sailed over the heads of all those who did duck, this man stuck out a huge powerful hand. A moment later, the crowd winced when hearing a hideous thud, as the projectile smacked against the man’s palm, and in his palm, it stuck.

Antonio Corelli hardly had the type of childhood that allowed for games of catch; therefore, he didn’t know not to use his palm, especially when catching a hardball. He also was not one to call attention to himself; yet he couldn’t resist a satisfied grin over making a catch that took him by surprise. Perhaps his plan was to merely end the flight of the ball by knocking it down and preventing someone not paying attention from getting injured. It would have been just like our grandfather to do such a thing. He took a moment or two to examine the ball, then his hand, which went on stinging for several minutes; then he tossed the ball back into play.

 I never did ask our grandfather what ran through his mind in that brief moment in which he examined the ball and his hand, though I wished I had. Years later, when looking back, I have become inclined to believe that, while standing next to our grandmother, surrounded by family, and enveloped by the spirited chants of children as the apple of his eye was standing up at the plate with the season hanging in the balance, what ran through his mind was the day of December 26, 1938, and that if he had any lingering regrets, they were vanquished right there and then at the ballfield. How, during such a moment, could the day after Christmas forty years ago not have crossed our grandfather’s mind—a day for which he would spend a lifetime trying to own up to. Surely there were several moments throughout the years that caused him to wonder about the world had he been more pigheaded than Poppa Corelli and entered that coal mine. But this wonderfully tense moment some forty years later at the ball field, if not standing out from all others, must have ranked near the top. I suppose we all did our fair share of wondering what if December 26, 1938 had a different outcome. I know I sure did.

Had there been time before the next pitch held him captive in the present, I’d like to think that our grandfather’s mind had drifted back in time to a day spent on the grass of Lemon Hill, with Mama Corelli, his beloved Elizabeth, little Fred, poor old three-legged Max, Uncle Al, Uncle Nunzio, and their soon-to-be wives, Aunt Dot and Aunt Theresa. It would have been just like our grandfather to ponder that it was a long, hard climb to the top of the hill, but that even if the world allowed only a second to sit and gaze out upon its many wonders, it would have been well worth the journey.

My moist and nervous hands ceased from strangling themselves. All my anxious squirming came to an abrupt halt. These maddening exercises were each thwarted by the same occurrence—the crack of a bat—the wonderful crack of a bat. The glorious sound brought Karen and me, along with the multitude, to our feet. I watched the pitcher’s neck jerk violently toward center field as the ball went soaring over his head. The shortstop and second baseman also jerked, but the ball’s velocity and trajectory turned them into helpless spectators. The centerfielder, who reacted well to the crack of the bat, came dashing in toward the diamond, but the ball found green grass well before if found brown leather. Ian Donnelly came sprinting home with what would prove the winning run. The magnificent number one had come through once again.

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