I don’t know if you’ve figured it out for yourself, yet, but you can’t trust grown-ups. Even the ones you think you can trust. Like your parents. It’s not like they actually lie to you, mostly, but they try to make you think about stuff the way they want you to think about it. It’s really just to make things easier for them. At the same time, you have to kind of admire the way they’re always playing the angle on you. Getting you to do things you really don’t want to do, and you never even know it. Smart.
Like last month, when I started digging around for my old catcher’s mitt. My old man gave it to me a couple years ago. It was really just a kid’s mitt — it was pretty flat, with no pocket at all. But Mr. Porter, the fourth grade gym teacher at Cherry School, said he was going to start up a Little League baseball team.
I’m actually not a bad player for my size — it’s just that my size is so small. Every single kid in the fourth grade is taller than me. In group pictures I always have to sit in the front row with the girls. That irritates the heck out of me, because Leon and his buddies always call me girlie names and give me a hard time.
Anyway, since none of the other kids ever wants to catch in pickup games, I thought maybe I could make the team as a catcher. Besides, catchers get to wear a mask and all those pads and stuff, which is kind of cool. They might make me look bigger. Plus, Yogi Berra was my favorite player and he was a catcher for the Yankees. I just read his biography. Believe it or not, his first name is really Lawrence.
About my mitt. I guess I must have left it lying around a lot. Anyway, Mom told me about a hundred times, “David Abbott, if I have to pick up that darn blah blah blah blah throw it out!” And then one day she did! It was just a kid’s mitt, and I didn’t miss it much. But then I needed it again. I started griping about how unfair it was to just toss something like that when it’s your kid’s favorite thing, a gift from his father. If I didn’t have it, I’d never get to play Little League. I’d never have any friends. I’d be a failure in life. Angling for a new one, of course.
One night, we were sitting around watching The Ed Sullivan Show. I was moaning about my mitt when my old man said, “You know, sometimes if you pray hard enough, God will give you what you want. Why don’t you try praying for your old mitt?” That sure sat me up straight. Yeah, he was always going on about God and trying to make me go to church. Even though he always slept in Sunday mornings. But whenever I asked him to name anything God had done since a bazillion years ago to prove he was still around, he’d get ticked off. I’d get the true believer speech.
“A true believer blah blah blah didn’t need deeds blah blah just has faith.”
Ha. To me, true believer was spelled s-u-c-k-e-r. I went to church, but only because he’d ground me if I didn’t. But there he sat, smirking at me over the top of his beer can, actually daring me to try it for myself!
Naturally, I had to take him up on it. I didn’t know how he expected to pull this off, but I didn’t see as I had anything to lose. When the mitt didn’t show, maybe he’d back off on the God thing for a while. For more than a week, I prayed every night for that mitt. I tried hard to stay serious. But if there really was a God, I knew he was getting a chuckle out of it.
Then one Saturday, as I was pawing around at the bottom of my little brother’s toy box, hoping to come up with a piece of red crayon — there it was! My old catcher’s mitt! Holy Toledo! I got goose bumps up and down my arms. Did this mean there really was a God? And worse — was I going to wind up a hunk of stew meat in the devil’s pot for all the grief I’d given my old man about it?
I knew the mitt hadn’t just been buried there all this time. I’d been through that toy box top to bottom a hundred times since my mom pitched it out. It was put there by someone. But by who? That was now the $64,000 question.
I went flying downstairs, mitt in hand. “Look what I found!” I shouted.
My old man pulled himself away from the television long enough to rub it in. “Well!” he said. “Your prayers must have been answered. I told you that happens sometimes. I hope you’ll be properly thankful.” He jabbed his cigar at me in emphasis.
“You put this there, didn’t you?” I demanded.
“No, I did not,” he said. “You told me yourself that your mother threw it out a long time ago.”
True. That was a stopper.
“Are you telling me that God put it there?”
“I’m not telling you anything. I didn’t put it there. You’re the one who did the praying — you tell me.” He sat there with his feet up, sucking his cigar and looking smug.
No matter how hard I tried, I couldn’t get anything else out of him. I gave Mom a shot. She stuffed her hands into the little pockets of her faded blue apron and said, “You’ll just have to listen to your father on this one. I don’t know anything about what God does or doesn’t do.”
I didn’t know what to believe. If my mom said she threw it out, she threw it out. But here it was. And my old man said he didn’t do it, and he probably wouldn’t tell me an outright lie. At least not one he could get caught in. And if there really was a God, my immortal soul was on the chopping block for all those years of cussing and joking about him. To me, the whole idea of a God just didn’t add up. But a heck of a lot of smart people went to church on Sunday.
Maybe they were right, and I was standing out in left field.
I spent the rest of the day worrying about going to hell and trying to put a pocket in that pancake of a mitt. I soaked it with water and put an apple where the pocket should have been. I folded the mitt around the apple, then tied it up tight with twine and put it in the sun to dry.
I pulled the Bible off the bookcase and tried to read a couple of pages. It was boring, and it had lots of weird words. I couldn’t make any sense out of it.
My agony ended the next day. Mom was in the basement doing laundry. My pipsqueak brother and I were eating lunch at the table in our tiny kitchen. He was busy trying to rub the freckles off the back of his hand. Nobody else in the family had freckles. My old man was always joking with my mom about the mailman having freckles, too, but I couldn’t figure why she thought it was so funny.
“Hey, Davy?” he said.
“I know about your catcher’s mitt.”
“Yeah, it just turned up again — isn’t that really weird?”
“No, I mean I saw Mama find it.”
I froze, with half a baloney sandwich in my mouth. I had a feeling I wasn’t going to like this. I swallowed the whole thing without chewing.
“I was up in the attic, looking in the old boxes, and I heard Mama coming. I hid in the blanket pile where she couldn’t see me. She went to the big black trunk and took out the mitt.”
I was stunned. I didn’t believe it at first, but the squid wasn’t bright enough to make that up on his own. It had to be true.
“Davy?” he said.
“Of course I’m okay. Whaddaya think? Anyway, you’re not supposed to be in the attic. How the heck did you get up there?”
“I sneaked up. I did the thing with the broomstick.”
Rats. I’d showed him how to lift a hook off the little screw eye with a broom handle. Maybe that wasn’t so smart after all.
“Don’t tell — I’ll get in trouble.”
“No kidding. You’re a regular Sherlock Holmes.”
“You’re not gonna tell, are you?”
“No, but you better not go up there any more — you were just lucky this time. Don’t forget about the belt!”
He turned pale. “I won’t, I won’t!”
I walked back into the living room and picked up the Bible I left out. I put it back on the bookshelf.
So, I’d been played for a sucker by my own loving parents. That seemed a little low, even for grown-ups. On the other hand, I had a catcher’s mitt I didn’t have yesterday. And I still might play Little League. And any interest I had in church and any fear of roasting my butt on a spit in hell were gone like a fart in a windstorm.
I decided to call it even.