Friday, September 19, 2008

seat cushion night

David and I have been watching Ken Burns' "Baseball" for what seems like the entire summer. 10 discs worth, but I love it. I love baseball.
I am a die-hard Cardinals fan, I freely admit it. I'll follow the games even if the Redbirds don't have a chance in hell. I haven't been to Busch stadium this year because funds are a little tight, but that's o.k. I'd almost rather listen to the game on the radio.
I grew up in Illinois which should have made me a Cubs or White Sox fan, but I grew up in Southern Illinois - big difference. Downstate folks don't really consider Chicago a part of their state but an entity all it's own, sort of the alien state of Chicagoland.
My Grandpa and Mom were both Cardinals fans, so it was sort of a family tradition. And the stadium was only 2 hours away.
Early in the 1987 season, a friend of mine scored some tickets to a Cards/Mets game and asked if I wanted to go. The Mets were (and probably still are) the second most hated team in Cardinal nation - right behind the Cubs - so I jumped at the chance.
Plus, it was seat cushion night.
One of the promotions that season involved giving free seat cushions to patrons attending the game. I don't remember if you had to be first in line or everybody in attendance got one, but I remember heading to our nosebleed section seats clutching our free cushions. They weren't the nicest things in the world - a thin square foot of padding covered by white plastic and printed with a huge Cards logo - but the seats did get a little hard after a while, and our asses were grateful.
The game was neck and neck most of the evening and the stadium was packed. Midway through the game after a particularly exciting Cards defensive play, someone in the upper seats discovered that the free seat cushion made an excellent Frisbee. They didn't just plummet to the field. It must have been something about their design - the cheap lightweight materials used, the size and shape, the convenient handle on one side, the humidity in the air - that caused them to float, twirling down to the field like snowflakes. This spurred others on to the extent that officials kept having to stop the game to clear the field. Threatening voices began coming over the loudspeakers that if patrons didn't stop throwing things the Cards would be forced to forfeit the game. This was met with boos and a few cushions gliding through the air.
The game was still tied in the bottom of the ninth. Top of the tenth, the Cards had managed to load the bases with 2 outs when Tommy Herr came to bat. His grand slam home run beat the hated Mets 12-8 and electrified the crowd. I think every person in that stadium - including yours truly - threw their free seat cushions into the air.
It was a beautiful sight, one of the most beautiful sights I've ever seen. People screaming and jumping up and down, hugging each other while Tommy Herr rounded the bases in what looked like a snowstorm. Thousands of seat cushions were lazily twirling down to cover the field. It was almost majestic, like something out of The Natural.
I don't think the Cardinals had another seat cushion night for almost 20 years.

Wednesday, September 10, 2008

milk and grace

I've always been a person with absolutely no food rules. I prefer to eat certain things if I'm the one in control, but I really will eat almost anything. ANYTHING! I've had snails, I've had rattlesnake . . . I really will try anything at least once.
Growing up my sister had a list of about 5 things that she would eat and had some weird eccentricities about the way those things should be prepared. I was one of those skinny kids that could eat twice their weight and was always hungry, so I usually ended up eating my dinner and her rejected dinner.
The only thing I will refuse is milk. Cheese, yogurt, no problem - just don't give me a glass of milk. I've tried rice milk, soy milk, it's all the same. I don't even remember when it started.
My sister claims it was because of Grace.
My parents got married young and loved to go out when they got the chance. We were her only grandchildren in the U.S., so Grace was delighted to babysit us at a moment's notice. Therefore, we spent a lot of weekends there.
She was my mother's mom and a truly unconventional person. Grace painted, she sculpted, she sketched, she read voraciously. She wore men's clothes, no makeup and drove a Rambler that she never took out of second gear. A typical Saturday night would be spent watching Lawrence Welk while I set her hair (she liked to get gussied up for church, the only time I ever saw her in a dress until her funeral), my sister read a book in the corner and my Grandpa Sam worked on one of his crossword puzzles and tried to listen to the Cardinals game on KMOX while ignoring the Lennon Sisters.
She was the perfect babysitter. An unpretentious person who never talked down to children, Grace gave us huge sheets of butcher's paper to draw on, dug clay out of her back yard for us to sculpt and let us sleep on her screened-in back porch in the summertime.
The only drawback was that Grace was a truly terrible cook. She had suffered from neuralgia most of her life and really couldn't smell or taste much. She couldn't tell the temperature of things and frequently burned her tongue. My sister dreaded meals there. I don't remember refusing to eat any of her cooking, but there was something I didn't like about her milk. She insisted that we each have a glass of milk with breakfast. Grace's fridge didn't always work that well so the milk was usually either lukewarm or spoiled, something that I'm sure she didn't notice.
Getting me to drink my milk became the goal in her life. It was truly a battle of wills. Grace insisted that I couldn't get up from the table until I finished. I would sit and stare at the glass wishing I could vaporize it. She tried tinting the milk with food coloring hoping it would look more festive. Even though it was a lovely shade of lavender or mint green, to me it was still a glass of semi-spoiled milk. I even resorted to staying in bed pretending I was sick until my parents came to pick us up at noon - not something I could do every week, and boring besides.
Finally, it hit me. I could lie!
She would sit in silence with me, my sister's breakfast long finished. Eventually she would sigh, and leave the table for the restroom. All I had to do was run to the sink, dump the milk down the drain and time running the kitchen sink's tap to the toilet's flush. She would come back delighted to see my empty glass. I still feel slightly guilty about lying to her, but it made her so happy and was an act of self-preservation on my part. I hope she forgives me.
To this day, I still can't drink a glass of milk. I drink my coffee black. I eat cereal dry out of the box. Every once in a while I'll try a glass of milk to see if I still hate it.
All I can say is yes, I still do. Sorry, Grace.
If there's such a thing as reincarnation I know I'm gonna come back as a dairy cow.