A Slick One

Yesterday Son #1 — the “pregnant” son — and I were talking about old hand-me-down family stuff we have for the twin babies after their arrivals next spring.

“I have Papaw’s old baseball glove,” he said. “It has his name written on it. Hardy.”

“How’d you get that?” It’s a neat thing to have, because if one of the babies is a boy, he will be named Hardy, and he will already have a glove with his name on it.

“He gave it to me. I also have his bat. I keep it at the office. I carry it around when I’m thinking and trying to be creative.”

“Hmph. He varnished my bat…”

“This one’s varnished, too!” my son said. And we both had a good long laugh, and it spurred me to write an essay about my dad and his quirky ways.

___

Dad varnishes my bat. He uses a glossy brown walnut varnish stain. He applies it thickly so that the blond flat dry texture of the brand new stick of wood turns slick and has lines where an overabundance of the medium globs and runs.

I am not aware he has done this. I go to get it to take it across the street to play baseball, and there it is, all dark and shiny, and I wrap my hand around its neck and my skin sort of sticks there.

“Hey, what happened to my bat?”

He hasn’t asked me if I want it varnished. He just takes it upon himself to do it for me, and he’s proud of it, too.

“I put a coupla coats of varnish on it, ’cause you’ll forget and leave it outside, and the rain’ll ruin it.”

He pronounces it “rern.”

I just stand there and hold it and look at it. A mosquito swarms close and I swat at it, then wipe the sweat from my upper lip.

“It’ll protect it,” he says sensing my uncertainty. One side of his mouth curls up in a smile. He knows I look up to him, and when I was younger, I even wanted to marry him when I grew up, because no other man was as good as he was.

My shoulders slump, and I breathe out hard. I like it the way it was, just like it came from the store. He says it’ll rot if it gets wet. I’m thinking a few showers won’t hurt it.

Flashes of other escapades pop up in my mind, as I pause there, thinking about what I have to live with. He has plenty of stuff to do on Mondays, his day off, but Mama says he walks around the yard looking for things to get in to. This time, he found my new bat lying in the dewy grass. Some Mondays, he changes the oil in the car or cleans some parts, like spark plugs, he has unscrewed from under the hood of the Ford in Clorox in the kitchen sink. Or he builds yet another storage hut in the backyard to hold his tools and all the old lawnmowers he collects for cheap or free, so when one breaks he can take a part off another one and fix it and always keep a good running mower.

Every Monday, it takes him half a day to trim the tall hedgerow that surrounds our house on three sides and the bushes along the front white wall. Mama says he cuts hair all week, and he likes to have something to trim on his day off.

When a fix-it job comes up, he always says to Mama, “Now you don’t have to call anybody. It’s a simple job. I can do it and we won’t have to pay.” Once on a Monday, he fixed the light switch in the bathroom. Now we have to push the switch down instead of up to turn on the light, opposite of what it’s supposed to be. Once on a Monday, he fixed something in the electric switch box, and when Howard Robinson, the electrician, came to re-fix it for real — and for pay — he said, “Mrs. Hardy, you tell Hardy that I won’t cut hair if he won’t fool around with electricity.” Once on a Monday, he poured creosote and old car oil around the crawl space under the house to chase away any termites that thought about taking up residence at 807 Deering. Three weeks later they swarmed in the dining room, and one landed on his shoulder, as he sat at the yellow Formica table and drank a glass of buttermilk and cornbread.

On rainy days when he can’t go outside and look for trouble, he finds it inside. He shells pecans that have fallen from the two trees in the backyard and gets their litter all over the floor, or he roasts peanuts on a cookie sheet in Mama’s oven, then cracks them and makes a mess with their hulls. Or if he gets a yearning, he might cook up a big mess of greens and eat them with a jar of hot peppers in vinegar a customer has given him.

Always on Mondays he mows the yard with his quietly purring electric mower. Once he let me take a few sweeps out back. I ran over the cord. That was the last time I got to help with that job.

Now the varnished bat is what I’m left holding, and I have to run with what I’ve got. I am the only kid in town with a shiny brown bat. I am the only kid on the block with a big real bat, so we have to use it. All the other kids have learned what my dad is like, though, so we all shrug and go on with our game.

Our baseball field is a grassy lot across the street between 808 and 812. A man named Floyd has a wide green house at the very back of that lot. It is far from the street and has a long gravel drive partially covered with Bermuda that has woven itself over and under the chunks of rocks. Third base butts up against that drive about midway, home plate is about thirty feet from Floyd’s front windows, first base is next to a hedge bush with purple berries on it in the Swindoll’s yard, and second base is an outfield away from the street. We have a big fat softball, but we like using a baseball better because it cracks louder and goes farther. We are serious about baseball. We play to win. Varnished bat and all.

The varnish on the bat is just one of the many things my dad does to preserve stuff, to keep it in good shape, make it last longer, save money. Mama says he is this way because he has lived through the Great Depression when things were hard to come by, and he wants to make everything last.

Me, I just want a normal bat. And if it rots, I want to go to Ben Franklin’s and buy a new one. One day I intend to marry a man who will let me do that.

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2 Comments on “A Slick One”

  1. sarahemc2 says:

    You always write so lovingly about your father–and you are so lucky that he was such a crackpot about so many things, because it gives you so much to write about! Aren’t crackpot fathers the best kind?

  2. Kathy says:

    Yep, crackpot fathers are the best! Mine left me with lots of stories. He was definitely one of a kind.


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