Authors: Gene Fehler
Never Blame the Umpire
Copyright © 2010 by Gene Fehler
All rights reserved under International and Pan-American Copyright Conventions. By payment of the required fees, you have been granted the non-exclusive, non-transferable right to access and read the text of this e-book on-screen. No part of this text may be reproduced, transmitted, downloaded, decompiled, reverse engineered, or stored in or introduced into any information storage and retrieval system, in any form or by any means, whether electronic or mechanical, now known or hereinafter invented, without the express written permission of Zondervan.
ePub Edition FEBRUARY 2010 ISBN: 978-0-310-41019-5
Requests for information should be addressed to:
Grand Rapids, Michigan 49530
Library of Congress Cataloging-in-Publication Data
Fehler, Gene, 1940
Never blame the umpire / by Gene Fehler.
Summary: Eleven-year-old Kate is having a wonderful summer, playing baseball and taking a poetry class, until her mother is diagnosed with terminal cancer, causing Kate to struggle to keep her faith and trust in God.
ISBN 978-0-310-71941-0 (hardcover)
[1. Death – Fiction. 2. Cancer – Fiction. 3. Christian life – Fiction. 4. Family life – Fiction. 5. Poetry – Fiction. 6. Baseball – Fiction.] I. Title.
[fic] – dc22
Unless otherwise indicated, all Scripture quotations are taken from
The Living Bible
, copyright © 1971. Used by permission of Tyndale House Publishers, Inc., Carol Stream, IL 60188. All rights reserved.
Any Internet addresses (websites, blogs, etc.) and telephone numbers printed in this book are offered as a resource. They are not intended in any way to be or imply an endorsement by Zondervan, nor does Zondervan vouch for the content of these sites and numbers for the life of this book.
Zonderkidz is a trademark of Zondervan.
This book is dedicated
To all who have lost a loved one—
To my family, as always, with love—
And to my editor, Kathleen Kerr, with gratitude.
Half Title Page
a chance to be a hero
breakfast with mama
Mr. Gallagher’s class
a change of plans
the place for love
the death poem
letting ginny know
fun in class
valley lakes program
friday night tradition
standing in the bleachers
never blame the umpire
the umpire’s call
opening the bible
Twenty questions I’m often asked
About the Publisher
Share Your Thoughts
I’m in the on-deck circle, praying for Cal to get a hit. My hands are all sweaty, so I drop my bat on the ground and scoop up a handful of dirt. I rub my hands on my shirt. I don’t mind getting dirty. Mama and Dad don’t care how dirty I get, either. They just say, “It’s part of the game, Kate. If you’re really playing hard, you’re bound to get dirty. But you already know that.”
I do. I’ve played enough sports with Mama and Dad and my little brother Ken to know it. This is my first summer of playing baseball on a real team. We’ve been practicing for a couple of weeks, but this is our first game. This is my first time playing baseball under pressure.
I pick up my bat and study the pitcher. Coach always tells us to watch the pitcher closely, especially when we’re on deck, so we can get an idea how hard he’s throwing.
If Cal doesn’t end the game right now with a hit, I might have a chance to win the game and be a hero. The trouble is, I’m not a great hitter. I have an even better chance of making the final out. I sure don’t want to do that.
I take my eyes off the pitcher long enough to glance back toward the bleachers. Mama and Dad still aren’t here. The last thing they’d said before they left home this morning was, “We wouldn’t miss your game for anything.”
Why aren’t they here?
They were supposed to be home before 5:30, which is when Ken and I had to be at the field. We were all going to go together. They didn’t come home, and they didn’t even call. So Ken and I had to go without them. Luckily, our ballfield is only four blocks from our house. Ken and I ran all the way here and got here just in time.
Now it’s the bottom of the sixth. We’re one run behind. Ken led off the inning with a single. He’s only ten, a whole year younger than me, but he’s a better hitter. After Ken singled, Jack popped out and Andy doubled. Their left fielder made a nice play to keep Ken from scoring the tying run. Now, with just
one out, a fly ball or maybe even a ground ball could tie the game. The bad thing is, Cal doesn’t hit any better than I do.
Even though I’m not one of the best players, I really wanted for Mama and Dad to see me play my first game. Even though Ken has played ever since t-ball, I was never that into it. Ivy Snow talked me into playing. Next to Ginny, she’s my best friend. She played last year, and she was the only girl on the team. This year we have three girls on the team: Ivy, Heather, and me. We tried to get Ginny to play, but we couldn’t talk her into it.
The pitch comes in, a foot over Cal’s head. He swings. He couldn’t have reached it unless he were standing on a ladder.
“Come on, Cal!” I shout. “Make the pitch be in there!”
What I’m thinking is, “Please, please get that run in!”
I really, really don’t want to make the last out with the tying run on third.
The next pitch is in the strike zone, and Cal hits a dinky infield pop-up. The second baseman doesn’t even have to move. He catches it with two hands and flips the ball back to the pitcher.
Now it’s up to me. The only good thing about Mama and Dad not being here is that they won’t have to see me make the last out. It’s not like them
to not keep their word. Maybe they had a flat tire or something. I can’t think of a good reason why they’re not here. Some of my friends complain that their parents always break promises. But I’ve never had that problem. Mama and Dad have a lot of pet sayings, and one of them is, “Never make a promise unless you plan to keep it.”
I try to focus on the pitcher. All that matters right now is, can I hit the ball? I hold my bat in one hand and jerk at the bill of my green cap with my other hand. In my first at-bat my cap wasn’t on tight enough. It flew off my head when I swung hard and missed, striking out. I heard some people laugh. I wasn’t sure if they laughed because my cap flew off and I looked silly or because I missed the ball. My second time up I at least hit the ball, but it was just a weak grounder back to the pitcher.
I hope nobody can see how bad I’m shaking. I didn’t expect to be this nervous. I’ve played a lot of tennis with my mom and dad and brother. Mama played tennis on her college team, and she taught Ken and me. We’re pretty good. We’ve had plenty of tight matches where I’ve had to return serve at match point, but I’ve never been as scared as I am now. I guess that’s because I’m better at hitting a tennis ball than I am at hitting a baseball.
Maybe I’ll get lucky and the pitcher will walk me. I hope. Making the last out would be a perfectly
awful way to start the season.
I tap home plate with the fat end of the red aluminum bat. The pitcher looks in at me, or maybe at his catcher. Toby shouts to me from the on-deck circle. I suddenly realize I don’t really want to walk. I know I have a better chance to get a hit than Toby does. He’s struck out both times, not once coming close to making contact with the ball. Even in batting practice, he hardly ever hits the ball. If our team, the Colby Panthers, is going to win our opening game of the season, I’m afraid it’s up to me.
“Bring me home, Kate!” Ken shouts from third base. “You can do it!”
I hear Coach call out, “Okay, Kate. Wait for your pitch.”
I don’t hear the voices I want to hear the most: Mama’s and Dad’s.
I grip the bat as tight as I can to try to stop my hands from shaking. I stare at the ball in the pitcher’s hand. His hand starts to move and now the ball is coming toward me. I want to swing, but my arms don’t move.
“Ball!” the ump calls out.
“Way to look!” Ken yells. “Make him throw strikes!”
He doesn’t know that the only reason I didn’t swing was because I’m too scared.
“No hitter no hitter no hitter,” their catcher
chatters. Unfortunately, he’s right.
The second pitch comes in waist high, right over the heart of the plate. The pitcher couldn’t have thrown me an easier pitch to hit if he’d tried all day. My mind shouts, “Swing! Swing!” but my arms stay frozen again. The ump yells, “Strike one!”
I pound my bat hard on home plate, just to prove that my arms really do move. Small clouds of dust puff up.
I’ve gone out twice, but at least I hit the ball once. Why won’t my arms work now?
And they do, finally. But the pitch comes in low, at my ankles. I swing over the top of it. One more strike and we’ve lost the game.
Their catcher’s thinking the same thing because he calls out, “One more strike. No hitter no hitter. Just throw it in here.”
I take a deep breath. I look hard at the pitcher. He looks nervous too…at least I tell myself he does. It makes me feel a little bit better. I try not to watch him, though. I try to focus on the ball. He holds it in his right hand. Then the ball disappears in his glove and his arms go above his head. His right arm comes down, pointing right toward me, and now I see the ball again. I hold back a split second longer on this pitch than I did on the other one. When I see it’s going to be close to the outside corner, I swing.
I’m surprised at how loud the sound is when
my bat meets the ball. I watch the ball take off on a line toward right field, and I start to run. It lands in front of the right fielder. I see him field it cleanly and throw it toward home. I turn and watch the ball bounce twice before the catcher fields it. He catches the ball just as Andy slides into him. The two players are covered by a cloud of dust.
The ump stands over them with his arms spread in the “safe” signal. Andy scrambles to his feet and starts to whoop. He tosses his cap into the air.
The whole team races out toward me, Ken leading the pack. I’m jumping up and down. I can’t help it. I just never thought I would get a hit.
I feel really great. But I can’t stop myself from glancing again at the bleachers. I can’t stop myself from wishing that Mama and Dad were here to see it.
Coach breaks up our celebration so our team can walk single-file across the middle of the infield to shake hands with the players from the other team. It’s a league rule. Be good sports, whether you win or lose. That’s what Coach preaches to us at every practice. “Play hard,” he says, “but most of all play fair and have fun.” He always tells us, “We should all play to win, because that’s what makes competition fun, but I’d much rather coach a team of good losers than a team of poor winners.”
I’m really glad he’s coaching us. Ken and I have known him for a long time. He teaches Sunday
School at my church and comes along with our youth group on a lot of our activities. The best thing about having him as a coach is he doesn’t yell and get mad like some of the other coaches do. If we make a mistake, like throwing the ball to the wrong base or something, he’ll talk to us and tell us the right thing to do. And he always does it in a quiet way. He never shouts or makes anybody feel bad like some of the other coaches do. Ken played last year, and I went to almost all his games. I couldn’t believe how mean some of the other coaches were to their players. In one game the shortstop on the other team made an error and his coach came right out on the field and yelled at him to go to the bench and he brought another kid in to take his place. Right in the middle of the inning!
Coach motions for all of us to get together down the left field line. It’s our “post-game critique.” He says we’ll be having one after every game because it’s important to go over things that happen in the game while they’re still fresh in everybody’s mind.
The things that are really fresh in my mind are that last swing, the sound the bat made when the ball hit it, and Ken and Andy scoring the tying and winning runs.
“Remember that base hit they got back in the fourth inning?” Coach says. “The one out to right-center that Heather fielded? When the runner on first
base was running toward third, the pitcher should have been backing up the base in case the throw got away. That goes for everybody. Always anticipate where the ball will be thrown and back up the base.”
I can hardly wait for Coach to get to the good part, that last inning.
“Another thing,” Coach says. “Pay attention to my signs. Twice I gave the bunt sign and the batter swung anyway. Missing a sign is serious business. It can cost a team a game. I remember a game two years ago when a player missed the bunt sign and then grounded into a double play to end the game.” Coach has such a serious look on his face you’d think we lost the game.
Suddenly his face breaks into a big smile. “Enough of the negatives,” he says. “I’m proud of all of you. You played hard, and you never gave up.”
Coach takes a couple minutes to tell at least one good thing everybody did in the game, even Cal, who struck out twice and popped out and missed the only two balls hit to him. Coach said, “Cal, you did a great job battling up there at the plate that last inning. Keep it up and the hits will start dropping.”
I can hardly wait until he gets to me.
“Ken, Andy, you two set the table for Kate in that last inning with good hits. And Kate, what a clutch hit that was. Two strikes and you hung in there. That was a fine piece of hitting.”
Everybody starts to cheer.
Coach shouts out above the cheers, “No practice or game tomorrow. We’ll practice Saturday morning at ten. See you then. Remember, if you know ahead of time you can’t make it, be sure to call me and let me know.”
Some of our players leave with their parents. Some others get on their bikes. I call out to Ken, “Race you home!”
“You’re on!” Ken answers.
Ken’s the better baseball player, but I’m the faster runner. Besides, I already have a three or four step head start. I know there’s no way he can catch me.
I fling open our screen door and burst through first. Dad’s standing by the window.
“We won!” I shout. “We won!”
Ken blurts, “Kate got the hit that drove me and Andy in with the tying and winning runs.”
“It was the last of…” I begin. But I stop when Dad turns toward me. His eyes are red and puffy.
“Hi kids,” he says. His voice is soft, almost a whisper. “Sorry we missed your game. How’d you do?”
We’ve already told him. Didn’t he even hear us? I glance at Ken. He’s looking at me with a puzzled look on his face.
“We won,” I said. “6 to 5.”
Dad doesn’t say anything. He just nods.
“Is anything wrong?” I ask. I realize Mama’s not
in the room. “Is Mama okay?”
“Your mom’s not feeling well. She went to bed early.”
I glance at the wall clock. 8:10. Mama, in bed? She’s never in bed by 8:10. Never. Unless she has the flu or something. And she’s almost never sick.
“She’s not asleep yet, is she?” I ask. “Maybe she’d like to hear about the game.”
“I think we’d better let her rest,” Dad said. “You can tell her about the game tomorrow.”
“She’s not real sick, is she?” Ken says. “She was all right this morning.”
Dad doesn’t look at us. He just stands by the window, looking into the backyard. “I’m sorry we didn’t get home in time for your game. There’s some macaroni in the fridge that you can microwave. I’m going to go check on your mother.”
He turns and heads toward the bedroom. Before he gets there, I say, “Dad?”
He stops and turns his head.
“Can I just see if Mama’s awake and say good-night?”
Dad smiles. Or at least tries to. It’s not his normal smile.
“It’s best to let her rest. You can tell her about the game tomorrow,” he says. “She’ll be fine.”
But the way he says it doesn’t sound at all convincing.
Ken and I are sitting in front of the TV eating our microwaved dinner when my cell phone rings.
“Did you win your game?” Ginny asks.
“You should have been there!” Of course I know better than anybody that Ginny and baseball don’t mix. After all, she’s been my best friend for years. We’ve always been in the same classes at school, and we even go to the same church. We’ve been in the same Sunday School classes and youth groups. We do almost everything together.
Except baseball. Even Coach has tried to talk her into playing, but she won’t. I’m going to keep working on her. Ivy and Heather said they’ll keep trying, too. Baseball would be even more fun if Ginny was on the team.
I tell her about that last inning. Everything. How scared I was and then how I felt when I hit the ball and it fell in for a base hit.
“That would have been fun to see,” she says. “Kate Adams, Girl Heroine. Maybe I’ll even come to one of your games sometime.”
“Do you mean it? Ginny Calhoun, at a baseball game?”
“Sure, I don’t mind watching.”
“Hey, maybe there’s hope for you after all.”
Ginny giggles. “I wouldn’t go that far. When it comes to baseball, I’m hopeless. I’ll come only if you promise to be the heroine again.”
“Oh, sure. No problem. I’ll probably get the game-winning hit every time.”
“You’d better. I’m counting on it.”
I take a bite of my microwaved macaroni and cheese and let my thoughts drift back to that moment when I saw the umpire signal “safe.”
“I bet your mother totally flipped out,” Ginny says. “The last time I talked to her she was really excited about you and Ken playing your first game together. I remember how pumped she got during your soccer games last fall. She was the loudest screamer in the crowd.”
“She gets excited all right. But she couldn’t come to the game today. She’s sick.”
“That’s too bad.” I know Ginny means it. That’s
one of the things I like best about her: she cares about people. It’s like she actually feels their pain whenever someone around her is hurting. “Tell her I hope she’s feeling better.”
“Did you write your poem yet?” Ginny asks.
“Not yet. How about your monologue? Do you have it memorized?”
“Not quite. It’s a long one. I wish you were in drama. Then we could work together.”
“You know I’m no actress,” I tell her. “But I wish you were in creative writing.”
She laughs. “You know I’m no poet.”
Today was the fourth day of the first week of our three-week session of classes at the Valley Lake School for the Arts. Every June our county has fine arts classes for grades five through eight. Ginny went last year in drama. She’s a really good actress and has been in lots of plays in our town’s children’s theater. She always tells me I should audition. No way. Like I told Ginny, I’m no actress. I’ve helped her rehearse by reading lines with her. I just can’t read them like a real actress does. Not like she does. She actually becomes the character. Me, I’m just reading words. No matter how hard I try, I never get any better. She must know that, but she’s too nice to tell me.
The school has classes in visual arts, music, dance, drama, and creative writing. The classes meet from nine o’clock until three o’clock five days a
week. Kids who want to attend have to audition and be selected by the school’s faculty.
Last summer was awful because I didn’t get to see Ginny much for those three weeks. I didn’t audition for anything last year because I wasn’t any good in any of the arts or even interested in them.
But this spring a visiting poet came to our school for one week and taught us about writing poetry. I never knew before how much fun it could be to write poems. He read a lot of his own, and they were easy to understand. Most of them were funny. He read a lot of good poems about sports, too. I liked those the best.
He had us write poems ourselves. I didn’t think I’d be able to, but he showed us lots of ways to get started. He said that getting those first few words on the page is the most important thing. He had us do some activities that made it really easy to write those first words. Like “begin with a place or a time or a person or action or object. Then combine them.” And “think of a person and put the person in a certain place. Have the person doing something.” Things like that. Another one was, “Take an object, something you can actually touch. Have someone do something with that object. Add a time and place.” And he said a poem doesn’t have to rhyme. That made it easier.
He said, “Once you get your poem started, ask ‘What next?’ or ‘What else?’ Before you know it, you have a poem.” I found out that writing a poem isn’t
as hard as I thought it would be. Actually, it’s kind of fun.
So this summer I auditioned for creative writing. And got chosen!
In my audition, I had to submit a poem I’d written and then have an interview with the teacher. I guess that was how he determined who really deserved to be in his class. At least he could find out who wanted to be there.
I submitted a poem I wrote about soccer.
In the closing seconds
I crouch on coiled legs,
wait for the corner kick.
I spring like a leopard,
claw autumn’s misty air,
clutch the damp ball,
clench it in cold hands,
skip three steps on soggy ground,
swing my leg into the ball’s flight
and take a tasty bite
of victory’s sweet fruit.
In my interview, Mr. Gallagher, the teacher, really surprised me. He said my poem was “marvelous.” He
was really impressed with my strong verbs. He said, “You captured the moment vividly.” Then he asked me about what he called “the process” of writing the poem. I told him about the poet who came to our school and told us we could start with a moment when something happened and then just add details to show what happened during that moment.
Mr. Gallagher said, “Well, you did great. I’m impressed.”
So I guess it was that poem that helped me get in his creative writing class. Even though Ginny and I aren’t in the same classes, we still see each other a lot. We ride the bus and have lunch together. There’s an activity period where we go outside and play volleyball or kickball. And every morning there’s an assembly. A guest artist comes to the school and gives a program or lecture. Ginny and I always sit together.
So even though Ginny isn’t playing baseball, this summer is better than last summer was.
I tell Ginny, “If I’m going to convince Mr. Gallagher that he was right to choose me, I’d better finish my assignment for tomorrow. I still have one poem to write.”
“Okay,” Ginny says. “And congratulations on your game-winning hit.”
“Thanks. I’ll meet you at the bus stop in the morning.”
I go back to the living room, pick up my cold
dinner, reheat it in the microwave, and take it to my bedroom. I set it on my desk, open my notebook, pick up a pen, and look at the poem’s first line, which I’ve already written in my notebook:
What I remember most
In class today, Mr. Gallagher had us write that line. One of our assignments for tomorrow is to write an unrhymed poem at least eight lines long using that as our first line. He told us, “Think of a single event in your life. It can be something that happened at any time in your past—five years ago, last year, last month, just a few days ago, or even today. You can make up details if you want, but you can also describe the moment exactly as it occurred. It doesn’t have to be a big, dramatic event. You can just start writing about the first thing that pops into your mind.”
I know I can do this assignment because it’s a lot like what I did with my soccer poem. Just write about a single moment. So I do what he said. I start writing about the first thing that pops into my head, and the lines start to flow. I don’t even have to think about what to write. My pen seems to move under its own power as it rushes across my paper. I write the final line and read over what I’ve written. I realize that I didn’t even worry about the length, and the poem turned out to be even longer than Mr. Gallagher said it had to be.
What I remember most
is the way my arms felt
when ball hit bat,
the way the ball darted,
like a scared rabbit
toward the outfield,
the way the dust
billowed above home plate,
the way Andy pumped
his arm in the air,
the way the team cheered me
and called me a hero,
and the fact that Mama and Dad
weren’t there to see any of it.
I don’t know if it’s the tapping on the door or Mama’s words, but something wakes me from a really good dream—the kind that makes you feel warm inside. I try to hold on to it as long as I can. After the second or third “Kate” I know it’s no use. I’ll never get back to that wonderful dream.
In the few seconds it takes me to answer Mama’s “Time to get up” with “Okay, Mama,” I can’t even remember what the dream had been about. It was probably something that would have made a good poem or story, but it’s gone now.
I wonder if that happens to other people, getting pleasant dreams interrupted right in the best parts and not being able to finish them. Ginny claims she doesn’t dream much, but I can’t believe that. How
can someone not dream? It seems like almost every night I have one dream right after another all night long. When I don’t dream, I wake up in the morning feeling a little bit disappointed. To me, the best thing about sleeping isn’t even the rest I get, it’s the dreams. It’s like watching a movie or even reading a story, but without doing the work it takes to actually read a story.
I just wish scientists could find a way to videotape dreams so we could have a permanent record of them. I keep my notebook right next to my bed, and once in awhile I’ll grab my pen the second I wake up and scribble out some words or details of the dream so I’ll be able to remember it longer. I’m not very good at doing it, though. The details of my dreams always fade after a few seconds. I usually end up with a couple of words or sentences that really don’t make much sense when I read them a day or two later. Sometimes I can’t even read my scribbling.
A dream is a lot like eating orange sherbet; it’s sweet and pleasant and you want the taste to last and last, but it’s gone too soon. Nothing is left except the memory that once upon a time something really tasty had been there.
I slip into my summer school clothes—loose fitting denim shorts and a white t-shirt, sneakers, and white socks. The temperature is supposed to be in the low nineties. The director of our school told
us we could dress comfortably, as long as we dress tastefully. By “tastefully” she means don’t show too much skin and don’t wear clothing too tight or with dirty words written on it. Even if I wanted to dress that way, which I don’t, Mama and Dad would never permit it, so the school’s dress code really isn’t a problem for me.
Mama is standing at the kitchen counter. My breakfast is waiting for me—a bowl of cold cereal with a sliced banana, orange juice, and a glass of milk. I pour half the milk into my bowl of cereal. Soggy cereal is really gross, so whenever Mama has breakfast waiting for me, she makes it a point to let me pour the milk into the bowl myself.
“Hi, Mama. Are you feeling better?”
She smiles. “I am, honey. Thanks.” Her eyes have hints of red in them. She looks tired.
“Are you going in to work today? You look like you could use some more sleep.”
She pours herself a cup of coffee and sits at the table. “I look that bad?” She says it in a teasing way, and I can’t help but smile.
“You never look bad, you know that. You do look tired, though.”
“I guess I didn’t sleep well,” she says. She butters some toast, but doesn’t eat it. She just stares at it for a moment. “I’ll be going to work, same as always, as soon as the bus picks you up. Mr. Randolph’s office
would fall apart without me there. You know how it is. Ken’s the only one lucky enough to sleep late, now that you have to get up early for your class.”
She motions toward the toast. “You want some?”
I shake my head. “Has Dad left already?”
“About twenty minutes ago.”
I glance at my watch. I still have plenty of time before I have to walk to the bus stop. “I think you should make Ken get up, too,” I say. “I bet there are plenty of chores for him to do while we’re all out working so hard.”
“Oh, are they working you hard?” There’s a twinkle in her eyes. She doesn’t seem to be sick. I’m so glad. I was worried about her. I don’t remember her ever being too sick to say good-night to me. Until last night.
“In last night’s game I could hardly hold the bat, my hand was so stiff from all the writing that Mr. Gallagher has us do.”
“Your hand must not have hurt too badly. Your father told me that you got the game-winning hit. I wish I could have seen it. I’m so proud of you. I can imagine how exciting it must have been.”
“Oh, it was! Remember, you told us about the time you won the conference tennis championship in a tie-breaker that lasted forever. And how exciting that was. 15 – 13, wasn’t it? But I bet I was even more excited about my hit than you were about winning
Mama smiles. Then she gets this faraway look in her eyes. It’s like she’s looking past me, maybe back to that tennis match. She blinks hard a couple of times, then looks back at me. “I’m glad,” she says.
“Who knows, maybe I’ll have another chance. It’s a long season. Thirteen more games. I was talking to Ginny last night and she said she might even start coming to some of them.”
Mama gets up from the table and carries her plate to the dishwasher. “That would be nice. She’s not much of a baseball fan, is she?”
“No, but Ivy and Heather and me are still trying to talk her into playing. Coach says he’ll find room for her if she wants to play.”
Mama sits back down across from me. I can tell she didn’t get much sleep. She has the prettiest green eyes. But today there’s still that touch of redness in them. Not as red as her hair, though. Mama is so pretty with her green eyes and red hair. I’ll never be as pretty as she is, but I’m so lucky I have hair like hers.
I know some girls who say they wish they weren’t redheads. I don’t understand how they can’t not love their red hair. Just looking at Mama makes me feel good about myself, knowing I look a lot like her.
“Ginny’s played before, hasn’t she?” Mama said. “Don’t you play at school, in P.E.?”
“I think that’s why she hates baseball.”
“Why is that? She’s a good athlete. I know she can handle herself on the tennis court. I’m sure she’d be good at baseball, too.”
“I know. I think she’s afraid she’ll get hit by the ball again.”
Mama breaks into a smile. “Oh, that’s right. I remember.”
“I don’t think Ginny will ever forget. We were playing in P.E. and the ball hit her right in the mouth. It gave her a bloody lip, and her mouth was swollen for a couple days.”
“I shouldn’t laugh,” Mama says, but I can see she’s working hard not to. “I know it wasn’t funny to Ginny. But I remember it was the day of your class play. She had the lead.”
“Right. And she still says it was one of the worst days of her life. She had to say all her lines through puffy, swollen lips. She was totally embarrassed by how bad she looked, and she didn’t think anybody in the audience would be able to understand what she was saying. She felt like she had a mouthful of cotton.”
“She did great, though.”
“She sure did.” I glance at my watch. In fifteen minutes the bus will come. It’s only a three or four minute walk to the bus stop, but Ginny and I always like to be a little early. I take a final big swallow of orange juice. “She thinks she did awful, though, and
she blames baseball for it.”
Mama reaches over and touches my hand. “You’ve got your work cut out for you, I guess, if you’re going to convince Ginny that baseball is fun and safe.”
It seems like my morning is never really off to a good start until I feel Mama’s touch, when she gives me a hug or touches my hand. This day is off to a great start.
“I guess,” I say. “But I like challenges.”
“I know you do.” Mama’s voice softens, and the smile leaves her face. “Challenges make us stronger people. Better people.” She quickly wraps both her hands around her coffee cup and says, “Almost time for your bus. You’d better hurry.”
“Are you okay, Mama?”
“I’m fine. You have fun at school today. Write something beautiful.”
Maybe today I’ll write something I’ll be able to let Mama read. I don’t dare show her the poem I wrote last night, the “What I remember most” poem. It would make her feel even worse about missing our game.
When school’s over at three o’clock half of us rush out to the bus. The rest are picked up by a parent. I sit with Ginny on the bus and tell her how much fun it was today in Mr. Gallagher’s class.
“He let us read our poems out loud if we wanted to,” I say, “but he didn’t make us read.”
“You read yours, didn’t you?” Ginny says.
I like it that Mr. Gallagher doesn’t force anybody to read their poems. I mean, I don’t mind writing personal stuff, but I don’t want the whole class to hear it. That’s why I didn’t read my poem about getting the winning hit and Mama and Dad not coming to the game. I didn’t mind if Mr. Gallagher saw it, but no way was I going to read it out loud.
“You should read them,” Ginny says. “I thought everything you wrote was great. You should let the class hear them.”
“Some of them are too personal. I can’t read those.”
Mr. Gallagher said he was going to type some of our poems and make copies so we could enjoy the poems written by other class members and learn from them. He said he wouldn’t type the poems that had NO written at the top of the page.
I made sure that most of mine had a big NO at the top.
I tell Ginny how Mr. Gallagher had us write a lot of other things today. Some were three-line poems. He told us not to use rhyme. He said our poems were a kind of haiku, but that we didn’t have to use the 5 – 7 – 5 syllable pattern that a traditional haiku uses.
I wrote about a girl on the tennis court.
On the green tennis court
Yellow fuzzy balls skip
Into the twang of catgut strings.
The neatest thing was: when Mr. Gallagher came around to see our work he said he liked it! He said, “You have some good images—your colors, the sound of the ball.” He liked my verb ‘skip.’ He said, “Some writers would have said ‘bounce’; ‘skip’
is a more unusual choice. When you’re writing, try to come up with the unusual. Don’t always use the same words everybody else would use.” Then he asked me, “Do you play much tennis?”
“Some,” I said. “Mostly with my family or my friend Ginny. My mom played in college, and she taught me how to play.”
“Kate’s good,” Allison said. “She could play in tournaments if she wanted to.”
I like Allison a lot. She’s a year older than me and we go to different schools, so I don’t get a chance to spend much time with her, but we go to the same church. She’s been in the same youth group as Ginny and me for a couple years. It was nice of Allison to say that, but I don’t think I’m that good.
“Pretty impressive, Kate,” Mr. Gallagher said. “I hope you’ll write some more poems about tennis.” Then he said, “That’s something I hope each of you will do: write about the things that interest you most. You all have talents and interests that would be fun for others to read about. That’s what poetry is all about—sharing with others how you feel about things.”
Then some other kids read more three-liners. I wasn’t surprised at the poem Allison read. She titled it, “My Favorite Book.”
God’s word beside my pillow
Filling me with peace
God’s words of peace for me.
One thing about Allison, she’s not afraid or embarrassed to let people know how she feels about God. I wish I could be that open. I go to Sunday School and church every week. I’m active in all the church’s youth activities. And I love God. I really do. But I pretty much keep how I feel about him to myself. I admire Allison for being strong enough to let people know how she feels, especially when she gets teased by some people for being “goody-goody.” It doesn’t even seem to bother her when people say that about her.
Another thing about Allison, she never puts others down if they don’t believe the way she does about God.
Mr. Gallagher had us write a lot of other things, not just the three-line poems. Every few minutes he’d switch to something new, so class never got boring. He read some of his own poems, and he read poems by Robert Frost and Shel Silverstein and some other poets I’d never heard of. But the way he read made all of them sound good.
The final poem we worked on before the class ended for the day was what Mr. Gallagher called an Expansion Poem. We had to take one of our three-line poems and make it longer by adding details to it. We could describe the place in more detail or add
other people or show more of the action. We could tell how the people were feeling. We could make it into a little story if we wanted to.
I’d written six different three-line poems, and the one I decided to expand was my tennis poem.
On the green tennis court
Yellow fuzzy balls skip
Into the twang of catgut strings.
We dance to the music,
My mother and me, together
On one side of the net.
Across the net my dad and brother
Stumble amid the sound of laughter
Trying to return our powerful shots.
Finally, they sprawl down in defeat,
Faces red and puffing on the green court,
While Mama and me, tanned and fresh,
Barely breathing hard at all,
Jump the net to congratulate them
For a good try.
Well, that’s not exactly how our tennis matches always turn out. Mama and I aren’t always partners, and I don’t always win. But Mr. Gallagher said a poem doesn’t have to be true. A poem is one time when it’s
all right to lie, he said. Except he didn’t call it lying; he called it “changing reality.” The main thing, he said, is that you should just have fun writing a poem.
I had fun writing my tennis story poem, even though it wasn’t a “beautiful” poem like Mama suggested. Even so, I think it’s one she’ll like when I show it to her.
“Hey,” I say to Ginny, “I’ve been rattling on about my day. Tell me about yours. What was your class like?”
Ginny laughs. “Oh Romeo, Romeo! Wherefore art thou Romeo?” she says in a real dramatic voice. Then, in her normal voice, she says, “I’m glad your class was fun. You know about
Romeo and Juliet
, by Shakespeare?”
“I’ve heard of it.”
“Well, this afternoon I got to play a scene as Juliet.”
She bus pulls up, and as we walk up the aisle toward the front of the bus, Ginny is already on stage: “What’s in a name? That which we call a rose by any other name would smell as sweet.”
One of the girls up ahead turns around and smiles. “Go girl!” she calls out.
I can’t even begin to picture myself on stage speaking lines like Ginny does. I’m happier than ever I’m in Mr. Gallagher’s creative writing class.