A mile south of the old neighborhood
The Paiges lived down three doors from us in a typical, clean little house of the time. Cathy Paige was three years older than my pals and me and had blossomed early. She was a forbidden blonde who used to like to water the back garden in her pink bikini on hot summer days. We would spy on her with binoculars as she got her tan. She had on a permanent smile as the sun gazed down on her body stretched out on the cheap lounge. We were amazed by her. Her older brother, Michael, was nearly the opposite.
He always worn blue jeans and a long white shirt even on the hottest August days. He would sit in the shade and read. He would always wave at us and call us each by name. He was a big guy but had never joined us in any sports or play. Except for one time. He strolled up to the baseball diamond with a new Nellie Fox bat and hit us flyballs and grounders one day. He cheered our good plays and kept hitting the ball toward our eager gloves. His white shirt was covered with sweat as he waved to us and headed home. I ran up to him and said, "Michael, that was really neat. Thanks for giving us so much practice. That is one cool bat. I'm going to try to be as good as Nellie Fox someday. Will you come up again? "
"You can be that good, Bobby. I know you can. " He smiled and touched my ball cap and nodded. He never did return.
On a still blistering hot night, I was in the front yard watering the trees and bushes, my favorite job, in the dark. I heard Michael's pickup start up and looked up as the red Chevy pulled by me. I gave a sincere wave and he returned it, with an added little honk of his truck horn. He turned right, went down a half a block to the alley, and turned into it. I heard the motor stop as he parked under his folks' carport. I came up early the next morning and Mom was looking out of the kitchen window. I joined her. There was an ambulance and a police car in the Paige's back driveway.
"Mom, what happened?"
"I think Michael did away with himself," she answered.
I raced downstairs and turned on the black and white console. I was crying as I tried to follow the plot of Sky King. The Huckleberry Hound cartoon came on but I didn't feel like laughing so I turned it off. I sat in the dark and cool of the basement. I had never known anyone who had died before. The Jensen brothers came running down the stairs.
"Michael killed himself! He put a hose into his window in the carport and filled it with gas from his truck engine. That's what Dad said, " spoke Mark. I jumped up off the couch and we went outside just in time to see the ambulance and cop car leaving the alley. We saw Cathy and her mom hugging and rocking. Mr. Paige, an older version of his now gone son, came out and softly guided the two into the basement. We went to the shed next to our little back patio and took out the whiffle ball and bats. We were heading out to play our usual game when little Mike said, "Look at that, you guys." I ran over and there on the top of the picnic table sat a nearly new baseball bat. I picked it up and held it. It was a Nellie Fox model with its famous thick handle!
Nellie Fox himself in action
I polished that bat and kept it with me under my bed for years. Six years later, I took it out the night before the big game against cross-valley rival Clarkston and swung it. I used it in the game and went 4 for 5 and knocked in the winning run with it in the top of the eighth inning. I never used it again. I held it up in the evening sky as I left the field as a tribute to Michael, who was going to try to help the world. With Michael's gift, I indeed had become Nellie Fox, for one day at least.
It sits against my wall with all my baseball memorabilia to this day.
We never spied on Cathy again.
Post Thoughts: I have tried to piece together over the years why Michael ended his life. It ended up that he had wanted to go into the ministry and was planning on studying to become a Catholic priest. I think he may have been gay, which would have been absolute torture back in the late fifties and early sixties. That is what makes sense as an explanation after forty years of thought.
Spud in action-1968-Almost as good as Nellie.
We watch television and think the images are real, ignoring what is happening near us to people we know and care about. I vow to become more aware and helpful with real people, real issues in my own area. Will you join me? Let the masses live through television. Some of us want to be of more direct help. Share the love/fight the hate.
My town going to sleep soon. How many here would appreciate some comfort?
from Echoes from the Neighborhood--Chapter six.