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Friday, December 6, 2013

Popping. By John von Daler

               The grass showed off its Kentucky green in the glare of the hundreds of lights from masts surrounding the baseball field. The soft dirt of the mound and base paths looked reddish, inviting, take a slide. Sounds of the hard balls on bats and mitts crystalized in the night air, crisp as the crack of fresh wood in a hot fireplace. Vendors tossed popcorn and peanuts in paper bags to the hungry fans. I was about nine and had gone to a minor league night baseball game in Tulsa with a friend of the family. We sat in the bleachers, together but not together, this man and I. He was doing for me what the father of any other kid might have been doing for his kid. But my father was an Austrian, so he did not go to baseball with his son.

                Do not worry about this little tale turning into a sob story. My father did many things with me. We played sonatas together. We heard opera. We built mechanical toys. We worked in the garden. We took vacations where I hung onto his back in great swimming pools in Mississippi, Florida and Mexico. So why did he not take me to baseball?
                In college the big lesson for me from studying was to start sizing up what was not there. Listen to the importance of the silences in music. Read into the omissions in books. But can this be used in human relationships?
                Let me fill in the blanks theoretically: I guess that he just did not understand or like the game. Maybe he even did not like to appear out of his element or uninformed in my company. He was in fact a silent man who only spoke when he had something intelligent to say; maybe he did not attend events he did not understand. So here I sat with another man whose silence was unfamiliar to me. We saw the Oilers lose because they made too many errors and scored too few points. Maybe they should have stayed at home too.
                But the nagging thought keeps returning to my mind: What if we had attended a baseball game without him being the expert? What if he and I had shared this one little clearing of ignorance in his vast forest of knowledge. What fear held him back from sharing this insecurity with me?
                It is morning in Vienna. Little Fritz has just had a semmerl and a few spoonfulls of hot coffee in some hot milk. Now he has gone to the nursery to have his first lesson of the day, French, spoken to him impeccably by his maiden aunt in her black dress with a white frilly collar, her hair mounted in a practical bun at the back of her head. Fritz always wanted to try to spin the bun to wind her up somehow. Who knows, maybe she would spout Chinese at an incredible tempo.
                As they sit down at the baby teatable to speak their French together, the door suddenly opens and in strides the general, her brother, Fritz' father, in full regalia. He likes to visit his son once a day. This touch of lively leniency satisfies some need of his to transcend military rigidity at least once in a while. Playfully, he salutes the two nursery dwellers. The little boy runs towards him and stops. Looking up into the stern face past the row of medals on the tall man's chest he blurts out, "Daddy is a rascal!" and runs to hide behind his aunt. His father laughs delightedly and leaves the room.
                You will never know what guidelines your parents implemented in their relationship - or lack of it - with you, their child. You can only guess at them. So you sit in your ignorance in that stadium at a game you begged to see and squirm a little in your seat. Pass the popcorn.

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