There are four kids: Lauren, 21, Cary, 19, Robin, 16, and Z. Last spring Lauren and Gary's respective club water polo teams made it to the national collegiate tournament held at Carthage College in Kenosha, Wis. Carthage, as fate would have it, is a mere 45 minutes from our house in suburban Chicago.
Lauren goes to Colorado. Cary goes to Dartmouth. Their teams were on opposite sides of the bracket, so they had a chance to meet in the championship game. I had determined in advance that I would not be present for that. I would be in a hallway, or in the parking lot, or quite possibly in a Wisconsin roadhouse, talking to my friend Jack.
Well, it didn't happen. Dartmouth took third, behind Cal Poly and Michigan State. Colorado finished eighth.
But I was amazed when the entire Dartmouth team came to visit us at our house during the tournament. Two nights later the Colorado girls did the same. There were my daughters, tall and tough and pretty, with their sports buddies. I grew up when girls were cheerleaders.
How did I grow up? Like every other kid I knew. My dad was a bomber pilot in World War II. My mom took care of the household. My dad's nickname in our neighborhood—a name that stands to this day, in his 83rd year—was Sweetie. He would come home from work, and I'd say, "Let's play catch," and he'd make a few tosses, jokingly complain about "bursitis" and "rheumatiz." Like every other kid's dad I knew, Sweetie worked. He came to my games when he could, supported me in whatever sports I wanted to play. And that was that. Guys I knew didn't play catch with their dads. They played catch with one another.
Somebody was smoking in the basement at the Friday night get-together—"Not me!" comes the refrain from each of the kids—and somebody opened one of the screenless windows down there and, unbeknownst to anyone, a squirrel sneaked in. I walk downstairs today, Sunday, and nearly have a heart attack when I see something move. The crazed rodent has already chewed away at the frames of all the basement windows. Of course, the offending window is now thoughtfully closed. I crouch on one side of the messy room with the Rainbow Brite dolls and Barbie cars and plastic soldiers scattered about. The squirrel perches on the other. We stare at each other. Now what?
I am in my backyard in Key West in 1979. This is where I moved as a young single man for 3� years because I had no responsibilities. I wanted to get away from Chicago winters, yes, but year-round 70-game Softball seasons were the spice.
I am looking through a slit in the ragged cane fence, the kind you buy at the lumberyard and unroll, at my backyard neighbor, Peter Taylor, a kindly, 62-year-old writer from Tennessee, who will, in the not-too-distant future, win the Pulitzer Prize for his novel A Summons to Memphis.
Peter is telling me that he has been diagnosed with diabetes. "The doctor allows me 1� ounces of vodka per day," he says stoically. "And he'd prefer nothing." He describes the way he anticipates and stretches that single, frowned-upon drink, mixed with a small portion of tonic and slice of lime, every evening on the porch with his wife. And yet, he says, the single drink, sweet as it is, is almost more pain than comfort, as it signifies in its frugality what is lost. As I look at first one then the other of his sad blue eyes as they appear through the narrow slit, I think of the recent days I had spent on assignment with Roger Maris and Mickey Mantle in Gainesville.
The three of us were in the dugout at a University of Florida game. Mantle asked Maris why he quit baseball so soon after going from the Yankees to the Cardinals.