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There's something in a baseball that quarrels with things. Drop one on an old wooden porch and listen to the thunder of it rolling down the widening cracks; that nibbling of posts is really the oak being asked to break; that rattle as it nicks the edge of Mason jars is really the glass being asked to shatter. Even my mother sensed this when I was a boy in Iowa and banished me and the ball to a realm well away from the house. I had to stand beyond the whetstone when I clouted the ball around in those lonely games that a single child can devise. The games bore a great resemblance to dreams. And it was in this dreamlike, summer-crazed state that I met Cary.
Who was Cary? He was a hand, if you can reduce a man to a section of his body. First seen, he was a disappointment: an old man with skinny legs, big hands and long fingers, which he kept rubbing in slow circles on the balls of his thumbs.
I was whacking my new nickel ball off the barn when he came shuffling around the shuttered north side. For anyone else I would've hid the embarrassment I pretended was a bat behind my back. It was just a hoe handle. But when I saw him, I tossed the ball into the air and kept on playing. Who could've known?
"Where's your daddy, boy?" he asked.
Without answer I fled to retrieve my ball.
At Cary's soft knocking, Mother had sent him to the back door. She'd thought he meant to beg. Even after he was hired, she never called him by name, but referred to him as "that old rip—unlikely to work and most likely to die and cost us a Christian burial."
Out by the barn he found Father, who was also unimpressed.
"What can you do?" asked Father.
"What we need done—shocking wheat, picking up corn, hoeing weeds—things to wear an old man out."