(Here’s a Thanksgiving story for you … )
November 28, 2019
I told him not to, but Andy brought out that damn baseball again and set it on the table before dinner.
He did it while I was in the kitchen trying to keep the turkey from drying out. (You have to tell me again … I brined it for days. I set an alarm and basted it every 15 minutes when it was in the oven, just like you said. My hand is numb from all the basting. That’s not permanent, is it?)
Andy was threatening to deep fry again. He’s going to set the neighborhood on fire with that turkey deep fryer. So, I went out to the garage covered it in dish soap and the kids’ school paste last week. (Thanks for the idea.) I blamed the neighbor kids. Halloween prank, I said. It saved Thanksgiving, but he’ll have it cleaned up before Christmas unless I figure out how to make it disappear for good.
I told Andy this year we needed a peaceful Thanksgiving. Leave the baseball alone. The thing is disgusting – it smells of dead mouse. (If we all die of the plague, you’ll know why.)
“But, it’s tradition,” Andy says.
I can’t even grab the ball off the table because my hand is still numb from all the turkey basting. (Not permanent, right?)
It’s too late, anyway. There’s the knock at the door.
The knock that comes as soon as the Thanksgiving meal is set out. As soon as the turkey is carved, the potatoes mashed, and the Tofurkey is on a plate for Lily, who has suddenly decided she’s going vegan this year.
“Don’t answer it.” I say that every year. I might as well be talking to the cat. Lily and Sam hear the knock, sit up straight, eyes lighting up. Sam yells, “YESSSS!” and Andy smiles because he thinks he’s raised them right.
Right enough to know you always answer the door on Thanksgiving when the baseball that smells like a dead mouse is sitting on the Thanksgiving table.
Even when I say, “Don’t answer it.” Because we all know who it is.
It’s Babe Ruth.
Who’s going to believe that Babe Ruth comes to our house every Thanksgiving, when he’s been dead for 70 years?
(I know you believe me, mom. I know that’s why you and dad don’t come to Thanksgiving dinner any more. I know. I hope you had a lovely time at Amy’s. How was the traffic? I told you 81 was going to be a mess. Sure, we’re 20 minutes away. But, I understand. And, when Sam and Lily ask why their grandparents never come to Thanksgiving, I’ll tell them, “Oh, honey, they like Amy’s kids more than they like you.”)
What? I’m going to tell my friends that Andy’s old baseball, the one his grandfather gave him, summons Babe Ruth to dinner? That Andy’s great-grandfather swore it was a home run ball hit by Babe Ruth, clean out of the park in Shreveport, Louisiana during some spring training when the Yankees were there? That Andy’s grandfather, and now Andy, were the only ones who believed the ball was Babe Ruth’s home run ball?
Well, I believe it. Because every Thanksgiving Andy brings the baseball out, sets it on the table, and within a minute or two there is a knock at the door.
The first few years, it was a little frightening. Because, ghosts, right? Who knows what hell-mouth you might have unleashed. When Lily was 5, she would poke Babe in the arm just to see if her fingers would go through him like a ghost. Babe thought that was pretty funny.
But, Babe’s pretty solid. I mean, he looks just like the photos. The thick, strong body with the spindly legs. Sure, he’s dressed for dinner in 1920, but he’s sort of dapper. Andy doesn’t wear a suit to dinner. So, having Babe Ruth show up in a suit and tie, well, it’s kind of sweet.
Babe brought the kids a dog this year. What kind of person just brings a dog to Thanksgiving dinner and expects that it’s going to be ok with their parents? Oh, sure, the kids were excited. (The neighbors were excited this morning when they discovered that Ruffles, their prized Labradoodle, who had gone missing on Thanksgiving, was over at our house.)
During dinner, Andy asked if Babe could bring a friend. Maybe Lou Gehrig.
Babe thought that was a hoot. “Gehrig’s not coming here,” he said after he finished chuckling, his mouth still full of turkey so he was chew-talking. “He’s a mama’s boy. Those media boys thought he was a saint. I guess he was. No fun at all.”
Andy quickly told Babe that several years ago Cal Ripken, of the Baltimore Orioles, broke Lou Gehrig’s consecutive game streak.
His eyes lit up. “You don’t say? A Baltimore kid broke Lou’s streak?”
“Yup,” Andy replied, excited to be telling something that clearly delighted the Babe.
Babe took another bite of turkey. (He chews with his mouth open and I’ve had to tell Sam we don’t chew with our mouths open, I don’t care what Babe Ruth does when he’s here.)
“Well, good. Baltimore’s my home. I’ll look forward to meeting this guy. Stan Ripken, you say?”
“Cal. Cal Ripken.”
“Cap Ripken. I’ll remember that name.”
“Cal. His name is Cal,” Sam corrected. (Sam is at the chew-with-your-mouth-open, leave-your-dirty-socks-in-the-hallway, and “let’s correct all the adults” phase.)
“Right,” Babe answered.
Sam loves the Babe. Last year, he taught the Babe how to play RBI Baseball on our Nintendo. And, within 15 minutes Babe had it figured it out.
He didn’t even know what television was when he came that first Thanksgiving. Now, he pushes himself away from the dinner table, and says, “Hey, kiddo, let’s play that baseball game of yours on the machine.”
“OK, Babe, but I get to be Mike Trout.”
“Hey, how were my Yankees this year? How’s that big kid, Aaron Judge?”
“Good!” Sam said, “He had 27 home runs. Gleyber Torres hit 38!”
“Glaaaaayber?” Babe fumbled his way through the name. “What the hell kind of name is that?”
“He’s from Venezuela,” Sam replied. Sam spent all morning on his phone getting his Yankee stats straight so he could tell the Babe about their season.
“Thirty-eight home runs? Well, he’s no Babe Ruth.” And, Babe chuckled at his own joke. “I could hit 38 home runs with my eyes closed.”
Then Babe turned to Andy. “How’re those Orioles doing?”
Andy looked down, “They lost 108 games this year.”
“They sold me away, you know. Maybe I cursed them.”
“They’re just bad,” Sam interrupted.
“You just wait, Sam,” Babe replied. “Things change. Bad teams get better. Good teams go bad. And, the Yankees win the World Series. Those are the rules.”
“But they didn’t win, Babe. The Houston Astros beat them and then the Nationals won the World Series.”
“Are you putting me on, kid? The only way the Yankees lose is if the other team is cheating.”
“They probably did, Babe. The Astros are in a lot of trouble for stealing signs.”
“Stealing signs? They’re in trouble for that? Everyone steals signs. Not me. I didn’t need ‘em. But, the other fellas. They were stealing signs so much that catchers had to come up with these crazy hand signals. A pitcher didn’t know what the hell they were asking for.
“I pitched, too,” Babe continued. “Did you know that, Sam?”
“Yes, sir. You were with the Red Sox then.”
“We hate the Red Sox,” Lily said, jumping into the conversation.
“Well, I was a damn fine pitcher. Chet Thomas was the catcher when I was with the Sox. The fans called him Pinch. I don’t know why. But, they did. Everyone said, he was the only catcher who could tame the Babe. He was all right. A tough fucker,” he stopped and looked over at me. “Excuse me, ma’am, I mean fella. A tough fella.”
Babe continued, “He probably killed a man in a bar fight once. That’s what some folks said. I don’t know about that, though. Only what I heard. Then there was one day … I wasn’t pitching. It was that farm boy Foster pitching. Little guy. And, this Austin kid with the Browns started jawing that we was throwing at him. We weren’t. Least, not on purpose. Foster had a bum arm by then, so his control wasn’t what it used to be. Anyways, Chet told the kid to stop bellyaching and just swing instead of howling like a yellow dog. So, the kid turns around, grabs Chet by the mask, and starts swinging. I guess he didn’t know no better. Chet stood up and socked him right in the face a couple times, hard as he could. Messed him up pretty bad.”
Sam just stood there with his eyes wide open.
“Did he get in trouble?”
“I guess he got suspended. They both did, I suppose. That’s what they do. They suspend you a couple games and think that’s going to teach you a lesson.” Then Babe laughed that big, wall-shaking laugh of his.
Well, I had to step in. “Sam, we don’t hit players, isn’t that right? Tell Babe that we don’t play like that anymore.”
“We don’t play like that anymore, sir,” Sam said and then paused. “But, I sure wish we did.”
Well, that got another belly laugh out of Babe. And, off they went to play video games.
Mom, I don’t know why Babe Ruth comes to our house at Thanksgiving.
Lily and Sam tried to tell their friends once and I got a call from Jenny Penbroke. You remember her. Her kid plays on Sam’s soccer team. He has so many cowlicks he looks like he lives in a wind tunnel. Jenny was concerned that Sam was telling lies to her son. I had to dance my way through that one. I told her Sam wasn’t lying, he just had been sick over the holidays and had some strange dreams and that was all. He was just telling her son about one of the dreams and her son must have gotten confused. Then I quickly changed the subject to Missy Brayburn’s son and the head lice incident.
Babe, Sam, Lily, and Andy played video games for a couple hours. Then they came upstairs for pie. I have to make three pies now, because Babe is sure to eat an entire one on his own. Always pumpkin.
“This is good pumpkin pie, ma’am. Don’t mind if I have another slice.”
“She made a whole pie just for you,” Lily announced.
“Well, your mom’s a good woman,” Babe responded.
After he finished off the pie, he shooed the kids away from the table and pulled a flask from his pocket. “Time for a nip,” he whispered to Andy who already had grabbed two tumblers out of the pantry.
Babe’s “nip” was to fill each glass half full. Before he was done, I grabbed a glass and set it on the table. Babe looked up a little surprised.
“You’re drinking, too, mama?”
(Yes, mom, Babe sometimes calls me mama. He’s nearly 125 years old and he calls me – me! – “mama.” You know what that makes you. It makes you Babe Ruth’s Grandma.)
Whatever was in that flask was 100 years old and burned my throat. Is that what bathtub gin is? Ask dad for me. He’ll know.
Babe sat at the table and picked up the baseball that was sitting there.
“I remember that home run,” he said and then closed his eyes. “It came off my bat like a freight train. I’d never heard a ball make a sound like that. I saw it go over the outfield fence and it was still going, out of sight. They said it landed on a truck that was driving by and just kept going.”
Andy told him: “My great-grandfather was playing hooky and tried to sneak in to see you play that day. He said the man at the gate grabbed him just before he slid under the bleachers, and that’s when he saw the ball come over and land on the truck. He ran after it. When the truck slowed at a turn he jumped onto the bed and grabbed the ball. It was his most prized possession, Babe. He passed it down to his son, and then his son – my granddad – passed it on to me.”
“That’s a nice story, Andy. It was a hell of a shot.”
I interrupted, “So, Babe. What is it about this baseball that gets you to come, wherever it is you’re coming from, to our house each Thanksgiving?”
Babe rubbed the ball in his palm. He’s got a huge hand, it’s really more like a bear paw.
He got very quiet. He was clearly thinking hard about this question.
“I don’t know,” he finally answered. And, then he was quiet again.
He opened his eyes. “But, I’m sure glad to come by. You make a mighty good dinner and this pie. Why, this might be the best pie I’ve ever had. Can I have another slice before I go?”
Mom, I slave over these pies. My crust is perfect. It’s the shortening-and-butter trick you taught me. But, not once – not once – has Andy or Sam or Lily ever mentioned how good my pie is. How perfect.
But, Babe Ruth does. Every year, he says the same thing: “Why, this might be the best pie I’ve ever had.”
(You and dad must come for Christmas. Or has Amy already twisted your arm for Christmas dinner, too?)
Then Babe calls the kids over and says his goodbyes.
“You take care of yourselves,” he tells them. “And, take care of that dog I brought you, too.”
“Yes, sir,” Lily said.
(We brought the neighbor’s dog back this morning. They were not pleased. What am I supposed to say, “Oh sorry, Chip, Babe Ruth came by for dinner yesterday and took your dog to give to the kids.” I just said, “Well, apparently Ruffles got loose, and was about to be run over, and we grabbed him, and here he is. Oh, and he got into a bowl of leftover gravy and threw up on my carpet.”)
Babe gives Lily a hug and Sam a handshake. And, he shakes Andy’s hand. And, he turns to me and says, “Thank you, mama, that was a fine meal. And, you have a fine family.” And, he gives me a little peck on the cheek, and he smells sort of odd, like cloves and Aqua Velva.
And, then he leaves.
And, this is why you don’t come for Thanksgiving? Amy’s family is so much better than ours? How’s Suzanne’s acne? Is Noah reading at grade level yet? Seriously, mom, we’re 20 minutes away.
It’s good enough for Babe Ruth.
And, I make the best pie he’s ever had.
Love, your daughter who isn’t Amy