The Wheelbarrow



The True Part: This wheelbarrow sits in the middle of a nearby farmyard. I pass it every time I drive or walk down our road. It’s been there for years, through at least the last two families who have lived there. I don’t know how it got there or why it stays there. But, it got me thinking  …

The Wheelbarrow

He could tell you the exact moment when he knew his playing days were through.

It happened toward the end of a meaningless game on a humid Wednesday at the end of September. He was at bat, a 3-0 count, when Swelter Feeney’s fastball caromed off his wrist. Feeney hit batters all the time, so it didn’t surprise him. If he had jerked away a second sooner, maybe it wouldn’t have hit him square on the bones. But, he hadn’t, and it did. He knew right away it was bad. He knew right away things had changed.

He jogged to first and fought back a grimace. Bones were broken – at least one, probably more – in his wrist. He was sure of that. Teams didn’t have trainers back then and he didn’t need a doctor to tell him his hand would never be the same.

He bluffed his way through the rest of the game – a game they lost – hiding the fast-swelling hand from prying eyes. Didn’t say a word. He didn’t want to lose his job, the only job he ever wanted.

That night he ate nearly an entire bottle of aspirin and tied an old rag around the wrist to quiet the throbbing. He found a pair of old tin snips and, with his good hand, cut a circle out of a pie pan and pushed a thin piece of tin into his glove, loosening the leather laces and splitting part of the glove at the bottom so he could press his swollen hand behind the tin, which, he hoped, would soften the blow of ball into glove. It helped. But, only a little.

He had been in a late-season slump, and now with his grip weakened, he stopped hitting entirely. The manager finally benched him, you couldn’t blame him, but with the season nearly over, it didn’t matter much. He ate aspirin until his stomach burned. He didn’t tell a soul.

By spring, the wrist had knitted itself back together. But, it healed poorly and was now misshapen and unbending.

By then his manager knew, too. He was cut before the season even started.

He went home, found a patch of weedy land just outside of town, and bought his wife a Sears house on credit. Model 115, the smallest one they offered.

It came in a kit that he paid off, little by little, each month. And, when it was nearly paid off, he bought himself a Sears barn, the smallest one they offered and really more garage than barn, also on credit.

His wife grew the garden and gathered the eggs and they made ends meet when she sold what was left, while he did odd jobs in town and helped his wife by bringing fresh fertilizer and dirt to her garden and tending her apple trees, and toting jugs of water and tools around their yard in his wheelbarrow, which he called a “whee-uh-beara” dropping the L’s and letting it drift off at the end.

They had two daughters and those girls grew up and married and moved away.

And, that was how things were. His wife grew the garden and gathered the eggs. And, he brought fresh dirt and fertilizer to her garden and tended her apple trees. He was rarely seen outside without his wheelbarrow.

He talked about baseball rarely. He thought about it always, a joyless memory of a game he remembered loving once.

He would think about what could have been had he just jerked away as Swelter Feeney’s fastball rode in on him that day. It always came back to Swelter Feeney’s fastball and that one second.

He had been told once – or heard it or read it somewhere, he couldn’t remember how exactly he came by it – that an injury holds its trauma in the scar tissue.

When people were around, he would tuck his bad hand into his pocket, or tightly cross his arms across his chest so he could hide the misshapen wrist under his other arm.

At other times, with no one around, he would massage the wrist hard with his good hand – as though he were rubbing a genie’s lamp – hoping he could rub out the trauma. Hoping if he rubbed out the trauma he could remember once more the joy. The joy he felt in the game. The joy he hadn’t felt since.

Not since Swelter Feeney’s fastball rode in on him.

The years went by.

He walked from his barn to the garden, back and forth, pushing his wheelbarrow and moving fresh dirt and fertilizer to his wife’s garden and carrying away branches he trimmed from her trees.

His wrist had grown hard with arthritis. The hand hardly moved at all anymore. Still, he rubbed.

He was thinking of baseball, one day late in the summer, when he stumbled while pushing the wheelbarrow.

He sat down on the ground beside it to catch his breath and the latest dog settled down next to him. He rubbed the dog’s ears with his good hand.

As he sat there in the grass, he thought of his wife and the Sears house that she loved and the Sears barn that he loved and his perfect daughters, and the hound dogs that, year after year, joined him as he pushed the wheelbarrow from barn to garden to trees. So many dogs came and went. So many years.

And, then he thought of baseball. He remembered.

He remembered how the hot summer sun felt so good, so goddam good, against his face as he would stand on first base. How good it felt to pound his fist into his glove, yelling “come on, come on” to no one and everyone. How he loved that.

He didn’t think of Swelter Feeney at all.

She wouldn’t move the wheelbarrow. It reminded her of him so she left it there, right where he died. The old dog slept by the wheelbarrow for several nights afterward. But, the dog finally knew he wasn’t coming back and went back to sleeping on the porch.

Years later, the barn, that was really more garage than barn, fell in on itself after a heavy snow, and the house passed down to one of the daughters and she and her husband shored up the walls and patched up the leaks. But, the daughter left the wheelbarrow where her mother had left it. At that very spot.

In time, the daughter sold the house, to people who didn’t know the story of the now-rusted wheelbarrow or why it sat where it did in the yard. People who didn’t know anything of baseball or Swelter Feeney’s fastball.

But, for some reason, they left it there, too. Right where the daughter left it. Right where the wife left it. Right where it was when he remembered how good the hot summer sun felt against his face standing on first base.


14 thoughts on “The Wheelbarrow

    • WOW , You must have a computer??? Look it up !!! In case you do not let me fill you in , Cleveland has 2 huge statues called Guardians , they are beautiful , thus the Cleveland Indians changed to the Guardians , by the way the world at this time has enough hurt , and anger , so why do you put your crap question on a really nice article Jackie wrote that has nothing to do with Cleveland ??? My name is Lisa . { sorry I said crap } If you get a chance, if you care to , look up on google , Anonymous Man From Elkton . Jackie wrote it about my dad before he died ,maybe I have some of that anger and hurt myself ??? Take care , Lisa

    • I really was hoping for Spiders. That poor 1899 Cleveland Spiders team went 20-134 … I thought it was time to give Spiders a chance to finally be known for something other than being the worst ever.

      Guardians refers to the two “Guardians of Traffic” statues on Cleveland’s Hope Memorial Bridge.

      While outsiders like us are a bit “meh” about the name, people in Cleveland seem very excited … and that’s the main thing.

      At the end of the day, I’m just glad they’re finally retiring Indians. I hope this gives Atlanta a push to end the Braves era.

  1. Jackie,
    This one gave me a lump in my throat. A wonderfully vivid story that got me to thinking. When i go, I hope, too, that my last memory is of baseball…

    Well done!

  2. Jackie , love this , reminds me of dad { Garland Shifflett } A real nice lady From Elkton recently sent me an article from The Daily News Record that talks about several names that came from small towns , but I am getting off of the wheelbarrow story , FACT; there is a rusty wheelbarrow that is hanging on our back yard fence , it’s RUSTING AWAY , the tire is almost gone !!! Mom and I do not remember if dad just left it hanging for some reason {as he has a real good one in the garage} or if he , for some reason had some connection to it . FACT ; thank you Jackie for your insight and imagination on baseball players , real , not real or passed away . ALWAYS , HIS DAUGHTER , LISA

    • Hi Lisa … Your mention of your dad’s wheelbarrow gave me the chills … what an eerie coincidence.

      I hope you and your family are doing well. I know how hard it is to lose a beloved father … it never fully heals. But, I also know that our dads never really leave us. They stay in our hearts. And, today, 15 years after my dad passed, I still hear his voice and I still feel his presence. That gives me great comfort. I know you will have that, too.

      And, as so much has been written in recent months about the difficult conditions faced by minor leaguers today — including not having enough money for room or food — I think of how your father helped put a face on the plight of minor leaguers back in the 1960s and 1970s. Clearly, we still have a long way to go. It may be time for me to write about that connection … that today’s situation is nothing new, and it’s time to fix it.

      Take good care … and keep in touch! ~ Jackie

  3. Lovely tale, Jackie. Made me think about my parents and my mom’s garden and the fact that they met at a softball game.

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