Six months ago this week, I found myself outside the locked gate of the baseball fields I grew up playing on. It was just past midnight. I’d been driving around for a couple hours, aimlessly, and this is where I ended up.
I sat in my car, listened to music, and thought about my granddad.
He died earlier that day, at 82.
I got out, hopped the fence and wandered around the fields. I walked past the tiny diamonds with the pitching machines, the medium-sized ones with the all-dirt infields, and the big-time one, with the grass infield and raised mound.
My granddad watched me play baseball on all of those. A constant presence at my games, he saw me progress as a player and a grandson.
I’d wandered around a lot that night, driving by his old house and the parks where he took us grandchildren to feed the ducks. Anything except go to bed. That morning I woke up and had my granddad. The next time I woke up, I would not.
But life goes on. I eventually went to sleep, and dealt with what followed.
Which brings me back to those baseball fields. For 15 years he was there. He was there when he could easily walk, then when he needed a cane, a walker and finally a wheelchair. But he still came. He came to all my siblings’ games, at baseball diamonds, basketball courts and football fields across St. Louis.
Sports were what united us. It was how we related.
A hoops legend in Montana, he taught me how to shoot a basketball. He still sent me newspaper clippings of articles he thought I’d like. He told me stories of idolizing Joe DiMaggio, checking the box score each morning to see how the Yankee Clipper did the day before. He talked of watching the old-time newsreels, waiting for the basketball highlights. He talked about how Albert Pujols was the best player he’d ever seen (Even though after nine years, he still mispronounced El Hombre’s last name).
If you were as fortunate as I was, you know the weight these seemingly meaningless anecdotes carry. People we love die. That’s the reality. But they don’t have to vanish completely. People live on in the memories we have of them. The images and stories and the way they made us feel—those are eternal.
The day after he died, our extended family gathered at my nana’s house to sift through pictures to use for his funeral. We sat around the dining room table, as we did almost every holiday, and shared stories. Someone commented on granddad’s sometimes annoying habit of re-telling the same stories.
But six months later, I realize it was that repetition that allowed us to remember them completely.
It may sound obvious, but treasure the time you have with your grandparents. If you think you have better things to do than visit the nursing home for an hour, reconsider. If you think you don’t want to hear the story about their old neighborhood for the hundredth time, listen. They won’t be around forever.