While reading my friend Paige’s book last night I searched my mind for any similar story I might have. I remembered the two children I encountered a few days ago and decided to take a crack at writing it down.
What follows is my homage to Paige and The Nice Thing About Strangers.
I am in Topeka, Kansas, with my family for a Mother’s Day baseball tournament. My son’s team of 12-year-olds played two games on a beautiful, sunny Saturday but the weatherman tells us today will be much different. Rain is expected all day and we are hoping that because the fields are covered in artificial turf, aside from the real outfield grass, we will be able to get the whole tournament in.
One of the things my family enjoys about these overnight out-of-town trips is the opportunity to attend Mass at different churches around the Midwest. Unfortunately due to our late Saturday game and early Sunday game we have to get up at 5:30am to shower, check out of our hotel and use the GPS to locate the Mater Dei parish in downtown Topeka for a 7:30am Mass. It is a beautiful 19th century church and the morning sunrise shines through the east-facing stained glass windows on my right. We bathe in the brilliant and warm colors reflected through the images of the Mary, St. Michael, and especially Jesus, the Good Shephard. Maybe the rain won’t come after all.
After arriving at the sports complex and while the boys and their coaches begin their pre-game routine on the soccer field, I find a place to sit on a landscaped wall with bushes at my back, strategically located within eyesight of the boys at 10 o’clock, and the game being played prior to ours on the field to the north of the field in front of me, located to my right at 3 o’clock. It turns out the weatherman was right after all. After Mass ended the sun disappeared behind a gray cloudbank and the temperature has begun to drop. Lake Shawnee, located beyond the soccer field, is empty, unlike the previous day when it was filled with jet ski and waterski enthusiasts.
“The bees are coming. We have to swim for it!” she shouts. The little girl with long brown hair and the big imagination is dressed in a full-length, floral-print dress and sandals. “Bees? Oh, no!” She is followed with much giggling by her smaller brother in a green t-shirt, shorts and sandals. I guess that she is 5, and he is around 3. Both of them run through the grass, whirling their arms like helicopters cutting through the imaginary water with their air-borne American crawl.
While I watch the children at play I sense their mom approaching from the ballfield. When you’ve been around youth baseball as long as I have you learn to recognize the purposeful gait of a mom seeking her wayward cubs. “You need to stay where I can see you,” she gently scolds them. Both continue to giggle and “swim” away from mom. As she stands watching with hands on hips I risk intruding on the scene and say “They’re swimming away from a swarm of bees. It sounded pretty serious.” Broken from her gaze she turns to look at me and I see for the first time her shirt with the name of her son’s team on the front. They are from Elkhorn, a community just west of Omaha. I am wearing my Nebraska Bison maroon hooded sweatshirt. We are both dressed in the uniform of the baseball parent and identified as a member of our respective herds. To help put her at ease I explain why I’m sitting where I am and keeping an eye on her kids and foul balls. We make small talk and learn about each other’s ballplaying sons while the two swimmers continue to frolic. As we do my son’s team begins to make their way towards the field, their pregame routine complete. She and I wish each other good luck and safe travels home, and she is finally able to entice her two younger charges to follow her up the path.
I eventually follow them to the field as it is where we are scheduled to play next. Their game would go into extra innings and big brother’s team would win to remain alive in the tournament. The drizzle turned into a soft yet steady rain, but the little sister and brother play on behind the dugout until corralled, soaking wet and smiling, under their mom’s umbrella.