Thursday, January 24, 2013

Baseball Bloodlines: The Laugh I’ll Never Forget

Onias "Pit" Martin
A name and a telephone number flashed on my parent’s television. 

The Yankees game had just ended. My father was dozing in his chair across the room. He partially opened his eyes as the phone rang. 

When my mother picked up the upstairs phone, the name disappeared from beneath a glowering Michael Kay. “Your Uncle Pit likes to rub it in when the Red Sox win,” my father tells me sleepily. “It’s like clockwork.”

It actually didn’t matter if the Red Sox or Yankees won. He called my mother to talk about the game either way. She understood his love of the game and he knew she’d appreciate the knowledge that he was still there, still among the living.

It was a ritual that endured through summers filled with weddings, funerals, family reunions, good and bad teams from Boston and New York, whoopie pies, and fiddleheads. There may have been no pennant race this year between the two old rivals—no urgent need to hold your breath with every pitch—but like seasons past, there was always the phone call between Onias “Pit” Martin and my mother. 

Spring training starts in 19 days. My Uncle Pit died Aug. 27, 2012

Tante Lucille and Uncle Pit
“Come in, come in,” Uncle Pit exclaims cheerfully. 

His hand reaches out and pulls me into the small kitchen. He’s already grinning and laughing and I haven’t said anything yet. 

My Tante Lucille takes my coat and I sit down in the living room. They both settle into their rocking chairs (if you’re French and don’t have a rocking chair, there is clearly something wrong with you. And it’s always better if it’s on the front porch). Behind his glasses, his eyes are alive with curiosity and amazement. He wants to hear all the excitement going on in my life in New York City. 

Every so often, he asks something quietly in French to Tante Lucille or my mother. He’d hear the answer and return his full attention back to what I was saying. The smile never leaves his face. He laughs his friendly, booming laugh at all of my jokes, even if they weren’t funny.

I wasn’t scared of Uncle Pit’s laugh like I was of a few of my mother’s brothers’ as a little kid. Uncle Clifford and Uncle Jimmy had these booming voices and gregarious laughs that filled up your whole head. Uncle Pit’s laugh was softer, and his voice put you at ease as soon as he started speaking to you. He had kind-hearted written all over his face, so he couldn’t help but be anything but. I did always think he was tough because he lost parts of three fingers on his left hand in an accident, but he smiled too much to be considered any kind of threat. 

I turn down Tante Lucille’s first 50 offers of a Diet Pepsi, but finally cave on the 51st. It gives me time to tell more stories. And gives both of them more time to tell me I should come visit more. When we finally get up to leave, he grabs my hand, pumps it enthusiastically in appreciation and love. 

“Come again soon,” he says again from the doorway as Tante Lucille walks us to the car. They both wave until our car is out of sight, knowing the ritual will happen again, but not as often as either party might like. 

Uncle Pit was born Aug. 4, 1935 in St. Agatha, Maine. He enjoyed fishing, gardening, and the outdoors. 

Uncle Pit's smile only got better with age.
We are smiling awkwardly at each other. 

I have come to visit again, but this time, he’s in rough shape. The decision to go to the emergency room or not is being made for him. He’s run up against three stubborn French women with his best interests at heart, and he knows it. He doesn’t go down without a fight, and held out hope he could stay home and laugh at all my stories. 

My mother takes his feelings into consideration when she lays out all his options, even though he really only has one. She holds his hand as he runs through them all through his head. He finally makes the right one, and nods. 

In impatient silence, he waits for the ambulance ride he’s about to take. He never loses the sparkle in his eyes or the smirk off his face. I know because we don’t lose eye contact until the EMTs show up. 

Uncle Pit was an avid Red Sox fan. 

Uncle Pit and Tante Lucille
I know spring will bring fresh sunlight to counter the seeming endlessness of our winter grief.

The light that now appears outside our windows isn’t that of further loss or sorrow. It’s…baseball.

We get to wipe away our past despair and indulge in the simple routine of pitchers long tossing in the outfield and fielders scooping up groundballs hit off fungo bats in the infield. 

New traditions fuse with the old, even though some familiar faces are no longer with us. Perhaps it will be my name showing up on my mother’s television screen late at night after the completion of a Yankees–Red Sox game. We may be rooting for the same side, but something tells me that we won’t be as tough on the Red Sox as we used to be.

All I know is that when the first inning of that first matchup starts, I’ll miss my Uncle Pit more than I already do. He’s gets as much credit for my makeup as a man as any of the Blanchette men. He was a Frenchman through and through. 

He’d want me to keep smiling and laughing. I will because I know he hasn't stopped.

1 comment:

  1. Thank you for sharing about your Uncle Pit.

    Your uncle's tradition with your mom reminds me of traditions of my own. Throughout the season I'll call my dad after a game I attended or I knew we were both watching on TV (more often in post-season) and if we won I know the first thing I will hear is: "THHHHHEEEE YANKEES WIN!" It's something I enjoy knowing I can count on. Even from 150 miles away he's the best person to virtually watch the game with.

    He has his own traditions with old friends from college. During post season if the Athletics are around he can expect a call from his friend PigPen who lives in Oakland. Some of his other old friends, who he doesn't really talk to throughout the year, come calling at the end of the season, too. I guess they can't help but think of their Yankee loving friend, as the Bombers are always about in October...

    Only two months til opening day! :)