My father was not a sports fan, though he coached soccer for a year at the high school where he taught English and German. He only did it, I think, because someone asked, and he had a hard time saying no to such requests.
It’s nearly spring now, and I’m thinking of baseball, of Coach Foley who said I should try out even without ever having played. I spent the season on the bench, handling the box score. At practice, my throws from right field piddled away from my cut-off man. In the dugout, I sat on an overturned bucket and marked balls and strikes with a nubby pencil. I chewed sunflower seeds, spitting a mound of shells at my feet while my friends worked vigorously at the chaw they weren’t supposed to use.
My daughter settles a basket on her head, says “Football game, Daddy,” and I think of visiting my father’s classroom, of how his students called me “Little Hrothgar” in honor of my father, their king.
He played violin in the Mississippi Symphony. I tried to play, too, for a year, though the movements were awkward, my elbows tremoring the bow and leaving only screeching half-notes that led my teacher to shake his head, reposition my arms, instruct me to try again. “You just have to keep practicing,” he said. “It’s like hitting a baseball.” But that, too, was something I could not do.
In professional football, the indelible presence is always a player, usually a quarterback. College football in the south is different. The players trade out every three-five years, but the coaches stay longer, especially if they’re successful. They are the lasting images. The paternal coach is always front and center. Nick Saban, the stern disciplinarian. Mark Richt, a warm, generous presence. “Who is that?” my daughter asks, pointing to the screen. “That’s Coach Freeze,” I say. “He’s our coach.”
My mother tells me that he loved The Brothers Karamazov, and so I try to read it, but the words decommit from the page, and I am left with a jumble of markings that must be what my daughter sees when she sits in my lap for a Braves game watching me note balls and strikes on a ragged notepad. Is there meaning in these scrawls? Will she one day be able to make these marks as I do? I am asking you, does this X tell the story of the 3-2 pitch and can this book show me who my father was?
My daughter is learning how to ride her bike. She struggled for a time with pedaling, though now she seems to have mastered that skill. Still, she cannot ride in a straight line. Her right arm tugs at the handlebars, turning the bike as she locks her eyes on the pedals. She is so fascinated by picking up speed that she doesn’t notice the looping curve. If she starts riding on the right side of our street, she runs into the curb, so I begin her on the left side, where she pedals vigorously, churning herself into a tilt that arcs back toward home. I know that this, too, is a temporary movement.
Christopher Lowe is the author of the story collection Those Like Us and the fiction chapbook When You’re Down By the River. His writing has appeared widely in journals including Third Coast, Brevity, Bellevue Literary Review, Baltimore Review, and War, Literature, and the Arts. He teaches in the MFA program at McNeese State University.