An Unexpected Tale
I left Leona’s home feeling like a pyrotechnic display had been set off inside my brain; and I desperately wanted to share the dazzling spectacle with someone else. Kate had bore witness to the exchange, but as she was busy taping the whole affair; I do not think she was free to react to the sparkling emotions, which were consuming me.
The obvious choice should have been one of my sisters, as the story, which had sent me rocketing skyward, creating this feeling of euphoria and sheer delight involved our parents; but it also involved baseball, a game which neither of them follows.
My next thought was of Melody, who I know loves baseball; but this moment did not involve her revered Dodger’s, so perhaps not – though I did not completely rule her out.
We were hungry and found our most favorite place to eat, when on the road – a food truck selling tacos de carne asada. As we started to drive again, I decided it had to be Marcial. First, I knew, beyond a shadow of a doubt, that the line in the story, which had sent me into this current state of exhilaration, would neither be lost on him or need to be explained, secondly, I knew that as my dear friend, he too would share my unadulterated joy, at this stories revelation about my Father’s character.
I do not often call anyone; it is not that I am not happy to speak to the people I love, but I am a bit awkward about initiating contact – I hate feeling like I am a bother. Thus, well if I have called Marcial 10 or 15 times, in the ten years or so he and his incredibly outstanding wife and children have been in my life, it would be a lot. But I needed to share my moment, so I called him.
Like a good sports fan, he was waiting for Michael Phelps to race, for yet another gold metal, and texted he would call me back, as soon as the race was done. Okay, I thought I can wait. We ate our tacos, and Marcial called.
I know that I was highly emotional, in both tone and volume, as we began to speak; and whether it is because he is simply my friend, and accepts me as I am, or he gets that Cuban passion, Marcial played along with me, intently listening as I began my story:
We were in Columbus, Ohio, and visited a woman who had been very close friends with my Mother, since the 1950’s, when they had met, at a church service, where Leona and her husband, had gone to listen to my parents preach. I had not known, before this visit with Leona, that she meet both of my parents on the same day, I had always assumed that she and my Mother had been friends, before my parents met and married; but I was wrong.
So I tell Marcial that Kate and I are sitting in Leona’s living room, talking about my Mother’s death, and how much we miss her, the conversation turns to Leona’s reminisces, about my Mother, and Father, and my sisters. I am most assuredly hanging on every word, feeling my soul nourished by someone else who also loved my Mother and misses her; suddenly Leona goes back to talking more about my Father, starting by telling me that he too felt very comfortable at her house.
Leona shares with me that one day, my Father called her, and said he needed to use her kitchen; there was a famous ball player, in town that he wanted to bring to dinner. She said fine, and recounts how shortly thereafter, my Father, who she reminds me was an excellent cook, shows up with bags of groceries and makes it clear that neither she nor my Mother are to disturb him, in the kitchen. She says the two of them went into the living room, and left my Father the kitchen, where he cooked a most remarkable meal for the ball player and some of his team mates.
She goes on to tell me that the famous man came, met everyone and then he and my Father, and the teammates ate, and then went into her backyard to play baseball with the girls. Leona had four girls, my Mother had three – it is not until after I speak with Marcial that I realize I should have asked which and how many girls got to play ball, but I did not ask.
Her story continues, by her telling me that after the girls and men went to her backyard, she and my Mother invaded the kitchen and ate the left overs, which were delicious.
Up to this point, as I am listening to Leona talk about the day, all I am thinking about is how much this sounds like my Father and my Mother. They loved entertaining, and both made ordinary moments into spectacular events with their joy of life. It was not unusual for them to invite “strangers to me” over for a meal or celebration, and they both had people in their life that I would step back and wonder how they might have met them.
At that point, I have embraced Leona’s reason for the telling of this story, as a way to show me that she too was friends with my Father, that he was not just my Mother’s husband to her. She continues to talk about my Father’s personality and even mentions how handsome, charming and funny he was and then goes on tell me a story about her daughter, Kathy, who has now since passed away; stating that at some point in her life, Kathy developed legions on her legs that would not heal, regardless of the medical treatment. She says that one day; my Father was getting ready to walk out the door, when he notices Kathy washing dishes, and these sores on her legs. Leona says that my Father stopped her, and prayed for, in the kitchen. Kathy was healed, and though she apparently suffered many other aliments in her life, Leona tells me the wounds never returned.
I do not share the above paragraph with Marcial, these are the kinds of events I often witnessed in my parents ministry, they are gratifying to hear, but whatever miracles happened in their work, they would both say it was to God’s glory; I continue hanging on every word Leona says, when she suddenly tells me, after the story about Kathy, that the famous ball player, her words, not mine, which my Father brought to her house, who was so nice, died shortly afterward in a plane crash, taking food to victims of an earthquake in Latin America.
It is at this point, that Marcial raises his voice, in that perfect Cuban pitch, reflecting exactly how I felt when I heard her tell me the above sentence. He proclaims Roberto Clement’s name, exactly as I thought it, when I heard Leona’s words.
I ask Leona if the baseball player names was Roberto Clemente, and with the same ease that I might ask you how you like your coffee, she says yes, that was his name. She repeats it, Roberto Clemente, and tells me how tragic it was that he passed away so young and trying to help people – I interrupt her pause, and say, you are telling me that my Father brought Roberto Clemente and his team mates to your house for dinner and a game of catch? She answers, yes Jill, your Father was like that – yes he was, I think to myself, with a huge smile overtaking my countenance.
Marcial, should have been sitting with me, he ask me all of the right questions: When was this? Did they take pictures? Why was Roberto Clement in town? Were you there? I had no answers, but I do have this story now, and Leona’s sweet telling of it, and I have Marcial’s reaction – he understood exactly how over the top this moment was for me.
I do not remember how Marcial and I ended our conversation that night; I know I eventually went to bed thinking about how this one story so captured my Father. I have often said, and I am sure written somewhere in these pages, that my Father had a way of making me feel like there was a bit of wonderment in the world worth beholding, regardless of whatever may ail us.
Going out with my Father, Papi, was always a special occasion, even if we were going to Norm’s for a quick bite to eat. There have been times, in the many years now passed, since his death, where I have questioned some of his stories and my own remembrances, including the many memories I have of him always taking me backstage to meet the performer, at a concert, or introducing me to the maître d at a famous restaurant, as if they were friends, or to the dugout to meet the players, before a game, in New York or Cleveland, and even Los Angles – did he know any of these people or were they just be nice to a fan and his daughter?
It was such an odd moment, and such a glorious trip, which I shall share more about in The Dialogue, but even as the next day began, I kept wondering about Melody and wondered if she too remembered when Clemente died? It is one of those moments, in the history, I have lived that has always stayed with me, though until now I was not sure why.
Clemente was a great player, he was Puerto Rican, and he died tragically trying to be of service to mankind, those are all good reasons for his death to be seared in my memory; but I now feel certain that it was my Father’s reaction to Clemente’s death, which assured that this event would become part of my world, like the day I came home from school, a few years later, and saw the news, scrolled across the bottom of the screen, that Elvis Presley had died.
My Mother would always speak about my Father’s world and the many people he knew; and yes I have more than one picture of him with a person or two that through the years has provoked “isn’t that” from my lips, and yes it was always so and so, thus the story is not just about the fact that my Father brought this famous ball player to hang out at Leona’s house, but it is also about this man with all of his mysteries and the wonder in which he lived, at least trying to savor life.
Undoubtedly, my Father was a flawed man who died too young, but at the very least, while he was here he did attempt to savor every moment – that is all for now.
“In the end, it’s not the years in your life that count. It’s the life in your years.”
~ Abraham Lincoln ~