Outside the Foul Lines - Book V

by Rick Beck

Chapter 18

First Thanksgiving

The idea of going home once the season was over had been on my mind. At home at that time was Statesville at my parent's house. When Andy came calling with the keys to our new home, everything was changed, and home never again would mean Statesville.

By mid-November Andy agreed we'd drive to Statesville to have Thanksgiving with my parents. At the beginning of Thanksgiving week, we buttoned up the house, put Tommy in the backseat and we headed south toward Louisville. We'd drive east from there and go through West Virginia, Virginia, and into North Carolina from the west.

First we turned onto the street that ran behind the baseball park, where we couldn't wait to parked and go in to greet Mrs. Olsen.

"Come in. Come in. I've aired out your room, John. Oh Andy you have grown so tall and handsome. How are you?"

"Mrs. Olsen, I hope you don't have any ideas about my man," I said.

"Oh, John, you're a kdder. If I thought I had a chance with either of you…. If I was thirty years younger…."

It was left at that. There were hugs and the kind of affection I got nowhere else, except at home with Andy and at home with my parents, but Mrs. Olsen had become family.

"And speaking of handsome. What a wonderful dog!"

"Mrs. Olsen, this is Tommy. He came with our house," Andy said.

"I have no doubt he goes with your house," she said, kneeling to pet Tommy, who didn't move as long as the petting went on. "You boys go freshen up. I have fresh towels out. I'll have dinner ready in a little more than an hour. It's so nice seeing you."

It was like coming home when I came to Mrs. Olsen's. The feeling inside her house was a lot like it was in my parent's house. I always felt like I belonged there. I wasn't looking forward to spring when a dozen other players would haunt her halls with the smell of ointment and balm with loud voices to disturb the peace. My room was my room and she'd told me no one else would use it but me for as long as I said so.

Andy and I had to break our hold on each other after our shower together, once the fragrance of ham, cabbage, and potatoes wafted up the stairs to our noses. There wasn't much that could pull Andy and I out of each others arms, but Mrs. Olsen's cooking, after a month of eating mine, did the trick, and we raced to the table with Tommy not far behind.

We were full as ticks before our feeding frenzy ended. Each time I thought I was done, I reached for another piece of ham that melted in my mouth. The aromas were still making me dizzy with delight, but I couldn't eat another bite.

I watched Mrs. Olsen set a pan of her biscuits to one side, as she sliced ham to go on them, sliding that over next to the peach pie she'd baked before we arrived. Andy held his stomach and smiled pleasantly. Tommy waited for the occasional piece of fat Andy held out to him. In between snacks he rested his chin expectantly on Andy's leg.

"We have a room downstairs in the house. Do wanted to make it into our library, but we've decided the small bedroom upstairs is better suited as an office and library. If you want to come visit us, we'll let you help us furnish the room to your liking, Mrs. Olsen. Get you out of the city, if you'd consider such a thing in the off-season," Andy proposed.

"Oh, you boys don't want an old woman around. It sounds lovely though," she said, as she considered Andy's words.

"Bring your cookbooks, Mrs. Olsen, and you can stay as long as you like," I said, not daring to laugh for fear of losing my dinner, which wasn't far from the surface.

"John, I haven't used a cookbook since I was a girl."

"You are a girl, Mrs. Olsen, and you can come out and teach me how not to poison Andy. We're roughing it at the moment on a half dozen dishes I can't do too much harm to."

"Yes, Andy mentions your cooking from time to time," she admitted.

"He's actually taken to helping me cook. I knew he was getting tips from somewhere."

I glanced at Andy as he pretended not to notice. Of course, most of my cooking skills were absorbed without ever paying much attention. My cooking was tolerable and I expected to get better.

The idea did interest Mrs. Olsen. I think she got lonely being in that big house all by herself all winter. I hadn't thought of her coming to visit us, because I needed her there during baseball season, so I didn't have to sleep in my car.

She wouldn't consider being absent when the ball players were reporting for the new season. She loved her boys. This was her purpose in life. Andy and I had become closer to her than most, because she was such a kind and thoughtful woman.

We were back in the car early the next morning, after saying our goodbyes. Tommy was happy in the backseat with his new hambone to keep him occupied, although he road easy on the way to Louisville. As long as he was with us he seemed happy.

We had two lunch bags full of biscuits and ham. Even after ham and eggs for breakfast, we weren't halfway to Lexington before we were nibbling on bag one. We'd slipped out ahead of the rush hour traffic and were heading in the opposite direction from the incoming cars from the Louisville suburbs. Andy was at ease and in control and it was a nice ride.

The Impala road like a million bucks and Andy looked like two million behind the wheel. I held his hand he snuck glances at me from time to time. We entered West Virginia before noon, dropping down to cross western Virginia later in the afternoon.

We enter North Carolina from the western end. The weather was fine, but chilly when we got out of the car at rest areas and to walk Tommy. It was noticeably colder at the higher elevations where the wind whipped around us. We weren't out of the car for long and the ham and biscuits meant we only needed to stop for drinks.

Getting closer and closer to home, I began to recognize things I'd seen all my life. This was the first time I'd come home after having my own home, and I felt good about Statesville, which wasn't how I felt about it when I left for Louisville. It wasn't where I came home to be home any longer, and that suited me fine.

Dad was working too hard to take time off to visit us, and we'd decided to make the trip for Thanksgiving. Andy brought up the trip. He liked my parents, but more importantly, they liked him. They treated him like a son, which meant a lot to me and it made it far easier when it was time to come back to see them.

Andy didn't talk much about his family. He'd sent some money home to them, but he hadn't brought up traveling home. There were far more questions about who I was and what I was doing there, and it was obvious that Andy didn't like that line of questions. We hadn't been back and the first trip he suggested was to my house. I didn't ask any questions, knowing Andy would tell me what was on his mind.

There had been discussion about going to Iowa and getting married, once we'd settled into the house. Neither of us considered that to be all that important at the moment.

With the 24-7 media, it wouldn't be bright for Andy to get his first recognition, because his name appeared on a marriage license with mine, rather than something to do with the power he displayed that would drive him to the big leagues.

While Andy regarded nosey nose about his private life as nothing he liked, he knew there were more eyes on him than ever. We'd have plenty of time to live our own lives on our own terms, once our careers ended. We'd gone through so much difficulty to be together that being together was all we needed.

As we pulled up in front of the house, Mom stood in the doorway. She watched us getting out of the car and coming toward the house, and then the hugging and laughter began. It was good to be home and everyone was pleased. Tommy wagged his tale, stood still to be petted by my mother and then my father. He once more stole the show.

Once we made pit stops to freshen up and carried our things up to our bedroom, we all sat in the living room as Mom served us coffee and her homemade cinnamon buns. They absolutely melted in my mouth and the coffee was so familiar it gave me a feeling of well-being. It felt just like I'd come home.

Being in the house where I was raised, kept safe, and allowed to leave once it was time to become a man, made coming home easy. It was good memories. Any difficulty I had growing up came when I wasn't at home and dealing with forces my parents couldn't protect me from. Home was always my safety zone, and no matter what went on elsewhere, I could depend on my parents for support.

We caught up on the news around town and Dad told me Bobby Henry was home. He'd come by to ask about me, and I'd call the Henry house to invite him and Jeff over before we left.

There was talk of Coach Bell, the Sluggers, the Indians, and baseball in general, including Dad's desire to go to spring training to see us play with the big boys as our season's began early next year. I confessed I was anxious to see some of the guys that had come and gone from teams I'd played on and were still in the game. I didn't cross path with them in Louisville but I might in Florida at spring training.

Andy remained quiet about his move and was content to wait to see what the Indians were like. His brief brush with Indianapolis media and club executives didn't offer him much insight into what his life on a new team might be like. They seemed happy to have him and he seemed happy to be going there.

Anything that made Andy happy made me happy. The fact he couldn't stand being away from me any longer could have landed him in troubled waters, but it hadn't. Because of his talent, Andy got what he wanted, and that put us together much more of the time.

It had all worked out in a most agreeable manner and having Thanksgiving at my parent's home was one of the benefits. If there was any food I loved more than Mrs. Olsen's, it was Mom's, and she didn't disappoint us. Over our days there, she'd create all my favorites and a few of Andy's.

If there was anyone more pleased to be at my parent's house than Andy and me, it was Tommy, who stayed close to my mother in the kitchen whenever any cooking was going on. I'd chuckle each time I'd watch her stirring, turning, and testing the dishes, slipping a nibble to Tommy without a second thought. She'd won another fan, but Tommy was easy.

Dad carried us around the day before Thanksgiving and we stopped at the Henry house to see Bobby. He'd become a man since I'd last seen him and was as poised and self-confident as ever. He'd been playing in Jacksonville but had several teams after his services now that his first big league contract had run out. He was waiting to see what the best offer was going to be.

Andy sat listening to him describe the competition for his position. Like Andy, Bobby was the complete package and could carry a team with his glove and bat. He wasn't a power hitter, but he could hit up a storm. The amount of money he was looking for was astronomical. For me it was inconceivable, but I could see Andy's eyes light up when he mentioned an eight digit figure he had in mind before signing his next multi-year contract.

If anybody made more money than the best of the shortstops in the majors, it was the better power hitting outfielder, who were always in demand.

"What do you think about a few million dollars," he asked, as we rode away from Bobby's house.

"I can't think in those numbers. What we have right now is great, what more do we need?"

"Security, Do. I want you to have everything you ever wanted. I want to have the things I could never have as a boy."

"As long as we're together, Andy, I've got everything I ever wanted."

Andy kissed my cheek in front of my father, who didn't drive off the road. I was a little surprised because Andy had never so much as held my hand in front of my parents. We had no need to flaunt our love, but from time to time you simply need to show the one you love you love them.

While my parents weren't poor, we didn't have much more than the necessities. If I ever made a good contract, part of it would go in the bank fo them. They were responsible for me growing up with my feet staying firmly under me. For that I owed them plenty.

Andy did grow up poor. There were no extras and he was lucky to have the necessities of life. He wasn't happy when we visited his house. He no doubt loved his mother and brothers and sisters, but being there reminded him of being poor. Baseball had allowed him to go to college. For that I was grateful and the rest was pretty good.

He did hold my hand as we sat beside my father in the front seat of his car. We stopped at Karen's Coffee and Buns before driving out to see Mr. Bartlett at the business park. He was on the phone interviewing a man for a roofing job, and we stood around until he came around his desk to greet me like an old friend.

We almost couldn't get out of Mr. Bartlett's office. He wanted to know if I'd consider being foreman for the winter months, and I told him I was otherwise occupied. He laughed real loud and admitted he missed my services. If not the best roofer he'd ever had, I was the most dependable. If he had to lose me, he was happy he lost me to baseball, or so he said.

On the wall behind Mr. Barlett's desk was a framed newspaper clipping titled, 'Heart of Louisville." The picture was of Evan Lane on one side of Coach Bell and me on the other. I still had to think hard to understand why I was pictured with those two.

When we got home, Mom was grilling hamburgers and half smokes. We sat on the back porch and ate something I hadn't had since I was living there. The taste of food fresh off the grill was one of my favorites. We ate chips and drank soda.

Andy broke out the pictures he'd taken of the house, Luz and Penny, and of Harold. There were a hundred questions and my parents promised they'd come visit before spring if they could. Dad had a lot of trouble getting days off, as the company was short handed and not hiring, which meant the men with jobs had a lot more work to do.

My father had been there for years but nothing meant more than the bottom line. Everyone else his age had been let go, and he prayed he would be able to hang on, until he could retire. I couldn't make any promises, but I intended to see him retire sooner than he thought.

If they came to visit it would have to be between October and February, as we'd be gone the rest of the year, except for the rare occasion when our clubs played each other. When my club played in Indianapolis, we'd stay at the house at night. When his club played in Louisville, we'd stay at Mrs. Olsen's.

As Thanksgiving morning came, the house was alive with the smell of turkey roasting. This, too, was one of my favorite meals, since there was so much family invested on this day and on Christmas.

My parents wanted us to come back for Christmas but Andy had already begun planning a floor to ceiling Christmas tree and having Luz, Penny, Harold, and the rest of their kids over to celebrate Christmas. It sounded like a fine time to me.

It wasn't like we couldn't come back before spring training, but we weren't going to make any firm plans for what might be going on months from now. Being home was good, the memories were good, and having my lover with me was best of all.

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