Thursday, July 28, 2022

Transparencies, ctd.

While driving home to DeKalb from Geneva after a Kane County Cougars game—a 25-mile drive through small towns and farmland—I was struck by an unbidden moment where the past settled on top of the present like a transparency. We had the White Sox game on AM radio and as we headed west away from Chicagoland the reception cut in an out, that phenomenon itself a relic of sorts in the era of satellite radio. It was dark out but close enough to dusk that I could make out silhouettes of barns and farm buildings as we sped past and—in a confluence of the crackling radio, the mild summer night, and the rural abstract out the windows I was dropped into my family's Gran Torino station wagon as we drove west across Ohio in the summer of 1978. I felt that date because I was no longer listening to a White Sox/Rockies game, I was listening to a Cincinnati Reds on WLW in the midst of Pete Rose's epic hitting streak. I don't know what precise game we had tuned in that night—it was likely in mid- or-late July, and so near the end of the streak—but as I'd followed Rose's feats at home, in Maryland, I knew that the stakes were high, and higher still with each game. I listened with hyper attention and looked out the window as Rose took an at-bat or two, and eventually got his hit, the streak continuing impossibly, and I imagined Rose sprinting to first and rounding the bag as outlines of barns played on the passenger windows competing, or complementing, the tableau. The rest fades. We arrived at my grandparents' house, in Coldwater, Ohio, later that night. We stayed for a week or so. I played with my older siblings on train tracks and at the small public park. Rose's 44-game hitting streak ended on August 1. He went 0-for-4 against the Atlanta Braves.

The narrowing of that four-and-a-half decade gap of time to a few moments was nothing short of breathtaking, yet of course banal and common. I'm grimly aware that if I'd watched this scene in a movie—a man coming home from a ball game driving past cornfields and farms, listening to a game on the radio and magically brought back to a moment when he was a kid listening in the dark in the family car to an historic game of baseball—I might've rolled my eyes at the predictability, the sentimentality, and the Americana cliche of it all. I guess this is why we risk corn in storytelling, and why I'm trotting out yet another note on memory and nostalgia, my own dubious streak. Another of life's surprise gifts, which feel in short supply these days. And the Sox won, 2-1.

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