There are those readers who know more about my past than others, and I'm not going to get into that here, suffice it to say I've had extreme highs and extreme lows. This is a story of a memory of an extreme high, maybe the best memory of my adult life.
I worked as a bookkeeper at Cross Auto Supply for about two years. It was a job I was lucky to get at a good, family-owned, local business which sold NAPA auto parts. The work was easy yet engaging enough to make me feel productive, the people with whom I worked were also engaging and productive, and though I wasn't technically full-time and didn't qualify for real benefits, there were benefits to just working for and with the management and other staff. For instance, I had never worked at a place where they had a Thanksgiving potluck at work AND each employee was given their very own Thanksgiving turkey (which ended up sitting with pride in my freezer until I was forced to throw it away when I moved out of that apartment). For Christmas we were all treated to a three-course feast at a nice local restaurant, complete with a magician for entertainment. And in the summer every employee and every one of their family members were given complimentary tickets to an Arkansas Travellers baseball game. Arkansas doesn't have their own major league team, but proud we are to be the home of the St. Louis Cardinals farm team.
At the time, my family available to attend was my husband, Justin, my stepdaughter, Holly who was probably about 14, my stepson, Hayden, 12-ish, and Story, our son who was about four. It was the first real, just-for-fun outing the five of us had embarked upon.
I had been excited about it for weeks, not because I particularly care about the Travellers or sports in general or because we'd be travelling ourselves about 70 miles from home in Russellville to Little Rock in my compact Corolla with four, shall we say, unpredictable individuals and a four-year-old whom we had already self-diagnosed with raging ADHD, or the idea of introducing my proudly rag-tag family to and meeting my co-workers as-of-yet unknown families, but because I was so proud to be employed by the type of people who offer such opportunities for fellowship, and I was able to extend that opportunity to my family. I felt very grown-up, responsible, and successful, independent.
When we arrived in Little Rock after a relatively uneventful loading of the family and hour and a half on the road, wrong turns and all, which was quite a source of relief and feeling of accomplishment in itself, we picked up our tickets at the will-call window and made our way to the refreshments area reserved for Cross Auto Supply guests. There we were provided with ball park staples like hot dogs, chips, sodas, and cookies to enjoy before the game. Luckily there were a number of people whose entourage included relatively young children so the storm of hot dog bun bits, crunched chips that Story's fist couldn't quite cram into his mouth, spilled sodas, ice, napkins and all went relatively unnoticed.
After eating and introductions and chit-chat and abandonment of any self-consciousness replaced invigorated pride in my respective pride, we made our way to the stands and took our seats to stand up for the singing of the National Anthem and "Play Ball!"
I don't remember much of what happened on the field, so busy was I running Story to the bathroom and back (I think he was just faking so he could run, and I mean run, all over the stands). I was watching, trying to listen to, Holly and Justin make their inside jokes, laughing with Hayden laughing with Story, playing musical chairs as Holly had something funny to say to Hayden or Hayden having a question for Justin or Story climbing over all of us, and even some people who weren't "us," and everyone having their own version of a good time all together. I have no idea who won or lost and couldn't tell you who we even played.
What I remember most about that night was after the game. We had to walk about a mile to where we had parked the car and I lagged behind a little bit. I watched Justin and the kids and so seldom it seemed that all five of us were in the same good mood at the same good time, when everyone teased and was equally teased in return with no hurt feelings or outbursts of anger. I didn't mind the walk, it was so nice to watch my husband being a playful and admired leader, Holly on the brink of breaking away from us in favor of friends, Hayden so confident in who he was and learning more every day, Story so excited to have all his people, the nucleus of his world, there together, out and about in the world, and me bringing up the rear, trying to document it all in my mind, such was my sense that this was a last best memory we would all have, just like this, completely in sync, resonating even, before a not-unhappy but natural discord took hold as each of us moved on to the next phase in our respective lives.
On the ride home Justin got hold of the iPod and played the most perfect selection of Southern hits which we all knew. Every word. We all went down, down, down into the burning ring of fire, sang along as Johnny committed what might be a sin, taking on the Devil for that fiddle made of gold, spat Beech-Nut in that dude's eye and shot him with our old .45, laughed along as Momma got runned over by a damned ol' train, and all because, down here, for that laughing, carefree, snapshot of a night, it was a Family Tradition.