picnic in the park

Tuesday night Michael and I went to our first Seadogs baseball game in eight or nine years. The weather was gorgeous, warm and clear below pristine skies. Michael’s former student had two tickets waiting for us at the box office as guests of his firm. They gave us a recyclable-cloth shopping bag full goodies; a stuffed Snoopy dog, a Nerf style baseball, a ball point pen and a sharp navy visor. It was a picnic in the park—the ballpark.

In a roped off area we redeemed vouchers for a couple of cold beers that we eagerly slurped while queueing up for grilled barbecued chicken sandwiches and dogs. From behind the counter a friendly young man in a white apron scooped spoonfuls of hot baked beans onto paper plates and we munched delicious honey-mustard slaw from clear plastic cups.

We shared the end of a painted green picnic table with a boy and his father. The kid, who was skinny with delightfully buck teeth too large for his mouth, had to be about ten or eleven. I reached into our bag and pulled out the Snoopy and the Nerf ball. Knowing our son Calvin wouldn't appreciate the toys I asked the boy, ”do you have a friend who you might like to give these to?” He and his father had already received their own bag of goodies. A huge smile came across the boy's face as he piped, “sure!” I rummaged a bit one more time and produced the visor, “and what about this? Would you like to have this too?” He beamed and looked up at his father who smiled reassuringly. I turned to Michael, my heart tightening with intermingled emotions of joy and sorrow, “that shit makes me cry,” I said in a soft voice. “Me too,” he replied, and I could see him swallow hard from behind his sunglasses. “You need these?” Michael asked, and passed me my shades. I put them on just as tears dripped onto my cheeks, the low sun shining hot on my face.

Between innings, later in the game when we were sitting in the bleachers, they held a contest matching a little boy against the team mascot, the Seadog—some poor soul baking inside a plush dog costume with a huge head wearing baseball garb. Both ran from home plate in opposite directions tagging each base. The two met at second and did an awkward do-si-do past each other. The boy, no more than eight, triumphantly made it to home base first, winning the game jumping and flapping his arms with joy. My kid will never get to do that, I thought. That parent must be so pleased and proud. That child so full of glee. My heart sunk.

But then I noticed a young man sitting in one of the last row of bleachers in the next section over. He was rotund and somehow awkward, wearing glasses, a hearing aid and a baseball cap slightly askew. It seemed he was with his parents. Clearly enjoying the total experience, periodically he'd jump up and shout exuberantly, appearing as a caricature of himself. Once, in his excitement, he nearly spilled the drink from his cup. "He's got Down syndrome," Michael leaned in to me. I smiled warmly and slipped my hand into his.

photo by Michael Kolster

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