editor’s note: chapter 5 in Callie Feyen’s first fiction excursion
Charlie loves baseball. I’ve known him since we were in first grade, and he’s not a talker. He’s not shy, but he’s quiet. While most boys — and girls, too — tend to constantly one-up each other with what they know, or are always on the look out for the mic-drop, Charlie remains silent. Except when it comes to baseball. If I ever want to get him talking, all I have to do is say, “bullpen,” or “curveball” or “MLB,” and Charlie is at attention.
Up until a few days ago, I could say, “Hank Aaron,” and he’d go off on one story or another, as if Hank was his best friend. Hank Aaron is Charlie’s favorite baseball player.
Charlie knows everything there is to know about him. He carries Hank’s Topps baseball card in his wallet — something I’d never tease him for, but honestly, I think the last game he played in was sometime in the 1970s.
I think Charlie sees something of himself in Hank. I think probably there was something about the way Hank Aaron moved about the world that helped Charlie feel okay with himself.
Charlie’s been pretty quiet since Hank Aaron died last month, and here’s where things get tricky because I’m not Charlie’s girlfriend, and even if I were, what would I do?
I brought this up to Sasha last week when we were sitting outside at a Starbucks. Since sports practices are cancelled, we don’t have anything to do in the afternoons, so Sasha and I decided to go to a different Starbucks in D.C. every day. We’ve started with all the stores on Connecticut, and we’re working our way to the White House, and then we’ll go back up Wisconsin and hit up those.
I bring up Charlie and Hank Aaron at the Starbucks on the corner of Livingston and Connecticut.
“Dude had it bad,” Sasha says, ripping open four sugar packets and dumping them into her coffee.
I yank on several of her braids. She flinches, and the beads at the bottom of each braid rattle.
“I’m just saying,” Sasha says, brushing her hair to one shoulder and taking a sip of her coffee. “Charlie has feelings.”
“Should I do something?”
“Like what?” Sasha says, then slams her hands down on the table. “Oh my gosh, DO NOT get him flowers or make him a casserole.”
“What? Why would I do that?”
“It’s what my parents do every time someone dies,” Sasha says picking her coffee up and taking another sip.
“I’m not getting Charlie flowers, and casseroles are disgusting,” I tell her.
“Aren’t they, though?” Sasha says picking up her drumsticks and tapping a beat on the table. I bop my head, and we are silent for a minute until Sasha slams the sticks down and raises her arms and says, “I got it! Let’s throw a Hank Aaron party!”
“A Hank Aaron party?”
“Yeah! We can get like, I don’t know, find a bunch of Hank Aaron documentaries to watch, pop popcorn and have peanuts, like at the ballpark,” she begins.
“I could make sugar cookies and frost them so they look like baseballs,” I say. “Oh! I could write ‘715’ on all of them!”
“What’s that? His area code?”
“It’s the numbers of homers he hit, beating Babe Ruth’s record.”
Sasha leans back on the chair and crosses her arms. “Okay, you have it bad.”
“Shut up,” I say, suddenly focusing very intently on my coffee.
“We could play the Batting Game!” Sasha says.
The Batting Game is the most ridiculous and fun game ever created, and Sasha and I take full credit for it. What you need is a treadmill, a whiffle ball, and a bat.
If you’re the batter, you’re in front of the treadmill with the bat. The treadmill should be at a 4.0 incline, at least, and going at a 7 mile-per-hour pace. The pitcher throws the pitch, the batter hits the ball, then jumps on the treadmill.
Come to think of it, it’s not really a game.
“This is a great idea!” I say.
“How about let’s make it for Valentine’s Day?” Sasha asks.
“Too obvious,” I say shaking my head.
“Well, McGrath and I will want to do something, and we aren’t allowed to be by ourselves.”
“Still? I thought the pod up ended after New Years.”
“Both our parents decided this was best,” Sasha said, rolling her eyes. “Let’s plan for Saturday the 13th. That way, it’s not technically Valentine’s Day.”
To this, we cheers our Starbucks cups.
Over the next two weeks I print out and read every Washington Post article I can find on Hank Aaron, to put together a scrapbook for Charlie. I have a timeline of important dates and pictures, and I’ve made a collage of phrases I think capture what Hank Aaron meant to Charlie:
” … Aaron was a seldom-seen, almost mythical creature who existed in box scores.
” … the greatest attention-deflecting machine the game ever produced. He played with understated grace, swift efficiency and a lizard-tongue wrist-snap of a swing.”
“Aaron just played.”
The day of our Hank Aaron party, I’m putting the final touches on the scrapbook while I’m waiting for two sticks of butter to soften for the sugar cookies I’ll bake, when my dad walks into the kitchen.
“Hank Aaron!” he yells and raises his hands in the air like he’s at a game. “Now he was a good ballplayer,” he said, grabbing a bag of pretzels and sitting down next to me. “Good man, too,” he said, passing me the bag. “You know he and I graduated from Notre Dame together?”
“What? Dad, no. He’s like 40 years older than you!” I grab a handful of pretzels from the bag.
My dad chuckles. “He got an honorary doctorate that day,” he chomps on a pretzel. “It was pretty cool to walk right past him on the way to getting my diploma. I almost forgot what I was doing.”
We both look at the scrapbook for a minute, thinking.
“I’m making this for Charlie,” I say, and I feel my cheeks flushing.
There is one page I titled, “Hank + Charlie Stories.” I glued a map of D.C. on the page, and then with sticky notes wrote where we were when Charlie told me a story about Hank. We were at Comet Ping Pong when he told me about how afraid for his kids Hank was after he broke Babe Ruth’s home run record, because white people were threatening to kill him. He told me about Hank’s motto to always keep swinging when we were at Kramer Books. Charlie told me he thought the motto meant more than just baseball to Hank — “Like life,” Charlie said. We were on a boat ride to Old Town Alexandria, when Charlie told me that Hank was one of six players to hit the ball 3,000 times and get 500 homers.
My mom told me once that when she was younger she and her friends would make mix tapes for each other. “It was a way to express how you feel without really having to say it,” she said. She would make them for her friends and for the boys she had crushes on. “It’s just a way to hold memories,” she said, and I liked that. I’m not the type of person who goes in for the hug — with friends or with boys. Probably this makes me strange, but I feel memories. Sometimes they’re like butterflies in my stomach. Other times they’re a thick, soft scarf I throw on because the day is crisp. Sometimes they feel like the inside of the Red Line, blasting through D.C.
Sasha and I share a notebook of memories. We’ve been doing this for a few years now, so actually it’s several notebooks. Every month or so one of us will pass the current notebook along after we’ve filled up a page with inside jokes and shared moments. I have the notebook now, and I’m planning on giving it to her on Valentine’s Day.
“This is a great gift,” my dad says, bringing me back to the scrapbook.
“You don’t think it’s too …” With my finger I press pieces of salt that fell off the pretzel and onto the table. “I don’t know, romantic?”
My dad leans in and smiles. “It’s hella romantic,” he tells me.
“Dad.” I begin to blush again.
“Carter, do you know what romance means?”
“Sap. Mush. Melodrama,” I say.
“It means a good story,” he says. “To be romantic means to tell a story well.” He gets up from the table and pushes in his chair, then points to the scrapbook and looks at me. “Be courageous enough to tell a story that’s true.”
editor’s note: chapter 6 continued tomorrow
Try using research to write your fiction. This month is Black History Month: study someone in history (or someone who is currently making history), and weave what you learned into your writing.
Recipe for Sugar Cookies
This is a tried and true recipe from The Joy of Cooking:
Beat on medium speed until very fluffy and well blended:
1/2 pound unsalted butter, softened
2/3 cup sugar
Add and beat until well combined:
1 large egg
1/4 teaspoon baking powder
1/8 teaspoon salt
1 1/2 teaspoons vanilla
Stir in until well blended and smooth:
2 1/2 cups all-purpose flour
Divide the dough in half. Place each half between 2 large sheets of wax paper or parchment paper. Roll out to a scant 1/4-inch thick, checking the underside of the dough and smoothing any creases. Keeping the paper in place, layer the rolled dough on a baking sheet and refrigerate until cold and slightly firm but not hard, 20 to 30 minutes.
Position a rack in the upper third of the oven. Preheat the oven to 350 F. Grease cookie sheets (Carter uses parchment for easy cleanup).
Working with 1 portion of dough at a time (leave the other in the fridge), gently peel away and replace 1 sheet of the paper. Peel away and discard the second sheet. Cut the cookies using cookie cutters. With a spatula, transfer them to the cookie sheets, spacing about 1 inch apart. Roll the dough scraps and continue cutting out cookies until all the dough is used.
Bake for 6-9 minutes until lightly golden brown.
I have been a fan of Callie Feyen’s writing for quite some time but I finished this book in almost one sitting. If you have ever been in 8th grade, fallen in love, had a best friend, or loved reading, you will love this book. As the mother of an 8th grader, my other genuine hope is that my son will one day have a teacher as gifted as Callie.