Imaginary Man On First!
We didn’t have a proper baseball field. Nor were we playing baseball; it was softball, with its larger and softer ball, heavier as well, hard for anyone to hit very far, never mind scrawny sixth graders in 1958.
No, our field was just a grass field, sunk lower behind the paved playground at the Cottage Street Elementary School in Sharon, Massachusetts. No stands, no proper markings, just a place where the boys could play during recess. At an ordinary recess, I would not have been playing or watching as I, a four-eyed bookish boy, would not have been invited. Dennis Mahoney would have played, because he was an athlete.
Dennis and I were in the same class, Miss Dow’s class, the sixth grade home of the still new Gifted and Talented program that Miss Dow and others had fought so hard to institute. We had been together in that program for several years now, and once Dennis had asked me to partner with him on a science project. I had walked to his house for that, 1.7 miles from where I lived, too far for us to be friends outside that classroom. I didn’t know then that nine years later I would marry a girl who lived on that street and knew Dennis.
On another day, Dennis invited me to play softball at recess.
Why? Because it was Jewish holidays, days that were then a complete farce in the Sharon, Massachusetts school system. Our town was approximately 70% Jewish at that time, and the schools would be nearly empty as the Jewish kids stayed home. There was really no point for anyone to be there, as the classrooms were effectively empty, but the law said the school should be open, so it was. Even some non-Jewish parents would let their children skip on those days, so the classrooms were even more empty.
But Dennis and I were there that day, the only boys of Miss Dow’s class who were not out on Jewish holidays, and we had been challenged by another teacher’s class. I don’t remember how many boys were in that other class; I don’t remember any of their names. But they had enough present to make a softball team and we, their opponents, did not. It was me and Dennis against them.
Were Dennis and I not in that Gifted and Talented class, we all might have split up…