The boy lies in bed with his hands behind his head, while his father sits at the foot of the bed near his feet. The disappointment of pitching and losing the first of two possible clinching games has mostly passed. They will just have to clinch the championship Friday night instead, and while he can’t pitch, he can still contribute.
“You know,” his dad says, “I saw you walk out after the anthem to take the mound and I felt so bad for you.”
“Why? I like pitching.”
“You’re not even nine years old, and you looked like an old man with the weight of the world on his shoulders. You’re too young to feel that way.”
“I just wanted to pitch well for my team.” He has heard his whole life about how serious he is and how he doesn’t smile enough.
His dad sighs. “Before you were born, we didn’t want to name you ‘Gordon.’ We didn’t want to have a junior. My dad hated being a junior. But I looked into your eyes and I had two observations. The first was, I was looking into the eyes of a forty-year-old man. The second was that your name was Gordon and it couldn’t possibly be anything else.”
“The name worked out,” the boy says. “I like it.”
“Of course, your grandfather’s observation of me at birth wasn’t as rosy as even that.”
“What do you mean?”
“Well, my mom had really narrow hips. My head got squeezed really tight. You know the soft spot on a baby’s head?”
“That’s there because the skull hasn’t closed, so babies can be squeezed out and also so their heads and brains can grow after birth.”
“I didn’t know that.”
“Anyway, even though I was born by C section, my head was kind of misshapen. It looked like a hatchet.”
“I don’t think your head looks weird.”
“Oh, it grew out fine after birth, but for a while it looked like a hatchet head sitting on my body.”
“When they were driving me home from the hospital, Dad suddenly said to Mom, your grandmother I mean. He said to her, ‘Well, I sure hope he doesn’t die.’ Granny was kind of horrified and said, ‘Why in the world would you say something like that?’”
“Yeah, that’s weird.”
“And my dad said about me, ‘He’s so ugly that if he dies, I’m afraid I won’t be able to look sufficiently sorry at the funeral.’”
They’re both silent for a couple of moments.
“Seriously?” the boy says.
His father laughs. “That’s what my parents told me later on anyway.”
“That’s terrible. Your dad really said that about you? You really think so?”
The boy’s father pats his leg and laughs again. “That was just my dad’s sense of humor. Your grandfather is very sick now, and you don’t know him how he really was. You just know him from being sick or in the hospital. But you are so much like him.”
“He was very quiet. Very serious. Extremely intelligent. But he had just a brilliant and sometimes profane sense of humor. And it came out at the most unexpected times. Here they are driving me home from the hospital. Their first kid. They were both older when they got married. They weren’t sure they could have kids. So it’s this big moment, and your grandfather hauls off and says that.” The boy’s father laughs and claps his hands. “I wish I could’ve heard it myself. I mean, such that I could have remembered it.”
“How did Granny take that?”
“Well, she didn’t care much for it. It’s hard being pregnant so she wasn’t a big fan of calling the product ugly. Dad and Mom had a funny relationship, but they understood each other.” His dad looks at his watch. “Anyway, I should let you go to sleep. Goodnight, Son.”
“Love you, Dad.”
“Love you too.”
Two days later, they win the championship. Two months later, the boy’s grandfather dies. At the funeral, the boy cries his eyes out during the service. His mother puts her arm around him and says, “I didn’t realize you knew your grandfather well enough for it to hurt like this.”