Pastor Walter Mitty sat staring out his office window last Wednesday. The weather”overcast, raining and chilly”matched his mood. To keep warm a lap robe, crocheted by Lydia Schade ten years ago, covered his legs.
Lydia’s progressing dementia had forced her family to put her in the Sunnyside Nursing home. Mitty pictured her, sitting in her wheelchair in the hallway just outside her room, making forward jerking motions trying to get the chair to move, not understanding that the brake was set. Sometimes she would work at moving forward for twenty minutes at a time”jerk forward, lean back, jerk forward”not able to see through the mental fog that prevented her from grasping how to get where she wanted to go.
It had been that kind of a week at the Poplar Park Community Church. No disasters. No roadside bombs. Just a feeling in this pastor that he wasn’t getting anywhere. Attendance had never picked up after Labor Day, and the offerings always fell a couple hundred dollars short of expenses. The business owners on Main Street were cranky because, they told him, the village council was resisting their proposal to change the village’s image. The leaves were just not turning colors like they should. And he found himself unable to stop thinking about the hurricanes. Katrina, Rita, Wilma. These on top of the tsunami eleven months ago and now the earthquake in Pakistan.
There had been no disasters for Walter Mitty himself, but neither had there been any successes, any evidence that the sixty hours he had put in during the last seven days had made any difference in the world.
One image stuck in his mind. A Florida resident being interviewed on the radio talked about struggling to decide what she should bring with her from her house as she packed the car for the drive to her sister in Georgia. “If for some reason I had to abandon my house with only ten minutes notice,” he thought, “what would I take with me?”
The ringing of the phone broke into Mitty’s pondering. “Ash here, Pastor. Just confirming that you and the guys are coming to my house to watch the World Series tonight. Be here around seven, OK. Dominique and Eric are bringing beer and snacks. Ask Michael to come if you want.”
As Pastor Walt walked home, the dark clouds overhead parted for a few minutes and he felt the warmth of the sun on the back of his neck. A red maple tree shimmered vibrantly in the autumn light against the browns and dull greens of the trees surrounding it, and he felt his heart dance a step or two. Maybe getting together with the guys tonight would revive his sagging spirit.
Ash led Michael, Pastor Walt, Eric and Dominique into his basement where the matching couch and chairs he and his wife had bought when they were first married were arranged in a semi-circle facing the TV. Dominique brought along a Samuel Adams assortment pack, forcing the men to take a few minutes deciding if they wanted a Pilsner, a honey weiss or an ale.
“You know,” Dominique said as the men settled in for the game, “I feel like an outsider and a minority in this group.”
Pastor Walt gasped causing a swallow of beer to go down the wrong pipe and sending him into a spasm of coughing.
Dominique realized what had happened and laughed. “I’m sorry pastor. I didn’t mean what you thought. I meant that I’m the only White Sox fan in the group.”
Four white men exhaled, but Michael became curious. “How have you remained loyal to the Sox in the midst of all these Cubs fans who think they are more sophisticated than blue collar working stiffs from the South Side?”
But Dominique never got to answer the question, because Backe delivered the first pitch to Podsednik and the game was under way. It was not until Juan Uribe threw Orlando Palmero out at first base, the Sox had swept the series in four games and Dominique had finished hollering at the top of his lungs and dancing around Ash’s basement that Michael asked the question again, “So what has kept you loyal to the Sox?”
“You know,” Dominique answered, “believe it or not I’ve been thinking about you asked me through the whole game and I have an answer. It’s tradition. When my granddad came up from Alabama to the South Side during the Depression, he became a Sox fan and passed that down to my dad. And my dad took me to Comiskey Park on Monday nights when tickets were two for one.”
Ash chuckled. “I remember that. Two for one admissions even got this die hard Cubs fan to Comiskey.”
“It’s a tradition,” Dominique continued. “If today had never happened, I’d still be a loyal Sox fan, even though the Tribune and the other media don’t cover us like they do the Cubs. Winning is sweet, but being a real Sox fan is not a fair weather thing. It’s passed down from father to son.”
Michael winked at Mitty and said, “Yes, tradition is very important.” And at that moment the other four realized that Michael, too, was a minority in this group of Christians.
Then Mitty understood the meaning of his neighbor’s wink. Just four days before he had gone with Michael to his temple for the holiday of Sukkoth. He had donned a yarmulke and watched Michael drape a talus over his shoulders. He heard the congregation sing songs in Hebrew and saw people reverently touch the sacred Torah scroll as it was processed up and down the aisles. When Mitty had asked his neighbor why the congregation went through all the work of worshiping in an ancient language and going through all their rituals, Michael had answered, “It’s my tradition, Walt, and for me it is life giving. Traditions keep people together, and no despotic ruler or act of nature can take them away from you.”
The next day Pastor Mitty decided to drop in and see Zaphne at the Retro. “Hey, Rev, what can I do for you?”
“Zaphne, do you have a baseball card of Nellie Fox?”
“Of Nellie Fox. I want to give it to a member of my congregation. Fox played for the Sox in the fifties. Not an imposing physical specimen at all. A little guy who choked up on a big old bottle bat and sprayed the ball around to all fields.”
“A bottle bat?”
“Yeah, a big old bottle bat. Hey, look around and see if you have one. I have to run now, but I’ll be back tomorrow and tell you about some White Sox history. It’s a tradition you ought to know about.”