CRACK! I had finally connected with one of Grant’s curve balls and up it went, soaring high out into what we called left field, which was near the right hand front corner of the house. As I was about to round first base, I heard the cracking thud and then the tinkling drops that shards of glass make when a squarely hit baseball comes full force into an old brittle pane of glass. Oh no! I couldn’t believe what just happened. I had broken his parents’ bedroom window!
I think that after the first half dozen times Grant and I got into trouble and broke things unintentionally, his parents must have started a repair fund and just didn’t tell us, because his mom seemed to come out the front door, that time and many times after, with more of a grin on her face than she should have. She tried to yell at us and tell us to be more careful, but she must have known that boys often break things, so she never really went crazy on us like we expected her to.
One of two things must have happened. Either Grant taught me how to play ball, or he figured out how to pitch to me. One way or the other, we got pretty good at baseball, and over the years, I think we broke a half a dozen windows and two or three windshields. The older he got, the faster he’d whip that hardball at me, and I finally gained some muscle around 13 and started hitting everything between my toes and my alfalfa curl. That led to a lot of fly balls and a lot of cracking thuds. It’s funny the things that you remember from your childhood. In the moment, they were nothing spectacular, but looking back they become the sweetest memories of childhood glory.
If you read Part I, you know that Grant and I have successfully made our way through the wilderness (ok, maybe more like 300 feet from the back door), and we’re sitting back in our “Fort” planning out our future endeavors for the weekend. We have also managed to fully test our theory that pegging cars with rotten apples would be great fun, and we’ve moved onto bigger better things. I left you yesterday wondering… what did we build in that fort at the tree line waaaaaay out back?
What we built was a lifelong friendship, something that to this day is often on my mind, and always in my heart. You see, Grant was born with a condition called spina bifida, which is a developmental congenital disorder caused by the incomplete closing of the spinal column. What this meant for Grant, who was born in 1981, and many others like him, was that some of his vertebrae and spinal nerve endings never fully developed. When he was a baby, the disorder caused many different complications, and at one point fluid built up in his brain to such a degree that they had to cut a slice in his skull and insert a stint to drain the fluid. Grant had very dark brown hair, but whenever he got his hair cut, that white stripe where his stint was stood out because the hair never grew back, and it reminded him and me that he was here on loan. Maybe we all are.
My parents first introduced me to Grant when we were toddlers (at least that’s what they told us), so as far back as I can remember, we were always hanging out. For a couple years, I think all I did was annoy Grant to no end, but eventually I must have learned some sort of social skills, because we started to actually enjoy our time together.
Grant was the biggest sports fan I knew. He used to have boxes and boxes of baseball cards and he would pull out his Michael Jordan cards, his Nolan Ryan Topps cards, or his Barry Bonds cards and explain to me how much they were worth. He’d tell me all the player’s stats, and he could hold a conversation about any sports team with any adult that walked up to him. It was the craziest thing to me, because I never got into sports, and to this day don’t really follow any, but I remember almost every conversation we had about his favorite players and his favorite teams. He was always sporting an Indians hat or a Browns jacket, and he was proud of the team no matter how bad they were doing. He always kept hoping, and he believed they would win the World Series someday, or make it to the Super Bowl.
Since Grant was all sports and I was all Daniel Boone, we had some exciting days together. We usually started outside playing football, and we always figured the muddier or colder it was the better. I couldn’t catch a pass to save my life when we first started, and I was smaller than Grant’s little brother, Nathan, so it took Grant a long time to teach me how to do anything useful on his two man football team. But he never made fun of me or gave up. He would just laugh and smile and we’d try the play again. Grant was always the quarterback, because in his wheelchair that was the easiest position to maneuver, and when he got tired of sitting in the chair rolling around, we switched to baseball.
Baseball was nice because the pitcher stays in one place. So Grant would lift himself out of his chair with just his arms (since his legs had no strength and no feeling), and he would press down on his knuckles like a gorilla and move his legs and upper body around the yard until he got where he wanted to go. I was always amazed at how strong he became and how unfazed he was by his condition. It never stopped him from doing anything he wanted to do, and eventually Grant rubbed off on me. He taught me one of the greatest lessons of my life; that the only limitations in life are those that we impose upon ourselves.
My story is only half way through now, but before the morning birds start singing, I need to go sleep for a few hours, so come back tomorrow so I can tell you more about two kids named Grant and Gabe.