Posts Tagged ‘Ghosts’

Through the Lens

Posted: February 27, 2017 by ajbrown in Writing
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I’ve always felt like I’ve lived my life on the outside looking in. It’s as if I see myself and my actions through a camera lens. There is a crack that runs down the center of that lens. On the left side everything is clear and easy to see and understand. On the right side everything is blurry and odd and I struggle at everything. Very rarely do I see through the crack where everything makes sense.

It sounds crazy. I know.

dscn1629This is the way it has always been for me. It’s as if I am watching myself through that lens, whether on the left side or the right side, and sometimes in the middle. It is through that lens that I bring you this story.

[[The lens zooms in on him, possibly starting with one blue eye and then panning out, showing the blemishes of age on his face and the gray in his dark hair. It would show a kitchen, the light on, and he would be letting the dog out for the morning.]]

He has been awake far longer than he wants. His face is unshaven. He wants coffee. He wants the almost bitter taste of it, sprinkled with a bit of sugar and some cream. He wants the first hot sip and then the last deep warm swallow. He wants the aftertaste that will stay with him for an hour or so, at least until he either drinks another cup or brushes his teeth.

He can’t have coffee—not the real stuff, at least. Decaf is okay (and yes, he knows it has a touch of caffeine in it anyway). Though he wants the coffee, he wants a drive as well. He wants to take to the road and follow the nose of the car to wherever it leads. He doesn’t care where he ends up, as long as he takes the journey. For him, that’s really what it is about, what it is always about: the journey.

It’s unusually warm for February—already in the upper sixties by eight in the morning. A crispness hangs in the air. Dew dampens the ground and has fallen on the car, and covers the windshield. He dons shorts and a T-shirt, socks and sneakers and he is out the door, leaving the family to sleep in on that Saturday morning.

The car is fairly new and comfortable. Behind the wheel reminds him of all those Saturday mornings before he and his better half had child number one and then three and a half years later, child number two. On those mornings he would be up before six and out the door half an hour later. And he drove with no particular place to go, just him, the car and music. Sitting there he recalls how he ended up in Spartanburg one morning and Newberry another and Charleston another. Sometimes the drive was all he wanted, maybe even needed.

And so it is that he pulls from the yard and drives away. At the stop sign he makes a right and shortly after that, he turns the radio on, finds the grunge channel and follows the road.

dscn1683[[The score for this scene and several that would follow with him driving would begin as he makes that right turn. We wouldn’t necessarily see him, but we would hear the music. He likes the grunge from the nineties, so chances are the song that would play would be something from Nirvana or Bush or Alice in Chains or Pearl Jam. Maybe Temple of the Dog would say hello to Heaven or maybe they will go hungry.]]

Song after song plays as mile after mile disappears beneath his tires. Small roads lead to larger ones and larger ones lead to longer ones. Those longer ones lead back to smaller ones, until he is moving along a country road, passing country houses and fields.

The sign catches his eye. At first he just glimpses it. He’s not even sure he saw it after he passed it. He slows, checks the rearview mirror and sees the reverse side of it is the same as the front. A smile forms on his face and he turns the car around. Heading in the opposite direction he slows and reads the sign: WARRIOR BASEBALL. An arrow points in the direction of a street on his right. He turns, follows the road as it winds through a small neighborhood with nice cars in driveways of even nicer homes. The houses thin out. The road ends in the parking lot of a baseball complex. It’s not as new as the neighborhood, but it still stands in what he takes is the heart of the area.

A moment passes as he sits in his car in the middle of the parking lot, the motor purring. The beating of his heart matches the smile on his face. He parks between two faded white lines, flips the music off (currently Pearl Jam is singing Wish List. Eddie Vedder’s voice is cut off as he wishes he were a brake peddle you depended on). He is out of the car and popping the trunk even as the door closes and locks.

At the back of the car, his smile grows wider when he sees his wife’s back pack. If he is right, one of her cameras is in there. He unzips the front pouch and there the camera sits in its own case. He pulls it out and opens the case. He presses a small button and the camera turns on. The lens extends and he unfolds the view finder. The battery has a full charge.

[[If this were a movie, the scene would pan out and away from him. We would hear the trunk close and possibly the sounds of pebbles crunching under his sneakers. Then we would see him walking toward the baseball field, the camera in hand.]]

He approaches the field. Though it is old, it has recently been graded and then smoothed. The grass has been cut. Chalk lines run down the first and third base lines and form the batter’s boxes, the pitcher’s circle and the on deck circles just outside of each dugout. The lines aren’t crisp and clean—the field has been played on.

dscn1707He walks through the dugout gate. A metal bench stretches the length of the dugout. He leans down, sets the camera on one end so the view finder shows the entire bench. He presses a silver button and the camera clicks twice. In the view finder he sees the bench. On it are three little boys, each one wearing a red and white uniform with the team name, Warriors, written in cursive script across the front. One of them is blowing a bubble from the gum in his mouth. The other two are laughing at some unknown joke. It’s probably something to do with passing gas.

As he looks at the image, he thinks, oh yes, passing gas.

[[The scene would go from the image on the camera to the bench in front of him. One would show the ghosts of children’s past, while the other just shows a metal bench.]]

Outside the dugout and on the field, he looks around. Just beyond the infield is a dirty ball. No, it’s not a baseball and not a softball, but one that is in between. It is yellow and dirty and looks as if part of the rawhide has been scorched. He smiles.

[[Again, the film would show his feet, the sneakers crossing the hard packed orange ground. We would see the backs of his legs as he steadily approaches the ball. Then we would see the ball between his feet and his hand pick it up. He brings it to his face, where we see his blue eye again.]]

The ball gets placed by first base. He sets the camera on the ground, presses the button and waits for the click. Then he looks in the view finder. It’s almost perfect. He backs up fifteen or so feet and takes another picture, this one of the first base bag from a standing position. In the view finder, a little boy with blond hair and a gray uniform with no words on the front, but the number 3 on the left side in red. He is bending down to pick up the ball.

He nods, walks over and plucks the ball from the ground. He tosses it into the outfield. Before the ball can fall to the ground, he has the camera up and snaps several shots. In those images, a young child with skin the color of smooth chocolate has his glove up, his eyes on the ball. He thinks the boy calls ‘mine’ before the ball reaches him.

He takes a snapshot of the pitcher’s mound next. The boy standing there is caught in full wind up, his leg kicked up, arm back and ready to throw the ball.

[[In the movie about the man, we see him turn and take pictures and we see the boys of yesteryear in them. They may be just in his head, but they are there, none the less. We would hear music, maybe Centerfield by John Fogerty or even the Eddie Vedder tribute song to the Chicago Cubs for finally winning a World Series.]]

The sun is now overhead, but it is still comfortable outside. He checks his watch. It is after eleven.

dscn1703I should get back, he thinks. He makes his way toward the dugout and stops. He’s still holding the ball in one hand. He turns and cocks his arm back to throw it. He stops, looks at the ball and lets out a laugh. Instead of throwing it, he tosses it in the air, catches it and leaves the field, a hum on his lips.

[[Here we fade to black or maybe we just pan out as he walks away, the camera in one hand, the ball in the other and that hum … that hum is probably a song he likes, maybe Boys of Summer by Don Henley. We see him get in his car, and we hear the car’s engine come to life. Then it pulls out of the spot and he drives away. Like all good films, we would hear the lyrics of the song, the music, he had hummed on his way to his car. Then, the car would be out of sight and the credits would roll. And yes, there would be a fade to black …]]

As I said earlier: I’ve always felt like I’ve lived my life on the outside looking in. It’s as if I see myself and my actions through a camera lens. There is a crack that runs down the center of that lens. On the left side everything is clear and easy to see and understand. On the right side everything is blurry and odd and I struggle at everything. Very rarely do I see through the crack where everything makes sense.

For me, baseball is one of the things in that center. When I find a new field, I see myself, my actions, and my thoughts, not as if I am living them, but as if I am watching them. Sometimes, that is not a bad thing.

Until we meet again my friends, be kind to one another.

A.J.

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Grave Stories

Posted: November 5, 2016 by ajbrown in Stories of the Grave
Tags: , , , , ,

There is  a dirt road off of Highway 176 in South Carolina. Like many dirt roads around the country, if you blink you might pass it without realizing it exists. That almost happened to us on Friday as we drove along in search of old cemeteries. If not for Cate’s eagle eyes, we would have never seen the road, and we would have never came across the Tabernacle Cemetery just outside of Cameron.

20161104_084141We backtracked and turned down the dirt road that didn’t look to really be off the beaten path. It was littered with small branches and leaves that scraped along the car’s undercarriage as we drove along. We stopped about halfway down the dirt road. A large tree branch lay in the way, most of it shattered into pieces. There was no moving the core of the branch, so we parked and walked the rest of the way.

As we got out the car, two deer ran from the trees on the right into the trees on the left about seventy yards away. They were quick, and in the blink of an eye, they were gone.

Time to walk.

It only took five or so minutes to reach the cemetery off to our left. Before reaching it, three more deer appeared in the distance, just on the edge of the woods where the road dead-ended.

The cemetery wasn’t quite shrouded by trees and shrubbery, but there was plenty of overgrowth and broken branches. There was a tree down about fifty yards from the road, probably felled by Hurricane Matthew, a storm that skirted the edge of South Carolina, but had the reach of winds and rains that spread beyond the Midlands, some hundred plus miles from the coast.

DSCN1404.JPGThe graves, most of which dated to the early to mid-1800’s, felt as if they had been forgotten over the years. The grass was shin high in places and leaves crunched under foot. Like the road, there were small branches everywhere. Tomb stones leaned forward; others had crumbled over time. A few had broken in half. Many of the graves belonged to Confederate soldiers or to the Dantzler clan…or both. There were some smaller headstones, babies and children who passed much too young.

As we wondered around the open cemetery (which I imagine was last kept up about six years or so ago), the sounds of Mother Nature spoke to us. A wind whistled softly through the trees, leaves rustled and fell all around us in ballet pirouettes, deer walked or ran through the woods not far from us. Out in that grave yard, all those sounds gave the place a somewhat creepy atmosphere.

We had seen the large tree from the road, many of its branches b
roken off and scattered about. As we approached it, high-stepping tall grass and other branches, we saw that none of the tombstones along its length had been damageDSCN1413.JPGd when it fell. It was as if the tree had laid down right between several headstones for a little rest. It was like the tree had a respect for the dead that
most of the living
don’t have.

Where the top of the tree lay were three larger markers, Confederate soldiers, an
d Dantzlers alike. The branches hung above them and around them. Some of them brushed up against the markers, as if patting them gently. It was one of the neatest sights we have seen in an old cemetery.

As we left and headed back up the dirt road to where our car sat (waiting patiently for us, perhaps?), I stopped and looked back. The scene before me was eerily quiet. The wind no longer whistled through the trees. The leaves no longer rustled and fell to the ground in ballet-like pirouettes. The deer had left the area or had just stopped moving about. Could they sense something about to happen?

Now, here is what I want you to picture, and no, this did not happen. But this is where my mind painted a picture oDSCN1408.JPGf three men, all Confederate soldiers in their winter coats and britches. One wore a gray hat and sat on the long trunk of the tree, one foot on the ground, the other firmly planted on the tree, knee bent and his elbow on it. He bit into an apple, that in my mind’s eye, looked too red. I heard the crunch of his teeth sink into the apple.

The second guy was older, a salt and pepper beard on his face, a wooden pipe in his mouth. White smoke billowed up from the pipe. He stood on the other side of the tree, sharpening a knife on a wet stone. In the picture being painted in my mind I sniffed the air, thinking I might be able to catch the rich smell of the tobacco, but couldn’t. I can’t say there wasn’t disappointment on the face of my mind’s version of me.

DSCN1401.JPGThe third soldier—the one that felt the most real to me—was kneeling down a few feet from the base of the fallen tree. There was a white bandage around his midsection in place of the shirt he wasn’t wearing. He reached into the ground, his hands clearly disappearing into the dirt of the grave where a small headstone was. A moment later he stood, a baby in his arms. He turned to me and our eyes met. He was smiling as he snuggled the baby against his chest.

I stood for a few seconds, watching these three men, one eating an apple, one sharpening a knife and one holding a baby. Then they faded away, leaving just the graves and woods behind. And just like that, my mind released me from the image.

I stood a couple of seconds more, and then ran up the road to catch up with Cate. We would leave the grave yard behind. Maybe someone else will come along and the ghosts will plant images in their mind. Or, maybe, it’s the other way around. Maybe their minds will plant images on their surroundings and bring the ghosts alive, if only for a few seconds…