I was nineteen. Youngest member of our church softball team. Since I’m writing the story, I’ll just get this out of the way: I was a great ball player. (Do know that anyone who remembers that differently today is of a very advanced age, so …)
Our church team became a healing ministry. We were a battered congregation. Our pastor, our pitcher (and the man who would go on to become your Grandpa H), was going through a very difficult season in his life. A particularly pious little fellow named James had undertaken a campaign to have him removed from ministry.
Your Grandma Shaw was an elder in the church at that time, doing exactly what you’d imagine Grandma Shaw doing as an elder—planning parties!
I was in another part of the house one day when I heard her shout, “THAT LITTLE SHIT!” I won’t lie, I took a quick inventory—What the heck did I do?
I found at the kitchen table, letter in hand. Shaking. She was furious.
Let me break her outburst down:
THAT—this dude, James, just earned himself a definite article; a specific designation in Grandma’s eyes. Whatever he’d done, he’d really stepped in it.
LITTLE—James was vertically challenged. Significantly. With an acute case of Napoleon Complex.
SHIT—Grandma didn’t often use words like shit. Your Grandpa Shaw, on the other hand, he was doubly gifted … in profanity and sagacity. He had a deep well of shit-infused smarts to pull from; things like, “You can paint a pile of shit any color you want, it’s still gonna stink!” See what I mean? Profanity and wisdom. When Grandma got really angry, she’d channel him.
THAT LITTLE SHIT (hereafter TLS) was Grandma’s take on James … and his letter.
The specifics are water under the bridge all these years later. But know that Grandma Shaw took this letter as her heart’s call to stand strongly with Grandpa H. As an elder in the church, she did just that.
A side note: Recently, we came across letters, cards and notes from this period of time, including Grandma’s handwritten Bible study notes on how Jesus called us to love, and not judge others. There is also a handwritten card from Grandpa H. to Grandma Shaw, thanking her for her support. What a treasure trove!
Recognizing that many were hurting, she focused on healing—Phyllis’ way. Hoe-Downs, Oktoberfests, Variety Shows, Bazaars— Hell yes! You wanted to go to the church where your Grandma was an elder!
Back to our softball team and its healing ministry—
TLS/James led an exodus that included a handful of families. Friday nights offered those who remained a little respite of family fun; men on the field, wives and kids in the stands, laughter and church family fun.
Then came news that TLS was pitching for another church-league team … and we were scheduled to meet them on the field. Hehe.
We took the field; Grandpa H took the mound. Sarcasm and snarky comments streamed out of their dugout. I was way out in right field, and I could hear it.
Dave was our second-baseman. An undercover drug enforcement agent, a day at the office for him meant cozying up to killers, infiltrating drug trafficking rings. Every day was life-or-death. He was bat-shit crazy.
I knew something was gonna break loose. TLS was running his mouth. Dave was glaring into their dugout. Grandpa H, for his part, went on as if he wasn’t hearing a thing. Pitch. Pitch. Pitch.
TLS stepped up to the plate. First pitch, he lined the ball through the hole and into left field. He rounded first, stumps-a-grinding, determined to stretch it into a double. Eyes on the ball in play, he never saw it coming—
Dave threw a leg out and cleaned TLS’s feet right out from under him. What a sight! Ass-over-tea-kettle, your Grandpa Shaw would’ve said. A colossal belly flop, a mushroom cloud of dust, and a magnificent divot 10 feet short of second base—both dugouts emptied, like a real big-league rhubarb!
TLS popped up … mouth first. His life flashed before my eyes. The umpire got in the middle of the scrum and called off the game, declaring it a forfeit … for both teams.
The ritual after our games was to assemble at a local sports pub for … fellowship. Good Presbyterians, that meant platters of wings and buckets of beer! We’d just settled in when someone said TLS and his team pulled in. A voice of reason reasoned, “Let’s be calm. They are our brothers in Christ.” Dave hollered back as he headed for the door, “Yeah, I’m just gonna go lay hands on my brothers.”
I was nineteen, young and dumb. Let’s rumble! I mean … we had Dave.
We spilled out the door as TLS and his teammates were just getting out of their cars. Words were exchanged. Enough talk, Dave stepped off the curb, pulled off his t-shirt, and shouted something along the lines of ‘Who’s first?’ Car doors. Headlights. Taillights. GONE.
We went back to our beer. With our pastor, our pitcher … and your Grandpa.