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Sunday, Mar. 09, 2003
God has heard my cry and it’s a good thing.

Since it seems like a very short time ago that I was bitching and moaning about the lack of spring-like weather, the lack of anything worthwhile to do and the crying lack of warmth in a year dominated by bad things and the sort of dreamshifting dark days that could only be fully appreciated by Frodo when temptation causes him to slip on the Ring.

So yesterday was one of those Good Things days.

It was a day, speaking of Rings, of the coming of the Ring Dance for the middlest girl. Maggie has gone to these before, the Spring Dance of festive themes and coifed hair. She has gone stag, with only another willowy girl for company, since for one reason or another the boys were either petrified of her or (as was the case last year) the “one true boy” got put into some sort of No-Ring purgatory by his parents for some minor indiscretion that has yet to be made clear.

This year, Maggie was a-goin’, and was doing it up right.

The troops were marshaled at a quarter to eight am for the last of a running series of tanning sessions. Ally and Maggie departed in a whirl of haste, the sort of “Mother and Daughter on an Agenda” tornado that touches down here every now and then, they had a list and a timetable and it was going to take Maggie right up to the minute of departure for the Dance to get it all done. It’s generally my cue to hide in a root cellar with an imposing array of stereo equipment and make ponderous reviews of Little Feat and Grateful Dead music. In the interest of staying out of the way, of course.

It’s probably a good thing that I did, since the resultant vibration given off by a finely matched set of Polk speakers shook walls and tumbled Beth the eldest out of bed, sleepy eyed and shuffling, wondering what the devil I was up to this early on a Saturday.

“Oh hey sweetie,” I said, in the middle of a happy little hip swivel as the Feat wailed on about lost loves in Atlanta. “Whatcha doin’ up at this hour on a Saturday?” (Referring to the more normal weekend arousal time of something just past noon)

“Scrimmage. Three games. Gotta get dressed to go.” And she was off to seek Fruit Loops and softball socks and the ever elusive visor, the lucky one worn since 9th grade. “Where’s Maggie and Mom?” she asked over her shoulder.

“I heard something about tanning and fingernails and hair, so I’m assuming they’ll be tied up most of the morning. If not all day.”

Beth pursed her lips. “So, are you coming to see the scrimmages?”

She’s had this thing about me seeing her play since she started high school ball. I love to go, it gives me much delight to see her play, but the weather was overcast and a light rain had just ended in the pre-dawn hours. I fingered a Shawn Colvin CD and ran through the titles, pondering. “I’ll be playing at 2 for sure, Dad” from Beth in the distant background. Shawn Colvin, hey, how about Diamond in the Rough? Lovely and dreamy tune that it is.


as a little girl I came down to the water. . . .And I turned and swayed to the insistent guitar. Looked long out the den window at a long lost sun, peeking out from clouds. Turning the day bright. Warm.

“Dad? See? It’s going to be a nice day! You coming?”

you’re shining, I can see you, you’re smiling, that’s enough. . .

She was looking at me with that amused expression used well by teens who see “parents doing the odd thing”, singing along with Shawn, half of this world and half not. What she could not see was the thought floating idly by, the thing that makes her Dad foolish and teary eyed, the last season of softball and the last year in high school for her, the thing that tightened my throat and made me want to rush to her and hug her for years spent in living well, living up to dreams and probably embarrassing her to no end for my never ending gratitude that the Creator put her here, with Ally and me.

I’m holding on to you, like a diamond in the rough. . .

“Yeah honey, I’ll be there.”

So with Ally checking in periodically via cell phone (“We’re at the nail salon and the line is out the door, you doing okay?”) I donned sneakers and fired up the F250 for the 30 minute ride to the softball field. And Beth was right, it was turning out to be a nice day, and down came the window and up went the volume on the CD player in the car, sending my fellow motorists into spasms of giggling as the big truck flew along with the Allman Brothers and I laying waste to ‘One Way Out’.

Softball games in early Spring means many teams on many closely located fields. It took me the whole first inning to track down Beth and her gang, slogging through the muddy grass. But it was a pleasant sort of walk, the first walk of Spring when you can see the sun drying up the water on the ground. When insects begin to buzz and you unzip the jacket and consider taking it off altogether. Beth waved to me from the dugout and hooted approval when I held up the camera, hey, there were picture taking opportunities here! Beth is, if nothing else, an unlikely ham for the image world.

“Gina! Come here and let my Dad take our picture!”

(Should this be the least bit confusing as to identity, let’s just say that Beth never met a mud puddle she could refuse. Or a base that didn’t need sliding in to. Did I mention it had been raining the night before?)

I stood in soggy leaves and watched, old time senior girls like Beth and rail-thin freshmen alike, they pounded the ball and laughed at the mud and took lightly the umpires gaffes in this, a scrimmage that was only for fun, that didn’t count for glory or standings. Beth was back on first base when playing defense, big glove and all, scooping errant throws and charging bloop bunts like a lioness seeking lost cubs. Other old time parents began to wander over to me, and we stood and reminisced about days gone by when our girls were 9th graders and just as confused as the ones out there now, the ones who will take over when the seniors leave. We joked a little awkwardly, I think we were all preparing ourselves to miss this, we were all steeling ourselves for the end of this little world, and the end of soggy springs and oven like summers standing out here on this very spot, watching skill pour out of our little ones.

like a diamond, in the rough. . .

Ally was nothing if not organized, the cell phone rang and she was all business. “Where are you?” Field of dreams? Oh, well just make sure you’re home by 4, Maggie’s date is coming by early for pictures. Whaddya mean you’ve got the camera?” She had that slightly exasperated tone that she takes on when her husband is off in dreamland and she’s being practical, and I knew it, and knew that time was running short.

I crooked a finger to Beth and told her I had to go, and she begged to have me wait just one more inning, she was due up to bat. I’m a sucker for that, and she knows it.

And she got in the on deck circle and whipped the bat at an imaginary ball and winked at me as if to say “Now, watch this!” and strode with purpose to the plate. On the third pitch, she hit a floater over the shortstops head and trotted to first, nonchalantly hitching up her sweatpants and tapping her helmet with a grin.

I waved again. It would have to do. I was late for the middlest one.

I pulled up to the house and Ben was there. Not unlike his old man, he was just as perplexed as I about the comings and goings of his older sisters, and had to be updated on the spot. “Sounds like a really good time to go rollerblading right about now” he said with a twisted look, a look that imagined the impending doom of Mom and Maggie arriving in a fingernail and new hair panic. “Aww, stick around for a minute,” I said. “Sometimes this stuff can be fun.”

The date arrived promptly at 4:30, a surprise in black suit and shoes shined to make the eyes squint. For a brief (and altogether unsettling) instant I saw a groom at the front door, a hulking presence in vest and morning coat come to sully away the maiden. But then Ben took him into the den for a quick round of video games and all was right with the world.

Maggie hit the door at a near run, tanned and nailed, with hair flowing out behind. She looked not so happy, and I braced myself for the verdict on the whole hair thingy. “I’m trying to make myself like it,” were her only muttered words on the subject, and flew upstairs for the final donning of the dress. Ally trailed behind with smoke coming out of her checkbook, managing to not look harassed, murmuring supportive words to Maggie and detailing instructions to me, “We need directions for her to get from the dinner place to the dance place, where’s the camera, go man go!”

You know that moment, that one moment when the bride comes down the aisle or the Ring Dance girl comes down the stairs, the moment when the Dad and the brother and the date all kinda go “Whoa!” in one voice?

Yeah, that moment.

You saw someone who hours ago was curled on a sofa watching MTV and eating scrambled eggs, someone who happened to be wearing bunny slippers at the time that looked like a real bunny, someone who you saw every day for every dirty laundry, enflamed tonsil moment. Someone who had multiple pictures of Bob Marley on her bedroom walls, who sang of lost loves and new ones from behind bedroom doors that rattled with the volume of a stereo bought for Christmas.

It takes imagination to see a woman emerging from all that. But it takes only an instant for the woman to appear. She is there, she is more powerful than man, she hides behind popcorn and bookbags and all day e-mail sessions, she taunts with cheap jewelry bought from the local teen shop, she is there but not for the viewing of tired Dads and brothers oblivious to the vision.

She stands there, and all I can do is gulp and say “Um. You look . . great Maggie.” Because there are not words enough to say. How much she looks like Ally. How fast the time goes since training wheels were taken off, and stayed off. How she now needs no training wheels at all.

And it was nearly over, the long day and all the prep work, and save for more parental fussing the elegant pair were nearly ready to go. I was doing my best imitation of a fashion photographer, lying on the floor and shooting pictures, trying to convince 17 year old models to relax and “Don’t look at the camera! I always wind up with red-eye when I use this!”

Well I wound up with it anyway. But when Maggie leans in and smiles, it never seems to matter anyway.

It was a day of good things. It was warm here in the thicket of things that mark my life, it was sadness and shouted triumphs and marking time until things fade away, and exchanged glances with those close to me. Looks that had not words to describe the affection, the time that passes, the sounds of life in a house made whole with their being. They mean much to me, these days. They come in bunches and make old the dreams of the man and the woman who started them out, in small and unseen steps so many years ago.

like a diamond, in the rough. . .

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