One spring my dad spray-painted a baseball diamond on the grass near the walnut trees in our yard. Our family played a game almost every day. Usually Dad pitched, and we kids would see how many bases we could run before Dad's dog Rueben caught the ball in his mouth and ran it back to the pitcher. (I can tell you, that Labrador was some great outfielder!)
When I, the baby, came up to bat, Mom helped me swing. Sometimes Nate pitched, and Dad helped me bat. One time, however, I begged and pleaded to stand at the plate by myself. After all, don't we all come to the age where we just want to stand on our own two feet, staring down a pitcher and his canine outfielder?
It was a big moment for his baby girl, and Dad did his best to prepare me. "Okay, Hoo-doo," he said. "I'm going to throw it real slow, okay? Just keep your eye on the ball, sweetheart. Remember, eye on the ball."
I nodded matter-of-factly and spit in the dirt. Then I planted my feet and waited for my moment of destiny.
It hit me-Smack!-square on my left cheek.
An unearthly wail arose almost instantaneously. It took me a moment to realize it was coming from my own lungs. By that time Dad was leaning over me with an anguished look on his face, the kind you have after you've maimed your youngest child.
Everyone gathered around me, and a fuss was made over me such as I had not enjoyed in a long time. Sure, I was in pain, and a large bruise was blooming on my cheek just below my eye, but I was not indifferent to the prospect of all the extra attention I might be getting for the next several minutes and possibly hours. As I was carried into the house, I sniffingly asked for ice cream. A few minutes later Mom was hand feeding it to me. I don't know how on earth I convinced them that because my cheek was sore, my hands no longer worked. That's the kind of brazen lie parents only fall for when they're feeling guilty about smacking you in the face with a baseball.
No one realized then that it would become a chronic problem.
You see, my eyesight was terrible. There were incidents supporting this truth before I got glasses. For instance, the fact that I kept crossing my eyes and running into walls. But I'm pretty sure Mom and Dad thought I was doing that to be cute, and, really, I wouldn't have put it past me.
My glasses didn't help me much when I got older, and one of my favorite games to play with Dad and Nate was catch. The first two or three times one of them threw me the ball, and it landed on my nose instead of in my mitt, they thought it was a fluke. By the fifth time it happened, they were out of patience and sympathy.
"Okay, that's it. No more, Hillary!" said Dad, desperate to put us all out of our misery. "I forbid you to play catch!"
Nate just stared at me in disbelief. The pitiful girl holding her nose in both hands and groaning was the closest thing he had to a little brother. All his dreams of playing catch with a sibling who could actually catch the ball more than twenty percent of the time had gone up in smoke.
I wasn't ready to throw in the glove, though. When Dad was busy or at work, I'd sneak up to Natie.
"Come on," I'd say in a low voice. "Come on, let's go-quick." Then I'd show him the mitts I had behind my back.
Nate humored me a few times, but my skills didn't really improve. I do remember learning how to duck and run to avoid getting hit in the face. It was basically dodge ball with a smaller, much harder ball.
All these years later I have yet to meet another person whose Dad forbade them to play catch because it was too dangerous. Still, be careful the next time you're tossing a ball around with the kids, because I'm pretty sure that's how I got my crooked nose.