Lazy Day Destinations: The Ball Field

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Lazy Day Destinations: The Ball Field

James R. Aist

Growing up in rural Arkansas left me with many fond memories of favorite places, especially when it was summer vacation, and I could just pick up and go by myself, or with a friend or two, on a hot, lazy summer afternoon.

The Ball Field

When I was around 12 years old and my family lived in Evening Shade (the real one, population 315 at the time, not the fictional one on the TV sit-com), one of my favorite destinations was the ball field. I loved baseball more than any other sport, even hunting. Fortunately for me, little Evening Shade had a fairly well-developed ball field (see photo at upper right) that served mainly as the venue for the men’s softball team. Most of the time, however, it was available for me to spend quality time alone on a hot summer’s day, secretly imagining myself as a big league baseball player when I grew up. To get to the ball park, I turned right toward town, walked straight through town, kept going until “town” turned into “country”, and I was there, in only about 10-15 minutes.  Watching the local team compete against nearby teams under the lights was only one of several ways I made memories there.

Bobby Johnson

One day I happened to be at the ball field when our team was having practice, in preparation for an upcoming night game against Ash Flat. As I began to watch, I was hoping that Bobby Johnson would be there. Bobby was a really big man, about six feet four inches tall and weighing 240 pounds, all muscle and bones. A few weeks before, at a home game, I had seen Bobby hit a ball harder than anything I had ever seen before. Bam! It was a sizzling line drive that sailed right over the center fielder’s head before it even began to sink to the ground. I wanted to be able to hit a ball like that when I grew up. And he could throw the ball so hard that no one wanted to catch it.

Anyway, back to the practice session. The guys decided to take a break and just have some fun for a few minutes. Bobby usually played first base, but he decided to take the mound and show off some of his “stuff” by pitching overhand to anyone who would dare to step up to the plate. He would buy anyone a large Coke if they could hit one of his pitches. What happened next was almost beyond belief. Bobby began to throw “roundhouse” curve balls. These pitches were coming so fast and curved so much that it was as if the ball was coming right at the batters from third base, at 90 miles an hour, audibly hissing (I kid you not!) all the way to the plate. That was enough to make them all bail out of the batters box before the pitch even got to home plate.

Needless to say, Bobby was the only one to enjoy a large Coke that day!

Toss-n-Hit

Most of the time though, the ball field was deserted, so I would bring along a baseball and bat to play toss-n-hit for a while. I would stand at home plate, hold the bat on my shoulder with my right hand, toss the ball high into the air with my left hand, grab the bat with both hands and then swing at the descending ball with all my might. I tried my best to hit a liner like the one I saw Bobby hit, but I just didn’t have the physique to take it to that level…yet. Nevertheless, I did hit some very impressive (to me) liners and got to experience that indescribable feeling when bat meets ball solidly with a loud “CRACK”! I’m sure some of you know, from personal experience, exactly what I’m talking about. Hitting the ball like this was fun, and I’m sure it improved my “ball-bat” coordination, but there is an obvious down side to playing ball this way: you always have to retrieve the ball yourself, and that dilutes the fun and gets boring pretty fast.

Good memories, though.

One in a Million?

But there was a memory I made at this ball field that was not so good. One late afternoon as I was on my way home from visiting a friend who lived just beyond the ball field, I decided to pause and “while away” some time; there really wasn’t anything better to do in sleepy little Evening Shade anyway. But, without my ball and bat, I thought, “What can I dream up to do for a few minutes on a vacant ball field? Oh, I know, I’ll practice throwing…rocks. That should be innocent enough to keep this preacher’s kid from getting into any kind of trouble, right?” So I collected a handful of stones and began chucking them, one at a time, at the wooden light posts that supported the light banks used for night games. I must admit that my aim was pretty good that day, and it wasn’t long before I got bored with the light posts and wanted a greater challenge, one that better suited my superior throwing ability. Just then my gaze rose all the way up to the light bank in right field. “No, you wouldn’t dare”, I thought, “What if I actually hit one of the lamps and broke it; then what? I would really be in big trouble, if anyone found out that the preacher’s kid did it!” After a brief pause, I swear I heard from the devil himself, “Hey, don’t sweat it. You’re good, but you’re not that good. The likelihood of your actually hitting a lamp is probably one in a million. Just chuck a rock or two at the light bank, and go on home knowing that you learned your limits today.” Well, with that seemingly solid advice in mind, I took a stone, wound up, and hurled it hard at the light bank, confident that I wouldn’t hit a lamp. But, alas and alack, this wasn’t my lucky day. The stone took off from my hand and headed straight for the light bank, and one in a million soon became one in one! The stone went straight into one of the lamps, which exploded with a loud pop, sending millions of glass shards raining down to the ground.  Suddenly, I was gripped with fear, and terrifying thoughts went racing through my mind, “Is anyone out and about?”, “Did anyone see what I did?”, “Did they recognize me?”, “Will they tell Daddy what I did?” But, thankfully, there was no one in sight that day. After all, this was lazy, little Evening Shade on a lazy summer day. “Besides, those lamps are always getting mysteriously busted, are they not?”, I reasoned, “So, I’ll just slip quietly away, and no one will suspect that this innocent little preacher’s kid broke this one.”

And I did, and, to my knowledge, they didn’t. But from then on, every time I went to the ball field and saw this very same broken lamp, I was reminded of my dirty little secret. Hey, you’re not going to tell on me, are you? Didn’t think so.

(To read more of my short stories, click HERE)

Lazy Day Destinations – Mill Creek to “Bubbling Springs”

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Lazy Day Destinations – Mill Creek to “Bubbling Springs”

 James R. Aist

Growing up in rural Arkansas left me with many fond memories of favorite places, especially when it was summer vacation and I could just pick up and go by myself, or with a friend or two, on a hot, lazy summer afternoon.

When I was around 12 years old and my family lived in Evening Shade (the real one, population 315, not the fictional one on the TV sit-com), one of my favorite places was “Joe Rock.” Just across Highway 11 from Evening Shade, and about a ten minute walk down a winding farm road, was Piney Creek, which ran clear in the summer until the dog days of August set in. If you made a right turn when you reached Piney Creek and followed along the creek bank for maybe 150 yards or so, you came to Joe Rock. Now Joe Rock was usually the target destination whenever we followed that path to Piney Creek, because it was a nice, private swimming hole (click HERE). But there were a couple of other favorite places to visit farther down the creek.

If you went down Piney Creek past Joe Rock for another 150 yards or so, then you came to the place where Mill Creek flowed into Piney Creek from the right. Now, Mill Creek was a really, really cold creek, which in the heat of summer felt great, if you darted into its path and then, just as quickly, darted back into the warm waters of Piney Creek. For the longest time we wondered why Mill Creek was so cold; nobody seemed to know. That is, until one day we decided to explore Mill Creek upstream to see if we could find where it came from. To do that, it was necessary to walk along beside the creek, because, after about 30 seconds in that cold water, one’s bare feet began to feel numb! Well, we must have walked a mile or two when we came upon an unexpected, but familiar, sight that explained why the waters of Mill Creek were so cold: A natural wonder that I call “Bubbling Springs” (presently “Evening Shade Town Spring”, now with a spring house – see photo at upper right).

We were already familiar with “Bubbling Springs”, having visited there several times by bicycle or automobile; it was off of Highway 11, just a little south of Evening Shade. But this was the first time that we had connected “Bubbling Springs” with Mill Creek. Now, “Bubbling Springs” was a minor tourist attraction in the immediate area and a favorite place to fill water jugs with naturally chilled drinking water. It was also a fascinating place to play and collect pretty, polished stones. You see, this was no ordinary artesian spring. No, this spring emerged from the ground, over a large area, as dozens of bubbling, crystal-clear springs that shot up 4-8 inches above the water level, pushing up beautiful, highly polished stones along with the water. The stones were kept in a continuous cycle of bubbling up and then falling back into the springs, and then bubbling up again, etc. The sound of all of those stones crashing into one another as they rose and fell in the springs was impressive, to put it mildly. This was nature’s “stone polisher” on steroids! The “floor” of the entire spring area was covered with these very colorful polished stones, and I still have a few of them from my personal collection.

“Bubbling Springs” was always a fascinating place to visit, especially on a hot summer afternoon, when we could enjoy wading around in the chilly, churning “spring field” until our feet were numb. And from that time on, every time we walked down Piney Creek to Mill Creek, we were reminded of “Bubbling Springs”, the amazing — but no longer mysterious — source of its frigid waters.

(For more TRUE TALES, click HERE)

Evening Shade Town Spring

Evening Shade Town Spring

Caption – The photo to the right shows a spring house built by the town of Evening Shade to house some of the “bubbling springs” and provide safe drinking water for the residents.  The water runs out of a grating at the bottom of a set of cement steps. Of course, this developed facility was not there when I was. At that time, there was only a level, mowed field bordering the field of springs, which is located to the left of this photograph.

 

 

 

 

 

 

Lazy Day Destinations – Joe Rock

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Lazy Day Destinations – Joe Rock

 James R. Aist

Growing up in rural Arkansas left me with many fond memories of favorite places, especially when it was summer vacation and I could just pick up and go by myself, or with a friend or two, on a hot, lazy summer afternoon.

When I was around 12 years old and my family lived in Evening Shade (the real one, population 315 at the time, not the fictional one on the TV sit-com), one of my favorite places was “Joe Rock.” Just across Highway 11 from our home in Evening Shade, and about a ten minute walk down a winding farm road (see photo at upper right), was Piney Creek, which ran clear and warm in the summer until the dog days of August set in (During dog days, clumps of dead, brown algae would rise from the creek bottom and float down stream, making the water less appealing). If you made a right turn when you reached Piney Creek and followed along the creek bank for maybe 50 yards or so, you came to Joe Rock. Now Joe Rock was a real rock of rather large proportions (perhaps 5-6 feet across and rising above the water line about 3 feet) that was just sitting there in Piney Creek with water swirling all around it. Joe Rock was the sight of an inviting swimming hole, because, over the years, the water current had carved out a depression in the creek bottom around the rock, and the water around Joe Rock was about 3-4 feet deep, suitable for shallow diving from atop this solitary boulder. From the bank, Joe Rock looked like you might expect any large, over-sized rock to look, but it was no ordinary rock. Under the water, hidden from view, were three “legs” that extended down in tri-pod fashion from Joe Rock, keeping it suspended above the creek bottom about a foot or so. I’ve never seen anything like it.

This unique feature conferred a fascination on Joe Rock that added to the excitement of each visit. We enjoyed donning swimming goggles, “diving” down, swimming underwater around Joe Rock and peeking between its “legs” at each other. And that’s how I discovered that there were often one or two large-mouth bass lurking around and between the “legs” of Joe Rock, using it as cover.

Well, one day I decided it would be fun to see if I could spear one of those bass and take it home for dinner. So, the next time I left the house and set out for Joe Rock, I snuck a cooking fork from a kitchen drawer and fully intended to impale one of the bass on it. And sure enough, when I got to Joe Rock and slipped into the water, there were two unsuspecting bass just swimming lazily in and out around the “legs” of the rock. I took a deep breath, slowly submerged myself under the water and stealthily approached my prey so as not to spook them. After a few tries, I finally got close enough to one of the bass to make my move. With all my 12-year old might, I thrust the fork violently toward the unsuspecting entrée, but, alas, the fork just brushed him aside without even leaving a mark. That’s when I realized that one’s arm can move a lot faster through air than through water; I just wasn’t able to generate the fork speed required to pierce the elusive prey.

I’ll admit I was a bit disappointed that I would have to return from my fishing expedition empty handed, but I didn’t let that minor setback keep me from enjoying the rest of my swim. After all, the bass did make each visit to Joe Rock that much more exciting, so why not just leave them be, for everyone to enjoy? And so I did, and they did.

(For more TRUE TALES, click HERE)

 

 

Déjà vu All Over Again…Almost!

BonnieDéjà vu All Over Again…Almost!

James R. Aist

If you have cats, you know that they are consummate creatures of habit. And it is often said that they usually forget things after a few weeks. Well, this true story may well be proof positive of those two kitty characteristics.

It all happened on Snyder Hill, just a little southeast of Ithaca, in upstate New York, about 15 years ago. We had two cats, Bonnie and Clyde, but we had to let Clyde “go” because he became mean and unruly. That left just Bonnie, whose personality blossomed after Clyde’s departure, especially her assertiveness. And it was a good thing, too.

One hot summer evening (yes, it does occasionally get hot in upstate New York, believe it or not), Bonnie and I were in the living room when we heard a neighborhood cat let out a menacing verbalization that can best be described as a long-drawn-out, blood-curdling “scrowl.” When this announcement was repeated, it became obvious to both of us that this intruder was approaching the living room window, which was open, with only the window screen between us and him. So, Bonnie took it upon herself to fend off this intruder at all costs, and she began to answer his threats in like manner. As he got closer and closer to the window from the outside, so, too, did Bonnie get closer and closer to it from the inside. Now, both of these ferocious beasts were exchanging the most insidious of threatening insults with seriously hurtful intentions. Suddenly, Bonnie jumped up onto the back of the couch with her face just inches away from the screen. I knew that something violent was about to come down, so I summoned my wife, Janet, to come quickly, so she wouldn’t miss out on the ensuing encounter.

Just as Janet entered the room, the intruder leapt onto the screen with a fierce scream and a menacing glare on his face. In a split second, Bonnie joined him on the screen in like manner. I am constrained to relate exactly the “words” that were rapidly exchanged between the two cats suspended in this pose for a few moments, but suffice it to say that there was no love lost between challenger and defender. Then, realizing that there was no way that he was going to get at Bonnie with the screen separating the two of them, the would-be intruder gingerly relinquished his grip on the screen, dropped to the ground…kerplunk, and slinked away into the night. Convinced that she had won the day, Bonnie then abandoned the screen and returned to her place in the living room, as proud as a peacock. And we, too, were quite impressed and proud of our vicious little attack cat.

But, that’s not the end of the story, not by a long shot. Fast forward a few months. It’s now Fall, the nights are cold, the screen was up and the glass sash was in its lowered position. The evening began innocently enough, but we were in for some exceptional entertainment. Bonnie and I were, once again, in the living room when we heard the same neighborhood cat let out a menacing verbalization that can best be described as a long-drawn-out, blood-curdling “scrowl.” When this announcement was repeated, it became obvious to both of us that this intruder was, once again, approaching the living room window, which was now closed, with only the window glass between us and him. So, again, Bonnie took it upon herself to fend off this intruder at all costs, and she began to answer his threats. As he got closer and closer to the window from the outside, so, too, did Bonnie get closer and closer to it from the inside. Now, both of these ferocious beasts were exchanging the most insidious of threatening insults with seriously hurtful intentions. By this time, I was already saying to myself, “No-no-no, surely he wouldn’t, not with the glass in place now. I don’t know if I can survive the intensity of the ensuing laughter if he were to do that again.” But, just in case, I beckoned Janet into the living room once again, so she wouldn’t miss out on the fun. Anticipating what might be coming, we were already about to burst out in laughter when, low and behold, it happened.

Bonnie jumped up onto the back of the couch with her face just inches away from the glass. As anticipated, the would-be intruder leapt onto the glass with a fierce scream and a menacing glare on his face. In a split second, Bonnie joined him on the glass in like manner. I am constrained to relate exactly the “words” that were rapidly exchanged between the two cats suspended in this pose for a split second, but that pose didn’t last long. Like Wiley Coyote who, chasing feverishly after the Road Runner, failed to make the turn just before the cliff and was briefly suspended in mid-air before crashing to the ground…kuh-thump, so, too, these valiant feline warriors seemed suspended in time for a brief moment before the reality of gravity set in, and, bug-eyed and terrified, they came crashing (more precisely, sliding rapidly) down. At this point we were so consumed by uncontrollable laughter that we had zero concern for Bonnie’s well being following her fall. But, not to worry, we finally regained our composure to find that the couch was soft and had afforded her a perfect landing place. I can’t say that the other cat fared as well, though.

And that was the last we heard from this unwelcome, wannabe intruder. I guess his memory must have lasted more than a few weeks that time!

(For more True Tales on my website, click HERE)