“It’s terminal,” I heard my grandmother say. “Six months, maybe?”
And with that, my mother burst into uncontrollable crying. I had never heard my mom cry like this before.
I was listening to my mom and grandma talk from the top of the stairs. I had been sent to my room and I knew an adult conversation was about to take place. As was my usual practice, I sat at the top of the stairs where I was out of sight but still quite able to eavesdrop. On this early February day, I wish I had gone to my room instead.
A month later, a silver Airstream pulled into the driveway. My mother told me I didn’t have to go to school that week. She handed me a manila folder with worksheets for each day of the week. She explained that this was my schoolwork for the week, and the following week was spring break so I would have two weeks off. A quick glance at the worksheets and I could tell that these worksheets would be very easy to do.
My grandma came up the driveway — a short, stocky woman with a nose like Caesar. She was the child of Italian immigrants who came to San Francisco in the 1890s. I called her Nana. Her parents had literally built Fisherman’s Wharf. I mean literally. They pounded the pylons into the soft mud and laid the boards. They sunk huge slabs of concrete that would be used as anchorages and they built buoys out of canvas. She always told the same stories over and over again. One of her favorite stories was how she invented cioppino. She liked to say that in the early days of Fisherman’s Wharf the poor Italians would come along with an empty pot and ask people to chip in.
“Chip in yo! Hey you a chippa in? How aboutsa you? You a chippa in?”
And that, according to my Nana, is where the word cioppino comes from.
My grandpa followed her up the driveway. I called him Papa. A huge man, he was even huge by today’s standards. Especially to a kid where everyone looks huge. He was more than 6’ 4” and 300 pounds and strong as an ox. When he stood next to Nana he made her look like a dwarf. He was of Portuguese descent. His grandparents were in San Francisco since before time itself, it seemed. He was an engineer who had worked on castles in Iberia and they had come to Monterey at the invitation of the Governor of Alta California, Jose Castro to help build up the Monterey Presidio and their descendants have been in the Bay Area ever since. He met Nana at a dance and they fell in love and got married. I’ve never met a more loving couple. They were so good to each other. You have to realize they married at a time where marrying another person outside your nationality/race/religion was very difficult. But they made it work.
On this March day in 1977, my grandparents were walking up the driveway and my mom was handing me my schoolwork and a duffle bag of clothes and I was “GOING TO SPRING TRAINING!!!!!!”
I barely remember anything baseball-related from that trip. But I remember lots of other things. I remember going to a trailer camp in the middle of the desert and playing cards with the old people. I remember seeing the Grand Canyon for the first time. I remember driving through an Indian reservation and we stopped at a little store and all these people came out and tried to take stuff right off the Airstream. I remember going to Swensen’s and getting 12 scoops of ice cream. I remember my grandfather playing the mandolin at the campfire. I remember one of his worst jokes, which he used to tell all the time. It went like this …
“Hey, you know that gas station we just passed?”
“Well it doesn’t know you.”
This joke seemed to crack him up no matter how many times he told it. It wasn’t funny to anyone else and now it’s the only joke I can remember him telling.
I also remember my Papa’s love for baseball. His all-time favorite player was Joe DiMaggio. He would never miss a chance to tell anyone he met about that one time he met Joe. He would always talk about Seal Stadium and that one season when all three DiMaggio brothers were playing on the same team and, if I recall the story correctly, the same outfield. (That might have been the Alou brothers now that I think about it.)
Good news is Papa beat the cancer. He lived eight years after that and we went to spring training every year at spring break. Always in the silver Airstream and always stopping for 12 scoops of Swensen’s ice cream.
And that, kids, is how I met your mother.
The Giants are a connection to my past. A connection to my ancestors. When I think of spring training, I think of my grandparents. All we have in life is the connections we make. It doesn’t matter if it is a favorite band or quilting group or sports league. It’s not the activity itself that is important; it is the people with whom you choose to do things that matter. Never miss an opportunity to make someone’s day. Never miss a chance to make a connection. You may never get that chance again.