On my odd island of tranquility
Tonight, Niece A was playing softball in a tournament on the field where I played for Rosenfeldt Insurance for two years as a child. I think that by the time I was her age I had abandoned my role as backup right fielder and was doing marching band in summer, but Niece A is far more athletic than anyone in her extended family on either side for at least two generations. Both sides turned out for this game, and we kept saying, “She caught the ball!” and looking at each other in astonishment. She was promoted to U14 tonight (she’s usually on U12), and she made three outs for her team, catching perfectly every time a fly ball went to left field, but she couldn’t hit against U14 pitching. Two strikeouts in two at-bats. She was frustrated with herself and when I said, “But you caught the ball, A!” she looked at me with pity.
When I’m here I often feel like I’m living in a movie about small town America and tonight would have been the perfect opportunity to film it. The smell of grilling hotdogs and hamburgers (and, because it’s Wisconsin, bratwurst) wafted across the diamond while we were watching and the teams trooped across the highway for a cone after the game. Men with beer cans were standing on the sides of the field, commenting on their daughters’ games. The crowd was all families of the players and though we cheered throughout the game for our own teams, at the end, when the girls were high fiving the other team, we also turned to the people next to us whose kids were on the other side and said, “Good game.” The sun was falling beautifully over the park and the biggest danger to any spectator were the (many) foul balls. (Next time I am wearing a helmet.) People were talking about their gardens, and the Catfish Races and associated concert this weekend, and the rain, and work, and the usual stuff. There were families picnicking in the park and in the pavilion. Crowds of little boys were running around screaming and a gaggle of older kids were lounging on their bikes and popping wheelies. I saw a few people I know and a few more people that look so much like people I knew as a child that I did a double take. There must have been mosquitoes out but none bit me.
It’s not perfect, even in my family, and I felt that tonight, just as I know that under this idyllic mask there’s more than enough trouble to occupy all these families. I know that as rosy as things look now, all these beautiful, sporty young women will have their own share of problems in the future, because life is like that. The region, too, has its particular social problems that we know about and don’t discuss. Still the shootings of the last two days are far away from us, let alone Brexit, and when my SIL’s father said to me tonight, “You look a little sad,” and I said, “Yeah, the news has got me down,” he said, “What news?”
That’s why we jokingly call it the Happy Valley. I don’t begrudge all of us who live here any of the things we enjoy. And I know that that happiness is grounded in a level of homogeneity that would suffocate the average city dweller. Not all that much happens here and most of us like it fine that way. I just wish that we could give this level of security to every child growing up in the U.S. whose family wants it. I wish that my privilege extended to everyone. I think we have enough to share.