October 16, 2005
Seeing a few minutes of a baseball playoff game this past week brought Mrs. Field back to mind. Her son George was in my Cub Scout pack; I first met her while learning the ancient art of soap carving in their basement on Belmont Avenue. Mr. Field taught us Cubs how to sculpt white bars of Ivory Soap into objects of beauty. Unable to master the art, I made dice. Mrs. Field brought down the snacks. I got to know her better when George and I began to walk to school together. I would leave my house and walk to George’s, where, afraid of being late, I was always early.
Mrs. Field and I would sit and talk. “Listen to this,” she said one morning, and she read aloud to me from a P.G. Wodehouse story. Bertie Wooster was describing the pleasures of a good scrub and soak in the tub. “Isn’t he wonderful?” she said. It was my first encounter with Wodehouse, an author who has since brought me much joy.
Another day, on the way home from school, I stopped in and watched the last inning of Don Larsen’s perfect game against the Brooklyn Dodgers in the World Series. On a clipboard in her lap, Mrs. Field kept a play-by-play log of every pitch and hit, every out and score; she had explained the hieroglyphics to me, but I was not able to comprehend them. She was a passionate baseball fan, and a passionate Dodgers fan. “Oh, just get a hit,” she said to the last batter as her Dodgers were about to make the wrong kind of history.
Mrs. Field was always immaculately dressed in the morning. (My mother was always in her bathrobe when I left, not wanting to change clothes until my father left the house.) When I arrived at Mrs. Field’s, the breakfast dishes were already cleared, and she was at the table reading, or looking out the back window at Scrabble, the family’s calico cat, nosing around in the garden. On one occasion, I observed Scrabble taking a kitty poop. “Is that how they do it?” I said. I had been a sheltered child. Mrs. Field laughed, and then directed my eye to Scrabble neatly burying the results. I marveled.
I spilled grape juice on her living room carpet, but it came out, and she forgave me. She picked me up off the ground after a full-tilt collision with a playmate as we converged at the blind corner of a tall hedge. I remember her face above me, and her saying, “Are you all right?” Mr. and Mrs. Field explained the difference between Republicans and Democrats to me, in terms of big corporate interests and the small businessman. It is an explanation that has held up well.
But most of our conversations were about reading. Mrs. Field loved to read and loved to share what she was reading. In one of life’s cruel turns, she lost her sight well before she was done with the contents of the library. I wish I could read aloud to her now. I am grateful she talked to me then.