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Casey at Bat on Memorial Day

By Mike Ingles

 

 

It was spring, it was 1969, I was about to flunk Biology-again. There would be no graduation, only summer school. Worse, the three colleges I had applied to had all said thanks,- but no thanks and if I didn’t get a college deferment then I could look forward to spending the fall in the jungle, in the rain, carrying forty pounds of weaponry, trying to avoid stepping on snakes and land mines. It was baseball season in America and I am reminded of the opening line of the poem, Casey at the Bat.

 

The outlook was not brilliant for the Mudville Nine that day

 

Principal Meyer called me to his office; he told me he was going to give me a lesson in American Civics. He said the Biology problem could be ‘fixed’ but that he needed a speech written for the Memorial Day Assembly. I had 24 hours, about 2,000 words would do.

 

I was the editor of my high-school newspaper and wrote secretly for an underground newspaper, “The Poison.” It was a leftist, maudlin, anti-war rag, but it gave me a chance to write and I got a chance to use my pseudo, ’Lefty Lewie.’  

 

The speech was a success. I can’t remember too much about it now, but I’m sure the speech hit all the themes - Pride, Honor, Freedom, Sacrifice, Duty and Love of Country. It was a turbulent time in America, with the Vietnam War, Civil Rights and everything, but I believed in those high sounding principals then, I suppose I still do.

 

I believed in something else too. I believed that my generation could put a stop to an unjust war, I believed that my generation could bring about equal rights for all, I believed that my generation could stamp out poverty and disease and intolerance. After all we were the product, the sum total, of ‘The Greatest Generation’ that had ever lived. We were the sons and daughters of the men and women who unselfishly went to war in 1941, whose heirs would enjoy the Freedoms that millions would sacrifice for. It was our responsibility, my generation’s Duty, to use that irreplaceable Love of Country to Honor our founding fathers by ensuring that we make America a more perfect union.

 

The outlook was not brilliant for the Mudville Nine that day.  

 

On Memorial Day about a week before graduation, two men came to our house on Burgess Street. My father answered the door. The men wore blue suits and red stripped ties. The men were from the FBI. The men wanted to talk with me downtown. The men said they had found out that I was, ‘Lefty Lewie,’ and that I was wanted by the United States government for subversion. The men said they wanted me to go to Washington D.C. and testify before a congressional committee about the underground movement in America. The men said all charges against me would be dropped if I would comply. The men said they were going to teach me a lesson in American Civics.

 

My father, who had served in France and Germany during his generation’s war, told the two men in blue suits and red ties to go to hell. My father said that he wanted to see a warrant. My father said that as far as he could remember freedom of the press was a constitutional right. My father said that we had earned that right.

 

The two men left our house on Burgess Street.

 

And here I am on Memorial Day 2007. My wife of 33 years is yelling at me to get ready for the cook-out at my daughter’s house in Asheville, Ohio. There is going to be a parade. The town will show off its new fire truck and its old weaponry from World War Two. And I think of my father and his unabashed belief in this country and about his generation who gave so much. And I think of myself, who has given so little. And I think of an unjust war and bigotry and the sins of my generation. We who were given so much, with such promise, and yet we fight the same demons in America that we fought all those many years ago.

 

The outlook was not brilliant for the Mudville Nine that day.

 

I am about to hand over the reins of life in America to my daughter and her generation. I’m an old shit now. Too old to fight a war I cannot win. There is still enough prejudice and hate and disease and poverty and, of course, war for my daughter and her friends to fight against. I wish them well. And as I am eating my hotdog with mustard and relish, and I chance think about people who I do not know a half a world away, lying in pain with a leg missing or an ear or an arm, under a truck with not enough steel to have protected them, and about people who are different than me, digging out from rubble that was once their home, and about ivy league politicians who eat their hotdog with mustard and relish for a photo op to be seen around the world. I am reminded of the ending to the poem, Casey at the Bat:

Oh, somewhere in this favored land the sun is shining bright;
The band is playing somewhere, and somewhere hearts are light,
And somewhere men are laughing, and somewhere children shout;
But there is no joy in Mudville - mighty Casey has struck out.


© Mike Ingles

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