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The American Pastime
Two young boys traipsed through the deep snow of Central Park, New York. One was clearly younger than the other, maybe about seven or eight years old, and that one had a shock of crimson hair, partially hidden by an equally scarlet, extremely over-sized hunting hat. The ear-flaps were pulled down over his ears to warm them in the chilly, crisp winter air. He liked it because it so very nearly matched his hair, however big it was on him.
The other boy looked about nine or ten years old and was obviously his brother, as he was holding the younger boy close with his arm around him for warmth. The smaller one wiggled free of his brother’s clutches and skipped along ahead, backwards so he could wag his tongue at his brother, who then had no choice but to laugh.
“Wait up, Allie,” the older one said, his pace speeding into a jog so he could keep up.
Allie rolled his eyes playfully. “Nuh uh,” he called in his high-pitched, child’s voice.
“Allie Caulfield, if you don’t slow down before I count to ten, you won’t even be able to imagine what I’ll do to you,” he said faux-menacingly, narrowing his eyes as he sprinted to catch up.
Allie was quick, though. He ran lightly on the snow, darting in between the trees. “Be quiet, Holden,” he hollered over his shoulder.
Holden sighed, shivering. He’d given his warmest jacket to Allie nearly an hour before, as Allie had left his at home. Holden would’ve used the opportunity as a “tough love” sort of thing, except it was mostly his fault Allie’d forgotten the jacket.
Holden shook his head, clearing his head of thoughts from the past. He could handle the intense cold of New York’s winter. He was strong enough, tough enough.
“Allie, run, but at least let me catch up first,” Holden yelled up to his brother.
“Yeah, yeah,” Allie chirruped, slowing to a walk to wait as Holden soon caught up. “Hey, Holden?”
“Yeah?” Holden asked, intentionally breathing in a way that showed off a wisp of steamy haze in the air in front of his mouth. He thought to himself that it looked like a puff off of a cigarette, and that you’d seem pretty cool and adult if you smoked.
“Oh…never mind,” Allie said, knitting his eyebrows together in self-doubt.
“Oh-kay,” Holden replied, shrugging to himself.
They strolled along, aiming for a cleared out area of Central Park a few hundred yards ahead of them.
Holden’s hands were in his pockets, and as soon as Allie saw, he imitated him.
“Look what I brought,” Allie chirped, his pale face spreading into a grin as he drew a lump of brown leather out from underneath his shirt and jacket.
Holden groaned good-naturedly. “Allie, it’s gotta be below zero out here. Why’d you bring your baseball mitt?”
Allie shrugged, beaming at his older brother. “I wanted to play!”
Holden laughed. He was young enough that he wanted to play, too, but it was pretty cold. He debated this for a second.
“Please, Holden?” Allie pleaded. He tossed a dirty ball up into the air and before he could catch it, Holden snatched it out of the air and sprinted to the other end of the clearing, where a bunch of bare trees were gathered for a meeting.
Allie hollered with delight, tugging the left-handed fielder’s mitt onto his right hand.
Holden trembled from the cold out by the trees. He was probably standing only a couple hundred feet from Allie, and he waited patiently until his little brother seemed ready to catch the ball.
Allie quickly glanced up from his glove to see if Holden was ready, which he then decided he wasn’t. He shifted his weight from one foot to the other, hopping around to stay happily warm.
Holden rapidly grew impatient, but he knew Allie was just a little kid, so he tried to wait longer.
Allie frowned, bored with standing around for too long. He tied a loose string on his mitt together when he noticed something written on the inside of the mitt he’d never even glimpsed before.
The brand on the inside-bottom, Rawlings, he’d read before, like when his father first gave him the glove, as Mr. Caulfield was a southpaw as well. However, there was a signature scrawled there in very faint lettering. Allie had to strain his eyes to make it out, and when he finally did, his eyes widened.
His father had given him a lefty’s mitt with Lou Gehrig’s signature on the inside. Lou Gehrig who’d died of a disease many years before. Lou Gehrig who was his father’s favorite player of all time.
Even at such a young age Allie understood how significant and exceptional that was.
Allie greedily tried to read the rest of the smeared, faded writing there, but he couldn’t make it out. He’d just barely recognized the signature, but only because he’d seen Lou Gehrig’s signature somewhat recently.
From many yards away, Holden was promptly becoming angry. He’d decided to play Allie’s favorite game with him, but all his brother had done was stand there and not pay attention. Well, Holden was going to show him.
Holden drew his arm way back and lobbed the baseball high up into the air. It bounced on the snow, as that particular part of the snow was packed hard from the boys’ footprints.
The baseball rolled up near Allie, startling him, but it was apparent that Allie wasn’t paying it any attention, either.
Infuriated, Holden shouted out, “Allie! What’re ya doing?”
Allie didn’t respond, and Holden scampered over to him. He stood next to him, silent for a few moments as he panted and rubbed his arms to keep warm.
Holden shook Allie, yelling at him, but Allie just kept staring at the inside of his mitt. Finally, something broke his resolve, and he stared expectantly up at Holden with his bright eyes.
“Holden,” he said softly, somehow managing to keep his excitement under control. “Look.”
Seeing his brother’s seriousness, Holden leaned over and peered at the mitt. Certainly something was scribbled there, but he had no idea what, and he shrugged at Allie.
Holden did, and his jaw dropped. “Lou...Lou Gehrig?”
Allie beamed, nodding proudly; suddenly acting like a little kid again as he bounced around on one foot at a time, chanting, “I have a mitt signed by Lou Gehrig! And it is a southpaw mitt, too!”
“Let’s go home,” Holden said finally.
“Can’t we play for a little bit?” Allie’s eyes were wide and hopeful.
Holden sighed. “Sure, buddy.”
And they did until they realized the sun would go down soon, and Allie hugged his priceless mitt to his chest.
“I’m gonna make it special,” he chatted cheerfully and with enthusiasm about the fielder’s mitt.
Holden’s emotions were numb. He knew he was right-handed, but it still wasn’t fair that out of all of their siblings, Allie got the Lou Gehrig mitt. It just wasn’t fair. Nothing was fair.
“I’m gonna write all my favorite things and poems on my mitt, next to Lou Gehrig,” Allie continued, his smile never leaving his face. “And I’m gonna write it all in green ink, ‘cause green’s my favorite color. And I’m gonna…”
Holden kept hearing his little brother, but he stopped listening, until Allie exclaimed, “And during my games when I’m bigger and I’m playing in the outfield and there’s no one up to bat I’m gonna read all my poems and things written on my mitt so I don’t get bored!”
Holden couldn’t help but chuckle, and think deeply. Allie was such a little kid, but his mind was incredible. He never stopped coming up with ideas and they killed you, they really did. Allie was so nice to everyone and so smart, too.
Holden sighed, pensively wishing he was more like Allie.
Allie kept prattling on, just as background noise to Holden as they made their way home through the busy streets of New York.
And Holden thought aimlessly about how similar Allie and Lou Gehrig really are.
They’re both from New York.
Allie’s a left-handed fielder, just like Lou Gehrig.
Allie’s a very talented baseball player, just like Lou Gehrig.
Allie has the winning attitude and kind heart that Lou Gehrig had.
As these thoughts tumbled around over and over in Holden’s mind, he suddenly thought of the one thing about Lou Gehrig that he wished would never be Allie’s.
Holden put his arm protectively around Allie and held him close, not allowing his little brother to slip away from him.
And he hoped to God that Allie didn’t die young from some awful disease…just like Lou Gehrig.