On a typical day in the painted cinder-block classrooms of Saint Patrick’s Elementary School, a summons to the principal’s office came via a wire mesh speaker. The speaker was set in a gray steel rectangle, beside the clock that never advanced fast enough. The system looked like a Truman-era relic. The voices that issued from it sounded like the muted-trumpet adults that populated Charlie Brown’s world.

    The arrival of the school secretary in the doorway of Miss Cuomo’s fifth grade classroom that Friday morning, at nine-thirty AM, in the middle of a lesson long since forgotten by students and teacher alike, was followed by a short, unexpected message. “Doug Lane’s father is here to pick him up.”

    Thirty pairs of eyes fixed stares on me, none of them as surprised as mine. I’d been at school less than two hours, and I wasn’t expecting to leave. There was no business of childhood maintenance to tend to: no teeth to be filled, no vacation plans, no accordion lesson, no family tragedy of which I was aware. Did I do something wrong? Did they call him to take me home? Why? What if someone died? What if the dog died? Would he pull me out of school if the dog died? In the time it took me to gather my books, I had buried the dog and was working on my grandmother, all while being expelled in disgrace for something I didn’t know I’d done.

- o -

    My father looked odd, standing in the school office.  The school was my mother’s territory. She ran bake sales. She chaperoned field trips. She made angel wings from cardboard and crepe paper for Christmas play costumes. My father didn’t handle chores that required picking up his children from school. My father didn’t take days off. His life was a parade of jobs. When he wasn’t in uniform for the New York State Police, he swapped his gun for the keys to one of Deyo Moving and Storage’s vans, or the trucks of another area hauler. He took on carpentry and landscape work from a local realtor. He was a volunteer fireman. He was a workaholic before I understood there was a word for it.

    I saw more of my father during the summer, when I was unshackled from school and he played softball in the men’s league at Elliot Park. There was no homework, bedtimes stretched to the high numbers on the clock, and once a week or more, my father headed out with his glove and catcher’s mask, and the green canvas bag of bats and balls he kept in the garage. 

    On those occasions that I eschewed the ramshackle playground behind the center field fence, I sat on the crooked green bleachers to watch my father play, often with one or more of my sisters. We’d cheer Catskill Chrome (or Steiner’s Sports, or whoever’s team he was on that year,) stomping our feet on the wooden boards and cheering when my father came to the plate. He loved his softball. He played every inning like someone was going to take the game away from him.