‘Tio Mike, can we do the game where we run and throw apples?”
My godson — mi ahijado, as his father taught me — is 7 years old, and I had no idea what he was talking about. He and his parents had come by for the now-normalized distanced outdoor visit. We hadn’t seen each other for some time, and the apple-throwing reference wasn’t ringing any bells.
“You know!” he persisted. “We run, and then we throw an apple.”
And then it came back.
Since the day he took to his feet, this kid has been an athlete, zipping around at triple speed. In fact, even before he could walk I remember him sitting in his diaper and whipping wiffle ball strikes to his father, who grew up in the streets of Panama and had a cup of coffee — or at least an espresso — in the Baltimore Orioles farm system. My godson’s two older brothers excel at baseball as well. Between the three of them, Tio Mike secretly harbors a hope that he will one day get to sneak on the field prior to a Major League game. I am also proud of their wit and engagement outside of athletics and do my best to tell them so.
My godson’s inherent athleticism is matched by a desire to employ it at every turn, which is to say sometimes babysitting him means running laps. And that’s where the apples came in.
When I am on a fitness binge, I have this circle workout I do in the yard: Start at the pole barn, sprint up a sharp, short hill, then walk back down to the pole barn and repeat. Last year around this time the godson was visiting and feeling rambunctious so I asked him to join me. “We’ll do six laps,” I said. Then I lined up six apples in a row. “Every time we finish a lap, you can try to throw an apple over the barnyard fence. When the last apple is gone, we’re done.”
Apparently this made a big impression, because here he was a year later asking to do it again. So we lined up our apples and went to it. After slinging the third apple he looked up at his chest-heaving sweat-ball of an uncle, and asked, “Do you do this every day?”
“Oh, no,” I said between air gulps.
And then he reached out, patted me on the gut, and said, “Well, you should.”
When that boy was baptized I stood right there in church and took a solemn oath to protect and care for him and as his padrino I will keep my word, but now and then from the mouths of babes come frank assessments that test the bonds. We did another three laps, and I let him sling the final apple at the bald-faced hornet’s nest along the pole barn eaves and of course even throwing from up on the hill he bounced it off the tin within a foot of the target and as they came boiling out he ran for the house in a beeline blur, leaving me all flat-footed and fading fast. The scene of him diving into the house just ahead of the screen door slam is frozen in my fuzzy head and will bring me a smile long past the time I am able to run and throw apples, a memory the boy unlocked therefore locked in.
An original “Roughneck Grace” column exclusive to the Wisconsin State Journal. Audio versions may air on “Tent Show Radio” (tentshowradio.com). Read more from Michael Perry at www.sneezingcow.com.