Early on in life I learned that once you grew up to be an adult, play time was over. No law decreed it so, it just was. As adults we could find time to work for a living, to sire children, or to explore the universe. Everything but play. Just play for the fun of it, like we did when we were children.

I once thought that given the chance, grown men and women would revert to those earlier times and their heart would soar like the Maria’s in “Sound of Music.”

Towards that end, back in the 1980s I spent every summer trying to organize softball games. Friendly softball games, games you played for fun, not to win. All were invited: adults, children, dogs, cats, gerbils (Little known fact: gerbils can play baseball, but it is impossible for them to get a glove that fits).

During this time there was a lot of New Age thinking. It was felt that competition was bad for a child’s self-esteem. So, all you had to do to win a trophy was show up. The New Age idea of a fun game was “earth ball,” a giant plastic inflated ball that teams, following the example of Big Bird, would try to push over a line drawn on the ground. Politically correct, but boring beyond belief.

Back then when I made the phone calls to come out to Legion Field at 4 o’clock on a Sunday afternoon, everyone I talked to agreed it was something they would like to do.

But something happened. People would enthusiastically agree it was a great idea, but for one reason or another, they would not show up on Sunday. We sometimes had nine or 10, not enough for a full game. Once or twice a summer we’d end up having enough for a full game and, yes, they were fun and life was good. 

Almost as much fun as the annual parents versus offspring softball game at the Cousins Club Picnic.

I grew up in a large apartment with my parents and sister in a middle-class neighborhood in the Midwest. I had a slew of uncles and aunts on both sides of the family. As a kid I was a bit fearful of these uncles and aunts who never seemed to smile nor had much time for play. They didn’t live near us so we grew up knowing this other gang of cousins as the “Cousins Club.” But what we really looked forward to every summer was the annual Cousins Club Picnic, which featured the annual parents versus kids softball game.

What made the game so special was to watch as my uncles and aunts loosen their belts, rip off their neckties, roll up their sleeves, and play. The softball game was an opportunity to be outdoors and to run and jump and leap in the air. Men who worked in warehouses or drove buses or collected garbage could stab a ground ball or throw the ball to the plate in one hoop. They weren’t exceptional ballplayers, but that didn’t matter.

There was no Cousins Club for me or my generation of cousins. Many of us moved away from the city in which we were born. After years of travel I settled in a small town in Maine, far from Heman Park and the Cousins Club. But those softball games remain in my head like a favorite old movie.

How often do we make time to play? My attempts to organize a game were an attempt to recapture those family softball games. I can still recall the image of those men in their nice pants and hairy arms playing just for the fun of it. Just for the fun of it.

Bob Kalish observes life from a placid place on the island of Arrowsic (motto: You’re not in Georgetown yet). You can reach him at [email protected].

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