On Tuesday, October 21, 1975, Carlton Fisk of the Boston Red Sox hit a homerun in the bottom of the 12th to win Game Six of the World Series. A rat was perched on the leg of the centerfield cameraman. Instead of following the ball, the cameraman stayed on home plate as Fisk watched the ball fly toward the left field pole, waving his arms as if to keep the ball fair. As the ball hit the pole, Fisk jumped with his arms extended, the crowd cheering in the background.
ESPN named Fisk's homerun the sixth greatest homerun of all time. It has been shown hundreds of times since. I hate that homerun.
On Friday, October 17, 1975, four days prior, my mother died. She was 43; I was 12. My brothers were all teenagers, and my sister was 9. I was asleep Saturday morning when my father entered my room and opened all the blinds. He sat on my bed and told me Mom had died. Although she had been sick with cancer for nearly two years, in and out of the hospital, I thought she was coming home Friday night. I've always been a light sleeper, and that night I heard commotion downstairs. I almost got out of bed to greet her, but thought, I'll see her tomorrow. The next day I learned I would never see her again.
That morning, my sister and I watched Hong Kong Phooey and other cartoons in silence. A stream of people visited our house that weekend, each bringing food. I stayed outside as much as possible, playing basketball and football and hanging out with friends. The house had a mausoleum-like atmosphere. I was hoping to avoid discussing what had happened—as if by not talking about it, it hadn't.
Two days later, we flew to Winston-Salem, North Carolina, where my mother grew up. It was the first time I remember being on an airplane. We lived in Northern Virginia, six hours away, and I didn't understand why we were now flying. I eventually realized that in addition to my father, brothers, sister, and me, the airplane was transporting my mother in a coffin.
My sister, father, and I stayed with my Uncle Sid, Aunt Mary, and cousin Wally. My father and I slept in the same room. One night after turning out the lights, Dad asked me how I was doing. I said I was fine. I should have told him I was having a bad dream from which I couldn't wake. It was the last time he asked me. Once the week was over, no one talked about Mom. It was as if she had become a childhood memory, like Santa Claus or the Easter Bunny. I don't blame my father for anything. He wasn't given an instruction manual on how to be a widower at 46 with five children.
On Tuesday, I didn't go to the visitation. Instead I watched the World Series with Wally. I didn't care who won the game, but as Fisk hit the game-ending homerun, Wally and I got caught up in the moment of the event. NBC replayed it over and over again until it was engrained in my mind. The next day, my family buried my mother.
I was distracted at the graveside service by the sea of headstones, as far as my eyes could see. As we walked to the limousine after the service, my oldest brother was walking ahead of me. I ran to catch up to him, and as I reached him I saw he was crying. He is six years older than me and, from my child's perspective, was larger than life. He was a tower of strength, the brother I could count on to defend and protect me. Seeing him cry was jarring, more evidence that the world I had known had ended.
After the funeral, Uncle Bill and Aunt Polly took me and my sister to visit my mother's mother, who was living in a nursing home. I vaguely understood that her mind wasn't working properly, that there was a disconnect between reality and her perception of it. As we visited, I wasn't sure if she knew her daughter had died. Then, in a moment of lucidity, she said that children aren't supposed to die before parents and began to cry.