Thursday and Jude (Rough Opener)
June 18, 2017 § Leave a comment
November 1st, 1991
In the summer of ’72, I was sponsoring a young man at a summer gala in Madison, Wisconsin. Not quite like the kind of sponsor that first comes to mind, especially not at a gala where Mickey Mantle was the keynote speaker. The crowd held onto to his every word while Mantle hung onto a pint glass of vodka, taking swigs from it as if his mouth had grown dry from talking.
After his speech, while the sun was setting over the Monona terrace, I overheard her Mantle say to young woman, “Well, I was going to tell you a joke so funny it would make your tits fall off. But I can see that that has already happened.”
Baseball has always been full of colorful characters, and worse things have been said in its locker rooms, according to Mantle’s teammate, Jim Bouton, who penned the controversial Ball Four. Another colorful character in the world of baseball is Tommy Lasorda, the man responsible for coining the term “Fall Classic,” referring to the October games known as the World Series. For this, I can almost forgive Lasorda for the antics surrounding the death of his son, as nothing imparts goose bumps more than switching on the radio in October and hearing the august phrase, “Fall Classic.”
Many a fall afternoon I would open a few windows and turn on the radio, warming up to the noise of America’s past time. The radio expelled the sounds of a game like the wind that released the chill October air into my living room, perfectly inundating my senses. October and baseball, what could be better than that?
It’s no surprise to me then that I met Thursday Shepherd a few days after the 1991 World Series. With the Minnesota Twins victory over the Atlanta Braves and the Perfect Storm that left the upper Midwest an icy, fairy hinterland, it was fated that I would meet the little cellar dweller.
The World Series that ended on October 27th, 1991, is considered to be one of the greatest series ever played. Five of the seven games were decided by a single run. In the seventh game, Jack Morris pitched for ten innings, keeping the Braves at length, Chuck Knoblauch faked a catch that prevented the Braves from scoring, and Gene Larkin laced a single to the outfield that drove in the winning run. “Twincredible,” the headlines read. I had attended all seven games, four in Minnesota and three in Georgia, though through means that I can neither properly explain nor disclose.
Five days after the Twins victory, on Halloween, occurred the second most important event to happen to the Twin Cities that fall. Violent weather patterns in the Midwest and the Atlantic Coast created forces known as a Perfect Storm. In Northern Minnesota and Wisconsin, these forces came in the form of the most menacing blizzard of the decade. Light snowfall deceived eager trick-or-treaters into walking the streets but by ten o’clock that night, every citizen had retired to their homes. The Twin Cities cowered, rendered immobile.
The morning after the blizzard, Thursday Shepherd peered through a second-story hotel room, anxious to know what was keeping the Shepherd family from moving into their new home. It never snowed as much in Michigan. No one person took a shovel to the sidewalks that day. Everyone understood that all of Northwest Minnesota had been snowed in. Like the Twins, it was a storm that broke records.
She caught me smoking a cigarette, knee deep in the most threatening drifts she had ever seen. Her gaze startled me, I dropped my cigarette and fell out of one boot. She gave me an unsurprised look and turned away from the window.
I sighed, forgetting the slush I had pulled back into my boot. “Oh, blue.”
It was November 1st, 1991.
It is rare that I sponsor children. Largely, because they have difficulty understanding my purpose and tend to discuss my presence with adults, who chalk me up as an imaginary friend. So how was it that I came to know Thursday Shepherd at the young age of eight years old? The older memories I have of Thursday are likely the same ones she possesses of me. I’m not sure if she always knew who I was. She looked at me the same way one looks the old oak tree in the front yard—she didn’t always notice me, but she knew I was there. I would like to say that Thursday knew I was protecting her, but truthfully, children largely ignore adults until they are much older.
I had the pleasure of watching Thursday grow up because she was unable to speak until she was ten years old, and therefore unable to turn me in, as an imaginary friend or some kind of pedophile. At the tender age of two, Thursday had a rather large vocabulary for a toddler, but a freak accident involving an ice cream truck and the little boy who lived across the street, rattled Thursday. Young David Leland had been crouched over the curb looking for a toy and the Ice Cream man didn’t see him. David suffered a head injury that rendered him unable to speak. A child psychologist theorized that Thursday’s sudden muteness was an effort of solidarity on her part, an empathic reaction so extreme that it barred her physical ability to converse.
“The fact that you were around before I could talk was possibly the only blessing behind my condition,” she told me once. “Had I been able to speak I would have told my parents all about you. Mom might have believed me, but likely I would have spent my childhood in front of a psychiatrist.”
“I know that you were friendless and lonely because of it,” I told her. “But I don’t think you would have been able to see the world the way that you do had you been able to speak. You’ve might not have noticed me, we might have missed each other altogether.”
Thurday snorted. “And all along I thought you had been assigned to me. Thanks, Warden.”
“It doesn’t quite work that way.”
Thursday was ten years old when she spoke again. One afternoon in the kitchen with her mother, she rifled through the cupboards, and said plainly, “Where is the peanut butter?”
Her mother, Thursday explained, having heard her daughter’s voice for the first time in years, handled herself quite well. She opened up the cupboard above Thursday’s heard and handed her the jar.
“Would you like some jam with that?” asked her mother.
“No, thank you,” said Thursday, and it was business as usual in the Shepherd household.