NOW AND THEN LEE IS REMINDED OF THE WEEPING CHILD AND KNOWS... BUT FOR THE GRACE OF GOD
By Sylvia Resnick
The stillness of the empty playground had a strange, hollow sound of its very own. Lee Majors taking an evening stroll in search of unreturned equipment, paused for a moment to look up a the sky streaked with colors of twilight deepening into the night. A hearty gust of wind shivered through the trees shaking the leafy branches; a thin film of dust moved across the blacktop. Lee sighed; a sound of hopelessness. Things were certainly not as he envisioned they would be when he had persuaded his young wife that California was the place for them to move. Teachers made good money there, and with the baby they had to begin to plan for a future; one where some measure of security was in the picture.
Instead he learned that he would be unable to get a teaching position until the fall; that was half a year away. Someone had mentioned the job as playground director, and here he was scouting lost balls and bats in pursuit of his duties. Lee was so deep in thought he didn’t notice the boy until he was within a few feet of him.
He was huddled forlornly against the chain link fence and low, heartbreaking sobs shook his small frame. At shortly past five the playground began to empty as in twos and threes the happy, exuberant youngsters started for home as though by some prearranged signal they seemed to know when it was time to leave. Later, when the dinner hour had passed some of them would return to play ball on the brightly lit grounds or to attend classes in the recreation room. But now Lee hesitated, wondering how to approach the sobbing youngster without embarrassing him.
Lee began to whistle softly, and the weeping ceased. Instead a tear-filled voice asked: “Mister, do you know what time it is?”
“It’s ten of six,” Lee replied, wondering why the boy did not go home as the others had. The wind, chilling and furious, rattled the fence. Wearing only a thin, short-sleeved shirt the boy tried to warm himself by pressing his arms close to his sides. Lee slipped his warm jacket from his shoulders, walked to the fence and draped it across the boy’s shoulders.
“You’ll catch cold standing around like that in the night air.” The days always so beautifully warm and golden with sun took on an abrupt about face at dusk. In Kentucky, Lee thought, when the day was filled with spring some of the enchantment always remained to fill the evening with balmy pleasantness. Everything, he told himself was so different here.
“My sister always comes to get me when she’s through with work. It’s always still light.” Lee’s unasked question was answered voluntarily by the boy.
“Maybe she had to work late. Can’t you go home and wait for her there?”
“I don’t know where our house is,” his lower lip began to tremble again. “We just moved here a couple of weeks ago, and I don’t remember the name of the street.”
In the sudden illumination of the street lamps that sprang to life the boy’s dark eyes had a haunted look. “Something must have happened to Lynn too.”
His small voice dropped to a murmur as he pulled Lee’s jacket closer about him as though to draw some measure of comfort from its bulky warmth. Then a girl’s voice rang out in the stillness, and the boy whooped for joy.
“Tommy, where are you?”
“It’s my sister,” Tommy quickly tossed the jacket back to Lee , then grinning ran to join the girl who hurried through the gate searching for him. She held him close for a long moment, and his words carried along the wind to Lee who stood staring at them.
“I was so afraid. I thought maybe you got sick and died like mama and daddy.”
Later, as he put the bats and other equipment back in their proper place Lee found himself absorbed in thoughts about his own problems. His job as a playground director paid barely enough to meet their expenses so Kathy had gotten a job too. They’d managed to arrange their schedules so that one of them was always at home with little Lee, but their marriage had become little more than two ships passing in port. Life, Lee mused in glum resignation, had certainly played a dirty trick on all of them.
“That night, after I was in bed I found myself thinking about Tommy. For some strange reason he kept coming into my mind. I kept wondering about his parents, what had happened to them. And his sister, she hadn’t seemed more than about sixteen. Was she taking care of him by herself?”
The following afternoon Lee found himself on the lookout for the slight dark-haired boy. When he showed up, solemn eyed and eager to “help”, Lee put Tommy to work handing out equipment. He wore the same dark brown cotton pants and yellow shirt as the day before, but Lee noticed that they had been freshly washed and ironed. As they worked, Lee began to subtly question his helper.
“Did you find out why your sister was late last night?”
She’d had to work late at the bakery where she reported every day after school, Tommy explained. One of the of the other girls had taken sick, and Lynn stayed to help with the rush of business just before dinner.
“I told Lynn about how nice you were to me, and she said to say thanks.” Tommy’s shy smile lit up his face. “She told me to wait for her like I always do ‘cause she’ll be here. I was very worried.”
He came to the playground directly from school each day, he explained, so Lynn could go to work without worrying about him being alone. They had migrated to Los Angeles from a small town in Illinois two weeks before.
“We were so happy. Papa had a good job, and mama felt better because the weather was so good. Then one day they went to the store in papa’s old car.” …. Tommy’s voice trailed off as a cloud of sadness fell across his face.
A drunk had plowed into them, killing his father instantly and injuring his mother. She had died just a few days before, leaving Lynn and Tommy orphaned in a strange town.
“Mama had made Lynn promise that she would finish school, and that we would stay together. My papa grew up in an orphan home, and mama knew how unhappy he would be if we had to live in one too. So she made Lynn promise.”
It was not quite five o’clock: the playground still shrilled with the sounds of playing children when Tommy’s sister appeared to take him home. A pretty girl, she seemed tired and drawn, but the smile she flashed her brother was filled with love. That night again, Lee found his thoughts filled with Tommy and his problem. Perhaps it was because once, much earlier than he could remember, his own life had been disrupted by the unexpected: his widowed mother had been killed while Lee was still a very small child. But he’d been lucky for kind, devoted people had taken him into their home and raised him as their own son. If not for his aunt and uncle Lee might have spent his youth in an orphanage himself.
How long would a sixteen-year old be able to keep herself and a small boy going on the meager money she made as a bakery clerk and doing alterations at home in the evenings? Tommy had told Lee that there was no one in their hometown who might help them.
“My mama had one sister but she went to live in Arizona with her daughter. Lynn says we only have each other.”
How the authorities had overlooked the two of them had for a while been a puzzle to Lee, but Tommy let it slip that Lynn by pretending that their aunt was living with them, had kept the hospital social worker from any further investigation after the tragedy.
“I worried about those two,” Lee recalls. “Tommy was such a nice little fella. Everyday he’d come into my office to talk. I wondered why he never played with other kids, and one day I found out. We had gone into the bleachers to watch some of the bigger boys play baseball. A batter with a powerful swing sent a high fly, but the outfielder missed it and the ball landed almost at Tommy’s feet.”
For a moment, the boy held the ball in his hands. Then as the outfielder came bounding after it Tommy cried out, “Here, catch.”
His pitiful attempt at an overhead throw sent the ball a scant three feet to roll over the dirt. “They think I’m a sissy, who doesn’t even know how to throw a ball.”
Humiliated, Tommy returned to the bleachers amid loud laughter from the watching youngsters. Then Lee knew there was something he could do for Tommy. It might not seem very much to people who had no understanding of how important sports could be to a boy, but from his own experience Lee knew that learning to excel in any form of athletic endeavor could work a special magic of it’s own in building confidence and assurance. The way things were Tommy needed every extra bit of confidence he could get.
“We began to practice a couple of hours each day and on Saturdays I’d try to take some extra time helping Tommy to learn how to bat a ball, showing him the right way to throw it. He was quick to learn and within a couple of weeks he was out there with some of the other younger kids running bases. I got a big kick out of him, everything was so new and exciting. He was just about the happiest kid I’d ever seen.”
The problem of the two being on their own was still unsolved. Lee knew that he should inform the authorities but he couldn’t bring himself to betray Tommy’s trust. They seemed to be making out all right.
Tommy’s father had left a little bit of money tucked away in the inner lining of a jacket. Lynn had found it one day while cleaning out closets. Together with what Lynn earned they seemed to be eating properly but still Lee knew it wasn’t fair. Lynn was a young girl, she should have been free to go to school dances and parties. What would happen when the weather changed and the rains came? Where would Tommy go after school then?
The solution came unexpectedly and late one afternoon when an acquaintance of Lee’s dropped by with his girl. She was a secretary with a law firm, and in the course of the conversation Lee learned that one of her bosses was a very philanthropic man who made a hobby of aiding those who couldn’t afford to pay for an attorney or who needed specialized counselling that they were unable to pay for.
“I arranged to see her boss myself to enlist his aid in doing something for Tommy and Lynn.” Lee remembers how he sat nervously waiting for Mr. Saunders to finish presiding at a meeting. All the while he hoped he was doing the right thing.
“The next day the machinery went into motion. Mr. Saunders traced down the owner of the car that had run into Tommy’s parents, found out that he was insured and started proceedings to collect what was due the kids. Then he arranged with a good friend of his who was a judge in juvenile court to send Tommy and Lynn to live in a foster home. “
It had been so simple yet because Lynn had been worried about being separated from her brother she decided to lie to the very people who could have helped her. When she learned what had been done for them she wept with relief.
“The foster home was in the same neighborhood so Tommy still came round to see me at the playground. Only his foster father took over in the coaching department. He was a nice guy, crazy about the kids.”
Every now and then Lee gets a card from Tommy who is the star pitcher on his little league team. And when Lee has read the card, Lee sits for a long moment deep in thought as he remembers the weeping child that, but for the grace of God might have been he.