It was my birthday yesterday and my wife and lovely daughters gave me one of the most amazing gifts.
A Blue Baseball Glove
I grew up in Northboro MA in the 70s. The overt racism I endured as, at first, the only black kid at Proctor Elementary, then one of two, when my younger brother came for the first grade, was indescribable. Racism that included being called nigger to my face by kids and adults like. Fighting, 1 versus many, almost every single day.
By the 3rd grade, life there went from a nightmare, to almost enjoyable. My Mom's tirelessly efforts of holding the school administration's feet to the fire, along with amazing white teachers like Mrs. Brady (2nd), and Mr. Ferraro (3rd), as allies, moved the racial needle, where the racist environment began to fade.
I began to make friends. The best of them, was a boy named Mike McGuiness.
Mike was the only person whose house my Mom allowed us to visit. She met and like the McGuinesses and felt I could be safe around them.
At a birthday party at Mike's house, he and I wanted to play catch. I didn't own a baseball glove, so Mike gave me one of his old ones. Even though it was for a right handed person, and I was left handed, I didn't care. It was the first baseball glove I had ever used and I had a blast. After the party, I asked Mike if I could keep the glove. He said why, its the wrong glove for you. I told him I didn't care, I just wanted to own a glove. He said he would ask his Dad.
My African parents most certainly could have afforded to get me a baseball glove. But neither of them played or watched the sport. I didn't have many friends in my neighborhood, as my Mom was always worried about any racism I could encounter. Plus it would have been cool to use Mike’s old glove.
All weekend I waited eagerly for Monday to come and get Mike’s glove. I remember clearly sitting at my desk, realizing Mike was not in class. I looked out the window and I see his father’s car, drive up to school and Mike get out. I was peering to see if he had the glove in his hand. He didn’t….
I was disappointed and saddened until I noticed that he was carrying a paper bag. I almost knock him down when he walked into class.
“What did your Dad say? Did you bring the glove?”
Mike looked at me with a sad face and said: “He said no. He said I shouldn’t give you my glove, since it was right handed…”
He then sticks his hand in the paper bag and says:
“…You should get a new one”
And brings out this shiny blue LEFT handed glove!
I couldn’t believe my eyes. My mouth dropped
“Your Dad bought me a new glove?”
“Yeah,” he said smiling now, “He said every boy needs a glove”
A moment I will never forget. Till today, its memory chokes me up....
I loved that glove. It was my most prized possession. I took it with me everywhere, even to Lagos, when my parents moved from Massachusetts, back to Nigeria. I always had my blue glove. Until I lost it…. And nearly lost my life trying to get it back.
At 11 years old, I mistakenly threw it on to the roof of my aunties house, in Orile Igumus Lagos, trying to toss it to the upstairs balcony. I was so upset, I got a ladder and tried to climb to the top of the roof. I had never climbed a ladder before and did not place it properly against the building. I got to the roof and I stepped on the aluminum panel and I felt them buckle. I realized it would not hold my weight.
I remember it clear as day. Seeing my glove just out of reach and knowing I couldn't get it.
As I started to climb down, the ladder fell. I jump off as it came crashing down on a 20 gallon bucket, smashing it in half. My aunt came home and was livid. She said I could have been injured or even killed myself, all for some toy…. What the glove meant to me, I could not explain. She dismissed me and I never saw that glove again.
The last time I visited my aunt’s house in 2008, I asked if a baseball glove ever fell off her roof..
“Baseball? What is that?”
I asked just to get a chuckle.. But deep down, I almost wished she had said “Yes. It’s over here..”
I have told my wife and daughters this story a few times. And they were moved by the fact that during the worse of racial times, I experienced such kindness from Mike and his family. And they loved the fond way I spoke about that glove. And felt the sadness when I told them about the day I lost it.
So imagine my surprise, when I opened my present up to see a beautiful, brand new, left handed
Blue Baseball Glove.
It is the most thoughtful birthday gift I have ever received. And I adore Butter, and my Princesses for thinking of it... And even cooler, it's not an adult, but a kid's glove. So it would be the size of glove I would have used in the 3rd grade. Just like the original.
One day, I'll tell my 3 year old son, the story of the glove. And maybe even give him this one.
I don’t know where Mike might be today. But he and his family gave me a childhood memory that lives on, in me and now with my family.
A Blue Baseball Glove.