by Steve Kappel
On an overcast day on a Sunnyside street me and my dad are throwing around a football. Larry’s not old enough to play. He’s four years old, my little brother. Against either curb on our block lie curled brown leaves, leaves against the curb as far as you can see. All along, between the side walk and the curb, stand hard barked tree trunks rooted deep in rectangles of brown dirt, that lie one after another. They remind us that the asphalt and concrete is merely a cover, a tarpaulin if you will. After all, it is the earth itself upon which we stand.
The limbs and branches of these grand mottled trees arc above and beyond us, causing the long street to appear vaulted as a ceiling, a passage within woods shaped in perfect symmetry by the shelter of an oddly graceful procession of twisted branches and limbs from so many stout trunks that have, indeed, found their purpose. It is these high curved limbs that provide for us a vision, too: a vision of our Sunday place. And more; it is these limbs and branches and leaves, the figure to our sky’s ground: a cold morning that allows shards of grey and white and even some blue. Some blue. If we hope hard for a brighter noon.
So here we are me and my Dad out on the street just throwing around the football. At first, we stand facing each other, about twenty feet apart flipping the ball back and forth. I’m trying to practice throwing like a quarterback. I bring the ball back over my right shoulder and sort of shot put it forward. Sometimes it reaches Dad, sometimes it doesn’t. Sometimes it falls behind my shoulder as my arm pushes forward carrying my hand under the ball. I try to catch the ball off the asphalt but it takes a Football Bounce and I end up chasing it ‘til it stops and I can hold it to the ground.
“Hey, Bub” my Dad calls out, “Just try to get your hand under it and spin it out off your fingertips as you throw. “
“O.K.,” I mutter, while I’m thinking: when my hands get bigger, I’ll have the real quarterback grip, where your fingers reach the laces and you hold the ball in the palm of your hand with your thumb on the bottom. Sort of like holding a baseball sideways. But for now, I can run and I can make a bread basket catch. I don’t need big hands for that; just hands and arms and a chest and belly that all have no fear of a big fast brown ball. And my arms are strong. They can fold around that ball and hold it close forever…. for a lifetime.
When it’s time for me to play End, I can’t be contained. You’d have to hold me back; I’m ready to run. But my Dad is methodical: First he calls for a simple Left Turn And Go. (We call it the LTAG).
“O.K, Bub,” he says, “let’s try an easy LTAG on two. You ready?” He knows I’m ready.
“O.K.” and he pauses. Then: ONE, TWO…and I’m off, head down for about ten strides, then turn real sharp to the left, look up and, yes, Dad is on his game, the ball is in the air, spinning in a perfect spiral to that place where my hands and arms bring it in and it becomes part of me, the ball held against my side by forearm and hand as I trot back to the Scrimmage Line, a long grey crack in the dark asphalt.
We run the LTAG a couple more times, and then Dad calls for the Zig Out. The Zig Out is just like the LTAG except the turn to the left is not sharp but more like a 45-degree angle. It will take me farther away from Dad. The ball has to be thrown farther and I have to be there when it comes down. We work this pattern a number of times; sometimes with success and sometimes not. But finally, Dad calls for the fly pattern, except he calls it the Straight Away.
“O.K, Bub,” he says, and his voice is a little husky, “lets do the straight away. Ready?” I nod. And dad says, “Go.”
Well, you better believe I go. Head down for twenty paces, full speed. And then, still running dead ahead, I look up over my left shoulder and I see it spiraling high above, beneath the arch of branches and beneath the pale blue sky. And I keep running; it’s just me and the ball now. I keep running and the ball spirals on and I catch it, my back still toward Dad. My small hands catch it over my left shoulder and I gather it in and I keep running. I can picture dad watching me, watching me disappear beyond the horizon.