Wednesday, July 2, 2014

Baseball Over the Moon: New Border Voices: Kathryn Lane: August 6

Wednesday, August 6th at 7pm

Author Kathryn Lane will discuss New Border Voices: an anthology published by Texas A&M University Press. New Border Voices is an anthology of recent and rarely seen writing by Borderlands artists from El Paso to Brownsville—and a hundred miles on either side. The vibrant community represented in this collection offers tasty bits of regional fare that will appeal to a wide range of readers and students. Among the contributions are: A “Southern Renaissance” for Texas Letters —José E. Limón; The Texas-Mexico Border: This Writer’s Sense of Place —Rolando Hinojosa-Smith; and The Rain Parade —Paul Pedroza.

Kathryn Lane  is originally from northern Mexico. She has a Bachelor of Fine Arts degree from the University of New Mexico and worked for several years as a painter in oils.  After becoming a certified public accountant, Kathryn worked for a multinational corporation in various Latin American countries and recently decided to leave corporate life to pursue her passion to write fiction and poetry inspired by Latin American cultures.  Her story Baseball Over the Moon is featured in New Border Voices. Read excerpts from Baseball Over the Moon below:


Baseball Over the Moon

      by Kathryn Lane

I called my father Corque, a name I christened him with when I started talking, imitating the sound I heard when the ranch hands addressed him as Don Jorge.  He longed so much for a son, the dream of every cattleman in Northern Mexico, that he took me along with him when he worked the ranch, teaching me to ride a horse on my own by my third birthday, and training me to round up cattle, side by side with the cowboys, by my fifth year.

“When you run after a stray cow, give a little slack to the reins and let the horse do the work,” I remember him instructing me.

For my sixth birthday he gave me a big, beautiful palomino that I named Vago, a horse that meant as much to me as a dog might mean to most kids my age.  By my eighth birthday, I could handle Vago very well.  At least that’s what the cowboys would tell my father.  “She still has a lot to learn,” he would respond.

At night, after Corque and I spent hard days working in the corrals, my parents enjoyed time together in the comfort of the living room.  I could overhear my mother coax him, as she sat at one end of the sofa massaging Corque’s tired feet while he lay sprawled out over the sofa, “You need to let her choose her own activities, like playing with dolls.  She will never become a feminine little girl if you insist on raising her like a boy.”  

“Very well then, it’s time to try again to have a son,” he always replied…

Life seemed good to me without siblings to share it with.  Carlos, the foreman’s son, had four sisters and he fought with them all the time, and the four girls fought amongst themselves, too. I felt lucky to be an only child.  Most of the time, I loved the attention I received, but there were times when Corque did not like how I behaved and would punish me, letting me cry until he tired of my whimpering.  Then he would yell.  “That’s enough, Nati, cut it out.”

Corque played baseball with me, teaching me the subtleties of the game, at least as many as any eight year old could understand.  He bought the best mitts, balls and bats.  On the back side of the house, a short distance from the large window where he watched from his comfortable chair in the breakfast nook, he’d built a mound and behind home plate, closer to the kitchen window, a wire net on two tall poles to catch the balls.  When the foreman, Don Cuco, had free time, he pitched for me, with his son, the twelve year old Carlos, assigned to the catcher’s box. 

As I stood next to home plate hitting the balls Don Cuco pitched, I knew that Corque, relaxing from the hard ranch work, watched from the breakfast nook, sipping a shot of tequila.  If I made a big mistake, the kitchen door would fly open and he would shout instructions, just as a coach might yell from the dugout: “Don’t swing unless it’s a strike!”

On Sunday afternoons, Corque joined us for baseball practice.  I was less intimidated by Corque’s coaching when he left the house to join us on the field.  Anticipating his outbursts over my mistakes as he stood close by made it easier for me not to be embarrassed in front of Carlos.

“Make a smooth, controlled swing with the bat,” he commanded.  “Keep your eye on Don Cuco as he pitches the ball, watch the ball, watch the ball!  Now swing!”  And the ball would usually sail past my swinging bat straight into Carlos’s mitt. 

“Now let’s work on your stance,” Corque would tell me.  “Feet a bit more than shoulder width apart.  Your feet need to be right here to start with, just this far from home plate.   Try to remember that.” 

He also adjusted the middle knuckles on each hand so they lined up on the bat.  “This helps in executing the proper swing.”  He would state it as if he were talking to someone who really did know how to hit the ball.

“Okay, Cuco, pichea otra vez,” Corque said.  And Don Cuco prepared for the next pitch.

“If the pitch is not a strike, then don’t swing,” he reminded me.

As Corque worked with me, Don Cuco waited patiently at the mound for the next command, but Carlos quickly became bored.  At these times, Carlos would rub the glove against his face as if to compare its leather to the rawhide processed on the ranch.  The rawhide was used for stretching over bed frames to serve as the support for thin feather mattresses used in the bunkhouse where the seasonal ranch hands slept.  Don Cuco cut the rawhide into long strips, soaked them in salt water to prepare them to be woven into a tight over and under pattern on the bed frames.  Carlos, always helpful, sat at his father’s side, pulling the long, thin strips from the tub of salted water, testing each one for malleability.  The strips that remained too stiff were thrown back into the tub for additional soaking.

When Carlos’s turn came up at the batter’s box, he cast aside the mitt and boredom.  His face lit up like a Christmas tree as he walked up to take the bat, standing tall in front of his own dad, who had moved to the catcher’s position. 

Taking the bat from Carlos, Corque demonstrated how to position it.  “Place the bat behind your back, like this, gripping it with both hands, right elbow up in the air keeping the barrel of the bat facing the catcher.  Then swing the bat through like a machete cutting pampas grass at mid-stalk.

After Carlos had practiced a few warm-up swings, Corque would stop pitching long enough to explain hip rotations.  “Now show me how you’re going to hit a good ball coming towards you.  Remember the back hip should drive the rotation.”

“Si, Patrón,” Carlos said, respectfully referring to my father as the boss.  On cue Carlos would take his normal coil, stride, and then rotate his hips open while Corque continued commenting on Carlos’s positioning. 

“Hips should rotate on a level plane, like this,” my father said.  Corque used his hands to demonstrate an imaginary plane within which Carlos’s hips should move.  “Your back foot should pivot for a smooth rotation.  Don’t lean forward over the plate, or you’ll lose your balance.”

Once satisfied that Carlos understood, my Corque pitched the ball to the twelve year-old, who could hit the ball and send it way out into the yard, even as far away as the chicken coop at times.  On really good hits, he smacked the ball all the way to the bunkhouse, as if trying to bounce the ball off the rawhide strips of the bed frames he helped construct.   

On good hits, when the ball flew beyond the playing field, instead of waiting for me to retrieve the ball, Don Cuco would throw another one to my father from the stash he carried in his jacket.  At these times, Carlos, his chest pumped up, would stand a few seconds looking like he owned the world, staring at me as if expecting me to break into applause.  Don Cuco watched with growing satisfaction as his son’s swing improved.  The individual coaching lasted for a short period, only long enough for Corque to show his appreciation to the father and son for their patience in working with me throughout the week. 

For Carlos, being batter was the highlight of his existence.  At school he stood three inches taller when he bragged, “El Patrón pitched me a ball that I cracked straight over the moon.”  Some of his classmates did not believe Carlos actually played beisbol with El Patrón while other boys sniveled with envy. 

During the spring and early summer, when the seasonal workers arrived, we formed two teams.  I had my own little mitt and played outfielder.  I still remember the big smile on Corque’s face the day I surprised him with my first circus catch as I dived like an acrobat after the ball and came back up with it in my mitt.

          At the end of every summer, when the heavy seasonal work ended, we traveled, like all Mexican families who could afford it, from the ranch to the border town of El Paso to shop.  Without air-conditioning in the car, Corque always had us on the road by 4:00 am to take advantage of the cooler morning hours …

Then the gifts for my grandmother’s sister, la Tía Abuela, and her family who offered us their home during our stays in El Paso, were brought out and stacked next to the car, gifts that took organized effort to prepare.  Two days prior to the trip, my mother would call all female hands to the kitchen to make tender, succulent tamales, first soaking the corn kernels in lime water, rinsing and grinding them into fine cornmeal, next preparing the chili, mixing it with other aromatic spices and cooking it with the meats, and on the final day before the trip, adding lard and chicken broth to the cornmeal and beating it by hand for hours until a spoonful of masa floated in a glass of water.  The assembly line of women, my mother, Tita, Carmen and I spread the masa and pork or chicken fillings on the softened corn husks, steamed them to perfection and cooled them before packing them in a large clay pot, covering the top with brown paper held in place by a large rubber band...

  Baskets of freshly cut apples and peaches from the orchard, jars of homemade jam, a box with my favorite dessert, sticky slabs of cajeta de membrillo wrapped in waxed paper and the pot of tamales were finally loaded in every nook of space left in the trunk next to our suitcases, stacked on the floor inside the car and shoved into slivers of space on the car seats between the passengers in the already crowded Buick. 

The dirt road from the ranch and the narrow asphalted highway that started in San Buenaventura took the scenic route, my father always liked to tell visitors, when explaining that the road serpentined its way throughout el Norte before finally hitting the Pan-American Highway and turning north to the border.  The road trip, five hours of tortuous driving in the hot Chihuahua desert, opened my imagination to the possibility of errant knights on horseback attacking our gray and white Buick, or herds of elephants crossing our path, bellowing their pleasure at finding a waterhole.  I kept those fantasies to myself but asked my parents and Tita endless questions about the terrain, the mountains in the distance, the deer, coyotes, skunks, snakes, prairie dogs or other wild life that appeared along the road...

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