The String Ball
by Doyle Suit
Starting sixth grade meant that I'd become one of the big kids in school. Never mind that I stood less than five feet tall and weighed about eighty pounds. The bus picked me up early, wound its way along a dirt road for six miles, and deposited the elementary kids at Alamo school. Then it continued nineteen miles through the mountains to the consolidated high school.
Playground equipment was nonexistent at Alamo in the fall of 1945. The school couldn't afford it. Someone brought a baseball, and we used it until the cover came off and it finally unraveled. With no ball, the boys played war, throwing acorns at each other, and we did some bare-knuckle boxing for amusement.
What we really wanted to do was play baseball.
My family lived with grandparents while my mother tried to save money to afford a place for herself and five boys. When I'd helped my grandfather with chores around the barn, I'd noticed that he saved the twine when he opened sacks of feed for his livestock. He always wound it around a stick and squirreled it away in odd corners of the musty old building.
"Why do you save twine, Grandpa," I asked.
"You never know when you might need a piece of string," he said. "Twine costs money. Saving it from feed sacks is free."
Nursing the germ of a new idea, I checked out all his hiding places and estimated how much string he'd hidden. After I liberated a small, hard rubber ball from a set of jacks, I was ready to start a new project.
After church on Sunday, while Grandpa was doing his Bible study, I made the rounds of his hiding places and collected the twine. Then I borrowed a needle and thread from the sewing box in Mother's bedroom and retired to a quiet hideout under the big Oak tree by the woodpile. A slight breeze and the shade kept me cool while I worked.
I wrapped the string around the rubber ball, sewing it frequently to prevent it from unraveling. As it grew, I remained hidden so Grandpa wouldn't catch me wasting his twine. I bounced my creation in my hand, checking the size and weight as the pile of twine diminished. It was almost as big as a baseball when I used the last bit of string.
One more trip to Grandpa's workshop yielded a roll of black electrical tape. It made a durable cover when I wrapped it around the string ball. My creation felt firm, and it was almost as heavy as a real baseball. We'd have a game again on Monday. After slipping the homemade baseball into the pocket of my school jacket, I rejoined the family for supper.
An hour later, Grandpa returned from doing chores at the barn and roared. "Who took all my twine?"
No one answered, and I was forced to confess. "I needed some string for a school project," I said.
"You needed every piece of twine on the farm?"
"I'm sorry I used it all. I'll try to find some more."
"Every time I need something, it seems you've found a better use for it," he complained.
The ball remained hidden in my jacket pocket.
Riding the bus to school on Monday, I took my handiwork out of my pocket and admired it again. It felt good in my grip. I'd be a hero for bringing it to school, and they'd probably let me pitch. Self-satisfied, I idly tossed the ball in the air and caught it. When I tossed it a second time, a long arm reached across the aisle and snatched it away.
"Hey!" I yelled. "Give me back my ball."
Grover Smith, a senior at the high school, held it up and grinned from across the aisle. He was six feet tall and kind of scary. When I grabbed for the ball, he tossed it to the boy sitting behind me. I turned, and the kid threw it to the back of the bus. My anger mounted, as the high school kids played keep-away with my baseball. When it wound up in the hands of Annie Hawkins, a pretty junior, she held it up to taunt me.
"Give me the ball," I demanded.
"Come get it," Annie said.
When I stood and started to walk up the aisle towards her, she reached back and threw it out the open window.
"Oh, I dropped it," she said. "Isn't that a shame?"
I stood in the aisle, crushed. The bus bounced along the narrow road beside a canyon. My baseball was lost forever.
I wanted to kill her, but I couldn't hit a girl. The kids were all silent, watching my face turn red, as I clenched my fists in helpless rage.
Then Grover laughed. I looked down at him as he slapped his knees and guffawed. When I opened my mouth to protest, no sound emerged. He pointed at my red face and continued to emit howls of laughter while I stood there in shock.
"Sit down," the bus driver shouted.
The violet mist that obscured my vision muffled Grover's ugly laughter, and I attacked.
Stepping across the aisle, I launched a barrage of punches to his face and head. I got my weight into the blows, and they had to hurt even if he was twice my size. Grover made the mistake of trying to stand up in the cramped space between the benches, but I drove him back into the seat with a flurry of furious punches.
Then he made a second mistake. Ashamed to fight back against a runt like me, he tried to grab my arms. I moved too quickly for him to grasp, and he couldn't get his balance as I leaned in and battered him.
The driver hit the brakes, and Grover made his third mistake. He caught my left arm and prevented me from flying down the aisle when the bus slid to a stop, and my right hand continued to pound him until the driver pulled me off.
"OK, boys, what was that all about?" he asked.
Grover and I both looked at him with mouths clamped shut.
"If you can't explain it to me, you can explain it to the superintendent," the driver said. "Stay on the bus, Doyle. You're going to high school today."
"Yes, sir," I answered, flopping in my seat.
It was a long ride to the high school, and fear gradually replaced my anger. I'd seen Mr. Steele. He was all business. The morning air was cool, but I was sweating when the driver escorted Grover and me into the office. We were both subdued while we awaited our fate.
The wall clock ticked louder, and the superintendent's accusing glare didn't waver while he waited for an answer.
Grover remained silent.
"Nothing," I finally responded.
That wasn't a good start. Mr. Steele didn't buy it. "So Mr. Allen brought you two in here to explain nothing."
Silence filled the room until Grover spoke. "We played keep-away with Doyle's ball, and someone threw it out the window."
Mr. Steele asked a few more penetrating questions and dragged the complete story out of us.
When we escaped from the office, Grover had an assignment to write a thousand-word theme on how a senior should behave on a school bus, and he'd been notified that his next problem would result in expulsion. Worst of all, he suffered embarrassment from his friends for allowing a little kid to beat him up. They'd razzed him without mercy during the long ride.
I escaped with a lecture on my stupidity in endangering everyone on the moving school bus, and Mr. Steele promised a paddling I wouldn't soon forget if he caught me fighting again. My knuckles hurt, my string ball was gone, and I spent the day in study hall at the high school.
Annie Hawkins, who caused the trouble, wasn't even called into the office to explain her role in this drama. The little witch got away clean.
Doyle Suit, a retired engineer, is a member of Saturday Writers. His fiction and non-fiction have appeared in
the St. Louis Suburban Journals, Storyteller Magazine, Good Old Days Magazine, The Cuivre River Anthology, The Spring Hill Review, and other publications.
He and his wife live in St. Charles.
Copyright © 2006. Do not reproduce without permission.