I grew up with a Taiwanese father who loved baseball (and still does). My earliest memories are of watching the St. Louis Cardinals on the small tv in our kitchen. I have always thought of baseball as the most American of sports, ever since I was a small child reading In the Year of the Boar and Jackie Robinson, by Betty Bao Lord, where a young girl comes to America from China and learns to be an American as she learns to play baseball. I have never learned how to play baseball (or any other sport), and I still know nothing about it, but baseball and America and childhood are inextricably linked in my mind.
Some years ago I read an essay by Michael Chabon (one of several about divorce) about his first marriage, how he had married a woman whose family roots ran deep in Seattle and the Pacific Northwest region, how her family became his family and how difficult it was when they divorced and those bonds were unraveled and ripped apart. How their marriage was not only about the two of them, but about their extended families, her parents losing someone who had been a son, particularly her father who had never had a son. Having grown up in a divorced home, much of Chabon's work deals with single parents who are struggling with parenthood alone, whether by divorce or death.
In Summerland, Ethan and his father have moved to Clam Island, WA, from Colorado Springs, after his mother's death. Ethan is a terrible baseball player, the worst on his team, "the least gifted ballplayer that Clam Island has ever seen." I am reminded of my own childhood, when during gym class I was always the slowest runner, the worst hitter, the one who couldn't do a single pull-up, no matter how I struggled, the klutz who dropped a ball if even by some miracle I managed to catch it in the first place. (I do, however, throw an awesome frisbee).
Clam Island is an imaginary place, "a small, green, damp corner of the world," one of those islands somewhere near Orcas Island and San Juan Island, but even damper than either of those places. (I wonder if Chabon became familiar with these places when he was married to someone who grew up in the Pacific Northwest, who had lived in the house where she had grown up and her mother had grown up and many generations before had lived). One morning Ethan wakes up to find a strange creature sitting on his chest, a bit like a fox and a bit like a monkey (named Cutbelly), promising him a fantastic destiny.
Have you ever dreamed that one day you would be given a chance to do something extraordinary, something you have never been able to accomplish in your ordinary life? Ethan finds himself in the world of Summerland that is one of the four Worlds that branch out from the Tree that we call the universe, the Summerland which exists simultaneously in Ethan's world and the world of the Little People, the ferishers, who play baseball in the magical world of Summerland and who are threatened by an ancient enemy and need Ethan's help to vanquish him. (It sounds mad to explain this all, you'll have to read it yourself). But in saving the people of Summerland by playing baseball, perhaps Ethan will find something inside him, the possibility of being able to do something he never could before.
Maybe this year I will find something I never thought I could do, someone I never thought I could be. Anything is possible.
Happy New Year, everyone.