Gerald and I left Woodsong on Wednesday as soon as we finished the lunch I’d carried in from town. Bags had been packed early in the morning, and the trunk was loaded with folding chairs and bags. I’d laid out the sun screen, and our straw hats were in the car’s back window ledge.
We met our nephew DuWayne at Vienna and spoke briefly to his daughter Andrea who’d brought him there. Then the three of us were off towards Columbus, Georgia, in Muscogee County and just north of Fort Benning. We were headed to the South Commons Softball Complex, where our granddaughter Geri Ann would be playing with the Oconee High School team, which was one of the Elite Eight teams striving for the Georgia High School Association AAA state championship.
Oconee had won this championship for the seventh time in 2008 when Geri Ann, fellow pitcher Courtney Poole, and catcher Caitlyn Glenn were freshmen. After not getting to Columbus the next two years, these seniors were determined to win the championship again and were excited to say with the rest of the school: We’re back!
The roadside kudzu and the Winn Dixie, Publix, and Piggly Wiggly groceries let us know we were in the South. The fall leaves were lovely all the way down to Athens, Alabama, where we spent Wednesday night. Like everyone but the bravest independent souls in Southern Illinois, our family members are all St. Louis Cardinal fans, and were having fun arguing with Texas kin folk supporting the Rangers. We searched the motel TV for Game 6 but found out rain had cancelled it, so we went to bed early. After a fine breakfast at the motel Thursday morning, we only had a short drive until we crossed over the Chattahoochee River to arrive in Columbus in plenty of time to meet up with family after we stopped for a hearty lunch at Shoney’s knowing we’d be in the ball park the rest of the day.
Soon we were hugging our son Gerry and wife Vickie, Geri Ann, her sister Tara, and our great grandsons—almost three Maddux (AKA Super Man) and beautiful Peyton who is no longer a baby but a little boy. I wanted to also hug Aidan, the great grandson who is now in kindergarten, but he ran away and looked back grinning. (This brings memories of Gerry who shyly ran from his Gpa Ern the first time we came home after moving away.)
Unlike Gpa Ern who chased Gerry down much to Gerry’s delight, I did not dare chase Aidan. The wide sidewalks at this complex are bordered with steep little custom-made hills that hold welcome shade trees beside the playing fields. The hills provide good viewing for those with lawn chairs but are covered with slick pine needles that everyone warned me about. This softball complex was where the practice games for Women’s Fast-pitch Softball took place prior to the medal games at the Columbus Golden Park when Atlanta hosted the 1996 Olympics.
After the greetings and salutations and admiring Maddux’s Super Man uniform and his Spider Man backpack which he found necessary to bring, we soon headed to the nearby stadium for the opening ceremony. GHSA has five divisions for its softball tournaments—A, AA, AAA, AAAA, and AAAAA. All eight teams in each division marched in proudly at the stadium and we heard a beautiful rendition of “The Star Spangled Banner.” After the pomp and ceremony provided for parents’ photo taking, we were free to start watching Georgia’s best softball teams. With Gerry’s guidance, we knew where to spend our time until our 3:30 game with Veterans High School from Warner Robins. By then, Tara had changed Super Man’s shirt to an Oconee fan T shirt.
Courtney pitched the first game. The southern sun beat down intensely, and since I’d stayed inside most of the summer because of our extreme heat, I got my first slight sunburn on my face and remained red-faced throughout the tourney. Oconee ended the 8-0 game in five innings, and I saw Geri Ann make her 23rd home run for the season.
We grabbed a ball park hot dog to eat as we watched Geri Ann start as pitcher in the 7:30 game against Heritage-Caboosa High School. After a slow start, Courtney was brought in, and we won 6-5 and knew the pleasure of seeing Caitlyn hit a three-run homer. In one of these first day’s games, Courtney hit two home runs, so all three seniors had hitting moments to remember when the first day ended.
Feeling good about our two wins, we went to our motel rooms for the night and planned to watch Game 6 of the World Series. We were emotionally prepared for Game 6 to be the end of the St. Louis Cardinals. We were not prepared to see the game go to an 11th inning victory 10-9 over the Rangers thanks to the David Freese homer. We fell asleep tired but happy over the day’s super wins.
I told Gerald that I’d sleep in Friday and he could come back from the ball park and get me in the afternoon. I knew he and DuWayne would want to see all the best players that Gerry would be following throughout Friday, but I didn’t want additional sun damage and also needed to save my energy for Oconee’s 5 p.m. game against Ringgold.
In fact, I barely got up in time before the breakfast room closed, but I was glad since I saw Tara and my three great grandsons there. They and Vickie went onto the games also, but I went back to the room to take a leisurely bath and then to read one of the books I’d carried with me. That turned out to be more difficult than I’d hoped. Leaving the room for the maid to do her magic, I moved to the couch in the cove above the downstairs lobby. Everyone down there seemed to be talking with their outdoor voices. Soon the housekeeper showed up with a very noisy vacuum.
I moved to the downstairs lounge area and soon another housekeeper and her vacuum joined me. By this time, Vickie had brought the three boys back to their room for an unsuccessful attempt at a nap, so she was taking them out for a drive to put them to sleep. (She said it worked.) So I enjoyed seeing those little guys again.
When Gerald came back, he confessed he had not slept well the night before and needed a nap, so I continued reading in the lobby. After his nap, he needed to do a couple errands and he figured we ought to find a restaurant rather than plan on another ball field hot dog for our supper.
We returned to the park just in time to greet our granddaughter Erin who had arrived after driving all the way from Southern Illinois with her Gma Shirley. They were delighted with being with family again just as we had been the night before. Aiden was soon in Auntie E’s lap and they were making plans for a doughnut date the next morning. Shirley was still high from the beautiful time they had together driving down through smoke-filled mountains glistening with sunlight through the rain. It was so good to observe Erin walking without crutches and most of the time without even a limp.
I claimed Geri Ann’s home run on Thursday night was for me, so I let her 24th home run in this game be especially for Gma Shirley. Geri Ann did a great job pitching, and we beat Ringgold 8-1. Having these two top-notch pitchers alternate pitching and playing first base has been one of Oconee’s great strengths. Courtney and Geri Ann began alternating as pitchers as freshmen when Oconee won that 2008 state championship. Although most of this evening game was played in pleasant weather, the last two innings were played in a light rain. I kept hoping they would call the game but there was no lightning and the game continued. Our hair was stuck to our heads, our clothes and shoes were wet, and the three little boys were not only wet but muddy.
We all met up in Gerry and Vickie’s rooms to watch the Cardinals and Rangers in Game 7 and enjoy the pizza and cola party provided by DuWayne. By this time, Tara had bathed the boys and dressed then for bed. Maddux now had on his Buzz Lightwood pajamas. All three boys were in great spirits with the kind of wild kinetic activity that comes as children wind down expending their last remaining bit of energy.
We enjoyed watching the little guys jump, roll, and wrestle around the room and across the beds as much as the game on TV. Tara refereed to make sure no one got hurt in all the bouncing and tackling. The noise level became pretty bad since they screamed in their rough and tumble play and we screamed at the game. Although it was early, we became a little nervous we might be kicked out of the motel, so we tried to quiet down. As the evening progressed, one by one, Tara took the boys off in the other room to sleep. Then we could only blame ourselves for any noise.
Gerry, Tara, and Erin have all played, coached, and given lessons, so being with them at any tournament means seeing lots of past players or their families re-connecting, catching up, and discussing old times with them. Their phones are filled with text messages, and Tara excitedly shared one: Alicia DeShasier, a Southern Force alum, had just won the gold medal at the Pam American games javelin event. We watched Game 7 with held breath until the end and again went to bed quite happily after a 6-2 score in favor of our Cards and the third win for Oconee.
I didn’t want to be late for the Saturday morning championship game at 11:30, so I was not much behind Gerald and DuWayne in the breakfast room. Ringgold and West Laurens were playing at 9:30 to see who from the losers’ bracket would play Oconee. The weather had turned quite cold over night, so we all layered on all the warm clothes possible and went to watch who won that game. It was West Laurens.
Tara’s husband Bryan arrived back from his headquarters in the Chicago area, and Oconee fans had made the three-hour drive down for this important game. Maddux was as socially involved with a gathering of little ones on blankets on the grass as Aidan has been for years now. By our game time, the weather was actually very pleasant despite strong winds.
If we lost for the first time, we would have to immediately play West Laurens a second time since this was a double elimination tourney. Fortunately, that was not necessary. Courtney was pitching. The crowd caught their breath expectantly thinking Geri Ann had made that 25th homerun, but the wind blew it foul. After no scores in the first three and a half innings, Brianna Dickens had a two-out single and then stole second base and scored when Savannah Stoker singled. In the seventh, Caitlyn got on base with a double and scored when Dickens made a one-out double. Molly White and Mattie Daughtery also made very important defensive plays; all these underclassmen contributing as they did is an indication Oconee County may be ready to begin another seven-year run as state champs.
Gerry could not have had a better 53rd birthday present than seeing Geri Ann’s team win Oconee’s 8th state championship. Without the need to play the 1:30 game, we were able to get on the road back to Illinois sooner than expected. We would have liked to take Gerry and family out for birthday dinner, but Oconee’s plans were still fluid for the champs’ dinner celebration, which was likely going to be on their way back to Athens, Georgia.
DuWayne assured us he was up to helping Gerald make our nine-hour trip in one lap, so we left at 1:00 and crossed back across the Chattahoochee into Alabama retracing our way on Route 280 through Athens, Huntsville, and Birmingham, and finally stopping for a leisurely lunch to celebrate victory at Ruby Tuesdays before we drove on through Tennessee, Kentucky, and met DuWayne’s wife Vickie at Vienna. We were in bed at Woodsong by midnight, and we rested up Sunday morning.
That afternoon I went in to visit Katherine expecting her to be planning on evening church as she had done the previous Sunday. But her cough had gotten much worse while we were gone despite the antibiotic she was on for another infection. I helped her get a light afternoon lunch. Her stomach has been torn up by meds, so she hasn’t wanted to eat. She jokingly said she had found out you can live on bread alone. Our sweet neighbor and her fellow church member Janet White had sent her a loaf of home-made bread and a jar of home-made grape jam. She found she could heat and eat that bread without it crumbling and causing her to cough as bad as her usual flax bread. So that bread and jam were a welcome dietary help. Sometimes she added cheese or an egg for protein.
Later after David and Sam went to evening church, I’d found and heated up a can of cream of chicken soup. Just then David brought in a huge baked potato for Katherine from an after-service pastor appreciation event. He smashed it with the sour cream she likes. She said the soup and potato turned out to be the perfect combination for her upset stomach. While the men watched a sports event in the family room, we watched TV in Katherine’s pleasant bedroom as she ate her late supper. I was able to spend the day with her again yesterday as Gerald took her in their van for an appointment, which he is also doing this afternoon.
Today I have been unpacking, washing clothes from the trip, catching up on the vacation packet of newspapers, and seeing who said what on Facebook while we were gone. Unless I am remembering wrong, it had been over two years since I was able to see Geri Ann play softball. To see her in this final high school tournament and have it turn out so well while we also celebrated Gerry’s birthday has made this a vacation to cherish.
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