The Hope Chest

~ by Robert P. Barsanti ~

Nantucket scars us. We are stewards to an island in the sea of time. The cobblestones remain as they always have, as do the moors and the gray buildings. The years seem to slide by us. History happens on the other side ot the channel. Meanwhile, we replace the Easy Street bulkhead and repave the Boulevard. My mind has no calendar; on-island every day repeats the day before and, if I don’t look in the mirror, I remain the same guy who biked to work thirty years ago.

Sometimes the world changes and we all notice, even on-island. Then add a few years and a few storms, and the changes that shook our world once become a part of the wallpaper of our lives. The United States elects an African-American as President and, for a few brief weeks, we stand around stunned that it actually happened and isn’t it amazing and wow, that’s something, before the bills come due again, the snow melts, and another July is upon us. We grow accustomed to the new world that has blossomed. When we stop and consider what our lives were like before, the change doesn’t seem all that momentous. Kids need to be fed, bills need to be paid, and the boat comes around the point; we digest the change, incorporate it, and get up in the morning. If you stop for a moment, and throw yourself back in time when our new history was an unimaginable future, you meet a stranger standing in your tennis shoes.

In September, that stranger listens to the Red Sox games in stunned silence. Today, with a week left in the season, the announcers speak with the quiet confidence that the Red Sox will not only make the post-season, but will do quite well. They speak of pitching rotations and match-ups as if October baseball naturally included the Old Town Team. My young self, stranger to history, had been scarred by Bucky Dent and Yaz’s foul ball to Craig Nettles. Any triumphs the Red Sox would achieve only served to bring them and their fans lower in the end as the ball dribbled through the first baseman’s legs.

I inherited my doubt of the Red Sox. Like hair, it came to me from my mother’s father. He listened to every game that he could not watch. In the makeshift frugality that came from raising a family during the Depression, he rigged up an antennae/earphone system to a transistor radio that let him listen to the game while his wife watched her shows on the television. When the Red Sox were up, he sang the “Go-Go Red Sox” song, the only person I have ever heard sing it. He would listen until the Red Sox grounded into the final out before switching off the radio and going outside to weed the tomatoes. In 1975, I was ten years old and still believed in the possibility of October, my father picked up a set of World Series tickets from a client of his who worked for Magnavox and kept getting over-served at the Knights of Columbus. The seats were out in Section 3, in the far corner of right field. My sister went to Game 2 and got to watch Bill Lee pitch and the Red Sox win, but I went to Game 6 with my father and my grandfather. I kept score, watched Freddy Lynn, predicted Bernie Carbo’s homerun, saw Dwight Evans reach over the wall and retrieve the night, and then bore witness to Carlton Fisk. The night sang and hummed. We rode the Green Line car back to Lechmere, and I slept all the way home. Naturally, they lost on the next night when Bill Lee got cute against Tony Perez and Yaz flied out to center.

My grandfather, like all Red Sox fans, saw the Game 6 win as the highest glory the Red Sox would be allowed. August hope only led to September heartache. The years bore that out and, following his lead, I continued to root for a team doomed to lose in the most heart-breaking way possible. We celebrated our curse as best we could, hoisting our “if”s and “but”s each fall. He’s gone now. His friends, his coworkers, and his workplaces are all gone. His tomato plants have been paved over, his house has been sold, and everything he ever touched has been rebuilt or replaced. Even the Red Sox have become champions three times. Time washes it all away. We have a few scraps left: a cribbage board, a picture of John and Jackie Kennedy, many fading moments.

It’s a spectral Hope Chest. I would like to believe memories warp and age into values. Those moments I still hold of his, I sketch, then tattoo, onto my life. I want to be as hard working as a man who worked two full time jobs. I want to be as loving as the man who cooked dinner for his wife almost every day. I want to be as hopeful as the man who listened to his team until the last out.

Time remakes us into strangers. We stand in a world as familiar as our own bedroom, and then we go from one bedroom to the next to the next until our we run out of bedrooms. Perhaps, one day, we could go back to a room that we were sure of; a place that we just walked out of for a moment. But that moment stretches out into a lifetime of backward glances and silent wishes.

I am now as old as my father was when he took me to that Red Sox game. Looking into the past, I back into the present. And backing into the present, I fill my own Hope Chest. The world has changed. We have had Obama, the two towers, and David Ortiz. When I look around my life, I wonder what the kids will want with this and that. And then, I think about that moment years later, when all they have is what I left in the Hope Chest.