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Canzano: My mom, a baseball dream, and a red Volkswagen bus
My Mother's Day tribute...
I suppose I could wait until Mother’s Day to tell you this — but my mom is a rock star. She met my dad in high school and they married at 19. Not long after, they found themselves in a red Volkswagen bus, driving across the country with a couple of young kids, chasing my father’s professional baseball dream together.
She rooted for the Greenville Mets in South Carolina. Then, the Tri-City Atoms in Kennewick, Wash. Then, her favorite team became the Durham Bulls, followed by the Memphis Blues, Tidewater Tides and Winnipeg Whips.
Dad was on the field, playing shortstop. Mom was forever packing us kids up, moving apartments, and trying to make new friends. When I was a baby, she likes to remind me, they didn’t own a crib. I slept in the dresser drawer of an extended-stay hotel room for the first six months of my life.
My parents lived in Memphis in April of 1968 when Dr. Martin Luther King Jr. was assassinated. They wept from the front row as the nation mourned. A few months later, not long after Robert Kennedy was shot, they headed to Virginia.
Tidewater, located in Norfolk, was the Triple-A affiliate of the world champion New York Mets. Dad, 22, spent three spring trainings within a whisker of the big leagues. Mom was right there with him, hoping and wishing while looking after my older sister and me.
When Dad was traded from the Mets to the Expos in 1971, it gutted them both. My father’s club, Tidewater, was on the final day of two-week road trip in Canada when he was summoned to the hotel coffee shop.
“I was in shock,” Dad told me. “You have a dream of playing for a team, you know all the guys, you’ve grown up with them and gone to spring training with them.
“Now, that’s blown up and you’re with a different team.”
Instead of going home, my father traded dugouts. His new team, Winnipeg, happened to be on a two-week home stand. Mom spent the longest month of her life, alone with two young children, packing up in Virginia.
I remember lots of things about my childhood. My parents took me to bookstores, coached my sports teams and pulled out an old “Royal” typewriter when I told them I was interested in writing. Dad worked in real estate. My mother stayed at home with a family that soon grew to four children. She read to us at night, fed us, managed a tight household budget, folded piles of laundry and volunteered in our schools. But it’s what she did next that makes me smile today.
She finally did something for herself.
My mother enrolled in community college in 1993. She was 45 years old. My younger brother, Ben, was an 18-year old on the same campus. They were freshmen in college together. My brother would walk to class with his friends and see our mother sitting on a bench, eating her lunch.
They even ended up in an undergraduate government course together.
“Mom got an ‘A’,” Ben told me, “and I got a ‘C.’”
Our mother was born with a gift. She is nurturing and loving. Her children were busy growing up, moving away, and chasing their dreams. We were all so proud when mom announced one holiday dinner that she wanted to be a nurse. Two years later my mother graduated the nursing program with honors. She earned her LVN license and spent the next couple of decades taking care of other people’s children in the mother-baby unit of a Bay Area hospital.
My oldest daughter, Dakota, was born in the same hospital where my mother worked. Grandma punched in for her shift and gave her first grandchild the first bath of her young life. The whole family stood around the room, glassy-eyed and watched.
I’ve made a career out of writing. I’ve crossed paths over the years with some of my father’s old teammates. They’ve shared stories and I’ve written a few times about my dad. But this is the first time I’ve opened a laptop with the intention of writing about my mother. It’s overdue.
More women than ever are playing major professional sports. The growth has been slow, though. It feels like Billie Jean King walked on the tennis court a lifetime ago. Now, I marvel at Serena Williams, Simone Biles, the stars of the WNBA, and Naomi Osaka, among others. I don’t watch them because they’re women. I follow them because they’re thrilling and I love great athletes.
I was seven when my mother announced that she wanted to play in a women’s basketball league in our small town. I’d known mom as a bystander at my T-ball games and the parent who showed up to my school conferences. She stood 5-foot-10 but I never viewed her as a basketball player. That is, until I saw her box out someone else’s mom, rip down a rebound, elbows flying, and throw an outlet pass up the court.
My jaw hit the hardwood floor.
I think it may still be there.
Mom played softball, too. Later, she got into running 5K and 10K races. I even got to run alongside her once. Given all that I suppose I shouldn’t have been shocked when my mother looked up in her 40s, saw her children departing for college, and decided to join us.
It was the act of a courageous woman.
Every time I see a red Volkswagen bus on the road, I think about my mother. By age 27, she was busy raising four children, fostering our dreams with little room for her own. I’m proud that she became a nurse. Mom is retired and will turn 75 this summer. She and my dad have eight grandchildren.
I could have waited until Sunday to write this column. But I’ve waited long enough.
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