God and the Slingshot

God and the Slingshot

By Gene Wilburn

My main passion as a kid was baseball. In Rock Falls, Illinois, in the early 1950s, we lived in a mixed blue-collar white-hispanic neighourhood and my best buddy, Felipe Gallegos and I pored over the box scores and the statistics of the Chicago White Sox every day in the daily newspaper. His parents took a paper and mine didn’t so I spent a lot of time at his house. What intrigued me about Felipe’s bedroom, where we lay sprawled on the carpet with the sports page spread out under our faces, was that he had a little chapel sort of thing in the corner.

It housed a small statue of the Virgin Mary, a rosary crucifix hanging from it, and a lit flickering votive candle in a red glass container. It was rather beautiful and I’d never seen anything like it. I knew that it was Catholic, though, and because I’d occasionally overheard white Protestant grownups mumble disparagingly about Catholics and their statues and symbols, it seemed slightly illicit. It was also the first time I had seen religious objects in a home, rather than in a church, and that felt a little spooky.

I can’t remember ever being especially drawn to religion as a youngster but one day some of my mom’s faith rubbed off on me. She was a first-generation Swedish-American who didn’t speak a word of English until she went to her one-room country schoolhouse. Unto her last she was Lutheran, which she always pronounced Luteran. She was quietly but deeply religious and I respected her for it. My step-dad, I think he was vaguely religious, more to please my mom than anything else. There was no Lutheran church near us though so we went to a local non-denominational Protestant church that was relatively mild, plain, and homespun.

On that day mom got talking to me about God, and how through the power of prayer, if you had sufficient faith, God could make your prayers come true. She quoted a Bible verse to the effect of if you had as much faith as the size of a mustard seed, you could move mountains, or some such.

I thought it marvellous that He (always referred to as masculine) would grant your prayers, so I decided to put it into practice because there was nothing I wanted more than a slingshot. Some of the neighbour boys had made them from a red-rubber inner tube found in a vacant lot, and they let me try it out. The sheer joy of finding a good stone, aiming it at a fence post, and watching it arc through the air toward the target was one of the greatest pleasures I had yet encountered, and I desperately wanted to be member of the slingshot club.

So I went outside to a shady spot in the back yard where I sat down to pray. In the history of Christendom, I’m certain no little boy ever prayed harder or more innocently. I concentrated on praying so hard I got dizzy from the effort. Just deliver it to the side door step, I requested, as politely and believingly as can be. I prayed so hard that if I were to do that at my age today I’d likely have a stroke. I rose from prayer feeling holy and I just knew that slingshot was sitting on the porch waiting for me.

I was already plunking fence posts in my mind as I went to retrieve my miraculous slingshot. I was stunned, and confused, when I didn’t find it there. I checked on the ground around it in case God missed the step itself. He must have to hurry to make all his rounds of prayers, I thought, ot maybe he put it on the wrong step, so I checked the step at the front of the house and the back of the house, and all the yards, but no slingshot could I find.

I distinctly remember thinking “well … that didn’t work” and shrugging my shoulders. It was nearly time to visit Felipe anyway, and I wondered how the Sox had fared against the Orioles. Maybe Minnie Minoso had driven in Luis Aparicio and Nellie Fox again. Or hit one of his occasional home runs.

Englische wel singest (th)u cuccu

Englische wel singest (th)u cuccu

Had I an ear for foreign tongues, French would fizz through my synapses in an embrace of lilac and elegance. The wine would be good too. Anglo-Saxon would flood my veins with tribal bonds and hard sinews, and roast meat, when you could get it. Icelandic and Old Swedish would carry me home to lands of ice and sea and foam and goddenknowing — the home of my ancestors. The gods know I hate mead. It’s a good thing I’m stuck in English, the earthy, quirky, surprising language mashed together from an Anglo-Celtic-Danish-Norman-Latin-and-less-Greek parentage. Stir in an industrial revolution, an electronic revolution, not to mention a few wars and the threat of the BIG bomb, pop some guys to the moon and back, joystick a rover on Mars, and whaddaya get? English. Hey, kiddo. Ya still with me? English is the best ride in the linguistic universe. Death-defying, roller-coaster spelling. Split into pools of speakers around the world who all think it’s the others who have an accent. And from the fifth grade when the first time you tried to spell antidisestablishmentarianism and got it right and can still do it but damned if you can remember how to spell covfefe without looking it up — I mean it’s an adventure, this English. One lifetime devoted to it is scarcely enough. To thee, or not to thee, English is the Hamlet of languages.

— Gene Wilburn, 6 Jun 2017