Some people are lucky enough to retain a childlike sense of play all their entire lives. And the person who embodied that most in our family was my husband Jimmy.
He was just a big kid at heart who enjoyed the company of his children, the neighborhood kids, and his nieces and nephews.
Whether he was teaching them how to ride a bike down our gravel driveway, playing catch in the backyard, or acting as official kickball pitcher, he always tried to instill teamwork, good sportsmanship and a sense of fun in these activities.
Sometimes he was silly and many times he wouldn’t quite play fair. But as he used to tell me, life isn’t always fair. Take for example the summer of the banana splits. Back in the day we used to treat all of the kids to a soft custard cone from the ice cream shop at the top of the street. At ten cents a cone we could afford to treat our children and the neighborhood kids.
One summer my husband took it into his head to offer everyone a banana split if each one could catch the softball he’d throw to them. That was a big IF. It took all summer before all of the kids figured out his wily ways. Every night after supper they all lined up in the backyard. Each one punched his or her baseball glove rhythmically in anticipation eyeing the official pitcher (Jimmy) warily. What was he going to do now they wondered?
He was a tricky one that Jimmy. If they scanned the trees for a pop up fly, he threw it at their knees. If they prepared for a fast ball, he threw a sinker or curve ball. It took all summer but they finally did it. They finally figured it out. One hot summer night every single one of them finally caught whatever Jimmy could throw at them – even five year old Guido.
That was it. Jimmy was on the hook for eight banana splits. And at 0.75 cents a piece that was quite a chunk of change for us to absorb. I was scrambling for loose change to try and cover Jimmy’s extravagant prize.
Jimmy of course was unfazed by the whole thing. He calmly marched the entire troop into the kitchen. Hot and sweaty, their dirt streaked faces bore witness to their herculean efforts as they waited for my husband. Waited for him to grab his wallet and pay up.
Jimmy did pay up but not in the way they expected. That was one thing you could always count on with him. Expect the unexpected. (More about that later).
He reached up to the top of the refrigerator and pulled down a bunch of bananas. What he did next stunned his young charges. He promptly took a banana and cut it in half for each of them – splitting one each between the players.
Cries of “Not fair! Not fair!” rang out through the kitchen.
“How so,” Jimmy wanted to know? “Isn’t this a banana split?”
Jimmy turned the experience into a teachable moment quoting the immortal Yogi Berra.
“Kids,” he said. “Remember that ‘baseball in ninety percent physical. The other half is mental.’”
They were tricked by a sly fox and they knew it. “Do over!” they yelled.
And “do over” they did but not before clearly outlining the terms and conditions of the prize.
“This time it had to be a real banana split, with three scoops of ice cream, toppings, nuts and whipped cream. And it had to be served in the plastic banana boat. And it had to be purchased at the custard store at the top of the street.”
“Done,” said Jimmy.
Lucky for me, it took another two weeks before they were all able to catch the softball. And during time I was able to find enough loose change cover Jimmy’s extravagant prize. One thing for sure, child’s play in our family was certainly enough to keep this adult busy!