Post-work run down Borden Avenue. Almost done, tiring. I slow down near the ballfields across the street from the Hess station and Mt. Zion. On the field stand two off-the-boat Irish. They’re flaked with sheetrock dust from their day’s work. One stands near home plate, the other near the mound. Both of them have a hurling stick gripped in their hands, and they’re using them to lob a racquetball-sized sphere back and forth.
We had a hurling stick in our house when I was a kid. My dad brought it back from Ardee after he buried my grandfather. Hurling is Irish field hockey, basically. According to my dad, it was a deadly game, much like the brutish Gaelic football my grandfather used to play. Players would line the bottoms of their sticks with blunt metal strips held in place with nails, both to keep the wood from chipping against the turf and so the stick would do maximum damage in close-quarter scrums.
The hurling stick sat in a toy chest in the garage along with a Keith Hernandez Louisville slugger, cracked Wiffle Ball bats, and other blunt instruments, waiting to be unsheathed whenever me and my brothers made up some new game. These games would inevitably break down as we debated the rules, and the hurling stick would be used to avenge some slight, real or imagined. Crying and punishment would ensue, followed by parental threats to take that damn hurling stick away from us, resulting in more crying. No, mom, no, don’t take it away, we’ll be good.
I blamed the stick. It was such a perfectly designed implement of mayhem, it practically begged to be slammed against your brother’s calf. It surely was infused with some dark magic, the spirit that pervaded the sport for which it was intended.
And yet here I see these two men, surely exhausted from a day of work yet using their hurleys to relax, to lightly toss a little ball back and forth, back and forth, violence nowhere to be seen. I stop and look on for a moment while the sun sets behind me, and I feel I’m seeing some spell being snapped, some war being won.