A Baseball Team

Their seventh child had been born, and I told the father his family is now a baseball team. “There are nine of you.” I, of course, act as if the designated hitter rule doesn’t exist.
    (There are many other things I live as if they don’t exist: sonograms that tell the sex of an unborn child, for instance.)
    The father instantly put his wife down as the catcher. It might be that it’s the most settled place for a person who has just given birth.
    I’d put the baby in center field for now. He’s the center of attention anyway.
    The toddler and the three-year-old can have left and right field, respectively. There’s a lot of room out there to run around. To fall down. To laugh and ham it up.
    The pitcher, I think, should be the nine-year-old. He has a good head for strategy, and a good mouth.
    The girls, who are eleven and seven, should take first and third base, framing the scene. The five-year-old could be at second.
    The father takes short stop. He’s a kind of boundary figure between infield and outfield.
    A family of six that I once knew—the young ones now are long grown and dispersed—formed a small ensemble with various recorders. Rather medieval, one might think, to get your family to play music together, to have your family as your own built-in mini-orchestra. But super-medieval to do it all with recorders.
    I never heard their music, but knowing the father, I know it was performed enthusiastically.
    Six (have I told you this before?) is a perfect number. A number is perfect if it is equal to the sum of its parts. A “part” of a number is a factor of it, something that goes into it without remainder. One is a part of six; one goes into six six times. Two is a part of six, it goes into six three times. Three is a part of six, it goes into six two times. Four is not a part of six: it only goes into six once, and you have two left over. Ditto for five.
    So the parts of six are 1, 2, and 3. And 1+2+3=6. So six is perfect.
    The perfect numbers are rather few and far between. If you know a six-year-old child, you know someone who is perfect. (Of course.) If you are 28 years old, you are also perfect (1+2+4+7+14=28). If you are 496 years old, you are again perfect. (Do the math if you want to.)
    But, sorry folks, there’s no perfection between 28 and 496.
    A lecturer once declared, “Jane Austen wrote a perfect number of perfect novels.” I later heard the rejoinder, “Six is also the number of beers in a six-pack.”
    But who says that’s not perfect?
    Of course, nothing is ever really perfect. A six-year-old turns seven turns seventeen turns seventy-seven. But amateurs can love to try to perform old music, and duffers can love the divine sport on the diamond. And you can love Emma while drinking a beer. It’s not perfection that warms our heart, but something else, something that’s there to be felt, no matter one's own situation, when one learns a new baby has been born.


The Cheapest Kind

The song is a memory of a childhood in the Midwest, a childhood (we’d say) in poverty, although the point of the song is to question that.
    The first line establishes location. “We traveled Kansas and Missouri spreading the good news.” Who are they? A preacher’s family, wearing “pressed clothes and worn-out polished shoes.” Yes, they were poor (the shoes are worn out), yet they wore the dignity of having “pressed clothes.”
    The adults are marked by the scarcity of money. It weighs on them, worries them; it shapes all their life. Here is a telling scene:
    Dad and me would stop by the store when the day was done / Standin’ at the counter he said, “I forgot to get the peaches, son” / “What kind should I get?” I said to him there where he stood in line / And he answered just like I knew he would: “Go and get the cheapest kind.”
    That was their life, that was how they got by: always getting the cheapest kind.
    But the refrain swells high over all that:
    But the love, the love, the love
    It was not the cheapest kind.
    It was rich as rich as rich as rich as rich as
    Any you could ever find.

    Part of the song’s power is that it never says “poor,” it never says “poverty.” There are images that convey vividly their life, their making-do with little, but it is only the hearer (only someone like you or me) who looks at them and sees poverty. By contrast, the song leans into the word “rich”—with that refrain line which slides over any commas—“rich as rich as rich as rich as rich as,” a line repeated (depending on the version you hear) at least four times. Score: Poor, zero; Rich, 20.
    “Get the cheapest kind.” We know the impulse. Get the house brand. Look for the sales. It seems virtuous. I have been entertained (this is a true story) at a restaurant where the bill was heading north of a hundred bucks a person, and our host’s refrain throughout dinner was what a good deal we were getting. We know the impulse: but do we get the love?
    The singer remembers his grandfather, “rocky as Ozark dirt,” “raisin’ seven children on a little farm in not the best of times. The few things that they got from the store was always just the cheapest kind.” But (here the chorus hits again) the love, the love, the love.
    He’s not, I think, romanticizing, nor is he altogether approving. He looks at fancy houses and rich people and turns away, wanting to hold those old hands again, to see those old, deeply-lined faces. He has to cry and he has to laugh when he sees how those lines were carved into those faces from many years of making do with the cheapest kind. He both cries and laughs: crying, perhaps, that they had to have the cheapest kind, and yet laughing at the joy. The love: it was not the cheapest kind.
    To love one another in hard times: it is not the cheapest kind.
    On the web. “The Cheapest Kind” is a song by Greg Brown, which you can find on YouTube and other such sites. Brown was a frequent guest on the radio show, “A Prairie Home Companion,” where I first heard this song.


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The Rev. Canon Dr. Victor Lee Austin is the Theologian-in-Residence for the diocese and is the author of several books including, "Losing Susan: Brain Disease, the Priest's Wife, and the God who Gives and Takes Away."