To Chase A Grounder
By Web Ruble
Web Ruble writes: I am a retired newspaper reporter of some 40 years, and a couple of those years I was religion writer at The Oregonian, Oregon's largest daily. Now I am a novelist and short story writer. My wife Norma and I live in Fairview, OR but split our time between there and Tucson, AZ where we are now until about April 15. We are lay leaders and deacons at Smith Memorial Presbyterian Church in Fairview, OR (near Portland). We also are volunteers on Thursdays about nine months out of the year in a soup kitchen in Gresham, OR.
A short cry rent the September stillness.
Juanito had vanished!
Guillermo, the boy’s father, who had been running toward the ball in center field, stopped. He was stunned and confused over the boy’s seeming evaporation. He sensed the worst, however, in a few split seconds..
Juan -- “Pantalones del Gatito” -- had tumbled into a cesspool, face first.
Everyone raced over to the lip of the cesspit. Juan was in over his head. Guillermo Juarez and his oldest son, Luis, plunged in to get him. After a frantic struggle in the muck and slime they managed to haul him out.
The boy’s hysterical mother, Maria, ran around wailing and screaming. Guillermo and other family members pounded and squeezed the tot’s chest trying to pump the goo out of his lungs, but they were too late.
Juanito, 4, had drowned.
Elmer Carr, who was about 8 years old at the time, saw the whole event from across the road where he had been standing, just watching.
It was something he would never forget. It was so awful he never was able to remember what happened next.
Carr, who in later years became a doer of all trades, an ironworker, an adventurer, and a country western dancer, also developed into a power-packed storyteller.
Despite shock that day reducing his memory to jelly, Carr nevertheless some 82 years later was able to relate what led up to the calamity.
In Junction City -- a wayside in the vast, back-timber country of northern California’s Trinity Alps -- wilderness folk of 1923 still had the pioneer spirit and often tried to help one another the best they could.
Juanito’s Mexican family had been occupying the Carr family home while the Carrs in true American frontier accommodation had tried to help the Jaurez family by renting another larger house across the road, and letting the Juarezes use theirs.
However, a week earlier the owners of the rental property told the Carrs that they had to move because they (the owners) were reclaiming the house.
That meant the Carrs needed to return to their original house where the Mexican family was living. They had notified the Juarezes a few days earlier that they (the Carrs) needed their home back.
The Juarezes at first had no place to go to. So, the Carrs let them stay on for still a few days longer until the Juarezes were able to find housing in Weaverville eight miles away. The Juarezes were able to do so and planned to move that day.
It was family tradition. The Juarezes, about 15 in number and long on faith, always celebrated such events of finding still another place to live with a family softball game, picnic and then Bible reading before departure. They had chosen up sides and were playing a few innings in the yard before breaking for their goodbye picnic lunch.
Moreover, the family had rules for softball. If you had a chance for the ball and didn’t field it, you had to chase it, even if you were just 4.
This day, Juanito’s older brother, Luis, had hit a slow ground ball toward second base. Juan had tried to get it but he didn’t get his patties down soon enough and the ball rolled between his legs out into vague center field.
“It is yours Juan,” said Guillermo. “Go get it. Luis is slow. Maybe we can get the ball and throw him out before he gets to home base.”
Juan gave chase, with his plump, tanned legs pumping and the family encouraging him.
Toward the back of the yard had been an outhouse. However, it had been moved a few months earlier and nobody had drained or filled-in the old cesspool. Nobody had given the old uncovered cesspool any thought.
In pursuing the ball, Juan didn’t see the pit and plunged right into it.
Everyone heard a tiny cry and a gargle. Carr, 82 years later, said he could still hear them.
Until the day he died in July 2006 at the age of 91, however, he never learned what happened to that Mexican family
It left a hole in his soul. “Only God knows now,” he said.
"I never saw them again,” he told an interviewer while trembling. “I guess they just...put their trust in God and moved away.”
The memory eventually encouraged Elmer to accept God’s will when neither he nor anyone else could understand it. He asked himself thousands of times: How could God be so cruel as to tolerate such an unspeakable horror? And have it happen to such a loving Christian family?
Elmer, of course, never learned why. But he said it put him closer to Jesus Christ and God.
(© 2010 Web Ruble – All rights reserved. Written material may not be duplicated without permission.)