"Wind will blow, and the sun will shine, on that hill where we used to climb."
|Nov 9|| 4|
Every summer, my Dad and I used to have one night out a week. On Friday nights, he and I would hop in his truck, drive to the local liquor store’s drive-through window—this is a thing in the Midwest, or at least used to be—grab a six pack of beer for him and two Choc-olas for me and cruise around Mattoon for hours listening to Jack Buck and Mike Shannon call the Cardinals game on the radio. Dad would start at a gas station by buying 20 bucks worth of lottery tickets, and he’d led me scratch them all off as we motored through Gill’s Drive-In on Dewitt and past the Cinema 1-2-3 on Broadway. When I’d scratched them all off, we’d buy more lottery tickets with whatever we’d won, and we’d keep going until we were out of winning tickets, the Cardinals game ended, or both.
We didn’t talk that much in the car. He didn’t ask me about school, or try to give me life advice, or anything touchy-feely like that. We were just listening to the game and unwinding. Mom hadn’t gone to nursing school yet, and Dad was just catching on at the power company, and there was a hungry family that seemed to need a little bit more each week. I bet it was stressful. I bet he needed to just get outside, roll down the window, drink a couple of beers and get the hell away from it all for just one damn night a week. And I bet there was a part of him, at the age of 33 or so, who couldn’t help but wonder how life had crept up on him so fast that his night to blow off steam involved driving around Mattoon with his 12-year-old.
What I remember most, though, is the houses. We rarely stopped on these drives, but every once in a while, he’d pull off to the side of the street and have me get out of the car. “Grandpa built that house,” he’d say. My grandfather, the previous William Franklin Leitch, as a way to help bring in money to raise the eight children in his house, used to build houses on the side, in addition to building the house they all lived in. We’d be driving down Commercial Avenue, and he’d just stop in front of a place, and Dad would say, “yeah, he built this one too,” and we’d walk around and just take a long look. Dad’s grandfather, the previous William Bryan Leitch, had built houses around Mattoon as well, and we stopped to see those too, but there were so many that Dad had trouble remembering all of them.
We’d keep doing this after my grandfather died in 1989. Dad would stay a little longer in front of the house after that, admiring the handiwork, the craftsmanship, the blood and sweat put into each and every house. Other people lived in the house, of course, people we didn’t know, and sometimes they’d come out and they’d talk. Dad would tell them about the history of the house. They humored him, but they didn’t care, at least not as much as he did. Who cares who built the house they live in? But Dad cared. Dad had worked on some of those houses with my grandfather—that’s how he’d learned to build houses himself—and he’d sometimes tell me the story of how long it took to put together that porch, and how there was a storm that one day and that shed barely made it up. The houses became a way to see his dad one more time. They were a piece of him that Dad could go visit. They were a place to remember.
Mostly, though, Dad and I used to work. When I think of my childhood, the primary memory is not of running free or playing baseball or watching TV with my friends. I remember work. I remember mowing the lawn, running the weed eater, digging ditches, chopping firewood, laying bricks, holding the ladder for Dad … mostly, now that I think about it, it was holding the ladder for Dad. I was not assigned chores for which I would receive reward upon completion. I just worked when Dad told me to work, and Dad was always telling me to work. There was always something to do. Dad didn’t just work on our house: He was the neighborhood handyman as well, which meant there was no shortage of jobs. Somebody’s always got something that needs fixing somewhere.
I understand now what the plan was. Dad was trying to teach me how to be as useful as he was, to teach me to someday build houses the way that he did, and his dad did, and his dad did. It was reasonable for Dad to assume that he’d have a son who was as naturally skilled in that regard as the rest of the William Leitches. But this assumption was very incorrect . My brain was just never quite wired that way. I didn’t mind the working, I’ve always liked the working, but no matter how hard Dad tried to get me to understand the intricacies of basic construction, he could never get it to stick. I’d get confused as to what we were trying to build, my mind would wonder off to the book I was reading at the time, I’d keep forgetting what size wrench Dad had sent me out to the toolshed to get in the first place. This was endlessly frustrating to Dad. He was a natural at these things, and his only son definitively was not. I wanted to help. I really did. But I just didn’t catch on, it didn’t click, the way he wanted and expected it to. He kept trying. I did my best. But it became clear quickly that Bryan’s son wasn’t going to be building any houses.
It took us both a long time to accept this. It was hard for Dad to wrap his mind around the fact that his son felt more comfortable constructing long-form essays than floor plans, and it was hard for me to not feel somehow like a disappointment. I was good at other things: I just wished I had been good at that. I wish it came as naturally to me as did to him.
Once we realized that I had the same work ethic that Dad did, that all the Leitches did, just deployed in a different field all together, we made our peace with it. Dad wasn’t trying to teach me to build things. He was just trying to teach me the value of work. He was trying to make sure I was useful. I always try to be useful.
Still. There are pangs. My wife is a successful interior designer, and there are always handymen and carpenters and plumbers and landscapers coming in and out of our house working on various projects with her. They know nothing about my career. They only know me as The Husband—one guy actually called me this when I introduced myself, as in, “so you’re The Husband, huh?”—who is upstairs all the time on his computer. Claims he’s working up there. Don’t seem like work to us. Those are Dad’s people. Workers. And I know Dad must think that sometimes. Don’t seem like real work to me. I know that I do.
Friday afternoon, Dad called me and said he needed some help. My parents now live out here in Winterville, about 10 miles outside of Athens, and, like any Midwesterner, even one living in the South, he decided he needed an exterior garage. So he built one. I brought the boys over about a month ago, when it was still 98 degrees, and Dad was setting up running water out there, so there he was, in that incredible heat, a 70-year-old man digging freaking trenches, the maniac.
Dad need me to assist in pouring concrete for a little side area next to the garage where he can grill. So I put on work boots he had for me—because I of course don’t have my own, because I have failed as a Leitch son—and met the cement mixing truck in his back yard. “We’ve got a full afternoon ahead of us,” Dad said. The man’s name was Safij, and he was from Bosnia, and he smoked filtered Marlboros, and he poured the cement, and the three of us waded through it all and smoothed it out and troweled and sweated and waded through there for more than three hours.
I still required basic instruction. Safij and Dad had to keep explaining things to me over and over that my brain still doesn’t quite get, basic work things that men like Safij and Dad and his dad and his dad understand in their bones—and in many ways work so hard so that maybe their sons and daughters will not have to. I am a grown adult with children of my own, as well as a professional who is very confident in his ability to handle virtually any assignment, but I was instantly that 12-year-old kid again, nervous about grabbing the wrong wrench, trying to show Dad I could be useful, pedaling to keep up with the grownups but just not quite able to pull it off.
But we finished it. Three-plus hours out there, covered in mud and cement and sweat, the job got done. We got the stuff poured and the whole thing smoothed out and raked and troweled and all of it. I had to rush out to leave to pick up the boys from school, so I didn’t get a chance to have a beer with Dad when we were done, which is the point of the whole damn thing. He was still polishing up one thing or another when I left. I made my mom take a picture of us, which mostly just irritated him but he indulged anyway. Don’t bother him until the job is done. Get out of here with that.
That garage is nearly done. It was an empty space that is no longer empty. Something is there that wasn’t there before.
It stands, like the house I grew up in, like the house next door to it that Dad built after the kids moved out because Mom wanted a new house but didn’t want to move so Dad just built her one right next goddamned door .. because Dad made it stand. It has every bit of him in it.
I am proud to say, in my small, three-hours-investment, borrowed work boots way, that part of me is in it too. We will grill out there with the boys, and we will use that area with cement that we poured to have beers and talk and enjoy being outside together. I will have been useful. I always want to be useful.
And someday, decades from now, I will stand outside that garage, and outside those houses in Mattoon, and I will say to my sons, maybe my grandchildren, “Grandpa built this,” and I will feel like he is standing right there with me, telling me to hold the ladder, pull that wheelbarrow over here, no, not like that, like this. They are not houses and garages. They are monuments. They will live long past him, and me, and my kids. And they will always be a little part of him out in the world. He has made things that have made a permanent mark on the world. Isn’t that all anyone wants? Isn’t that all anyone could hope for?
Here is a numerical breakdown of all the things I wrote this week, in order of what I believe to be their quality. You may disagree. It is your wont.
What Happens to the Corpse of Deadspin Now? New York. I tried to put my analytical hat on rather than my righteous-fury hat to write this piece. I ended up just wearing two hats.
Golf Magazine Instructional Column No. 11: The Final One, GOLF Magazine, print only. This was the final one of these. I had more fun doing these than I had expected I would.
Arnold Schwarzenegger Movies, Ranked, Vulture. This one was actually written more than a year ago: We had forgotten we had done it.
Five Teams With the Most to Prove This Offseason, MLB.com. I talked about this on MLB Network on Thursday morning while sitting at my desk in my home office. I was wearing a nice shirt and jacket and no pants. It’s true!
Craggs & Leitch: Illinois 2019-20 Men’s Basketball Season Preview, Smile Politely. I’m sure I’ll write about 10 times more pieces for this than Craggs will, but I’m happy to have him doing this with me again.
The Best and Worst MVP and Cy Young Picks in MLB History, MLB.com. I said an untoward word about Willie McGee in this piece, and for that, I am sorry.
Woody Harrelson Movies, Ranked and Updated, Vulture. Updated with Midway.
Debate Club: Scariest Disney Movies, SYFY Wire. I had forgotten about Something Wicked This Way Comes.
The Thirty: Every Team’s Untouchable Player, MLB.com. I think we do this one every year.
Grierson & Leitch, the big review was The Irishman, which is a great movie. We also discussed Terminator: Dark Fate, The King and Motherless Brooklyn.
Waitin' Since Last Saturday, we reviewed the Florida game, and previewed the Missouri game.
Seeing Red, no show this week.
GET THIS LUNATIC OUT OF HERE 2020 POWER RANKINGS
I thought this John F. Harris piece about why the media is so scared of Elizabeth Warren, and why they’re both wrong and right (but mostly wrong), was excellent. I’m a longtime reader of his and am excited he has a regular column now.
Also, I am not counting Michael Bloomberg as officially in yet. But: No thanks.
1. Elizabeth Warren
2. Joe Biden
3. Bernie Sanders
4. Amy Klobuchar
5. Cory Booker
6. Pete Buttigieg
7. Kamala Harris
8. Michael Bennet
9. Steve Bullock
10. Julian Castro
11. Andrew Yang
12. Tom Steyer
13. Mark Sanford
14. William Weld
15. John Delaney
16. Marianne Williamson
17. Tulsi Gabbard
18. Joe Walsh
ONGOING LETTER-WRITING PROJECT!
I am now officially caught up. Which means you need to get to writing me.
P.O. Box 48
Athens GA 30603
CURRENTLY LISTENING TO
“Heavy Metal Drummer,” Wilco. Sorry to be back on the Wilco train, but they finally posted their Solid Sound shows to the Roadcases section of their website and I haven’t stopped listening since. They even do a show in which selected fans get to come on stage and sing with them. There’s an inspired version of “Dawned On Me” with a particularly good vocalist, which led to the amusing Tweedy aside of, “you know, it just occurred to me that Wilco could really use a singer.”
He's a silent guardian, a watchful protector … a Dark Knight.
Have a great weekend, all.