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Nick Adams lives a charmed life, happily married to the woman of his dreams and flying jets as a Marine fighter pilot. “Always do your best and always keep your promises” is the motto he learned from his Uncle Jack and it has served him well. But now he’s at a crossroads in his life with a coming child and he realizes he has some unresolved issues and an unfulfilled promise from his uncle. He journeys back to his Michigan hometown to attend the twenty-year reunion of his state championship baseball team hoping to find answers. Can his teammates inspire him once more? Can he connect with his detached father? Will his uncle keep his last promise? Will he be able to provide a good life for his wife and coming child? The promise of the future depends on the answers. This is a nostalgic and inspirational tale.
I enjoy taking time off from work as much as the next guy. However, since I fly F18 jets for a living, I consider my job more fun than work. Like most fighter pilots, I love the thrill of flying and I fear time away from it erodes my skills.
With thirteen years in the Marine Corps, I had taken minimal leave, never more than a week off at a time. But now I was on thirty days of leave. In the middle of summer with flying at its best, I had taken a month off and had driven twelve-hundred miles to attend a reunion, to see some old friends.
It wasn't a school reunion, although most of us had graduated from the same high school. It was a baseball team reunion, our first. The Michigan State Pony League Champions of 1969.
Our team, Gordy's Market, had won the state championship twenty years ago. I was fifteen then, an awkward age. I was still trying to figure out who I was and what I wanted to be.
The black and white picture on the invitation showed us eleven players in uniform, standing in two rows in front of our dugout. Our coaches, my father and Uncle Jack, flanked us. The photo was taken at the beginning of our 1969 season. It was the last picture taken of us as a team.
“Don't let me stop you two from going to the reunion, Nick,” my wife said. “I'll be fine here by myself.”
Jan was the main reason why I had taken leave. In her ninth month of pregnancy with a due date in ten days, she settled back on the couch and placed her hands over her protruding abdomen. Despite her pear-shaped appearance, she still moved with athletic grace. A fitness enthusiast like myself, she had maintained her workout regime throughout her pregnancy. She normally radiated energy, but today she wasn't feeling well.
“Are you sure you're okay?” I asked. “Maybe we should call Doc Dalton.”
“There's no need to bother him. Not yet, anyway. I just need some rest.”
The three days of traveling had exhausted her, I knew. The trip had seemed predestined though. I wouldn't have done it if she hadn't convinced me of its logic.
Both of us wanted a natural childbirth. Our doctor in Beaufort, South Carolina where I was based had initially supported our desires, until we showed him our birth plan at our seven-month checkup. Then, he balked. He claimed our plan was too rigid. Although we had copied it verbatim from our birthing class book, he didn’t want to follow any part of it. He relied on the epidural--a spinal anesthetic--and considered it as natural as we should get. We considered finding another doctor, but we had reservations trusting somebody new at that late stage.
Then, I received the reunion invitation and I reminisced about my hometown of St. Ignace, Michigan for days. Jan had heard the stories before, but she enjoyed hearing them again. Or so she said.
Actually, I believed her. Being a military brat with retired parents who traveled around in a RV, she didn't really have a sense of home. My stories about St. Ignace and the Upper Peninsula of Michigan filled me with nostalgia, and I think they gave her the same feeling.
When I mentioned Doc Dalton, the town doctor I had known since I was a kid, an idea sparked in Jan's mind and she started asking questions. Did Doctor Dalton still practice medicine? Did he cater to parents who desired a true natural childbirth? Did he accept our insurance? Would he accept a patient who planned to use his services only for a short while?
The military life had taught my wife and me about the economy of management. Flexibility and innovation are key in accomplishing goals. We called Doc Dalton. He answered all our questions calmly and thoroughly, and he assured us he could handle any situation that might arise. Our course of action seemed clear, but I was hesitant about the idea.
Driving was our only means of transportation; air travel wasn’t an option because of Jan’s nearness to giving birth and train travel didn’t get us close enough to our destination. What if something happened on the road? What if there were complications?
“My Great, Great Grandma gave birth to my Great Grandma while on a wagon train along the Oregon Trail,” Jan said. “And both of them lived past ninety. I come from hardy stock. I’ll be all right traveling by car.”
Having gone through a birthing course, my wife and I felt confident enough to deliver our own child. But neither of us really wanted to do that, especially for the first time. I still wasn’t convinced the trip north was a good idea. The fighter pilot in me wanted a “worms” package, a way out in case things went bad.
“The birthing process is a miracle,” Jan said. “At some point, we have to put our trust in God.”
I couldn’t argue that, so there we were on leave in St. Ignace, Michigan, sitting in my father’s living room. The smell of fresh coffee wafted in from the kitchen, Mr. Coffee brewing another perfect pot. An old Frank Sinatra song played on the radio, accompanied by a static buzz.
“You’ve been looking forward to this reunion,” Jan said. “Go and have fun. Who knows? You might see your Uncle Jack again.”
“Jack?” my father grumbled, peering over his newspaper.
Dad was another reason for taking leave. He hadn’t met Jan in person before our visit. Jan and I had married the year before on a weekend jaunt to Gatlinburg, Tennessee. We had dated two years before then and knew that we were right for each other. Since the idea of a big wedding didn’t appeal to either of us, we eloped. Jan’s mother was upset about that for a while, because like most mothers, she had dreamed of attending her only daughter’s wedding. We appeased her somewhat by giving her a video of the affair.
My father didn’t seem to care one way or the other about missing the wedding of his only child. All he said to me was, “It’s about time you married.”
He and I had gone through our share of ups and downs as father and son. We had managed to get through everything, except for Jack. That was the one subject that always led to an argument between us, so we usually avoided it. I had briefed Jan about it, but she thought my father and I were being silly.
“Sounds like you two need to talk about it,” she had said. I told her she was probably right, but I didn’t think she would try to force the issue, especially now.