Constable: Pandemic ends 125-year tradition, normal baseball, and more

  • One year ago, sisters Sally, top left, and Nancy, lower right, posed for this photograph with Daily Herald columnist Burt Constable and their mother, Lois, on the porch of the family cottage at Fountain Park Chautauqua. This summer, the family is still mourning the death of Lois in November and canceling the annual trip to Fountain Park for the first time.

    One year ago, sisters Sally, top left, and Nancy, lower right, posed for this photograph with Daily Herald columnist Burt Constable and their mother, Lois, on the porch of the family cottage at Fountain Park Chautauqua. This summer, the family is still mourning the death of Lois in November and canceling the annual trip to Fountain Park for the first time. Courtesy of Kay Babcock

 
 
Updated 7/28/2020 6:18 AM

I hope you have made it this far in the pandemic without suffering the death of a loved one, getting sick from COVID-19, or losing your job. But even as we count our blessings, we're all missing things we love.

For the only time since the tradition began in 1895, the Constable family is missing the two-week Fountain Park Chautauqua near Remington, Indiana. Our cottage, Cabin 21, is vacant for the first time since my great-grandfather built it in 1905.

                                                                                                                                                                                                                       
 

I've written dozens of columns about Fountain Park during the years. It is a magical place without TVs or air-conditioning, and generations of families with rural roots all returning from their busy lives elsewhere to sit on a porch, eat some sweet corn, give in to the temptation of peach cream pie, play some euchre and catch up on the lives of friends, parents, kids, grandparents, grandkids and a few great-grandparents.

As a kid, I played a zillion softball games there on the grass in front of the grand old hotel built in 1898. A black walnut tree in center field served as the great equalizer by deflecting balls, converting would-be homers of older kids into outs caught by the shortstop and redirecting the weak pop-ups of younger players into singles.

My wife missed one Fountain Park in 1995 when she was on bed rest, pregnant with our twins, during a deadly heat wave. Fountain Park generally is the only time of year our three sons get to see their cousins.

This year, we'd have my sisters' families coming in from New Jersey and New York City, our sons coming back from New Orleans, Los Angeles, and Ohio, with some of them spending times in busy airports and crowded planes. It was just too risky to bring all those people into an environment where social distancing is tricky, masks are a rarity and the population features plenty of at-risk folks.

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I missed Opening Day at Wrigley Field, too, for the first time in a long time. Nothing about the baseball season so far seems normal. Even if I had been granted a press pass, I couldn't have stopped by the bleachers for a traditional chat with old friends, such as the Hruby family of Wheaton, who had to take in their 37th consecutive Opening Day game on their TV from home.

With the rise in infections and the cancellation of MLB games, the season might be over by the time this column makes it into print.

In the meantime, everything about baseball seems off. At Sunday's game at Wrigley Field, with temperatures hitting 93 degrees, television broadcasters Len Kasper and Jim Deshaies wore coats and ties as if they were testifying at a criminal trial instead of broadcasting a Cubs game. Sinclair Broadcasting, the powerhouse that controls all things Cubs on its new Marquee network, apparently wants to give the impression that baseball is as much fun as banking.

After strikeouts, the catcher no longer fires the baseball to the third-baseman for the traditional toss around the infield. Too many people touching the same ball. A Fox broadcast showed us digital crowds in the empty stands, as if seeing graphics that seemed to come from a 1990s video game would make us think everything was normal.

There will be no digital additions to the latest in a series of awful birthday celebrations for my beautiful wife. As a kid, her August birthdays never included parties because her friends would be on family vacations. Even at her one trip to summer camp, where she had a confined crowd of celebrants, my wife graciously allowed the counselors to make the party all about a less-fortunate girl who happened to share her birthday.

                                                                                                                                                                                                                       
 

In planning her 30th surprise birthday party (encouraged by her wonderful 30th birthday surprise party for me before we were married), I forgot to invite one of her best friends. For her 50th, (encouraged by her wonderful surprise trip to Charleston, South Carolina, for my 50th birthday) I had looked into the possibility of surprising her with a trip to Paris. Instead, I spent her birthday in the hospital with my brother, Bill, who would die from bile-duct cancer a week later. So my travel-loving wife celebrated her 50th birthday instead with our three sons at a local Italian restaurant waiting for me to arrive late for dessert.

I haven't even bothered trying to plan anything special for her 60th birthday next week, although (provided our Los Angeles-based son gets negative results on his precautionary COVID-19 test this week), she's excited by the possibility that all of her boys will be in town.

Fountain Park will have ended. Baseball, which is piling up infections and cancellations, might be a victim of this pandemic by then. Until we have a vaccine, a cure, and enough faith to accept them, we simply must get used to the idea that we are missing a lot.

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