Field of Dreams

Sara Etgen-Baker

© Copyright 2022 by Sara Etgen-Baker
Photo proberty of Sara.
                    Sara with brother Eddie getting ready to
                            play basebal.  lPhoto property of  Sara.
We stood outside the dilapidated picket fence and shaded our eyes, casting our gazes across the grassy pasture of old man Buhler’s farmland. His thriving cotton farm had once been one of the largest in the region—a 20+acre piece of land near the center of town. When hard times prevailed, old man Buhler sold all but a few acres of his land to a developer who, in 1951, converted the acreage into suburban city streets with row upon row of houses. Smack dab in the middle of this suburban development was what remained of the Buhler property—a two-acre field with a farmhouse where old man Buhler lived and tended his sheep.

I lived directly across the street from that field, its weeds and tall grass surrounding the tired and weary farmhouse. The house wore the color of unfinished wood, weathered for countless years by harsh elements and baked by the hot summer sun. Like old man Buhler himself, it faced our neighborhood proudly, almost defiantly with its rusted tin roof and sagging porch. In the summer, the smell of dried grass and sun-warmed earth from Buhler’s field were like a siren’s song compelling my friends and me to ignore his NO TRESPASSING sign, climb over his fence, and explore the vast region that lay before us.
Our explorations were harmless curiosities until the fateful day we decided to transform part of Buhler’s field into a baseball diamond—our very own field of dreams. We commandeered a portion of his field and spent days trampling over the dry, inflexible tall grass until it was flattened making sure, though, to keep the surrounding grass intact so as to camouflage and shield ourselves from old man Buhler’s scrutinizing eyes.

Afterwards, we began our mornings hauling our equipment down the street and tossing it over old man Buhler’s fence. And we most certainly had no sophisticated or costly baseball equipment—just a rather large, thick stick; one tattered baseball; an assortment of well-worn baseball gloves; and three metal trash can lids that served as the bases. Once over the fence, we each took our designated positions at our makeshift diamond spending our summer days whiling away the hours playing baseball in old man Buhler’s field with him being none the wiser.

That is until the day we happened upon a discarded, cracked baseball bat. We filled the crack with rubber cement; wrapped it in duct tape; and headed over to Buhler’s field where, one at a time, we each practiced swinging the bat at a pitch. We weren’t used to the weight and feel of a real bat, so we mostly just hit grounders and pop-ups somewhere in the infield. Three of us eventually made it to base; that’s when my brother, Eddie, came up to bat.

He planted his feet firmly on the ground and tapped the bat on the ground signaling the pitcher that he was ready. First, the windup then the pitch—a fast ball fired straight toward the catcher and across home plate. Eddie swung and leaned into the pitch; the bat struck the ball. Crack! The bat splintered into a gazillion pieces at Eddie’s feet. “It’s going….going….Gone!” We went wild, and those of us on base rounded our way around the bases screaming and shouting. “It’s a homerun! It’s a homerun!”

But then we heard glass shattering and knew the ball had flown through a glass window at Buhler’s farmhouse. Almost immediately, old man Buhler bolted out of his house and barreled his way across his property shouting, “Get out of here you good-for-nothing kids! Ain’t ‘cha got no respect? Can’t ‘cha read the ‘NO TRESPASSING’ sign?!*

We grabbed our gear and high-tailed it over the fence with old man Buhler hot on our heels. We ran at white heat speed into my backyard seeking refuge underneath Dad’s upturned flat-bottom boat. We hunkered down in the shadows and hid, quaking and sweating, and held our breaths silently waiting as old man Buhler approached the boat stopping just inches from our faces.
From the darkness I saw his brown leather boots, their leather creased and weathered; their laces frayed; and their soles worn through. Seconds later Mother emerged from her kitchen into the backyard.

What are you doing in my backyard?” she asked him.
I’m looking for those dang kids!” he said in an explosive voice.

What kids? What on earth for?”

They busted out a window in my house. Windows are expensive, ya know. Someone’s gotta pay!”

Mother reached inside her apron pocket, retrieved a $20 bill, and handed it to him. “Will this coverage the damage?”

Buhler snatched the $20 from Mother’s hand, mumbled, and retreated in the direction of his field.

After Mother went inside, we kids scrambled out from under the boat.

“Do you think we got away with it?” Eddie asked me.

“I doubt it. We’ll probably be grounded.”

Days passed, and Mother said nothing to us about the broken window and the $20 she forked over to Mr. Buhler. Perhaps Eddie was right. Maybe Mother didn’t know we were the kids who’d broken Buhler’s window. But guilt sat heavy inside my heart, and I eventually confessed.

“I apologize, Mother, for Mr. Buhler’s broken window.”

I’m not the one you need to apologize to. You must apologize to Mr. Buhler.”

“Go over there all by myself?”

“Yes, ma’am. The sooner the better. He deserves your respect.”

I remember that day with great clarity. I walked over to Buhler’s property; trudged across the field to his barn; and hesitated before walking inside. The barn, filled with old-timey farming implements and tools, was like traveling back in time when cotton was king in Texas. Along one wall, he’d thumbtacked pictures that told the tale of his days tending his cotton field with his family and farm hands. One picture in particular grabbed my attention. Mr. Buhler was standing in the middle of his vast cotton field with truckloads of recently harvested cotton behind him, his face beaming with pride.

What cha’ doing in here, kid?” Mr. Buhler’s raspy voice startled me.

I turned in his direction and immediately noticed how different his face was now; it was sad, leathery looking, and creased like his shoes, evidence of his rugged life and resilient character.

Something inside me shifted, and I realized that the little patch of land on which his farm now sat was all that remained of that bygone time and the dreams of a younger, more vibrant man. This was Buhler’s field of dreams, not ours, and we kids had been disrespectful.

Mr. Buhler,” I said my voice cracking. “I apologize for coming onto your property. I had no right to do so. Please forgive me for being disrespectful. It’ll never happen again.”

To my surprise, he said nothing. He just lifted a single eyebrow and stared at me in disbelief. Before he could speak, I turned tail and ran home, never looking back and never again venturing onto old man Buhler’s property.

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