Baseball. It's a Howell tradition. Mark loved baseball from the time he was old enough to play it. He began reading the newspaper at a young age, heading to the sports section first, so he could follow his teams and keep up with their stats. Andrew was barely walking whenever he bought him his first t-ball stand, bat, and balls. Even then, the kid had a natural left-handed swing (I think he gets that from his mama), and he was throwing with pretty good precision for a 2 year old.
Mark loved the game. He loved everything about it. He collected cards as a kid, and still actively pursued that passion as an adult. You know what they say, the only difference in men & boys is the price of their toys? He was working on completing a 1964 Topps Coin collection this summer.
He coached Little League baseball when we were newlyweds in Maryland. He coached YMCA ball in Wichita Falls, before we had kids. He helped coach AJ whenever needed in WF Little League. He volunteered as an umpire. He began umpiring for pay last season, thinking it would be something he would enjoy doing after he retired from TPWD. And with his personality, he was the perfect umpire. He didn't get mad, didn't get his feelings hurt, and wouldn't take any crap off of any parents or coaches. Any confrontations? He handled with a smile on his face, but with a no-nonsense attitude.
Today, as Andrew took the field for his game, I felt Mark's presence. Seems like he just should've been behind the plate, as usual, or coaching third base. It was a gorgeous day, warm and sunny. The kind of day that we, as a family, would've basked in. We had loving friends there to help cheer AJ on, and that was wonderful for him. But the boy needs his daddy. His other boy needs him, too. And me, well, we won't even go there today.
It "sucked" again today. Unfair doesn't even begin to describe it. And as I sat at our desk after returning from the game, rummaging through a stack of paperwork, I lost it. I sat in Mark's chair and cried. No, I sobbed. Remembering all the wonderful times we've had. Thinking about all the wonderful times that would've been. And as I looked up through my tears, a miniature Mark came toward me, still dressed in his baseball uniform, crawled up into my lap, put his head on my shoulder, and held me. He didn't say a word for awhile, just let me talk and cry.
Then, he started patting my back, in the same rhythmic pattern that I've patted both of my boys since they were babies. He let me cry. I cried so much that the entire back of his blonde head was soaked. And as I asked why, he told me that God will make it okay. And whenever I said, what are we supposed to do? He said, we'll figure it out together. We sat there for what seemed like 30 minutes, me crying, him consoling me, clinging to each other in grief and in hope.
As my crying subsided, I figured that AJ would let go, get up, and be on his way. But still he clung to me. And that was okay. Ben had come in by then, and he joined us in a family hug.
Things got a bit better after that. I located two items that had been misplaced since Mark's death. I went out to get supper & rent a movie, and came back home to a clean house. The boys had been working on it the whole 30 minutes I was gone. Smiling from ear to ear, they welcomed me home.
Home, where there are three of us Howells now. Along with a high-powered gun dog and a lazy cat.