"KELSO'S SWING" [CHAPTER 30]
Kelso's father sat at the head of the table in the dining room after dinner and his color was not good, and it occurred to Rick Kelso that it had not been good for a few months, a fact he now realized he was denying to himself. Kelso sat beside his father and across from his mother and sister, Fay, who had flown down from the Bay area to be with family after it was discovered Ray Kelso had the kind of cancer that was most likely a death sentence.
“Truth is,” the father told his family. “I'm pretty much a goner. They didn't come out and say so, but they caught it too late. I'm not going through the chemotherapy and radiation thing. It won't do much good, they say. So they're going to cut your old man open and see what they can do to save my ass.”
May reached over and took his hand. Rick gazed at the table, which had been cleared, and concentrated on the high-end enamel salt and pepper shakers, so opposite of the basic ones Kelso found at a thrift store, the kind one saw over the years in diners, his favorite places to eat. His parents liked to do things first class. Kelso remembered accompanying his father to San Francisco on a road trip in the old Pacific Coast League and going out to breakfast in these joints and smothering his fried eggs over-easy and home fries with salt and pepper and mixing them up, and his father smiling down at his custom, along with a room mate, Dixie Moran, a young outfielder from Alabama who took Kelso to double feature movies during the days of night games, preferring Western shoot 'em ups and buying Kelso popcorn and coke and afterwards telling Ray Kelso how much he liked taking Rick around and hoped the day he had a son that son would be just like Rick, a real boy who didn't flinch from the ball in the field or at the plate
Dixie Moran, who wore bow ties and oxfords and tweed sport coats and baggy gaberdine slacks and slapped his face with Old Spice lotion after shaving, idolized Ray Kelso and told Rick if he became anywhere near the man his father was he'd be a person loved by all his team mates and fans. Ray Kelso never allowed a kid to not get his autograph and always talked to fans, kidded with them before games and once punched a sports writer for “making up bullshit!”
“I'm gonna be a ball player just like Dad,” Rick told Dixie.
“Y'all already a phee-nom, kid,” Dixie grinned at Rick, roughed his head. “Y'all a chip off the old block.”
Now, twenty five or so years later, the father gazed down at the son, who continued staring at the salt shaker and tried to control his tear ducts. “I'm gonna fight this thing, Rick.”
May said, “We've got to hope for the best...”
“And expect the worst,” Ray followed.
Fay left the table, sobbing.
Ray kept his gaze on his son, a gaze unlike his son had ever experienced before. “I haven't been able to go down to the store, Rick. I don't want to burden you, but you're going to have to go down there sooner or later and take care of things. I've been trying to sell the business, so your mother and I can travel, but it's turned out to be a tough sell, especially down there in the ghetto. The good things is, you worked down there as a kid, so you know a lot about what goes on.”
Peering up, Kelso said, “Dad, I'll do what I have to do.”
While his mother reached for his hand, which he allowed her to take, Ray went on. “I know you never liked the business, never wanted any part of it. You like your life the way it is, and I hate doing this to you, but there's nobody else I can turn to, so you're going to have to take on a lot of responsibility, and I know this is...a...sudden shock.”
“Don't worry, Dad,” Kelso heard his own voice, as if from a great distance. “It's family. Count on me.”
“You can take my station wagon, Rick. I'm going to spend as much time with mother as I can. She's quitting work.” He placed his hand over his son's and his wife's, and then, as his sister rejoined them and placed her hand with theirs, he said, “I have faith in you, son, you've always come through when it counted, you've always come through in the clutch—it's in your genes. Those are my genes, and you're my boy, alla way down the line, whether you know it or not.”
Kelso nodded, gazed at his father's tear-streaked face, and managed to say in a strong, clear voice, “Always, dad.”
On the way home in the compact Japanese made station wagon, which was now officially his whether he wanted it or not, Kelso pulled to the side of the road when his emotional damn burst. His sobs were so loud and violent he could not see and his chest ached. When he got home he walked to a bar where nobody knew him in Hermosa Beach and got quietly stewed and staggered home.