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Dalbey: Fear of Americana


A few weeks ago, our sister publication, Cityview, published a story on fear – fear of tornadoes, fear about Iowa’s shrinking population base, fear encountered while caring for 500-pound Siberian tigers. It seems silly by comparison, but I’m afraid of flying balls – softballs and baseballs, volleyballs and basketballs, even bowling balls, which shouldn’t fly, but sometimes do when I hurl them.

My fear might stem from early exposure to dodge ball, billed as a harmless childhood game, but in actuality a form of child abuse. The boys in grade school delighted in heaving the ball at the unlucky soul in the middle of the circle, especially when that person was a girl, who, in those days, was required to wear a dress to school. I’m lucky the scars are only emotional.

I’ve tried to avoid flying balls for most of my life. It’s been relatively easy since the end of high school phys ed classes gave me a merciful sabbatical from contact sports. Oh, there was the time I joined a city volleyball league, thinking we would play the backyard version and gently loft the ball over the net. But these women had sinister-sounding team names like “Thumbjammers” and “Terminators” and wore knee and elbow pads, a signal that they intended to get physical. And they did. Their returns hurtled across the net at warp speed. I ducked and dodged the balls, a defensive strategy that earned me both contempt from my teammates and a place on the bench.

Softball was no less embarrassing. I played a few years ago and was assigned to right field, the position where my teammates figured I would do the least damage. I stood there on a warm but not hot summer day, feeling like a piece in the quilt that is Americana and thinking about what I might write about the experience. My daydream was interrupted by the sound of the softball hitting the ground beside me, which was actually less embarrassing than if I’d seen it coming and crossed my arms in front of my face to protect it.

I had reason to be scared. I’d witnessed firsthand the harm a flying ball could inflict. My siblings and I were sufficient enough in number to play a good pickup game of softball, but the games invariably were over after one hit. Our dog, a border collie, was the best center fielder around, and though flying balls knocked out a few of her teeth, she never tired of the game. She carried that ball away in her bloody mouth, stashed it somewhere in a pasture west of the house and retrieved it only on the command, “Beauty, go get your ball.”

Badminton was more my style. Beauty liked to intercept the shuttlecocks, too, so unless we tied her up – and listened to her incessant shrill bark – no game ever reached 10-all. We didn’t have a Ping-Pong table, and though the risk of physical injury is relatively low in that game, chasing those flimsy, hollow balls around causes an irritability that is almost as scary as flying balls.

So I’ve avoided flying balls the way some people avoid high places and spiders, which was fine until a couple of weeks ago when the challenge was issued: Business Publications Corp. will have a softball game pitting the advertising and circulation employees against those of us in the editorial, design and business departments.

Because everyone is encouraged to participate, I’ve agreed to be a cheerleader. My team seems happy about that. Our rivals, however, may not be so overjoyed. They may have seen me as their secret weapon.

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