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Brooklyn Jewish
Historical Initiative

By Martin H. Levinson
When I was ten I had a batting slump. No matter how hard I tried I was not able to hit a rubber Spalding ball with a wooden stickball bat. I became an easy out for the pitcher and as a result I was the last person chosen to be on a team in the street pick-up games that I looked forward to after school each day.

Stickball was the most important part of my life at that time, and my poor performance made me miserable. I couldn’t concentrate on my schoolwork, I couldn’t enjoy TV, I couldn’t eat. I thought myself a total nebbish.

One day, as I lay sobbing on my bed thinking about my failed athletic prowess, my mother walked through the door and asked, “What’s up?” I could barely get the words out through my tears. “I can’t hit. I’m washed up. I wish I was dead.”

She gave me a “mother will make it all better” look and then she said, “Everyone has slumps. Your father sometimes is not very effective at the office. I have weeks when it’s tough for me to accomplish what I want to do. Even God isn’t perfect. The trick is to keep on going and not get down on yourself.”

Her supportive words boosted my sagging spirits but her offer to pitch sock balls to me across the living room floor saved my life. For one week, in the late afternoon before my father came home from work, my mother threw rolled up balls of socks to me in the living room, which I tried to hit with my stickball bat. To my surprise, I was able to smash those sock balls with complete authority. Lamps fell, the aerial was knocked off the TV, and knick-knacks went flying as my batted sock balls found their marks. My mother said nothing about the damage I was causing. Instead, after each successful whack, she shouted, “good hit” or “excellent shot.” By the following the week I was once again slamming two-sewer blasts and getting picked first to be on a team.

Some adults have fond memories of the toys their parents gave them or trips they took them on. I barely remember those things. My fondest childhood memory is my 5’2” mother, who knew nothing about sports, pitching easy to hit sock balls and encouraging words to a stressed-out kid in a cramped, pre-war Brooklyn apartment building.