This weekend is a nostalgic weekend for me. Not because of the "holiday" Labor Day that we only recognize for the free day off of work, but because it reminds me of how I spent so many Labor Day weekends growing up. It was always known that the Liptak family would be in "Cincinnati" for Labor Day weekend. I write Cincinnati in quotation marks, because we called it that but were technically in Bright/Lawrenceburg, IN and Harrison, OH.
For at least 18 years, my dad played in a National Christian Softball Tournament hosted by Bright Christian Church. For days leading up to that weekend and during, my dad was giddier than a kid on Christmas morning. He loved going to Bright. Each year as we left, he'd reserve the hotel rooms for the next year. Months prior, he'd be putting together his team and practicing by playing city & church league games. About two weeks before, he began watching the Weather Channel and praying for no rain. And when the day came to leave, my sister and I would get a day out of school and we'd caravan to the Quality Inn in Harrison with several other families.
I remember so many things about this weekend as if it were foundational in my growing up. I can recall the smell of the early Ohio/Indiana mornings when we'd get up to walk to the Waffle House for a hearty breakfast before the 8 or 9:00 a.m. games. I remember when I was younger, all I cared about was playing in the dirt with the kids and getting treats from the concession stand. As I got older, I actually started watching the games and cheered on the team like a good daughter and fan should. The cooler of snacks and Gatorade, the bleachers at the complex, the smell of dirt and sweat, the jaunting yells of countless Christian wives losing their cool over bad calls from the ump, the excitement of a team who won...these are all images still etched in my mind.
It wasn't often that our team from good ol' Central Church of Christ in Streator did very well. In fact, many years I had to see my dad become disappointed after losing 2 games immediately in a double elimination tournament. As kids, we rejoiced, because this meant no more games and we could go to a waterpark or do something fun the next day. But I knew as we got older, it meant so much more to my dad and the guys playing. I can picture them, mostly all middle-aged men, sitting on their coolers after playing hard, worn out and dripping with sweat and disappointment evident in their faces. They made the best of it and still came back every year.
The best year, in my mind, was one when I was in college. My dad knew it was probably one of the last years he would play, because his back wasn't going to allow it for many more years to come. They ended up winning in their bracket after losing only their very first game, and it was one of the most exciting weekends we spent there. I still remember the team pictures with the trophy and, right after, I remember hearing my dad lead the team in a quick prayer to thank God for their victory. I have always remembered him praying that prayer. That's a memory I want to keep.
We have so many stories from Bright that we'll forever remember. One of the best stories involved how my dad and a lady named Nancy Galey met by accident...2 years in a row, Nancy went to throw a cup of water on the minister from Bright, and as someone ducked, she hit my dad. TWO YEARS IN A ROW! They remembered it the second year, and so she invited us out to her house for a Labor Day cookout. We went, and this began an endless tradition of spending time at their house and my dad and Nancy sneaking up on each other each year with a cup of water. The Galey family are now some of our closest friends.
It's amazing what memories one simple weekend can hold, and just this morning I breathed in the cool, crisp, end-of-summer-air and remembered...there's just a nostalgic feeling about Labor Day weekend. It's different this year, of course, because we won't be in Bright. I haven't been for a few years now, but my Mom and Dad went last year just to watch games and surprise the Galey family. My dad kept saying he wanted to go for "one last time," but no one really believed it would be. Somehow, he knew... But they had one of the best weekends with each other and friends.
While this is just one of the many "firsts" without my dad, and it's merely the first Labor Day weekend, it still brings back so many great memories of him and growing up. This year they chose to honor him somehow through the tournament, and we were so appreciative and grateful to hear it. I sent some words of thanks for them to share, and I pray that the teams playing this year would play with a heart like my dad's...one that will never give up. He always returned to that tournament, win or lose, for the love of the game.
I love remembering him that way, and I know this year is a win for him.