When I look at my second son Gabe, I can’t help but see a “McGee” man, a near-clone of my lovely wife’s side of our immediate family.
At 22, about 6-feet tall, square-jawed, and with a hairline that already recedes just a little, Gabriel McGee Richey fills a mold cast around his grandfather Jerry and his uncle Matt, almost perfectly. Gabe’s clearly a different kind of cat than his three “Richey-stamped” brothers. He always has been.
Unlike me, Gabe’s an outdoorsman. He’ll feel an urge to take up one of his many rifles and head for the hills – literally – often by himself, to hunt deer and wild hogs. Hank Williams, Jr., would be proud to know that Gabe can indeed “skin a buck,” or a hog, or most any other creature that’s legally hunted in north Mississippi. He’s a tough, gritty son of a gun. He’ll need to be. He joined the United States Army in December.
Gabe heads to Fort Benning, Georgia, to begin basic training on January 21. He’ll follow that up with Ranger training, which he’s qualified for. That’s “Airborne” Ranger training. That means you jump out of airplanes … routinely. I’ve got plenty of faith in Gabe’s toughness and ability, but I’m going to worry about him just the same.
When he was a baby, Gabe broke his mother’s heart. His big brother Gardner, who preceded Gabe to life by only 14 months, was a typical “baby.” Gardner had to be rocked, and held, and fiddled with endlessly to get him to fall asleep. Gabe, on the other hand, absolutely refused to be rocked – at all. Gardner was, of course, fine with the arrangement. That little McGee baby would stiffen up his whole body when his mother tried to hold him in her chair and demand, expressively, to be put down, let go. I thought it was cool that if you just laid Gabe in his crib – without anything touching him – he’d go right to sleep. His mother, the lovely but shaken Rothann, did not.
Gabe’s never been much of a “hugger.” And it’s a good thing. Back then, when we’d arrive at grandparents’ or great-grandparents’ homes with our two car-seat-strapped toddlers, a bevy of kinfolk would emerge and descend on our vehicle. Consistently, they’d unstrap our chattering first-born and carry him inside, held aloft like baby Simba in The Lion King. Gabe, still strapped, would look to his ol’ Dad to, hopefully, at least include him with the diaper bags and other baby paraphernalia that had to be carried in. As far as I know, I never left #2 in the car. And we – Gabe and I – still call Gardner “Simba” occasionally, when we think he deserves it.
Gabe was the Richey boy who had the “great pleasure” of having his father coach or manage his entire little league baseball career – from age 9 to 15. That’s a LOT of father-son time, but we somehow survived it. Our travelling team – originally made up of players from Baldwyn, Booneville and Saltillo – was called the Devilcats. Gabe’s close and eternal friends are numbered among those boys – especially Brandon “Dino” Woodruff and next-door-neighbor, “buddy-for-life” Tanner Gaines.
The memorable moments from all that sweat and dirt and stinking, sun-burned boys are innumerable. But there are two that stand out for me.
First, Gabe stepped up to the plate in his first at-bat as a high school senior, after transferring back to Baldwyn from Tupelo where he had played his first 3 years, and he homered, on a full count. A lot of batters might have cut their swing down with two strikes in what was for Gabe and our family an uneasy, pressure-filled situation. Gabe swung for the fence. That’s Gabe.
For the second one, I go back to a 9-year-old game we played at Guntown City Park. In that year right after “coach pitch,” kids begin to run around the bases like the big boys. Unfortunately, the result is that 9-year-old games generally turn into unwatchable, chaotic steal-fests. Inexperienced fielders will throw the ball around wildly in ill-advised attempts at picking runners off. It never happens. This night, Gabe was catching, and an opposition runner broke from second to third. Gabe rose up and fired a Johnny Bench rocket down the line. Our third baseman, of course, didn’t catch it, and the base runner, a hefty hundred-pounder, rounded the bag and headed home. Somehow the ball was scooped up quickly enough at third to hurl it towards home, where Gabe waited, his mask tossed in the dirt.
Gabe caught the ball like a pro, but a small bull elephant rumbled towards him, head down, 2/3 of the way home. In that moment of decision, rather than wait for a collision, Gabe raced up the line. Ten feet off the plate, Gabe threw his entire banty-rooster body into the runner’s chest, ball and mitt extended, and shockingly knocked an elephant to the ground.
“You out, boy!” Gabe yelled, standing over him, and the game was over.
Next week, a tough-as-nails, no-hugs, “McGee” outdoorsman will take his place in the U.S. Army. I expect he’ll compete like a “Devilcat.”
Swing for the fence with all you’ve got, Gabe. This game’s just starting.