Tasting Life Twice

Archive for the category “Family Matters”

The ‘Mad Dash Home’ of a Childhood Dream: a St. Louis Cardinals Story

In 1951, a twelve-year-old boy from a small town in north central Kansas wrote a letter to Enos Slaughter asking the Cardinal great for some advice on playing the game of baseball and also asking Mr. Slaughter if he had some suggestions on becoming a Cardinal bat boy. Slaughter took the time to send the young boy a hand-written letter, signing it “your friend.” In the letter, which was published on the front page of the Belleville Telescope (Belleville, Kansas), January 24, 1952, Slaughter offered advice on how to play the great American game and also expressed his wish that he could help his new pen pal become a bat boy for the Cardinals.

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That boy was my father. In the letter, Slaughter tells my dad, Eddie Tamerius, to “play ball, hard and honest” and “don’t swing at balls, too far over your head.” He also says, “Don’t be afraid to take that 1,000 to one chance for a base! The other fellow with the ball may hesitate just long enough, wondering what you’re going to do!” In 1951, that advice from Slaughter – to take a chance for the extra base – would have conjured up the cherished memory of Slaughter’s late game heroics only five years earlier in a play still recognized as one of the top ones in World Series history. In the eighth inning of the seventh game of the 1946 World Series against the Boston Red Sox, with the score tied at 3-3, “Country” Slaughter (as he was nicknamed) took off on a called hit-and-run with two outs. Slaughter scored from first base on a double to left-center, as Boston shortstop Johnny Pesky hesitated in throwing the relay to the catcher. In what is remembered as the “Mad Dash Home”, Slaughter scored the decisive run as the Cardinals claimed their sixth league title.

My father grew up on the great plains of Kansas in a family that, in and of itself, resembled a baseball team. There were nine children (one girl and eight boys) in the lineup and Dad was at the bottom of the birth order as the light-hitting rookie on the team. His father worked the Rock Island Railroad line and was a devoted Chicago Cubs fan. Dad’s loyalties, however, were clearly with the Cubs’ bitter rival, the St. Louis Cardinals. While Grandpa was away on the railroad, somewhere between Belleville and Topeka, Kansas, Dad would sit in the dining room listening through a Motorola tabletop radio as Harry Caray gave the play-by-play of the Cardinals games. The station signal came out of St. Joseph, Missouri and was strong enough for day games but would weaken considerably at night. Dad would listen through the AM static and on a piece of notebook paper, he would make a scorecard of the action he was hearing on the radio broadcast. (The family wouldn’t get their first television until 1953.)

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A few months ago, while preparing for my Uncle Dean’s funeral, I was searching the internet for obituaries. My objective was rather simple. I was trying to figure out the birth order of dad’s siblings. Nine children in one family is a lot to keep organized in your head. As I tried to sort through the “players” in the family lineup, my mental cogitations started to sound like an old Abbott & Costello routine. Let’s see. Who was first? Uncle Ernie? Or wait, was it Aunt Mildred? Ok, well if Aunt Mildred was on first, who was on second? And what’s on third?

While trying to answer these riddles I discovered that a lot of historic, small town newspapers have been archived in recent years and they can now be accessed online. In the course of my online browsing for obituaries, I came across a front page article about my dad’s correspondence with baseball Hall of Famer Enos Slaughter. The headline said “Want It Hard, You’ll Get It, Local Youth Told.” I was shocked. Dad had never told us about the letter. We had been following the Cardinals for a lifetime. While growing up in Hannibal, Missouri, my father had taken the three of us boys to numerous games at Busch Stadium. We had heard countless other baseball stories as Dad shared his remembrances of Al Kaline’s defensive prowess in the Detroit Tigers outfield and his cannon of an arm, of Bob Gibson’s intimidating demeanor on the mound, of Curt Flood’s career with the Cardinals and legacy in baseball and of watching the New York Yankees while stationed at Staten Island with the United States Coast Guard.

But this one was new: a hand-written letter from a Hall of Fame player for for the St. Louis Cardinals! A lot of questions came to mind. Did Dad still have the letter among his personal keepsakes? Given that it was so long ago, did Dad even remember writing the letter? How exactly did Dad become a Cardinals fan, given that his dad was a Chicago Cubs fan? What led him to write Slaughter in the first place? And how did the story originally come to the attention of the Belleville Telescope back in 1952?

As curious as I was to ask Dad these questions, I also started to think about another set of questions. What if Dad’s childhood wish finally came true? What if he could be an honorary batboy with the Cardinals for one day? While not as cat-quick as he once was when he was a spry, energetic twelve-year-old boy playing junior league baseball in a small town on Highway 36, perhaps Dad could symbolically fulfill his childhood wish in some small way. For now, I’d leave some of the original questions unanswered to see if the Cardinals would help us make a memory.

http://retrosimba.files.wordpress.com/2012/08/charlie_james.jpg?w=500I first enlisted the help of Charlie James, a former Cardinals player who roamed the outfield for the Redbirds from 1959 – 1964 and played on the World Series championship team of 1964. Charlie is a board member at William Woods University (Fulton, Missouri) where I work and is as gracious a guy as you’ll ever meet. Whenever I have opportunity, I like to ask Charlie about the past. Charlie has a locker room full of stories from his playing days with the Missouri Tigers and later, with the St. Louis Cardinals. He was a teammate of Stan Musial and batted against Sandy Koufax (hitting two home runs off of the great Dodger lefty, including a grand slam in 1962). Charlie shared the outfield with Curt Flood before getting traded to the Cincinnati Reds to make room for some guy named Lou Brock.

Charlie made an outfield assist by directing me to Martin Coco, the Director of Ticket Sales and Marketing for the St. Louis Cardinals. Martin read the original article with interest and appreciation and agreed it was a great story. He then offered to help us connect some of the dots in Dad’s lifetime of following the Cardinals by surprising our father with a memorable evening.

On Monday, August 5, twenty-four of us went to Busch Stadium to watch the Cardinals face the Dodgers. Dad thought it was just another Cardinals game, like so many others we have enjoyed before. Six of us left the family picnic at the Gateway Arch, under the pretense of needing to get a few more tickets at the stadium. Dad accompanied the group, ready to open his wallet for any extra tickets we might need. We walked around the stadium until we arrived at the VIP/Press entrance.

Dad wondered why we going in this particular door, after having passed numerous ticket windows along the way. To Dad’s question about what we were up to, Troy only said, “Dad, you haven’t seen anything yet.” Upon the hospitable welcome by Martin, we finally shared the news with Dad. He’d have to change his shirt. We had a different one for him to wear, an authentic 1946 Enos Slaughter replica home jersey made by Mitchell and Ness as part of their Cooperstown Collection. Dad put on the No.9 jersey that Slaughter made famous so many years ago.

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Then we showed him a framed copy of the front page of the Belleville Telescope from January 24, 1952.

“Where in the world did you get this?” he asked.

“Dad, do you remember writing Enos Slaughter 62 years ago?”

Dad replied, “I certainly do. I had told my dad that I wanted to be a bat boy for the Cardinals and he encouraged me to write them. I don’t know if he thought they’d actually write me back. But they did.”

“Do you still have the letter?” we asked.

“I wish I could say that I did but Mom and Dad had a flood in the basement when I was away from home and we lost most of my personal keepsakes.”

“Well, I told Martin that you were still pretty nimble and quick and that you could probably shag some fly balls still. But we have some other things planned tonight.”

Then, Martin did his maestro magic and kindly rolled out the Red(bird) carpet for our group. He took us on the field where we watched the Cardinals and Dodgers take batting practice. We saw Mark McGwire’s return to Busch Stadium as the new batting instructor for the Dodgers. We also saw the Busch Stadium debut of Dodger rookie sensation Yasiel Puig who put on a power show in batting practice.

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The highlight, however, was Dad’s opportunity to meet Cardinal legend Red Schoendienst. A young 90 years of age, Red played for the Cardinals alongside of Slaughter. Red still comes to most of the home games, donning his own Cardinal uniform, with the striped socks pulled up high just as they were in his former playing days. No. 2 came over and visited with our group. We shared with him the story of Dad’s childhood dream 62 years ago.

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Dad mentioned how he grew up as a big fan of “Stan the Man, Enos Slaughter and Red”. Red shared with us some stories of playing with Enos Slaughter. “He was a great teammate and always played hard. He never took a play off.”

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I asked Red if the 100 percent wool authentic jersey that dad was wearing was authentic. He reached over to touch dad’s jersey, rubbed it between his fingers and said, “We did wear wool. But our jerseys were even heavier than that.” image

“We read this morning that your signing bonus back in 1942 was a ham sandwich and a glass of milk. That was a great story.”

“Well, yes, it’s a little bit different today”, Red told us.

“I guess the good news, though, is that the signing bonus of milk and ham probably explains why you are in still in such good shape today.”

“Well, I don’t know about that.” Red said while chuckling.

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After our conversation was over, we made a visit to the broadcast booth where Dad met longtime broadcaster Mike Shannon just before the start of the game. Both of them had graduated from high school in 1957. And both had gone on to the University of Missouri in Columbia. After talking a bit about Shannon’s playing days with the Tigers under legendary coach Frank Broyles, we left the radio booth for our seats, but not before Dad had a chance to study the day’s lineups in the KMOX booth.

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When the game finally started, dad did what he’s done for so many years now. In pencil, he marked the boxes of the scorecard in the endangered language of passionate baseball enthusiasts: K, BB, 1B, E4, HBP.

On this night, the Dodgers got the best of the Cardinals, winning the game 3-2 and extending their winning streak on the road to fifteen games. As nice as it would have been to drive back home to Columbia and Hannibal and Lexington` with a Redbird victory, this particular night was about something else. Our family was together and we were relishing a story sixty-two years in the making. On an unseasonably pleasant evening, we were in a sea of summer red among the best fans in baseball, celebrating the dreams of childhood, the glory of America’s national pastime and the proud tradition of the St. Louis Cardinals.

In 1951, Enos Slaughter concluded his letter to my dad with a bit of advice: “no matter what you want in life, want it HARD and you’ll get it!” If Mr. Slaughter were still around, he’d be pleased to know that our dad has followed his advice. Since that letter, Dad has played out his years with honesty and hard work and a lot of smart decisions on the base path of life. “Country” Slaughter would be proud of Dad’s “mad dash home”.

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Hail to the Queen – Hickman Homecoming 2012

Father’s Day Pictures

I count it as my good fortune to have been raised by some wonderful parents whom I greatly admire and appreciate.  Here are some recent pictures of my dad while we were at Hilton Head last August.  In the one he is looking out on the famous 18th hole of Harbour Town at Hilton Head National Golf Course.  In the other one, he is pictured with my brother Lance. The other photographs are a step back in time to 1957 when dad was playing basketball for the Belleville Buffs in north central Kansas.  Dad is #43.

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BHS 1957 Buffs 1957 Tamerius 1957

Senior Pics of Caleb

Birthday Girl!

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Yesterday was Elizabeth’s birthday.  In her honor, last night I reread some of Shel Silverstein’s poems, including a couple of Elly’s favorites.  Here are a couple of ones we especially like.  The first is “Whatif” from A Light in the Attic and the second is “Spaghetti” from Where the Sidewalk Ends.

Whatif

Last night while I lay thinking here,
Some whatifs crawled inside my ear
And pranced and partied all night long
And sang their same old whatif song:
Whatif I’m dumb in school?
Whatif they’ve closed the swimming pool?
Whatif I get beat up?
Whatif there’s poison in my cup?
Whatif I start to cry?
Whatif I get sick and die?
Whatif I flunk that test?
Whatif green hair grows on my chest?
Whatif nobody likes me?
Whatif a bolt of lightning strikes me?
Whatif I don’t grow taller?
Whatif my head starts getting smaller?
Whatif the fish won’t bite?
Whatif the wind tears up my kite?
Whatif they start a war?
Whatif my parents get divorced?
Whatif the bus is late?
Whatif my teeth don’t grow in straight?
Whatif I tear my pants?
Whatif I never learn to dance?
Everything seems swell, and then
The nighttime whatifs strike again!

Spaghetti

Spaghetti, spaghetti, all over the place,
Up to my elbows—up to my face,
Over the carpet and under the chairs,
Into the hammock and wound round the stairs,
Filling the bathtub and covering the desk,
Making the sofa a mad mushy mess.
The party is ruined, I’m terribly worried,
The guests have all left (unless they’re all buried).
I told them, “Bring presents.” I said, “Throw confetti.”
I guess they heard wrong
‘Cause they all threw spaghetti!

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Faded Memories

Every so often you hear about a newly discovered photograph of Marilyn Monroe or Elvis or some other deceased celebrity. Or, a mysterious person in a photograph is finally identified, as happened recently with an iconic photograph of a famous kiss and an “American Girl in Italy.” I found a roll of film a few months ago that, for me, ranks right up there with those other valuable images.

Originally, this roll of film was in a camera bag I hadn’t used for a number of years. Over the years, it appeared in a few other places (glove compartment, kitchen drawer, etc.). A remnant of the film era, and perhaps the last roll I shot before going to a digital camera, the Kodak film sat around waiting its time. That time finally came. A few weeks ago I took in the mysterious film to Sam’s Club and had the pictures developed. With so much time having passed, I had no idea what to expect. Imagine my surprise when I got the pictures back and saw photos of the children, including my late son Jonathan, on the occasion of Elizabeth’s 4th birthday. The pictures were taken eight years ago and the film was exposed, so the photographs have a slightly washed out, retro look. But even with the faded quality of the prints, the memories are priceless. Here are a few from the collection.

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The Greatest Brochure Ever Made

In the past few weeks, while sorting through some files, I came across the best advertising brochure I’ve ever seen.

When I was in graduate school in Vancouver, British Columbia, our family was spending an afternoon in Bellingham, Washington.  While at Kinko’s making some copies, we noticed a young lady staring at us.  Soon after, she came up to us and said, “I have to have that baby.”  That baby was Anna, our youngest at the time. The woman seemed unthreatening so we didn’t fear an abduction.  And in fact, she had good news.  She asked us, “Can I have that baby for a photo shoot?”  She went on to explain that she worked for a company that was producing a new brochure for a medical association.  And get this, she would pay us $40 an hour to photograph our baby! To a poor grad student, that sounded like a good deal.  (Side note: I tried to get Anna to blink in every photo so we could stretch this out for a couple of days.)

Thus began Anna’s modeling career.  In diapers, front and center, advertising healthy choices for a medical association. Today, that baby is a beautiful young lady beginning her junior year of high school.

 

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Lucky Enough at Hilton Head

Ah, Hilton Head!  What a place.  We stayed at Sea Pines Plantation and there was a sign on the poolside bar which said, “If you’re lucky enough to be at the beach, you’re lucky enough.”  We were lucky last week.  Live music everywhere you go.  Beautiful sunrises and sunsets.  Islanders who were relaxed and interesting in conversation. There was a medley of songs running through my head.  With Jimmy Buffett, I was looking for my “lost shaker of salt”.  With Zac Brown I had my “toes in the water, my ass in the sand”.  With Brad Paisley we drove until the “map turned blue” and there I confessed my “love affair with water’.  With Kenny Chesney, it was a time for the beachcombers to “let the warm air melt these blues away”.  On more than one occasion, I thought I was in one of those Corona beer commercials with our lounge chairs looking out into the great blue yonder.

Two of the days we arose early to watch the sunrise.  One of those days, we ate dinner facing the other direction, watching the sun go down at Skull Creek Boathouse while listening to live reggae music.  Late one evening, dad and I walked the beach at dark.  Looking up a nighttime sky exploding with stars, I downloaded the SkyView app for my phone and we were able to name the stars and constellations. 

I almost didn’t make it home, not only because I’m smitten with ocean life, but also because we had to fetch the rental keys out of a storm drain.  You see, my brother threw me the keys to the rental car late one night after dinner.  He said, “you drive.”  Did I mention that he threw them?  And did I tell you it was nighttime?  He sort of led me with a high pop fly, like when we were boys playing the baseball game of 500.  And because the keys were out of my reach and because the keys did not glow in the dark like a lightning bug, I couldn’t see them.  And those keys, our ticket home, fell on the top of a storm drain near the car.  And before we could get them in hand, they slid between the grates and down below into the underworld, the place of the dead.  

You should have seen the look on our faces.  With raised eyebrows, I looked at him.  With hand over mouth, he looked at me.  It was like the scene in A Christmas Story when young Ralphie is helping his father change a flat tire.  Ralphie loses the lug nuts in the snow and his nightmare moves in slow motion while he expresses his horror at what is happening. 

We lifted up the storm drain cover and looked for the bottom.  It was about four feet deep, filled with water and debris and home to “where the wild things are”. Fortunately for us, my brother had a thin flashlight in his pocket.  Unfortunately for me, on that particular night I was still taller than my brother.  That meant I would have to fetch the keys if we were going to make it home.  I did.  With my brother holding the flashlight and laughing, I barely got the keys on a finger without having to rent scuba gear.  He kindly offered to hold my feet.  I kindly declined, certain I would end up in the ocean, feeding the fish.  It was a late discovery we made but after checking out the status of our wet rental keys, (keyless entry still worked) it was then we noticed the replacement fee: $200.  Had we lost them, we might have missed my niece’s wedding.  We would have been lucky enough to have another day at the beach, however. 

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Mackenzie Getting Married

It was a lovely weekend in Hannibal as my niece, Mackenzie, got married, to Wyatt Miller.  After the ceremony, we crossed the river to Kinderhook Lodge where we toasted the newlyweds, feasted on a sumptuous spread and danced the night away.  Wyatt and Mackenzie were presented a handmade quilt with memorable words and pictures from friends and family.

Grandma Winnie

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Winnie Thompson (February 18, 1922 – June 23, 2011)

One of my earliest memories of my grandmother Winnie is of her sitting at her home in Belleville, Kansas. Though large in my memory, the house was actually quite small. Grandma would sit in her usual spot, at the dining room table, next to the memory box on the wall, positioned so she could look out the window toward the front yard. She would be drinking a glass of tea or enjoying a beer. There would always be a lot of people in the home and with lots of people, lots of noise. There was laughter and jokes, phones calls and storytelling, children getting scolded for any number of indiscretions, both minor and major, both real and imagined . And then there was grandma’s loud voice presiding over the creation and chaos, saying such things as “well, criminy” or “for crying out loud”.

But there was one moment in the day when everyone in the house was ordered to be quiet and a hushed reverence came upon all. And that was during the ten o’clock news when the weatherman delivered the forecast. Like a group of monks under orders to keep a vow of silence, we stopped what we were doing and listened to the weatherman describe the conditions outside and what we might reasonably expect in the coming days. I can still see the room full of adults turning their attention to the television and listening to this stranger tell us whether or not “something wicked this way comes.”

In later years, grandma continued to pay attention to the weather. Most of our conversations, in fact, started by reference to the weather. “Are you getting any storms down there?” and “what’s it doing out there?” and “are you getting a lot of rain?”

That’s not entirely surprising. Growing up in the great plains she knew that unfriendly weather could be deadly. She had heard the stories, made pilgrimage to the basement on numerous occasions. The ominous possibilities etched a place in the imagination of many a child growing up in “tornado alley”. Early on, we were trained to respond to sirens and find a safe place to hide until the storms had passed.

I asked my mother about this. I asked her if she had a tornado cellar growing up.

“Did we have a tornado cellar?” she repeated the question back to me. “We lived in it all summer long. We didn’t come out until fall or sometimes as late as groundhog day.”

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May of 2010

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