H. Scott Heist … originally published PrimeTime/A&E
Happens every spring.
When the birds tell me the season really has changed I find myself rummaging through the boxes for Dad’s old Army field jacket. The one that always hung next to the basement door. It was used to take our Weimaraner nor Frau outside in the cold weather, to shovel snow, or cut wood. Or take me sledding. A reliable friend when he was going to work up a sweat.
Like his shaving scissors it was one of his few things solely reserved for him. He earned it and it was his alone. So only he … and mum used it. As she was unstoppable. Now and again, when I was little and cold, he would wrap me in and I felt safe. Why not, I was warm, with my dad and in an exquisitely designed coat scented with his after shave: Old Spice and her perfume: Arpège Each spring, I try once again to feel that secure and that lucky.
At season change, I’d see him outside, often with a rake, Like Mr. Badger working in the “wild wood” in the Wind in the Willows Kenneth Graham seemed to write just for him to read to me. The wind, the rake and one HIS baseball caps. I say “his” baseball cap as that is where the line was drawn. My dad was a “ball player.”
The hats remained from the teams he played for from his prep school and college baseball scholarships to the tough depression teams he pitched for and into the Cards system.
The “ball” hats were sacred and stayed in his “den” with his desk, books, a brass milk bucket full of a couple dozen hard balls with the dates of big games he won written in fading fountain pen ink. The hats were put away carefully as they could not be replaced. Time machines of youthful days unrecoverable, like time itself. Beside the treasures found within his books.
“Ball” hats were safe there. From his lady to whom he once lent, during a drive, the fountain pen he used all through college, never to see it again. They were incredibly different. Those two. Like night and day. Like men and women.
The athlete who finally settled in teaching Government and the Business woman with five secretaries. I never knew what they had in common other than family. And the fact both were fair. And it was most unlikely either would ever back down.
It was not hard to see what both of them saw in Baseball. In fact the whole generation that was to fight the big war and built lives begun with empty pockets.
Baseball in those days was a meritocracy. That kept the rules. Al a time when skullduggery existed surely, but before it was taught as a role model. When a jackass was not a creative endeavor and survival was feeding the family rather than eating bugs.
The folks who kept the rules, trained and played hard and intelligently; winning honestly was not impossible. One could actually succeed with honor.
Most who took the field came from the cross section of America as did the citizen Army of WW2. All persuasions, races, religions. The Brits had the playing fields of Eaton – we our sand lots.
I’ve the initial correspondence with Eddie Dyer of the Cardinals Organization. On beautiful color lithographed letterheads. Dyer Called Dad the “professor”. Baseball was rock and roll and a prep school, college kid – be he poor as a Mennonite church mouse was an oddity. Who negotiate salary based on tuition.
These guys had their talent, a glove, spikes and usually some strange handle Like “BUCKY”, “DIPS” or “Horsey” as my dad was called. A corruption of Horace by a professor from Germany overheard by dad’s fraternity. And not so bad for a kid who learned to plowed behind a horse when he was 9.
Everyone had nicknames. Mum was “sissie” – she got her handle at boarding school, being known as “Sister” at home. Both my parents had one of their parents die early and I expect they met at public High School when the whole works went bust.
Along with the field jacket, the Louisville slugger bat with his name on it and the old thick wool uniforms that were not cleaned all season is a packet of letters. Addressed in fountain pen, with 3 cents postage, many envelopes baring grand engravings of Hotels that once covered a considerable portion of the Midwest.
My introduction to these came after my dad’s passing. I came upon mum siting in the window light of my old bedroom reading in unusual reflection.
When she looked up, I asked.
“What are they? “Oh, just letters from your father. He wrote me everyday when he was away playing ball.”
This was news. I thought they mostly went about their business independently. Finally, I asked if I could have an envelope or two, just the envelope with my Dad’s early handwriting and the Hotel Engravings. Sometime. When it was OK She simply looked at me with the mildest of expressions and handed the lot of them to me. “There is nothing in them you shouldn’t read.”
The story of the baseball years was surely no secret. Dad’s hate of travel certainly came from there. The buses, the hotel food. He would have been happy with his books and orchard forever. The uniforms that looked so good from the stands, were soaked with sweat each day never drying in the Midwestern humidity. The pants leg where he wiped his ball hand,, stiff with a mixture of pitchers rosin and tobacco juice. On this impeccable guy, I never his socks not match his tie. And the cat call that broke “Horsey” up and stopped the game: “He ain’t no horse … his ears are too long.” would break him up for the rest of his life. And that dad named his thoroughbred horse: “Screwball” after his money pitch. (Screwball came at a bargain after he killed a rider.)
Finally, on the last night dad was with us, he looked over to mum and said simply … with out showmanship: “I made the right choice all those years ago.” And I realized how much had escaped me. I was privileged to watch a love story, mercifully without sap.
In later days after dad was gone, on nights when mum was alone in the big house – the “Horsey Heist” model Louisville Slugger remained beside her bed. She said it was for protection. But I doubt it. Dad’s army .45 was in the drawer between the beds and I had seen her use it on a prowler who choose the wrong house when we were kids. But that’s another story.
I wonder about those baseball stories. Sometimes wish I knew a little more about the way they meet. There are the letters with the 3 one cent stamps. With the hotel names, some earlier with the return address of Muhlenberg College. Addressed to Miss Evelyn … Whether away at school or simply with her hometown written as the whole address. With the same fountain pen, presumably lost in the car, in ink that bled for various degrees dependent upon the quality of the paper. And one, written in pencil to “Pitcher Heist” postmarked Arkansas.
I wish I could tell you the wonders contained in them. Of course I can’t as I’ve never read the letters. (Other than the one to Pitcher Heist which was from a woman, a manicurist, who had read of his exploits in the Arkansas Democrat and wondered since they shared the same last name if the were related?) They weren’t written to me. And those are the rules their author taught me to play by. As a “Ball Player.” Who was never dishonest with me.
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