Some of my earliest memories are all in black and white.
However, many of those black and white memories I can recall as vividly as if they were in full color. I imagine that is because of companies named Topps, Bowman and Donruss.
Addictions, for the most part, are unwanted parts of our lives – tobacco, alcohol and, more recently, drugs. They’ve ruined good men and women, who simply cannot, for one reason or another, shake those habits despite the best help available.
I’ll admit right now, I, too, have had battles with addictions in my lifetime. I fought alcoholism for quite a number of years and smoking, oh, golly, I quit and restarted so many times I can’t count any longer. Thankfully, I’m free of those bad habits now, and have been for quite a few years.
However, one habit I picked up more than six centuries ago has been more difficult to break.
It all started, I suppose, soon after my parents moved from Duncombe to Alleman in 1953. I was only 10 and it was the first time in my life I was expected to work for my weekly allowance. My late father had taken a job as custodian at the Alleman Consolidated School District. It was a small two story, plus basement, building that was home to every student in the district, from Kindergarten through high school.
Dad hired me to help him clean after school. It wasn’t hard work, you see, but I swept the large study hall on the top floor of the school. Every day, I’d sweep up what the students had left during their day. In the summer, I was judged qualified to operate a big mower. It cut a wide swath and there was a riding apparatus attached, so that I could ride during the tedious job. It took most of the day to mow the large grassy areas that surrounded the school on three sides with a baseball diamond proudly tucked into the far southwest corner.
Twenty cents a day wasn’t much, but to me it was like a small fortune. Bottles of Pepsi were just six cents, candy bars went for three cents and a chocolate ice cream sundae was only 15 cents.
Those were a few of my favorite treats and I became pretty much a regular customer at the local B&F Café. It was owned and operated by Bessie and Fritz Culp, but nobody called it the “B&F.” I learned very quickly after moving to Alleman that everyone referred to the place, simply as “Bessie’s.”
It wasn’t long after my family had moved to Alleman that I discovered penny packages of baseball cards. For one cent a kid could by one package, containing a baseball card and a flat pink piece of sweet bubble gum. Of course, for a nickel you could get seven baseball cards and one piece of gum. I preferred to spend my work wage a penny at a time.
That’s my addiction. Yup, after more than six decades I’m still excited by anticipation as I buy new packets of baseball cards. I long ago lost my taste for the bubble gum and favor purchasing packets containing more cards without the gum
About the same time, I began a life-long love/hate relationship with baseball. I took it so seriously that I’d sometimes “woo” my Rawlings baseball glove in hopes it wouldn’t let me down. On longer trips, I used the glove as a make-shift pillow and, at times, I’d toss the glove away angrily as if to blame an error on that piece of leather.
It was my prized possession for years. I played high school and college baseball, pitched at Fort Leonard Wood, Mo., and Fort Gordon, Ga., with the same glove. I took it overseas and pitched for the Army in Germany and later carried it with me to a summer of baseball in Sweden.
It’s gone now. I’m not sure when or where it disappeared. I missed it for a while, but now have lost any of the attachment I used to have to that worn piece of leather.
Oh, but those baseball cards.
They have remained a prized possession since I first found them on top of a glass display case at Bessie’s Café, more than 66 years ago. They became a great bartering tool among friends. Admittedly, there were some I treasured more than others. I sold a Mickey Mantle card about 20 years ago for $65 (it was worth a whole lot more, even then) because I’ve been a Yankee-hater for as long as I’ve liked baseball.
Yankees, you see, had pin stripe uniforms. I didn’t like those. I also didn’t like the Yankees because they’ve always been the wicked step-brother, in my opinion. They’ve bought and sold players on a whim and it was once thought that the Kansas City team of years ago was funded by the Yankees and used as a pseudo “farm” team – sending their best players to New York in exchange for over-the-hill players or newcomers who’d not made the Major League grade.
Now, there was a team. I loved their uniforms, whiter than white trimmed in Royal Blue. I loved the story about how Branch Rickey had signed the first black player – Jackie Robinson. I didn’t see color. I saw a great baseball player and I remember when he stole home against the Yankees in a World Series and I still see Yogi Berra jumping up and down and screaming at the umpire who’d ruled Robinson safe at home. (Google it and you can see it, too.)
Television, even though it was black and white, still showed all my Dodger heroes. I imagined them in those beautiful uniforms through the small black and white television screen. I remember Robinson at third base in his later years with Pee Wee Reese at short, Jim Gilliam at second and Gil Hodges at first. I remember Roy Campanella behind the plate and Duke Snider and Carl Furrillo roaming center and right field in tiny Ebbett’s Field in Brooklyn, I remember pitchers like Carl Erskine, “Big” Don Newcombe, Johnny Podres and long-time manager Walter Alston.
And, I remembered the Dodger betrayal when the team left Brooklyn for Los Angeles. I guess that ended my deep affection for the Dodgers.
I still love my Dodgers – BROOKLYN Dodgers – baseball cards. My affection for them has only deepened through the years. I don’t get them out often, but when I do, I can look at them … and dream … and remember for hours and hours. Always I remember 1955, the year the Dodgers, the REAL Dodgers, won their only World Series championship. Fittingly, the Dodgers beat the Yankees that year.