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Wednesday, July 6, 2022

A Foul Story

 

It was the summer of 1981, and my boyfriend at the time, who is now my husband, had a college friend from Philadelphia come to town for the Pirates-Phillies game. We had great seats for the night game at Three Rivers, about 20 rows back on the first base side. I was a big baseball fan back then and knew I had to pay attention as we could easily get hit with a line drive foul ball. Sitting in the row in front of us, were several nuns from the convent at St. Benedict Academy, where I had attended high school. I had none of them as teachers, so they didn’t know me. I just recognized their faces.

Garry Maddox of the Phillies came up to bat and fouled off a high fly ball in our direction. I had already stated that if a foul came our way, I was going to duck as I had no chance of snagging a ball with all the tall men sitting around me.

When Maddox’s ball sailed our way, everyone in our section jumped out of their seats to try to catch it while I ducked and covered like I was awaiting a nuclear blast. I heard the thud of the ball hitting something and spring somewhere as people clamored and shouted, “Where did it go?” Fans scrambled around the stands searching for the coveted foul ball.

As I stared at the floor, hands over head, the ball rolled under the nun’s seat in front of me. My first thought was from that little angel, I should let the nuns get it. Then that little devil on my other shoulder said, “the Lord helps those who helps themselves,” and I reached down and scooped up the foul ball. I stood up with the ball in hand like I was the Statue of Liberty holding her torch and said rather sheepishly, “I got it!”

People around me cheered for me, patted me on the back, and men in the stands that I didn’t even know wanted to shake my hand, treating me like I was some kind of hero, like I’d snagged a blistering line drive instead of picking up a ball that had rolled to me.

I was glad I got the ball, but it was from a Philly, so I wasn’t as thrilled as if I’d caught one off a Pirate bat. I stashed the ball in my cedar chest, and over the last 40 some years, I’d take it out every now and then and show it to my kids to impress them that their mom “caught” a foul ball. I’d tell them that it was from Garry Maddox, known as the Secretary of Defense for the Phillies, and on cue my husband would chime in with, “You know what they said about Garry Maddox, ‘Two-thirds of the earth is covered by water, the other one-third by Garry Maddox.’”


 

This past Memorial Day I learned something else about Garry Maddox. The American Thinker had an article written by Will O’Toole, who talked about MLB players who served in Vietnam. Unlike World War II, where most eligible young men, including many MLB players, served their country, the Vietnam War was not like that. Most MLB players didn’t serve their country—but Garry Maddox did. One of nine children, he enlisted at 19 and served in Vietnam until his father suffered several heart attacks and Maddox applied for a hardship discharge to help support his family. He then pursued his MLB career.

I was treated like a hero for picking up a fly foul ball, but until this year, neither I nor my husband knew that Maddox was a Vietnam veteran who selflessly served his country and who should have received more recognition for his heroic sacrifice.

However, you can be sure of one thing and that is the next time I pull out that foul ball and tell the story of how I got it, I’m going to tell people that it was off the bat of Garry Maddox, a great baseball player and an even greater hero.

 

This article originally appeared in the July issue of Northern Connection magazine.

Monday, June 6, 2022

Tales From the Middle Seat

Most people when they fly, avoid sitting the middle seat because you are trapped between the person sitting in the window seat and the person with the aisle seat. Since I am 5’3” and my husband is 6-feet tall, if we fly and the seating is three across, I’m often the passenger in the middle seat, giving him the aisle to stretch out a bit. I still prefer not to sit in the middle seat, but over the years, I’ve grown to appreciate it.

When we went to Hawaii in 1986, we picked up passengers in San Francisco before flying across the Pacific. My window seatmate was an elderly woman, dressed very dignified with white permed hair. As we prepped for takeoff, she touched my hand and then quickly apologized. “I’m sorry,” she said. “I’m recently widowed, and whenever I flew before, I always held hands with my husband during takeoff. This is my first trip without him.”

I told her no need to apologize, and I learned that her name was Mrs. Maloney, and she was traveling solo to China to visit her son who was working there. We were only married four years then, and I thought her story bittersweet. 

To this day, when we take off, I hold my husband’s hand, and think of Mrs. Maloney.

About 10 years ago, I had the last-minute chance to accompany my husband on business trip to Las Vegas, and since it was impromptu, I had no choice of seat except the last row in the middle. My husband was five rows up on the aisle. This time my window seatmate, was a young Indian man. I don’t know how we got to talking, but we gabbed the four hours back to Pittsburgh. I learned that he was an engineer traveling on business and was deeply worried. He explained that the husbands of all his wife’s friends brought jewelry back for their wives when they traveled, but he was bringing his wife an expensive ceramic cooking knife. “She loves to cook,” he explained, “and I’m a practical man.” In effect, I told him to be himself and never compare yourself to others.

Not all flights have been as rewarding. I’ve sat next to huge men, who take over the arm rest and people who barely acknowledge your existence. Coming back from Alaska last fall, my seatmate by the window was a young teenage girl, who after takeoff, pulled up her hood, pulled her knees up, and wrapped herself in a blanket, like she was a human cocoon. She never moved the whole time from Seattle to Pittsburgh. I envied her bladder capacity.

My last trip is probably my most memorable. We just came back from a short getaway to San Antonio. The plane from Dallas to Pittsburgh was nearly full, and we were three rows from the back. Of course, I was in the middle seat and my husband was on the aisle. The window seat was still open and only a handful of passengers were making their way down the aisle. We were hoping no one would take the window so we could stretch out. Then suddenly a thirty-ish Asian man stopped in the row before us and pointed to the window seat as did his companion who right behind him claimed our window seat.

After saying “thank you” numerous times after creeping past us, my seatmate, looked at me and asked, “You Pittsburgh?” I told him I was going to Pittsburgh, and I asked where he was from. Through halting English and what looked like charades, I learned that he and his friend where from Japan and were working in Mexico and that his friend “Like Pittsburgh.” Which I discovered meant that they were going to the Pirates game. The friend held his phone up to me, saying. “Google tell me to go to Primanti’s.” I said yes, Primanti’s is an iconic restaurant in Pittsburgh, and that they put French fries on everything. My seatmate said something that sounded like “magnowas.” I shook my head that I didn’t understand. After several attempts, he finally raised his palm and traced a large “M” on it. He was speaking the international language of McDonalds! “Yes, like McDonald’s” I said. He tried to imitate my pronunciation of McDonald’s, and it sounded hideous. I hope I don’t sound like that; it sounded like I was retching. We all laughed and as we landed, I could hear his friend, like a little Eliza Doolittle, practicing saying the ‘rain in Spain lies mainly on the plain, repeatedly pronouncing Pre-Man-Tees over and over.

As we made our way down the gangway, we wished them safe travels, and my seatmate asked, “You been Japan?” I said no. He said, “You come. You have fun.”

I told him yes, I would like that, but I thought only if I’m in a middle seat for the flight, and I get to meet interesting people. 

 

Friday, March 4, 2022

I Know You Are, But What Am I?

 

The greatest wisdom consists in knowing one’s own follies. – Madeleine de Souvré

Several times over my life, my mom referred to an incident that happened when she was a teen, something which captivated the country. On October 19, 1953, entertainer, movie star, radio and television broadcaster, Arthur Godfrey shocked the nation when he fired, live on-air, the handsome, young singer Julius La Rosa on his show, Arthur Godfrey Time

 


 Julius La Rosa & Arthur Godfrey

La Rosa’s crime? Godfrey, the most powerful man on air, stated in a press conference after the firing that he had let La Rosa go because the young crooner had lost his “humility.” Could you imagine someone being fired today for lacking humility in this age where people are constantly flaunting themselves on social media?

 Selfie time!  Look at me! Look at me!

My mom often related that incident as a cautionary tale when I was a kid and would complain about someone being too full of themselves. That story had always stuck with me and always made me wonder exactly what is humility or what it means to be humble? I’ve never had a great handle on what it is, but in researching it, I’ve learned that humility is not being poor or meek or self-effacing. In essence, to be humble is to know your strengths and weaknesses and your place in the order of things. In spiritual circles it boils down to knowing that you are flawed and not God.

Nearly 70 years later, after the Godfrey-La Rosa incident, it’s hard for us who weren’t alive back then to comprehend what a big deal the firing was at the time. Godfrey, who had been a beloved entertainer since the early 1940s had polished a down-to-earth, genial persona and commanded the airwaves, appearing up to six times a week on nine broadcasts over radio and television. The firing of the popular La Rosa, who was 23 at the time, ignited outrage and made him even more popular. As a result, Godfrey became the butt of comedians’ jokes and a satire song by singer Ruth Wallis called Dear Mr. Godfrey, which skewered him with lyrics like this:

Dear Mr. Godfrey, listen to my plea
Hire me and fire me and make a star of me
I will be so grateful if it can just be done
Hire me and fire me
Ed Sullivan, here I come

Though La Rosa was painted as lacking humility, the story behind the firing revealed that it was Godfrey who was vain, controlling, egotistical and jealous of his young star, who was receiving more fan mail than he. Godfrey never recovered from the firing incident; by the 1960s, he was pretty much a has-been. He died in 1983 at the age of 79. Conversely, La Rosa continued to appear on television for the next several decades, including on a 1980 episode of Laverne and Shirley and starring in the 1980s in a recurring role as Reynoldo on the soap opera, Another World, for which he was nominated for a Daytime Emmy Award. He died in 2016 at 86.

It has been reported that Godfrey and La Rosa ran into each other on the street in New York City shortly before Godfrey died, and Godfrey hugged La Rosa, who welcomed the opportunity to bury the hatchet. 

 Julius La Rosa in his later years.

In retrospect, Godfrey must have sensed deep down that he was a small man. Why else would he have cultivated such a welcoming on-air personality? But he must have felt so threatened by the upstart La Rosa, that he projected his flaws onto him. The Godfrey-La Rosa incident reveals a lot about human nature and is a lesson for all of us of how we often project onto others that which we despise in ourselves.

This article originally appeared in the March issue of Northern Connection magazine.