REMEMBERING LEROY


He was a familiar sight running past our house each day, useless, withered arm swinging at his side. He ran as if it was a challenge to the Almighty in payment for the curse of his loss. I encountered him once or twice at 5:30 a.m. while running with Max, our Dobermann. We would see him later in the day at the other end of town. I heard that he sometimes ran 25 miles in a day. He worked out daily in a lap pool in his small back yard. He and his wife lived around the corner from us with a menagerie of pets, while caring for each of their parents. His father in a wheelchair and her blind mother.

The name “SPRINZ” was written on the back of his t-shirt, reminding my husband of former major league baseball catcher Joe Sprinz, who played for the Cleveland Indians and the St. Louis Cardinals in the 1930’s. His claim to fame after he retired, was a publicity stunt attempting to catch a baseball dropped from a blimp in 1939. On the fifth try, the ball landed in his glove at a speed estimated to have been 154 miles per hour. It slammed his glove hand into his face, breaking his jaw in twelve places. He also dropped the ball.

Joe’s son Leroy, our intrepid runner, lived around the corner from us for many years. Though I had not really met him, he knocked on my door one morning asking if he could leave his father here while he finished his run. Not knowing what else to do, I said it would be OK. What led was a fascinating hour while the old man reminisced about stories of his baseball past to us. All the famous names in the years of our youth came back to him. He also recounted the story of Leroy’s withered arm. He had had polio as a youngster, and though the doctors wanted to amputate the arm, the boy fought to keep it, saying he would figure out a way to live with it.

He became a teacher at Newark Memorial High School in Newark, CA, and while teaching tennis and baseball, he played in the school band. Proficient with a variety of instruments, refusing to let an obstacle such as the loss of an arm stop him. Much like his father, he obviously enjoyed overcoming challenges.

After retiring, Leroy and his wife, Lory Ostenkowski, moved to Oakhurst a few years ago, to enjoy their leisure years in the company of tall pine trees and deer in the mountains near Yosemite. Both were prolific writers of poetry and haiku, and were generous with their output. Leroy also found time to play in the local community band while indulging his interest in photography, and running the mountain trails.

Leroy was a trusted critic of my work, approving of my blog, though he hated the word BLOG, thinking it ugly and an embarrassment to the English language. His wife Lory, became a victim of AMD, and he greatly enlarged any artwork I posted on their large TV so that she could share it.

I had not heard from him for several months, and sent an email to see if they were OK. Last night I decided that I would write again this morning. Before I went to my computer, his widow Lory, called to tell us of his passing two months ago. According to her, the polio got him again. Post-polio, which affects many survivors, renews all the original suffering. Their daughter, who lives in Alaska, found the note I sent while clearing out his computer after his death.

Leroy was a quirky, courageous and rare person who will be greatly missed. The legacy he left was that nothing is impossible to those who keep forging through in spite of unforeseen difficulties. RIP Leroy, I’m glad I got to know you.

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THE ROAR OF THE CROWD


I like baseball. I know, I said that last year in October during the World Series. I have liked baseball since my father placed a wood bat in my hands and told me to hit the ball he tossed to me, and then run like heck for first base. My father was a Yankee fan, and Joltin’ Joe DiMaggio was his man. Listening to the games on the family Philco, I memorized the stats so I could impress him. I played sandlot ball whenever the neighborhood boys let me in, but I never made the first team. I had frequent dreams of hitting a home run with the bases loaded, but they were only pipe dreams. Living as we did, in many places across the country, we never actually went to a game together, but my Dad often fit one in when he could.

Alameda was a baseball town and turned out a few stars of the game. Joe Kaney, Bob Wuestoff, and Don “Ducky” Pries made baseball their careers, whether in playing, coaching or scouting.

October always gives me a thrill, when the best of the best struggle for supremacy. The crowd’s roar, the steely eyed pitcher working out what his pitch will be with the catcher, who is squatting like a silent toad behind home plate, giving pre-arranged finger signals to the pitcher. The tension builds. The moments during this silent exchange must be agonizing for the batter, wondering what his fate will be. This is a time for confidence, but does he feel confident? The pitch is a slider, and the batter swings and misses. Do that a couple more times and you’re out. There are so many pitches, and so hard to anticipate which one you will get.

Watching a game on TV can be nerve-wracking too. Your team is behind, it’s the top of the ninth, the bases are loaded, two outs, the batter, whom you don’t like very much anyway, has two strikes against him, the pitch is thrown, and he strikes out. It’s like a deflated balloon.

I remember visiting my parents during a World Series game many years ago, and the game was on TV. My mother, who was the least likely to sit and watch a game, was watching intently and making knowledgable remarks. I don’t suppose I should have been surprised, given my Dad’s interest in the game.

THERE’S MAGIC IN A TOWN


Ibecame familiar with Palo Alto, California while my father’s cousin worked at Stanford University. We were occasionally gifted with tickets to art exhibits and concerts there, and made the trip over the bridge from our island of Alameda. Years later, when I had the decorating business, Palo Alto was a source of much of the material I used in store design.

Allied Arts is a lovely group of artist studios and a small tea room where volunteers take your order for lunch, and even sell you the recipes. Shirley Temple Black waited upon us once years ago. I still use their recipe for carrot soup. Our young neighbors were married there in the patio.

The main office for Sunset Magazine was for many years in Palo Alto. The magazine was started after The Southern Pacific Railroad advertised that you could come out to California and buy a lot for fifty bucks. The magazine advertised the ‘good life’ showing how Californians decorated their homes, planted their gardens, and cooked food equal to that of anywhere in the world. Their building was an ideal typically California style, with hand made tile roofs and floors, and a quiet beautiful decor, showing off hand woven pieces, and pottery. It was surrounded by a rough post and rail fence covered with America climbing roses. When we began landscaping our home, we took note of all of it, and planted 125 America roses along the fence. It was a mass of peachy-red color in the spring. Time Magazine bought the magazine and moved their office to Jack London Square in Oakland. The lovely building in Palo Alto has become something else now. I hope they kept the roses.

Dr. A’s cousin worked for the Magazine for many years, and now our next door neighbor works in the testing kitchen a few days a week. She gets first hand knowledge of what goes into a coming issue, and frequently brings us a sample. This Christmas it was a delicious shortbread cookie.

The town itself was charming, filled with lovely old homes and tiny ‘candy box’ cottages, all owned by mega moguls working in San Francisco. As the years have progressed, businesses have begun to fill in the vacant spaces and it has become another busy place to stay away from. The lovely old homes are still there,surrounded by well-groomed gardens, and the tiny cottages sell upward of a million dollars.

Though Dr. A will always support his beloved University of California at Berkeley, we rarely missed a football game at Stanford, Berkeley’s arch rival. It had a lot to do with the country feel of the campus as opposed to ‘middle-of-the city’ feeling of Cal. It didn’t hurt that he took over the insurance for the University years ago. Today it finds itself in the middle of Silicon Valley.

A number of our friends were Stanford graduates and football fans, and we met each morning of a game in the same place for a “tail-gate” party. There were perhaps 10 or 12 people in our group, one who played in the infamous Stanford band, and whose parents and grandparents before him had graduated from the school. Amazingly, though he donated a great deal of money each year to the school, when it became time for his daughter to enroll, she was denied admission because all she had to offer was a 4.0 scholastic score. Stanford wanted someone who also was active in another activity, such as a sport. Stanford, named for Leland Stanford’s son, Leland Stanford Jr., became one of the most prestigious universities in the world and though in the middle of the city it still maintains its over 8,000 acres of tree-shaded beauty.

Football fans can become a bit over the top, and many people set up shop early in the morning with barbeques fired up, and drinks being buzzed in osterizers. Another friend, who was a big football star at Stanford, brought an enormous bus each game day, filled with his friends and fitted out with all the comforts of home, to be partaken of in the few hours before the game. Thankfully, in those sensible days, a game started at about 1 p.m. Today, most games are televised, and begin in the early evening, making it a very late evening before the game ends.
Stanford parking is in the unpaved woods under ancient oak trees. Of course if it rains, the area becomes a giant mudhole. I remember a story my mother-in-law told of being stuck in the mud after a ball game in their youth. Not fun in the mud and in the dark if it were a night game.

Today, our eleven year old great granddaughter has hopes of someday attending Stanford on a soccer scholarship. The dreams of an eleven year old can’t be dismissed. It always begins somewhere.

DO BICYCLES LEAD TO SEDUCTION?


bicycle

In the late 1800s, the newly invented safety bicycle became all the rage across America. Some people thought they were morally hazardous.

By 1892 Wilbur and Orville Wright had taken up bicycling and had recently taken a long trip down south. They went down the Cincinnati Pike, stopped at the County Fair, and pumped around the track a few times. They continued on to Miamisburg, went up and over numerous steep hills and stopped to see the prehistoric Adena Miamisburg Mound, the largest of Ohio’s famous conical shaped reminders of a vanished Native American civilization. In all they covered thirty-one miles. Astonishing!

Bicycles had become the sensation of the time. Everybody rode a bicycle. These were the newest version with two wheels the same size unlike the ones from the 1870’s and 80’s which tended to tip the rider over. These bicycles were a ‘thing of beauty, good for the spirits, good for health and vitality, and generally improved one’s whole outlook on life. Doctors enthusiastically approved.

One Philadelphia physician wrote in the American Journal of Obstetrics and Diseases of Women and Children, that from his observation there was no better physical exercise for both men and women. The bicycle was one of the greatest inventions of the nineteenth century.

However opposing voices were raised in protest. Bicycles were proclaimed to be morally hazardous. Until now children were unable to stray far from home on foot, but on a bicycle, in fifteen minutes they could be miles away. Plus young people were not spending enough time at their studies, and more seriously, that suburban and country tours on bicycles were not ‘infrequently accompanied by seduction.’ Canoodling was taking place in every clump of bushes at the side of the road! Outrageous!

Fortunately such concerns had little effect. Everybody was riding bicycles; men, women of all ages and from all walks of life. Bicycling clubs sprouted up all over the country. In the spring of 1893 Wilbur and Orville Wright opened their own small bicycle business, selling and repairing bicycles, only a short walk from their home. They named the enterprise the Wright Cycle Company.

It was their work on bicycles and all manner of machinery which showed Wilbur and Orville Wright, inventors and aviation pioneers, that an unstable vehicle like an airplane could be controlled and balanced with practice.

The only other word we heard about the hazards of bicycle riding, was the wedding of “Daisy”, after she hopped on the seat of the bicycle built for two.

GET OUT WHILE YOU CAN


It’s strange, but after a certain age people start worrying about who will inherit all the detritus they have accumulated during their life. What they should worry about is who the heck wants it anyway? By the time you are ready to get rid of it, any likely recipients already have a houseful of their own stuff, and none of it is part of the same era as ours. The sad thing is that sometimes the small things which are so important to us get lost in the shuffle.

jansport

A case in point is my purse. It is a prototype from Jansport which I have carried everywhere exclusively for twenty years. I carry this purse to the grocery store, to the beach, on vacation, out to dinner; you name it and it has been there. This may not seem amazing to you, but what else fits that description? It is canvas and leather, with pockets holding my life, and though I have a number of expensive designer type handbags in my closet, I opt to use this purse my daughter gave me twenty years ago.

In 1969, while at the University of Washington, our daughter met Skip Yowell, a fun loving and exciting young fellow who with his cousin had started a small backpacking company a couple of years before. People in Washington state are noted for loving the outdoors and finding out what is over the top of all those mountains. Skip Yowell and his cousin Murray Pletz, had an idea that they could make a better backpack than what was being used. Murray’s girlfriend Jan, used her sewing machine to stitch the canvas, and Murray told her if she married him, they would name the company after her. So three hippie kids with a great idea became Jansport, and the company grew into one of the largest outdoor gear companies in the country. Jansport gear has made it to the top of Mount Everest and its sister behemoths for so long now they should put a retail outlet on the top of the mountain.

I was often the lucky recipient of a prototype Jansport had made that year, and that was how I came by my very special purse.

Now that you know the story, you can see why it is important to me to know who will treasure this bit of corporate history. Antique Roadshow may someday feature it to the amazement of its future owner.

1968 SUMMER OLYMPICS


1968 Olympics

The 1968 Summer Olympics were an international multi-sport event held in Mexico City, Mexico, in October 1968.

They were special on two counts; they were the first to be held in Latin America and the first in a Spanish-speaking country. Previously the Games had been held in First World countries. They were also the first to use an all-weather (hard) track for track and field events instead of a cinder track.

Three months after Robert Kennedy’s killing the real world again insinuated itself into sports. Ten days before the Games were to begin, nearly ten thousand people gathered to protest the nation’s expenditures on games when millions of Mexicans lived in poverty. Gunfire from police and soldiers killed more than two hundred protesters.

The 1968 torch relay recreated the route taken by Christopher Columbus to the New World, journeying from Greece through Italy and Spain to San Salvador Island, Bahamas, and then on to Mexico. American sculptor James Metcalf, an expatriate in Mexico, won the commission to forge the Olympic torch for the Summer games.

Though born in New York, Metcalf was an expat for most of his life, living first in London, Paris and finally settling in Mexico where he opened a studio and forge and taught students.

On the morning of 16 October, 1968, US athlete Tommie Smith won the 200 meter race with a world record time of 19.83 seconds. Australia’s Peter Norman finished second with a time of 20.06 seconds, and the US’s John Carlos won third place with a time of 29.10 seconds. After the race was completed, the three went to the podium for their medals to be presented. The two US athletes received their medals shoeless, but wearing black socks, to represent black poverty. Smith wore a black scarf around his neck to represent black pride, Carlos had his track suit top unzipped to show solidarity with all blue collar workers in the US and wore a necklace of beads which he described were for those individuals that were lynched, or killed and that no one said a prayer for, that were hung and tarred. It was for those thrown off the side of the boats in the middle passage. All three athletes wore Olympic Project for Human Rights badges after Norman, a critic of Australia’s White Australia Policy, expressed empathy with their ideals.

Both US athletes intended on bringing black gloves to the event, but Carlos forgot his, leaving them in the Olympic Village. Norman suggested than Carlos put Smith’s left hand glove on his hand instead.
During the playing of the Star Spangled Banner both athletes bowed their heads. As they left the podium, they were booed by the crowd.

Smith later said , “If I win, I am American, not a black American. But if I did something bad, then they would say I am a Negro. We are black, and we are proud of being black. Black America will understand what we did tonight.”

HUDDLE UP


Fremont is the home of the California School For the Deaf, which made this excerpt from How Football Explains America by Sal Paolantonio catch my eye. The football huddle was invented at a college for the deaf–Gallaudet University in Washington DC–as a means of hiding signals from other deaf teams. it was then institutionalized at the University of Chicago as a means of bringing control and Christian fellowship to the game.

“When Gallaudet played nondeaf clubs or schools Hubbard merely used hand signals–American Sign Language–to call a play at the line of scrimmage, imitating what was done in football from Harvard to Michigan. Both teams approached the line of scrimmage. The signal caller–whether it was the left halfback or quarterback–barked out the plays at the line of scrimmage. Nothing was hidden from the defense. There was no huddle.

“Hand signals against nondeaf schools gave Gallaudet an advantage. But other deaf schools could read quarterback Paul Hubbard’s sign language. So, beginning in 1894, Hubbard came up with a plan. He decided to conceal the signals by gathering his offensive players in a huddle prior to the snap of the ball,.–Hubbard’s innovation in 1894 worked brilliantly. ‘From that point on, the huddle became a habit during regular season games.’ states a school history of the football program.

Gallaudet

“In 1896, the huddle started showing up on other college campuses, particularly the University of Georgia and the University of Chicago. At Chicago, it was Amos Alonzo Stagg, the man credited with nurturing American football into the modern age and barnstorming across the country to sell the same, who popularized the use of the huddle and made the best case for it.

“At the time, coaches were not permitted to send in plays from the sideline. So, while Stagg clearly understood the benefit of concealing the signals from the opposition, he was more interested in the huddle as a way of introducing far more reaching reforms to the game.

“Before becoming a coach, Stagg wanted to be a minister. At Yale, he was a divinity student from 1885 to 1889. Thoughtful, pious and righteous, Stagg brought innovations to football as an attempt to bring a Christian fellowship to the game. He wanted his players to play under control, to control the pace the course, and the conduct of what had been a game of mass movement that often broke out into fisticuffs. Stagg viewed the huddle as a vital aspect of helping to teach sportsmanship. He viewed the huddle as a kind of religious congregation on the field, a place where the players could, if you will, minister to each other, make a plan, and promise to keep faith in that plan and one another.”
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Whether the players of today know the origin of the huddle, or whether they adhere to the precepts that Stagg put forth, on occasion, is a moot point. That “mass movement” that often ended in fisticuffs, is still part of the game.