All Star season
As the end of June edges into sight my mind floats back to those hot, long days on the southern Illinois dairy farm of my youth when noon dinner brought everyone together for the day’s big meal. Afterwards, all the adults napped until precisely 1 p.m.
Uncle Honey, my father’s uncle who spent 20 of his retirement years breaking machinery on the farm, didn’t nap so much as doze.
Every day Honey reclined in a chaise lounge on the screened-in porch off the kitchen to read the sport section of the St. Louis Globe-Democrat. Shortly after he began, though, the paper would noiselessly descend until it covered his face. If the caw from a distant crow awakened him, the reading-sinking-dozing process began anew.
The memory is very vivid because I wanted to read the sport section. I never dreamed of pre-empting Honey’s seniority but I often wondered why his slumber couldn’t be induced by other, less secular journals like the Lutheran Witness or Hoard’s Dairyman.
To my great surprise, Honey knew of my newspaper envy. In 1966, when I spent a roasting, mid-July week at Lutheran camp (Camp Wartburg, named, of course, for the Saxon castle the Great Reformer hid in to avoid his own grilling by some close-minded papists), the week’s sport sections were waiting for me when I returned. Honey had saved ’em. Wow.
That was especially wonderful because baseball’s All Star game had been played in St. Louis while I was at the no radio, no newspaper camp studying – OK, skimming – the Old Testament book of Jonah.
Honey did other wonderful favors for my two older brothers and me. Since he and his wife were parents of two, older daughters, I think he somewhat adopted Richard, David and me when he wanted to some father-son fun.
For example, one summer dinner Uncle Honey informed my mother that “if the boys can be cleaned up by three,” he’d take us to St. Louis for the Cardinal ballgame that night. It must have been in 1964 or ’65 because the game was at old Sportsman’s Park, near today’s St. Louis University.
At 3 p.m. my brothers and I shined like new pennies and off we went in Honey’s ’49 Chevy; first to his house where Aunt Esther was waiting with a light supper, then on to St. Louis where Honey never waited at one stop sign.
I remember only two things about that game. First, when we arrived near the ballpark, Honey drove into the back alley of some nearby tenements. When we stopped, a well-dressed black man – one of the first African-Americans I ever saw – walked from a building’s sagging back stoop to the car. Honey nodded, gave him a dollar bill, and parked the car.
The second thing I recall is that the game went extra innings – 14, if memory serves. As we walked into the dark-as-a-cave alley after midnight, I was shaking like a leaf. Not Honey; he never appeared worried, not even after he plowed out a telephone pole or rolled an overloaded silage wagon onto its side.
When we neared the car a voice from the darkness said, “Long one tonight.”
Yep, replied Honey as he handed the man another dollar, “see ya’ in a couple of weeks.” Off we then went to run more Missouri stop signs.
On July 14 the All Star game returns to St. Louis for the first time since, well, since I last looked at the book of Jonah. That day I’ll be thinking about Uncle Honey, his private ballgame parking and those big, red signs he insisted only suggested we stop.
‘Course I’ll do all that as I read the sports section during a nap.
© 2009 ag comm