Today's thoughts

Category: Eulogies (Page 2 of 2)

Retirement is not without Hassles: R.I.P. #1018

There is not a more helpless feeling than finding out that an old friend died – nine months ago. I got a note from a college fraternity brother that my roommate Jack passed away in October. He saw the notification in our college magazine that apparently I’m not receiving anymore. The sad thing is that I only saw him once since college and didn’t recognize his picture in the obituary. He was a thin, well-endowed, impeccably groomed, fashionable, handsome man with more brains and confidence than brawn, so he was not part of the intramural athletic teams that I participated in regularly. We were like the “Odd Couple” – he was very neat and tidy while I was a slob. He was into debate and writing, while I would barely study. I remember a paper he wrote titled “The Rape of the Virgin Islands.” It was a sign of the creative writing skills that eventually became a gem in his career. I’m surprised that we got along as roommates – or maybe we didn’t?

Before we got involved in the fraternity, we were Freshman neighbors in the dorm. He used an electric toothbrush because it was less disruptive of his morning hangovers. We would have late night talks in the hallway about anything and everything. We went to each other’s homes and double-dated on several occasions. He was much more of a ladies man than shy me, but truth be told he had no interest in women. I was too naive at the time to really understand, and it wasn’t until three years later that I discovered the true meaning of “gay.” I had an awkward encounter with my male boss in a hotel room, but even then it didn’t click. It was when I saw him on the news as part of a gay rights protest that it all came together – this guy and Jack. 

I was only Jack’s roommate for one semester at the frat house, before I left to attend Indiana University. I smoked pot with him for the first time in my life at a professor’s apartment, puffed on a Meerschaum tobacco pipe until I turned green, pledged the Sigma Chi Fraternity together, drank Sloe Gin out of the bottle, and recklessly experimented with some hallucinogenics while listening to The Moody Blues. I will also always associate him with Peter, Paul, and Mary’s Leaving on a Jet Plane that he played repeatedly on his stereo. He spoke fondly of his hometown honey Johanna, who I never met, and his best friend Bill, who was quarterback, Homecoming King, and an obvious idle. In retrospect, these were probably hints of his sexual orientation. I just hope with all my heart he wasn’t lonely. 

Jack and I went our separate ways, but maybe ten years after college I looked him up in Washington, D.C. where he was involved in politics. He seemed very evasive towards getting back together, and it appeared as if he was hiding something. As I look back, I honestly feel that he was trying to protect his secret from interfering with his career. It would not have made a difference to me. At the same time, he was always kind of obnoxious and conceited, raised by a Doctor and part of his hometown Country Club set. He also liked to talk about himself and I apparently was a good listener. His career success dominated our conversation, and I left with a sense of distaste for his attitude. We never got back together again after that evening, as he never initiated any effort to stay in touch. Now, he’s dead and has been for 9 months without any acknowledgement on my part.

I read his obituary, as if he had written it himself. It was very well-crafted, with bits of humor that he was known for in his speech writing days. It had no mention of a personal relationship of any kind, with excessive emphasis on his career success. It was much like our last conversation. I felt sorry for him that he was apparently never able to “come out of the closet,” if I’m indeed correct about my suspicions. For him, there was no room for “flaws” in his appearance, thinking back to his constant preening in the mirror. I still enjoyed his companionship and relish the good times we had, but I have the feeling I never knew the real Jack, and now I never will. Rest in Peace, my friend. In Hoc!

 

Retirement is not without Hassles: Three Weddings and a Funeral #942

I remember the 1994 movie Four Weddings and a Funeral, but needed to look up this brief recap as a refresher:

“Lovable Englishman Charles (Hugh Grant) and his group of friends seem to be unlucky in love. When Charles meets a beautiful American named Carrie (Andie MacDowell) at a wedding, he thinks his luck may have changed. But, after one magical night, Carrie returns to the States, ending what might have been. As Charles and Carrie’s paths continue to cross — over a handful of nuptials and one funeral — he comes to believe they are meant to be together, even if their timing always seems to be off.”

Starting with the funeral of my 97-year old mother-in-law a few days ago, I’m currently involved in my own version of the story, as all three brides-to-be mourned the loss of their grandmother. The fourth sister is already married with a one-year old son. One down -three to go! My son was married ten years ago and has three kids, to complete the first “circle of life.” Only a niece remains intentionally unattached, as she continues to travel the world.

Our time passed quickly between services, trips to Goodwill, and furniture moves. We hired a company to haul the remaining items out of my Mother-In-Law’s small apartment and rented a small truck to distribute them among various relatives. Each unhappy moment was matched with meaningful support from good friends. Dinners and toasts filled the evenings, along with a tour of the Mecum Auction event and a wild ride in a souped-up Dodge Charger on a make-shift Fairgrounds track coated with burnt rubber. As they say in Indy, “life goes on..and moves fast.”

Only two of my MIL’s four children were able to attend the service and burial. The two sisters that were present, including my wife, were involved in her last few years of care. We would travel back to Indiana from Portland, Oregon at least four times every year to visit and help her get to medical appointments.The other sister was much more involved, living in proximity. It was difficult on both of them to be either too close or too far away from her needs. As a result, assisted living and caregivers were hired. As to be expected, disagreements ensued but all issues were resolved.

As the initial pains of loss slowly recede, hopefully a sense of relief prevails. The last few months of life were particularly burdensome as “Mother’s”; quality of life suffered. My wife seeks comfort by trying to go to sleep each night after recalling a pleasant memory of her upbringing. I wrote a poem of some of my favorite memories. It was especially tough for this to happen just before Mother’s Day. Cards and flowers were sent that will never be acknowledged. Both daughters will now have weddings to plan, but will feel the emptiness of not having their beloved mother involved in these three monumental life events.

We all now move on to weddings as we fly back home. There may never be a time when my wife returns to her hometown, and certainly fewer travels to Indiana in general. We’ll be in Egypt next year when her niece ties the knot near French Lick. Beforehand, we’ll
see our Hoosier family for sure when we all gather together in San Francisco for the first ceremony of marriage in September. The November affair will be in Portland with only a close family presence. In both cases, ex-relationships could be awkward, but will not interfere with these special days for my wife’s two daughters. There’s a lot to look forward to yet this year of new beginnings to overshadow a sorrowful ending.

Retirement is not without Hassles: Fundraisers and Funerals #940

Today we laid my wife’s 97-year old mother to rest. I’ve found that there are really only two occasions where I feel obligated to wear a tie anymore in retirement: Fundraisers and Funerals.

I wrote a stodgy, traditional obituary for the newspapers and followed it up with a humorous ditty for the private family get-together after today’s viewing:

Zanna Davisson Daniels passed peacefully in her sleep on May 9, 2019 at Wynnfield Crossing in Rochester, Indiana. She was born August 13, 1921 to Harold Bell and Ruth McCarty Davisson, also of Rochester. She was proceeded in death by her parents and loving husband of over 58 years, Charles Garwood (Garry) Daniels.

She is survived by her four children, seven grandchildren, and one great grandchild. Children include: Dr. Dan (Janice) Daniels of Seneca S. Carolina, Debra (Debsie & Tom) Dyer of Indianapolis, Dianne Sutherland of Shingletown, California, and Denise (Mike) Johnston of Portland Oregon. Grandchildren: James Sutherland, Amanda Daniels, Geoff (Kelly) Daniels, Megan Peters, Emily (Bobby) Humphrey, Miranda Peters, and Zanna Claire Dyer. Great grandchild: Cole Thomas Humphrey.

Zanna was a graduate of Rochester High School and earned her undergraduate and masters from Indiana University. Mrs. Daniels also taught fourth grade classes at Columbia Elementary in Rochester for 22 years and founded Manitou Kennels. She was a member of Sigma Kappa Sorority, Kappa Kappa Kappa, First Baptist Church of Rochester, and a Daughter of the American Revolution.

A private burial service will be held at Rochester IOOF Cemetery. Donations should be made to The Garry Daniels -Lake Manitou Association, Inc. Memorial Foundation, PO Box 807, 227 East 9th Street, Rochester, Indiana 46975.P.O. Box 807.

Zanna

Zanna is gone,
But I’ll never forget.
The twenty years,
Since we first met.

I one foolishly asked,
If I could call her “Mom.”
But instead “Big Z,”
As endeared by Tom.

There were already four,
That she would Mother.
Debsie, Dianne, Denise,
And Dan their brother.

She married Garry,
In Forty-One.
And was the only one,
He couldn’t outrun.

A fourth grade teacher,
Who fed stray cats.
And made a home for dogs.
Loved the food at Pat’s.

The Lake Manitou home,
Was part of family life.
And on the boat pier,
Denise became my wife.

As I got to know her,
And her love of Mark Grace.
We took her to Wrigley,
And put a smile on her face.

I recall the fireworks,
And chicken on the grill.
Crystal or Fiesta,
On every shelf and sill.

She defied her Alma Mater,
Because of Bobby Knight.
And read a million books,
Until she struggled with sight.

You thought she couldn’t hear,
Until you whispered at her back.
She’d use her classic eye roll,
To counter your wise crack.

Her final years at Wynnfield,
Were hard on everyone.
And hopefully in heaven,
Her new life has begun.

I once thought,
She’d live forever.
But a Cubs World Series,
Put an end to never.

Copyright 2019 johnstonwrites.com

Note: Her husband, Garry, was a college track star and her favorite team was the Cubs, especially when Mark Grace was playing first base. I watched Game Six of the 2016 World Series with her in her Wynnfield Crossing retirement home, after seeing Games Four and Five in Chicago on our trip down to visit her. I then returned to Chicago to watch the Cubs win it all on TV from our hotel room. I’m glad she finally got to see them win the World Championship in her lifetime, a moment my dad, also a lifelong Cubs’ fan, missed by two years.

Rest in Peace, Zanna – I’ll miss you.

Retirement is not without Hassles: Ashes and Ivy #908

With my upcoming 50th high school class reunion, I will morn the loss of close classmates Grant and Dennis. My good friend Grant passed away decades ago, but just four years ago I had dinner with Dennis and his wife Sue at Michael’s in my hometown of Elkhart, Indiana. Two months later he died unexpectedly. On July 5, 2016, I took Sue to a Cubs game at Wrigley Field and she surprised me with a small metal film container of Dennis’ ashes. Together, we spread them down the first base line along the brick right field wall. I wrote this poem to honor this occasion while watching the Cub’s game from the stands yesterday. Maybe someday I’ll join him on the field?

“Ashes to ashes,
Dust to Dust.”
To rejoin the Earth,
is final must.

A special spot,
Where memories lie.
Set them free,
When I die.

Beautiful white flakes,
They fall like snow.
And come to rest,
In a place I know.

Where Ernie Banks,
Played the game.
And earned his place,
In the Hall of Fame.

Where home runs fly,
Over ivy covered walls.
And destiny is forged,
By bats, gloves, & balls.

Bricks and Blue,
Is what I choose.
An eternal nap,
Win or lose.

It’s my last wish,
To take the mound.
And be a part,
Of sacred ground.

Grave reminders,
Are not for me.
Make me part,
Of that grassy sea.

When my fate
Is finally sealed.
Just spread my ashes,
On Wrigley Field.

For Dennis Copyright 2019 johnstonwrites.com

I also ran across a similar request from a Steve Goodman called, “A Dying Cub’s Fan’s Last Request:”

Build a big fire on home plate out of your Louisville Sluggers baseball bats, And toss my coffin in. Let my ashes blow in a beautiful snow, From the prevailing 30 mile an hour southwest wind. When my last remains go flying over the left-field wall, We’ll bid the bleacher bums adieu, And I will come to my final resting place, out on Waveland Avenue.

Steve, I hope you meet Dennis!

Diary of an Adoptee: Thanks a Million #733

Today, I wanted to spend some time acknowledging our Veterans for their service. Men and women who served our country to preserve freedom, some of whom gave their lives. Whether it be “Banister World” or “Johnston World,” I have lots of reasons to be thankful and proud. It’s appropriate that Veteran’s Day falls just few weeks prior to Thanksgiving, making November a month of Gratitude. After all, I was conceived in late November, nine months before my August birthday. I do not know the circumstances of the encounter that led to my birth, so I can only speculate on the two people involved. I do, however,  have enough factual and DNA evidence to support a strong case.

I do know almost everything about the Johnston family that adopted me in the months after my birth. They could not have children of their own, so I was a gift. He was a Veteran of World War II, and they married after he returned from duty. His father was a Veteran of World War I. Her father, Ross Hancher, lived in Elwood, Indiana and was also a Veteran of World War I. Burt and Cathy met at Indiana University, and eventually chose Elkhart, Indiana, his hometown, to raise me and my adopted sister. Each of the Johnston and Hancher men put-off raising families and starting careers to serve our nation at war, and did not want me making the same sacrifice. Neither I nor my son Adam were called to duty, something both of us are thankful for today and every day. We did not have to face flying bullets, sleepless nights in tents, and the terrifying fear of knowing that each day might be the last. These men and their ancestors fought so we didn’t have to carry guns. Thank you is clearly not enough for what they did for all of us.

My adoption paperwork, that clearly matched census reports of the birth mother’s side of the Banister family, led to evidence of brothers, fathers, cousins, sisters, mothers, daughters and sons who served or are currently serving our country. I’ve seen pictures of them on Facebook, posted by Banister family members to remind us all of their patronage to our country. I don’t personally know any of them to thank, but I understand their significance in my life. This same report from the adoption agency gave very few clues about the birth father except that he was a Marine and another Veteran to thank. 

DNA is helping me reconstruct his story. Perhaps a fling with my birth mother during a family reunion around Thanksgiving? Maybe they knew each other from high school, where he was a sports star and labeled a “heart breaker” in the yearbook? Since they were distant Banister cousins, they could not risk anyone knowing of their affair, whether it was one night or longer? He has already gone to the grave with this secret, while she, at 85-years old, continues to deny any connection. Maybe she had hopes of a longer relationship, but he “broke her heart” with news of marriage to another? Regardless, he left to serve our country, most likely unaware of her pregnancy and my birth. I wonder if they ever talked about it again, and why she left this single clue of his identity with the adoption agency? She was obviously proud of his decision to join the Marines, just as I am after looking through his military records, another man in my life that deserves our gratitude today.

Today is not just the day that those that are left remember those left behind. We also honor our living Veterans and their spouses, who also made personal sacrifices to secure our freedom. I’m thankful for their courage in doing something that I’m not sure I could have endured. I’m thankful to the service men and women that were classmates, friends, neighbors, and relatives. I’m thankful for our freedom and to anyone who helped secure this comfortable retirement that I enjoy. I’m thankful to be alive, and to have given life to others. I’m thankful to love and be loved. I’m thankful for the pets at my feet and the food that I eat. Happy Veteran’s Day and Happy Thanksgiving – Thanks a Million!

Ode to our Veterans 

Out of gratitude,

This day was designed.

Where those that are left,  

Remember those left behind. 

Theirs was the ultimate,

Sacrifice paid. 

Not to mention the heroics,

Our living heroes made. 

For your brave service,

We thank you today.

And those above, 

We kneel and pray. 

copyright 2018 johnstonwrites.com

Diary of an Adoptee: Graves #601

Over the past couple of months, I’ve been obsessively adding names to my Jerry Banister Family Tree on Ancestry.com. I’m not exactly sure what I’m looking for, other than to find some of my DNA matches and see how they fit into the family that I’m just getting to know. I chose a picture of Laborn Banister’s (1801-1885) grave marker to headline this post, since he is considered the elder statesman of the Banister family. He married Sarah “Sally” Yoder on November 22, 1825. One of my Banister connections sent me an invitation to the Yoder Family reunion in Maiden, North Carolina, but I think that I will focus on the Banister and Johnston families first, before I explore the Conrad Yoder branch of the tree.

Johnston is my adopted family, while my birth certificate reads Jerry Lee Banister. I was born August 27, 1951 and adopted by Burt and Catherine Johnston on October 29, 1951. The first two months of my life I spent in Indianapolis at the Suemma Coleman adoption agency that provided housing and care for expectant mothers. Years later, the home itself was torn down, but the office that I worked in looked directly over it’s former location. Like a homing pigeon, it took me thirty-five years to return to the “neighborhood,” but somehow I returned (See Post #392). This I consider to be the first of two astounding “coincidences” that continue to make me shake my head in disbelief.

I’ve always known that I was adopted, but it was presented to me as something special. Certainly, the parents who raised me were something special, but I was born just like everyone else. I’m just not sure that I really ever understood that fact of life. I can remember mistakenly thinking that I was not really born but rather selected, almost like I was the “immaculate conception.” It seems very egotistical, but books I received suggested that I was “picked,” as if from a supermarket, instead of delivered without any option of choice. It’s embarrassing, but it gave me the impression that adopted children were not the product of a sexual encounter and because of that they were “good.” It was until years later that I learned how confused I really was. As a result, genealogy was never important to me, as I never really understood the intricacies of blood relatives.

It’s funny how I’ve added without much emotion, thousands of names on my family tree over the past couple of months. I have yet to meet a single Banister relative in person, let alone understand their relationships with each other. It has been an endless task, as another branch leads to another name of an unfamiliar person. In all this work, there are only a hand-full of DNA-relative connections that I’ve found so far. DNA is the only link that I honestly have to them, as I have yet to get confirmation on the Banister birth parents that I now strongly suspect. I continue to ask questions, but realistically I will probably never know the truth.

Yesterday, I took a slightly different approach to my family tree. I followed the route of my adoptive Johnston parents, and surprisingly it was much more intriguing, as I began to put together the connections of people I actually knew. It’s turning out to be a very emotional experience, as all these people that I’ve known only in-pieces, suddenly fit together like a puzzle. I learned that my Grandfather’s mother’s name is the same as my son’s wife, Eliza. I realized that Aunt Myrtle was actually my Grandfather’s sister, who made me envious at the dinner table because all she could eat was graham crackers. I wanted graham crackers for dinner! His other sister Gilberta was once married, but all I remember is how slow she moved on a walker. I also discovered that my cool Uncle Dick, who owned a swimming pool to host some of our reunions, suddenly had a new curvaceous wife. She spoke broken-English and we all whispered that she was half his age. I just uncovered that she was only 12 years younger and was from Germany. Also, my Aunt Ruth, who lived on Simonton Lake with Uncle Hershel, was actually my Grandmother’s sister, and our Aunt Edna was never even related. I was sad when I came across names that had passed away, and happy recalling memories of others. It was a completely different experience than tediously entering unfamiliar names.

I will, of course, continue to search for leads. The other adoption “coincidence” that haunts me is my fascination with the Marine’s Hymn. I’ve written about this before, but it took on new meaning these last couple of days. According to the adoption records, my 20-year old father was supposedly a Marine. The man that I now suspect to be my father was missing this important detail, as I was looking over pictures and his obituary. Surprisingly, the articles on his death failed to mention his service record, as Ancestry documents show that he spent three years in the Marines, including a brief stint in Korea. If he is indeed the father, he would have never know that I existed because of his enlistment dates. He and my birth mother might have gotten together during the Thanksgiving holidays of 1950, just before he got engaged and left for Quantico. I believe that she was in love with him and had visions of marrying a Marine, but he had other plans. I also contend that she would hum the Marine’s Hymn, with hopes of him returning to her, while she was pregnant with me. I convey this because the Marine’s Hymn was the only song I ever learned to play on the piano, despite lessons. I would play it over-and-over again, much to the consternation of my adoptive parents, who were well aware of this detail on the adoption record. I did not know this Marine connection to the father at the time, and I still wonder if this was some kind of bizarre prenatal influence? If so, it’s the only connection I have with the father. 

Retirement is not without Hassles: Mom and Dad #298

Three years ago my Dad passed away.  His incredible mind left him years before, and I was lucky on those days when he recognized me.  He departed 25 days after my mom died, exhausted from many frustrating years of trying to deal with his Alzheimer’s.  It’s poetic that they went together at the age of 92, since they were born just hours apart and married for nearly 70 years.  My sister Judy and I read these poems at their respective services:

.

Eulogy to Dad

.

Together with Mom,

As it should be.

Someday we’ll reunite,

As a family.

.

Born one day apart,

She needs you there.

We’ll let you go,

It’s only fair.

.

We’ll miss you here,

But now we’re free.

Unsupervised,

It’s clear to me.

.

They tore down Miles,

Messed with your brain.

But we’ll never forget,

Your memories remain.

.

You’ll get your keys back,

Have a drink or two.

And one more thing,

No bills are due.

.

No lawn to mow,

As we used to kid.

I mowed all the time,

Judy thinks she did.

.

That log we shared,

I don’t ever want back.

Once delivered to me,

In a fed-ex pack.

.

A giving man,

Without a doubt.

Gave us a home,

When we were without.

.

Gave us everything,

We could ever need.

And taught Judy and I,

How to succeed.

.

Hopefully you’re somewhere,

Where the Cubs will win.

World Series Champs,

Again and again.

.

A place where IU,

Wins a football game.

Where “hamburger” refs,

Aren’t to blame.

.

I’m sorry that,

We couldn’t agree.

But the White Sox,

Were the team for me.

.

And in Indian Guides,

I just couldn’t be.

Your “Little Turtle,”

“Straight Arrow “for me.

.

So Big Turtle,

I’ll say good-bye.

We didn’t always see,

Eye-to-eye.

.

You saved,

So I could spend.

Despite our differences,

You’re my best friend.

.

All my life,

So proud of you.

My hero,

Oh, so true.

.

Send Mom my love,

All Grandparents too.

I’ll be here,

There’s mowing to do.

.

Love,

Mike and Judy

10/12/2014

.

Eulogy to Mom

.

She rests in peace,

She knows no pain.

She’d ask for sunshine,

Not for rain..

.

She lived to laugh,

And loved us all.

She’d never want,

A tear to fall.

.

A beauty queen,

Tiny yet strong.

She’d let us know,

When we were wrong.

.

She wouldn’t cook,

She’d microwave.

She’d make in bulk,

Then freeze and save.

.

Heat and serve,

Her specialty.

You would laugh,

If you could see.

.

Her freezer filled,

In orderly rows.

What’s inside,

Each label shows.

.

Tidy stacks,

Of frozen bits.

Thaw it in,

The bowl it fits.

.

I Love Lucy,

Her favorite show.

Like the Eveready bunny,

Always on the go.

.

Simple tastes,

No Rolls Royce.

Milky Way’s and Snickers,

Her meal of choice.

.

And in the end,

Dad at her side.

Always there,

Beside his bride.

.

Thanks to Judy,

She got good care.

She’s probably thankful,

I wasn’t there.

.

One heavenly task,

She’ll have to face.

Being disciplined again,

By Ross and Grace.

 .

Love Always,

Mike and Judy

Retirement is not without Hassles: Pass the Ketchup #170

The year before I retired, a good friend of mine from high school passed away suddenly.  It was such a shock to me, let alone his wife, who I had run into unexpectedly at a restaurant several years prior to his death.  My son and I were staying at a hotel in Mishawaka, Indiana, and had plans to visit my dad at a nearby memory care facility that afternoon.  We were driving around trying to decide on a place to have breakfast, when we stumbled upon a Denny’s.  Minutes before, we had almost pulled into another restaurant’s parking lot, but apparently fate changed our mind.  We found a corner booth, where I had my back to a group of ladies that were dining at a table directly behind.  One of the women came over to our table, and asked to “borrow the ketchup.”  My son passed it to her, while she was still out of my vision.  I turned for some reason, and realized that it was my high school friend’s wife.  I hadn’t seen her or her husband in some time, so it was quite a surprise, especially since we were eating in a neighboring city to our home town.  The chance encounter reignited our relationship, and led to a reunion dinner the next night.  It was through the bottle of ketchup at Denny’s that I reunited with my friend, Denny.   As we joked about later, “it was Heinz time to ketchup.”

Dennis’ mother, Eleanor, became as close of an adult friend that I ever had.  She was like a second mom, to me and all my classmates.  I spent many nights with the boys, camped out in her basement, feeling as welcome as if I was home  She would feed us spicy Italian meals, coach us on getting dates, and join us in lively conversation.  She once gave me one of her special garden-grown peppers to take home, and warned me not to bite into it.  I considered it a challenge, as it “called” to me from where it sat on the passenger seat.  I nearly drove off the road, it was so damn hot!  She also once threw my contact lenses down the drain of the sink, thinking it was just an unfinished cup of water.

Dennis was such a mama’s boy, related to every other Italian Catholic in town.  His cousins owned an bar that was a highly requested lunch spot for executives visiting my dad.  It featured a bartender named “Hammer,” also related to Dennis, that would literally abuse and intimidate the customers.  People loved it!  For example, if the door was left open from those standing in the line outside, he’d hit someone in the head with a wet, bar rag to get their attention.  There were never any complaints at this restaurant.  In fact, there was a plague behind the bar, with one shoe mounted on it.  Rumor had it that a guy had come in to rob the cash register and “Hammer” pulled a shot gun from underneath the counter.  The empty-handed thief ran out so fast he lost his shoe! Did I mention there might have been some mafia connections to the bar?

It was great to see Dennis again after all those years.  I think I missed the entire part of his life while they were raising their daughter.  I had gone to their wild Polish-Italian wedding, and they even invested in our floral business, but we hadn’t really stayed in touch for nearly 30 years.  We cautiously talked about Notre Dame football, the one divisive element of our friendship.  I began to hate the Fighting Irish, solely because of his obnoxious attitude about the team.  It eventually drove us apart, but something apparently happened through the years to change him.  In fact, he was wearing an Oklahoma Sooners sweatshirt when we reunited.  We also discussed retirement that night, something he would never get a chance to enjoy.  We got together several other times after that as my wife and I came to town to visit my dad. They were there for my dad’s funeral.  We were just starting to get close again, when I got the call that he had died of a heart-attack.  It hit me hard, and has stuck with me for a long time.  I took his wife to a Cubs game at Wrigley Field and together we scattered some of his ashes on the right field line.  At least, we both had a laugh, as we spread “ketchup” on our hot dogs.

Dennis’ death was so random, it reminded me of a former boss who died tragically in an auto accident years ago.  I was with them one day, and the next day they were gone.  Another high school friend died at his desk while teaching, and a third friend’s death was related to Lou Gehrig’s disease.  However, in both of those cases, I hadn’t seen them in years, so the feelings weren’t as painful.  I lost my four grandparents and both parents, but they all lived long, fulfilling lives, and the inevitable came without much surprise.  I guess I’ve been fortunate to have somehow avoided these types of tragedies in my life.  It’s not a subject that I want to think about, but I do want to think about those that I have lost.

I’ve probably been to fifteen funerals in my life, mainly because I’ll naturally do anything to avoid them.  Seven of those were close family and four were associated with the parents of people who worked for me.  I was a pallbearer at four other ceremonies.  These were the “had to be there” occasions.  Distance kept me apart from attending Dennis’ funeral, or my other high school friends.  I some cases, I conveniently found out about it too late to attend, as word passed slowly through the grapevine.   I think my parents avoided taking me to funerals when I was young, because there are none that I remember.  I’ve found excuses ever since.  However, I’ve now arrived  at an age, when funerals replace weddings and work as the most likely place that I’ll wear a suit and tie.  Sadly, I live so far away from relatives and my home town that I will always have a built-in excuse.   Also, thankfully, cremation ceremonies are beginning to replace the expense and awkwardness of formal funerals.

Why am I writing this?  Well, Dennis’ younger sister died yesterday of a heart-attack.  Unbeknownst to me, she had been battling cancer for years.  She joins Dennis and Eleanor, who didn’t have to suffer her loss, as she did theirs.  Her death closely follows a friend’s younger brother who died unexpectedly earlier this week.  In both cases, they were people younger than me, who never got to enjoy retirement.  I find myself expecting a third phone call, based strictly on superstition.   The silly “rule of 3” is a common conversation after someone dies.  It’s because people, by nature, are very uncomfortable dealing with randomness.  We’re inclined to seek patterns in an attempt to somehow justify our losses, as death keeps nipping at our heels.  We’ve spent our entire lives engaging with people who leave us in mysterious ways.  In each case, we have to wonder, why not me?   The Grim Reaper is after us.  We keep running, but can only hope he doesn’t “ketchup.”

Old Sport Shorts: Who Was That Masked Man? #5

“Now batting for the Chicago White Sox, catcher #10 Sherm Lollar.”  Those words meant a lot to me and to probably thousands of other kids my age, as we crowded around the black and white TV set to watch the 1959 World Series.  It was a rare treat to watch a baseball game on television.  I remember being discouraged, the Dodgers already led the series two games to one, and the Sox were down 4-0 in the top of the 7th when Lollar hit a 3-run homer to tie the score and win my heart.

With the recent announcement and well-deserved induction of catcher Ivan Rodriguez into Baseball’s Hall of Fame, it reminded me how much the responsibilities of that position have evolved through the years.  Catchers do so much more than just “catch” in today’s game, and to compare the output of modern day catchers to their predecessor’s decades ago is not a fair assessment of accomplishment.  Sherm Lollar was one of the greatest catchers of his era, and deserves Hall of Fame consideration.

A catcher is a special type of athlete.  It’s up and down from an uncomfortable squat inning after inning, it’s often guiding and supporting a star pitcher, and it’s being involved in every play.  Arguably, no one touches the ball in a game more than the catcher, and no one on the field has a better view of the field of play.  They are the field generals and often go on to be managers and coaches.  It’s just another reason why these masked men, like Sherm Lollar, deserve more respect from the Baseball Hall of Fame.

As of January 2017, there were 317 Hall of Famers, including 220 former major league players.  Other players, managers, and executives have been added to recognize the “Negro Leagues.” Baseball is a team game of nine positions.  Mathematically, there should be approximately 25 players per position, 36 if you combine outfielders into a single position.  However, with even the addition of Ivan Rodriguez, there are only 15 major league catchers in the Hall (plus 3 from the “Negro Leagues”).  I feel this is the first injustice. Ask yourself these questions.  What would a pitcher be without a catcher?  Or the seven other teammates on the field, for that matter?  By comparison, there are 77 pitchers that have been inducted.  The other half of the battery deserves more attention.   Or, just call it the Pitcher’s Hall of Fame, since they are one out of three players enshrined.

We don’t judge pitchers based solely on their hitting skills.  We judge them on their ability to pitch, so the main criteria for a catcher should be their defensive skills.  Although, this is where the game has evolved.  Today’s catchers can do it all, and their statistics now make them more competitive with other stars of the game.  In simple terms, however, pitchers pitch and catchers catch – that’s the way the game was designed.  Let’s give more credit to those who are fundamentally sound behind the plate like Sherm Lollar.

Who’s one of the greatest defensive catchers of all time?  Take off your mask Sherm Lollar – with a .992 fielding percentage, a ML record in his era.  He also caught a ML record-tying six pop-ups in one game.  Look at the statistics chart at the end of this article.  It compares the 15 players in the Hall, plus the three “Negro League” inductees and potential inductees, with Lollar’s career.  Only Elston Howard, also not in the Hall of Fame, has a higher FP at .993, but he did not play as many years or in as many games as Lollar.  Jorge Pasada ties Lollar, but also played 4 fewer years and 270 less games.  He is also not yet in the Hall of Fame.  Granted, they were both better hitters, but my point is recognizing the ability to catch and throw out batters.  After all, taking away runs from others is equally as important as scoring runs.

John Sherman Lollar had better stats all around than fellow White Sox Hall of Famer, Ray Schalk, with the sole exception of stolen bases.  His timing was unfortunate, since he was overshadowed in his playing days by Yogi Berra in every category but On Base Percentage (OBP).  Sherm did somehow manage to get on base despite being very slow afoot.  Realistically, however, most Hall of Fame catchers are statistically inferior to Berra, especially in RBIs where he’s the leader of all Hall of Famers at that position.

The six-foot-one-inch tall, 185 pound Lollar spent 12 years with the Chicago White Sox and was an excellent receiver who threw out base stealers with regularity (46.18%).  He’s ranked seventh on the all-time best list in this category.  Only three Hall of Famers were better, including soon to be inducted Ivan Rodriguez.  Sherm was a seven-time American League All-Star (nine games), and was considered one of the best catchers and recognized as a team leader during the 1950s. In 1957, he received the first Rawlings Gold Glove Award for the catcher’s position in the major leagues, and went on to earn two more of these awards.  His best offensive season was 1959, the year of the World Series runner-up “Go, Go Sox”, in which he hit 22 homers and had 84 RBIs.

Lollar began his career at the age of 18 in 1943, with the then minor league Baltimore Orioles. He was the league MVP in 1945, hitting .364 with 34 home runs.  He was then sold to the Cleveland Indians where he made his major league debut on April 20, 1946, but asked to be sent back to the minors so he would have more playing time.  On May 8, 1946, wearing uniform #12, he had the honor of catching a complete game victory for Hall of Famer Bob Feller and scored on a Feller fly sacrifice fly.  After the 1946 season, he was traded to the Yankees and wore #26, competing with Yogi Berra for the starting job and ultimately helping the winning effort in the 1947 World Series, going 3 for 4 with two doubles. The Yankee coach, Hall of Fame catcher Bill Dickey, ultimately felt that Berra’s left-handed swing was more suitable for Yankee Stadium than the righty Lollar.  Then, a serious hand injury sealed his fate, leading to a 1949 trade to the St Louis Browns.   He joined the White Sox in November of 1951 and wore #45 for the first year before claiming #10, a number that I fondly adopted throughout my uneventful Little League and Media League softball years.

After his 18 years as a player that ended on September 7, 1963 with the Sox, his career went full circle, back to the Baltimore Orioles where it started, this time as Bullpen Coach from 1964 to 1968.   In 1966, he was part of their World Series Championship season, earning his second ring.  He subsequently coached for the Oakland Athletics in 1969 and managed their minor league affiliates, The Iowa Oaks and Tucson Toros in the Seventies.

John Sherman Lollar was born on August 23, 1924 in Durham, Arkansas and died in Springfield, Missouri on September 24, 1977 at 53 years of age.  He’s buried in Rivermonte Memorial Gardens.  One final baseball honor was bestowed on September 30, 2000 when he was selected to be a member of the Chicago White Sox All-Century Team.  He is currently eligible to be identified as a Golden Era ballot candidate when the committee meets again in December 2020.

Sherm Lollar is admittedly my baseball hero.  I was never a catcher, but I love the game of baseball and its history.   I never had the pleasure to meet him, but when I saw him hit a home run in the 1959 World Series against the Dodgers, he had my attention.  I was eight years old and his #10 became my lucky number for life.  I have a growing collection of Sherm Lollar baseball cards, so he will always be in my Hall of Fame.  He’s one of many players, including other catchers, that have not earned the respect of the Baseball Writer’s and/or Golden Era committee.

I strongly feel there should be more balance by position in the Hall of Fame.  I also feel there should be greater emphasis on catching and throwing, when comparing those who excelled as catchers.  Sherm Lollar was one of the best at both fielding and throwing runners out from behind the plate.  Also, his lifetime .264 batting average exceeds both Ray Shalk and Gary Carter, plus an OPB that outperforms nearly half of Hall catcher inductees.   Sherm Lollar is certainly one of several great catchers of all time that should be added to the list of those already enshrined.  If not, I’ve made my point and exposed the man behind the mask -my baseball hero – #10.

Name Inducted Years played Games Avg, OBP SLG Hits HR RBI RUNS SB FP RANK/NOTES
Mike Piazza 2016 17 1912 .308 .377 .545 2127 427 1335 1048 17 .989
Johnny Bench 1989 17 2158 ,267 .345 .476 2048 389 1376 1091 68 .987
Yogi Berra 1972 19 2120 .285 .350 .482 2150 358 1430 1175 30 .989
Roger Bresnahan 1945 17 1446 .279 .386 .377 1252 26 530 682 212 .965
Roy Campanella 1969 10 1215 .276 .362 .500 1161 242 856 627 25 .988
Gary Carter 2003 19 2296 .262 .335 .439 2092 324 1225 1025 39 .991
Mickey Cochrane 1947 13 1482 .320 .419 .478 1652 119 832 1041 64 .985
Bill Dickey 1954 17 1789 .313 .382 .486 1969 202 1209 930 36 .988
Buck Ewing 1939 18 1315 .303 .351 .456 1625 71 883 1129 354 .934
Rick Ferrell 1984 18 1806 .281 .378 .363 1692 28 734 687 29 .984
Carlton Fisk 2000 24 2499 .269 .343 .457 2356 376 1330 1276 128 .987
Gabby Hartnett 1955 20 1990 .297 .370 .489 1912 236 1179 867 28 .984
Ernie Lombardi 1986 17 1853 .306 .358 .460 1792 190 990 601 8 .979
Ray Schalk 1955 18 1762 .253 .340 .316 1345 11 594 579 177 .981
Josh Gibson 1972 17 107 351 Stats not available
Biz Mackey 2003 25 40 297 Stats not available
Louis Santop 2006 15 Stats not available
Ivan Rodriguez 2017 19 2267 .301 .339 .475 2605 295 1217 1253 124 .991
Jorge Posada NO 14 1482 .277 .380 .477 1379 221 883 762 16 .992
Elston Howard NO 15 1605 .274 .322 .427 1471 167 762 619 9 .993
Thurman Munson NO 11 1423 .292 .346 .410 1558 113 701 696 48 .982
Sherm Lollar
NO 18 1752 .264 .357 .402 1415 155 808 623 20 .992
Bold type indicates #1 in category
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