Everything I Know About Baseball I Learned from My Grandmother
Walt Whitman once said, "I see great things in baseball. It's our game, the American game. It will repair our losses and be a blessing to us."
|Ma mere, Aunt Jeanna(A Cubbie), Mom|
Her name was Francine. Her nickname and the name everyone called her was Tootsie. I think it had something to do with her “spirited” ways. She was my grandmother and to me she was just Ma mere. A kinda French term for grandmother. She was my heroine. She was a third French. In many ways she was totally French except for one huge difference. Sports: swimming, tennis, golf, badminton, croquet and most importantly, baseball were very important to her and thus to me.
Ma mere Tootsie gave me many gifts. She taught me about fashion, entertaining, cooking, gardening, the importance of taking care of your skin (she would not allow me in the sun without this huge Katherine Hepburn “On Golden Pond” straw hat) (hated it then-thanking her now). She instilled in me over and over and over how a proper lady talks, walks, sits and behaves. Ok…so not all of her lessons stuck!
But the most special gift she ever gave me was her love and appreciation for sports and her abiding devotion to the St. Louis Cardinals. She taught me the wonders of this perfect game. The difficulty of standing alone on that mound and pitching. The loneliness of standing in that batter’s box. She taught me the beauty and simplicity of this game of ours. But mostly she taught me to believe in the Church of Bob Gibson. Gibby was her man. The ultimate Cardinal. For my grand pere, it was Musial. For my dad it was Brock. My mom loved Ozzie. But Gibby was untouchable. Gibby was hers.
She taught me in detail how to keep score. And she never went to a game that she didn’t. She kept every scorecard from every game from Busch and Wrigley. Before she died she boxed them up and sent them to The Hall of Fame (of which she was a patron member of the Clubhouse Hall of Fame.) She taught me the importance of knowing and remembering and honoring the history of our game. She and my grand pere took me to the HOF when I was young. We treated it like a Temple of the Gods.
After I found out she had sent the HOF all of her scorecards, programs etc. I was apoplectic. I’ll never ever forget what she said, “Jacqueline, YOU have to make your own memories.” And she’s right. But I used to look through them and see names like Musial and Brock, Gibson and Boyer. Medwick and Dean. Schoendienst and Slaughter. Written in her perfect handwriting. In ink. She saved me two-one from Busch and one from Wrigley. I cherish them.
I grew up at a resort in the Lake of the Ozarks. In the summer my brother and I would take the grand tour and stay with various relatives. My grandparents lived in Kirkwood, but my grandfather had a century old farm in Shelby Co. Mo. We would stay in both places. When in the city we would attend games and eat at Stan and Biggies. My first memory of baseball is eating there, drinking a Kiddie Cocktail and then going to Busch II. It is indelible. Busch was huge and the players were so real. The sights, the sounds, the smells. We lost. I didn’t care. It was the 70’s. I can close my eyes and be there.
When we went to the country, we would all sleep in the long ‘sleeping porch’ upstairs and fall asleep listening to the soundtrack of my life with the Cards, Jack Buck, painting in that indelible way of his, the Cards game that night. Every night. My fondest and most vivid memories of the Cards involve that farm. Lying in bed, listening to the game, as Ma mere Toots would explain what was happening and why. Or what should happen and was not. All the dogs and cats sleeping around us. Every pet Ma mere ever had was named after a Cardinal. Every single one. From Red to Gussie, to Stanman and Dizzy, Brock, and Gibby to Ozzie. No Curt Flood though. She had a hard time forgiving him for the 68 WS.
We had a lot of relatives who lived in Chicago. Every summer we would take the train to visit. We always went when the Cards were there. It was a blast. Truly. Except for Uncle Kremer. He didn’t find it all that thrilling to have diehard Card fans in his house. I just don’t understand it. But that’s another story for another day. I have a hard time hating the Cubs, because I grew up going to the wooden wonder that is Wrigley. Aunts and uncles and cousins would all go. What memories. I don’t hate them. I feel really really bad for them. Okay…I might also feel really really superior. I blame Ma mere Toots.
Ma mere had a few “rules’. One did not talk when certain players were batting. One never ever spoke poorly about the Cards in public and specifically around “the Cubbie relatives”. Once a Cardinal, always a Cardinal. Know what’s happening during the game at all times. Know the players names and positions and the all important batting order. One could say “merde” (French term for sh^t) if upset by a Cardinal play or player, but no American profanity allowed. “OH! MERDE!!!” was heard a lot when I grew up in the 70’s.
“Celebrate Good Times, Come On; It’s a Celebration!” I still remember Kool and the Gangs' song that became our WS theme. The 1980’s brought my very first Cardinal World Series. Growing up I heard all about those teams of the 30’s, 40’s and 60’s. So I tried hard to remember every game of that 82 series. How unbearably tense it was at times. All those wonderful moments of triumph. Sharing it with Ma mere Toots and my family just made it more indelible. My whole family was and is Card fans. My father went to every playoff and series game he could and always made sure that Ma mere and I went to as many as possible.
As for 1985, let’s just say “Oh! Merde”
Ma mere Toots had to finally move to a retirement village. I was living in Florida. (My grandparents would always go to Fl. in the winter so they could catch some fish and also catch Cards Spring Training.) I came home from Fl. to visit in the summertime. I would always stay all night with her and we would watch the game or listen to it on the radio, while lying in bed talking and just remembering. One summer I came home as usual. My parents told me Ma mere’s mind wasn’t quite as clear as it used to be. With me, she was perfectly lucid as we dissected the Cards play that summer. We lay in bed, Ma mere still teaching me about life, listening to Jack and the Cards.
Ma mere died nine days after I went home to Fl. Nine days. She had her two sons at her side. The Cards game was on the radio.