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One of These Days (Hall of Fame Road Trip)

August 16, 2009

I know my father and I may not travel together again but we will always have Cooperstown and Springfield and Canastota and Terryville. We will always have the photos. We will always have our memories of Greenberg, Morris, Isiah, Ali, Louis, and Bing.

 

Procrastinators like me like to say, “One of these days, I will….” Fill in the blank: I will travel the world, write my great American novel, enjoy a week in Hawaii with my wife, play golf every week, learn to really relax. I really mean it when I say it but time erodes the best of hopes.

            Last summer, when returning home from Rhode Island with Judy and the kids, as we drove through the rolling hills of New England and New York, I noticed the same signs I had noticed on the way there, wondering out loud about visiting the Basketball Hall of Fame in Springfield, the Baseball Hall of Fame in Cooperstown, and the Boxing Hall of Fame in Canastota. All three of these signs popped up along the trip, on the same stretch of highway, all within a few hours of driving. I said to Judy, Ilana, and Marlee, if they didn’t want to stop and visit, I might come back one day with my dad. “One of these days,” I said, I will book a flight to Hartford, stop and see our branch, and then drive back over the next few days and visit each one of the Hall of Fames on the way to the Syracuse branch.

            I wasn’t interested in seeing the halls myself but instead, thought it might be nice to travel with my dad and reminisce about the great sports heroes that we watched together as I grew up. This could be our little “field of dreams” together.

            I told my father my idea and he was excited and willing to go. But the fall came and went and then the winter and I told him maybe we would go sometime in the spring. Then, spring evaporated and summer came and his lymphoma doctor called my dad a “miracle” because he hadn’t started dialysis yet. He had had a small tube surgically implanted in his wrist so he would be ready for dialysis at any time, if his creatinine levels would become abnormally high.

            When his nephrologist told my dad that he really should begin dialysis soon, which would require him to sit at a clinic three days a week, I realized I couldn’t wait much longer. So I booked two flights on Southwest, one heading to Hartford on the first Monday in August, one heading back from Albany on the Thursday afterward. I was proud of myself for turning “one of these days” into reality, for booking tickets on Southwest for the first Monday in August, following my Aunt Helen’s 90th birthday party the Saturday before. But I was unsure what health emergency or family tragedy might halt the trip I booked.

A family tragedy did happen soon after I made plans for our road trip together. On July 9th, my aunt Selma died just a few weeks before her older sister’s birthday party and before our trip. My parents traveled to California for the funeral and stayed there for a few days with the family. My father was extremely close to Selma and had been ever since she took care of him when their mother was hospitalized at Eloise. And at Helen’s birthday party, he could barely say a few words in toasting his sister Helen, so soon after the loss of their beloved sister.  

            Two days after the party, my father and I woke early Monday morning and left our homes by 4:30, yet still ending up in a long line at the airport’s security scanner. We flew through Baltimore and landed in the late morning and went to visit the Hartford branch of IDN. Since my father stopped working full time fifteen years ago, he remained happy to talk to IDN employees and get his mind back into products, sales, slow moving inventory, and servicing customers. Even though he hasn’t worked full time for the company in 15 years, it is still in many ways, “his baby,” and so he is very interested in how the company is doing and how we will survive this economic “great recession”. Besides, he still gets health insurance from the company, so he has a more than vested interest in the success or at least survival of IDN-Hardware Sales. And in this difficult economic period, survival can no longer be taken for granted.

            My father enjoyed giving his opinions and seeing new sales opportunities and was excited to hear about the new commercial door and hardware sales that Don, our New England salesman, was generating. After we visited the branch, we checked into the Hampton Inn in Enfield, Connecticut, ate at a local restaurant and took a walk. The area was a lot like Novi, Michigan, inhabited by many major national chains but there were a few local stores and restaurants that we hadn’t seen before.

When we returned to the hotel room, we sat in our beds and watched Boy Interrupted, an HBO documentary about a suicide of a 15-year-old boy, Evan Scott Perry, who suffered from bi-polar disorder, written and directed by his parents, Dana and Hart Perry. One of the most powerful and moving films I have ever seen, Boy Interrupted became more haunting as I watched it with my dad, who survived the institutionalization of his mother, the suicide of his younger sister, and the death of his 13-year-old son. We watched together, mostly in silence and tears. As Shakespeare wrote (in a quote from the www.perryfilms.com website), “Give sorrow words; the grief that does not speak whispers o’er the fraught heart and bids it break.”

            The next day, thankfully, was destined not to be sad but to be adventurous and fun, with a lot of driving and sight-seeing. We took the Kia Rio that we rented (which makes the Honda Civic look gigantic) and my new Garmin GPS device that I brought from home and set out first to the Basketball Hall of Fame in Springfield, Mass. We looked at fifty years of basketball legends including Coach Chuck Daly and owner Bill Davidson from the Pistons who had both recently died and had been inducted into the Hall of Fame. We reminisced about real old-timers like Bill Russell and ex-Piston-now-Detroit-mayor Dave Bing, who now has his toughest job, trying to keep Detroit from economic extinction. We talked about the Zollner Pistons from Fort Wayne, Isiah Thomas and Joe Dumars, listened to video tape of boisterous ex-University-of-Detroit-and-ex-Piston-coach and now ESPN announcer Dick Vitale, who with Bill Davidson, was elected last year to the hall. And we witnessed the huge poster of Michael Jordan, stretching his long arms along two walls. Jordan will join the hall on September 11th, when he is finally elected to the 2009 Hall of Fame.

            After basketball, we jogged back down I-91 south and wound our way with the help of the GPS to the little old house of the Lock Museum of America in Terryville (which could be called “nowwheresville”), Connecticut. Only open four days a week from 1:30-4:30pm, we had to time it just right and we did. An old lady who had worked for GM when it had a plant in Connecticut was the only one working at the Lock Museum. She played us a tape recorded message that led us from one cabinet of old cabinet locks to another of safe deposit locks and another of rim locks, bit keys, mortise locks, and then to a cabinet of 150-year-old padlocks from Eagle and Wilson Bohannon (whose owner, Dick Tway, was a great friend of my dad before his sudden death 20 years ago.)

            The Museum, though small, was still impressive in its scope of products from old companies in Connecticut that made locks and hardware, such as Sargent, Corbin, and Yale (all owned now by the international conglomerate, Assa Abloy,)  Stanley, and many no longer in existence. Much of the museum can only be appreciated by people like my dad and I who worked in the lock business for much of our lives. It resembles a small Henry Ford Museum with lots of old, cool stuff but in the size of Motown’s little Hitsville USA on Grand Boulevard.

            From the Lock Museum, I entered the address in the GPS of the Baseball Hall of Fame in Cooperstown, NY. I turned down the wrong street at first and the GPS “recalculated” the new directions through the sloping tree-lined streets of Connecticut to the rolling hills off the highway on the Massachusetts Turnpike through the winding roads along the lakes in midstate New York, and then along beautiful Lake Otsego to the main street in Cooperstown. The ride lasted over three hours but the scenery made it seem quicker than it was.

            We arrived at the Baseball Hall of Fame around 6 p.m. amidst a pretty large crowd outside the front entrance. We looked at all the plaques of the Hall of Famers and talked about local favorites George Kell, Al Kaline, Ty Cobb, and Hank Greenberg. Hank Aaron and Babe Ruth had their own special commemorative rooms while Barry Bonds and Pete Rose were found on a couple of lists but besides that, you wouldn’t know that these two were record breakers. What was special about walking through the Hall of Fame was getting a sense of over 100 years of baseball history and remembering moments that some of these legends triggered. I heard once again about my father’s memories of different ball players and what Hank Greenberg meant to Detroiters and Jews alike.

We both remembered the 1971 All Star Game, the only All Star Game we ever attended, and the last All Star game at Tiger Stadium (the other two were in 1941 and 1951 when it was called Briggs Stadium.) It turned out to be the only game the American League won between 1962 and 1983 and it was decided, 6-4, with home runs. In fact, six home runs altogether were hit by future Hall of Famers Willie Stargell, Johnny Bench, Harmon Killebrew, Hank Aaron, Reggie Jackson, and Roberto Clemente in his final All-Star Game at-bat (against Detroit Tiger Mickey Lolich who was awarded the save that day). Lolich, Kaline, Bill Freehan, and Norm Cash, all Detroit legends from the 1968 World Series Championship, played and helped create an indelible memory for those who saw the game. But what was most memorable to me at age 14 was the towering home run from Reggie Jackson that climbed way over my head in the right field stands and ended up hitting a light standard on the roof of the stadium, estimated to be 520 feet from home plate.

My father took more digital photos while he told me more baseball memories. After two hours or so, we left and wandered along Lake Otsego and ate at a restaurant right along the water. When he left, darkness had descended and we were dependent on the GPS to take us to the Utica Red Roof Inn. We went on the darkened back roads, through farm lands, and one lane highways and somehow an hour later, after a couple of wrong turns and recalculations, finally landed at our destination.

The next morning, we headed to Canastota, right off the New York Throughway, and parked outside the International Boxing Hall of Fame, which comprises two separate buildings along the interstate. We waited in our car until someone opened the door and had the place pretty much to ourselves. Once again, I learned about a sport that was huge before World War II and stayed pretty strong until the ‘70s and petered out after Mike Tyson. But who can forget Ali-Frazier, Sugar Ray Robinson and Leonard or the Raging Bull (which I only knew from the Scorsese-DeNiro movie)? Detroiters remember Tommy Hearns and know the legend of Joe Louis. Joe was the one athlete who had made African Americans and Detroiters proud and then against Max Schmeling, he united the entire United States, black and white, in its quest to defeat a man who was a hero of Hitler and Nazi Germany. I snapped a photo of my dad in front of the Joe Louis exhibit.

The Boxing Hall of Fame displayed its proudest possession, the actual boxing ring from Madison Square Garden used for every fight there between 1925 and 2007, including the legendary Championship fight (still called “the fight of the century”) between undefeated Joe Frazier and undefeated Muhammed Ali on March 8, 1971. My dad and I sat and watched the replay of the entire fight right outside the actual ring. We couldn’t remember beforehand that Frazier persevered that night but lost the next two fights to Ali in 1974 and in Manilla in October, 1975, when I started college. As we watched the intense fight on the monitor between Ali and Frazier, I tried to remember if we watched it together in the living room in our Livonia house on Rensellor, when I was 14 and my dad only 39, 13 years younger than I am today. I just couldn’t remember.

After the Boxing Hall of Fame, it was time to head to Syracuse and visit our Syracuse branch. We were in a meditative frame of mind when we spent a few hours with John, Kelly, and Tracy at the branch and later, became tired after all the driving, walking, and talking and as my father mentioned, his 77-year-old energy level was not it was a decade or two ago. When we got back to the motel, we walked down the Utica street to a local restaurant and ate outside on its patio. The temperature was a perfect 78, the breeze was comforting, and the food and wine we shared was a nice way to cap a memorable trip.

After we left from the Albany airport the next morning, I began remembering other trips my father and I took together. I remembered traveling with my mother and sister to California a couple of times to visit my three aunts and their families, once on a two-day train trip that kept us up almost the entire trip as we were seated right next to the railcar door which was open and loud the entire trip. As I drifted off, my dad had my iPod and was listening to some my classical music and softer songs. While he had his headphones on, I vaguely remembered Pointe Pelee in Canada, Kensington Lake, Toronto, and the trip to Nippersink in Wisconsin with Kenny, Leslie and my parents, a tough trip because Kenny was sick with stomach aches and vomiting. I remembered going with my dad to NLSA (National Locksmith Supplier Association) conventions, some with my sister, brother, and mom, and some without. Only my father and I went to NLSA in Las Vegas just a week before the accident but my memories of that trip were hazy and disjointed, almost completely severed and replaced by the tragedy of July, 1982.

Over the last few years, my dad and I traveled a few times together on “work trips” to check on the branches but we didn’t take time to do anything personal for ourselves. Although I remembered the guilt he felt remembering how he chose meetings at NLSA instead of going to Disneyworld with my mom, Leslie, Kenny, and me, I really wasn’t much better. I dutifully went to the conventions and IDN meetings and for many years, missed Judy’s birthday and our anniversary, simply because the meetings fell on those days. When I finally asked if the meeting dates could be changed, they were.

“Ask and you will receive,” the popular saying says. I asked if I could stay home with my wife for her birthday and anniversary and it finally happened and now, I make sure to actually take the days off work to be with her. I asked to travel once more with my dad to visit the sports memories of our past and I received it. When we came back home from our trip, my sister who was visiting my parents asked if I could bring Judy and the girls to celebrate my father’s birthday a week early before she, Bruce, and Karenna had to return to Columbus. I said okay and we shared a gift that Judy, Leslie, and my mom purchased when we were gone.

My dad opened up his new iPod Touch, the newfangled music gadget that has all the latest bells and whistles. He was excited to download all of his CDs and other music on it so he could listen at home, when walking, or when traveling. But when he couldn’t figure out exactly how to work the iPod Touch (as Marlee warned), he exchanged it for an iPod Nano and now, he’s content. (And so is Apple, capturing three generations of consumers.) So if my dad and I ever get a chance to travel together again, I will bring my old iPod Classic given to me from my youngest daughter after she got an iPod Touch and he will bring his new iPod Nano and we will listen to our favorite music, together, but apart.

I know we may not travel together again but we will always have Cooperstown and Springfield and Canastota and Terryville. We will always have the photos. We will always have our memories of Greenberg, Morris, Isiah, Ali, Louis, and Bing. We will always have the memories of working together, the successful times and the exasperating ones. We will always have the memory of watching Boy Interrupted together and sharing stories about my family, the aunts and uncles and grandparents and cousins and brother. I will always have my father’s stories and he will always have the knowledge that his oldest son wanted to spend a few days with him, just the two of them, before it was too late.

I don’t have to regret forgetting one of my “one of these days.”

Nor will I ever forget how lucky I am to have my father.

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

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