Living into old age gives us the gift of a deep memory bank. For years we have stored memories there without understanding that our brains are advanced computers. We live in the present and summon memories without ever having to click a button. Sometimes a memory is triggered by a sight, a sound or a conversation that hits the access button to something long forgotten and that memory jumps alive from the bank.
It happened to me last week during my old age move from country land to an in-town apartment. The downsizing was a real ordeal. Along with many things I had loved, I left my baseball glove for the garage sale. What would I do with it in a 5th floor apartment in the town of Red Bank at the age of 84?
Still, it made me sad about something I hadn’t thought about for years. When I was about eight, my father said one day, “Joanie, you must never throw a baseball like a girl.” And so my training began, first with my father, then his father, my grandfather, who spent hours throwing with me, coaching me – “sideways always, Joanie, girls always face forward and look so silly.” I was the oldest of eight grandchildren by at least six years so I was the one who was chosen to be a baseball player. I loved it.
Whenever Grandpa came to visit, we spent a lot of time throwing and catching. He took me to the Polo Grounds to watch the Giants when they were still a New York team. “Watch Mel Ott, Joanie.” And whenever Mel Ott came to bat he did that little square movement with his lower leg that everyone loved as they roared their approval.
Whenever Grandpa and I were together on game days, we sat side by side on the couch and listened to the Giants game on the radio while he explained things. When I turned eleven during the early years of the war, my father and I weeded the vegetable garden, commonly known as a “victory garden,” while the Giants game blared from the portable radio that sat on the dirt and unfolded to my father’s running commentary.
I played hardball whenever I could, softball when I had to. I was lucky enough to play in two schools where girls played hardball. It was rare then. At boarding school first baseman Ruth Cummings and I often smiled in the certainty that neither of us would ever drop the ball. At Vassar, on Founder’s Day I pitched in the game that day. It was little, but enough. I knew I didn’t throw like a girl.
One day when I was 70 something, Mayor Charlie Rooney of Seabright called to ask if I would entertain a houseguest of his while he performed some mayoral duties. The guest was Dolores Dries – MVP pitcher for the AAGPBL – the All-American Girls Professional Baseball League – now honored at Cooperstown’s baseball Hall of Fame. If you don’t remember the Rockford Peaches or Bill Allington’s touring team in the early ‘50s, you may have seen the movie A League of Their Own that featured Dolores Dries, or “Peaches” as she was known.
Peaches arrived at my house and we talked baseball for a good while until finally I blurted, “Peaches, could we go outside and have a catch?” There it was. We stopped at her car and she opened the trunk and there, alongside a small backpack was a baseball glove and next to it a pistol. After retiring from baseball Peaches had become New Jersey’s first police woman.
We walked up to the field with our gloves and began to throw – gingerly at first – she testing me – then faster and harder until each of us was laughing with pleasure, and then she said it and I won’t ever forget it: “You could have played with us in Rockford.” That’s all she said and it was all I needed after all those years. My grandfather would have been so proud.