Friday, April 14, 2006

Memories of '68, Part 4 (Parting Shots)

1968 was the year I came to know first hand the meaning of the term cliché. I don’t think I knew the word, but I knew its meaning all to well. At the end of the year I’d grown tired of those cliché’s about winning and losing not being as important as how you play the game. By December, I’d had enough of losing and had not tasted winning nearly enough.

During the Spring of ’68, while the rest of the world was embroiled in riots, I spent my first season playing organized baseball. Our team could have been the original Bad News Bears (except that we were still all guys back then). I could hit, but my fielding sucked. We lost all our games except for the very last one when a team much better than us found out that a bunch of misfits who are mad can play with passion.

As summer came to a close, I entered the sixth grade at Bradley Creek Elementary. It was my last year at the school I’d attended since we moved to the area the summer before I began fourth grade. The two story brick building had been built in the early 1900s to serve kids whose parents made their living on the water as fishermen or in the small farms that sat inland. This was all changing by the time I came along. The school had expanded with an annex to the school that included the cafeteria and lower grades. It was surrounded by large live oaks draped in Spanish Moss. The trees provided shade and the moss gave the school an eerie feeling. Mrs. Graham, who didn’t have the colorful past of Mr. Briggs, or at least had never been a POW, was my teacher.

That fall, our attention turned to professional baseball. The St. Louis Cardinals were playing in the World Series and since their radio network covered the South, we were all fans. Billy wanted to pitch like Bob Gibson, Carl and I wanted to be as good in the field and at the plate as Curt Flood and Lou Block. Mark wanted to be as solid in the infield as Mike Shannon. All or at least many of the games were played in the afternoon. Several of us hid our nine-volt transistor radios in our school stuff so we could follow the action. We tried putting the earphones in, telling our teacher that we had hearing aides, which didn’t fly at all. Then we tried tricks like going to the coatroom or bathroom, catching up on the score and passing the information around. That tactic worked once, I think. But when Mark and I got on bus #6 to go home, we’d tune in and listen to the game.

The series went the full seven games. We got home right before the bottom of the ninth on the last game and quickly turned on the Black and White TV to watch the ending. The Detroit Tigers were up by four runs. St. Louis needed a miracle that they didn’t get. If my memory serves me well, the first two batters were quickly retired. Then Mike Shannon, the third baseman, got up. Not known as a power hitter, he slammed a ball over the outfield wall. It was the Cardinal’s only score, but a defiant slap. Detroit retired the next batter and the city that had more than enough bad news in 68, was the World Champions in baseball.

Since the baseball diamond wasn’t good to me, I decided that I’d try out for football. It was the first year they had little-league football in the county and that fall, I wore a Holsum Bakery uniform which, I didn’t know then, wouldn’t be the only time I’d wear their uniform as I’d work through college in the bakery. The Holsum football team was about as soft as white bread. Our first game we had a total of –14 offensive yardage! We went on to lose every game. Not only did we lose, I didn’t play that much and seldom had grass stains on my pants at the end of the game. I was just a runt and when your team is that bad and you don’t play much, it’s a killer for your confidence. I got to hate football and decided that I would skip the last game of the year and go instead with my scout troop to a camporee where we took the blue ribbon. At least with scouting, I felt like I was successful. Without my assistance, the team tied their last game, ending the season with seven losses and no wins and one tie.

As Christmas ’68 approached, I remember being glued to the TV watching the reports from Apollo Eight as they became the first from our planet to leave the earth’s gravitational pull and circle the moon. I don’t remember what I received for Christmas that year, but I know that after opening presents, we piled in the car for the three-hour drive to Moore County where my grandparents and aunts and uncles lived. After visiting them all and having dinner with my father’s parents, who gave me a Boy Scout hatchet, we stopped by the nursing home to see my great-grandmother Maples. She wasn’t doing well. There was talk about flu from Hong Kong going around. We drove back home that night, kind of sad. Christmas was often that way, you looked forward to it so much, but after it was over with, having the gifts just didn’t create the same excitement as wanting them. But there was something else that made this Christmas sad. We all sensed it.

We wound our way through the back roads of Eastern North Carolina, driving through Raeford and St. Pauls and Elizabethtown, all seemingly abandoned on Christmas night, except for the decorations. I peered into homes by the road and occasionally got Norman Rockwell glimpse of families sitting down for dinner or enjoying each other’s company. Christmas was coming to mean more than presents too me. I leaned back and looked out the rear mirror at the stars. Taurus the bull rose high overhead. Then I fell asleep and woke up the next morning in my own bed, my father having carried us in from the car the night before. I woke up to find my mother crying. My great-grandma Maples, the only grandmother she’d ever known, had passed away in the early morning hours. In the next few weeks, we’d make that drive back to Moore Country three times, for her funeral, for the funeral of one of her uncles and then for a great-grandfather on my dad’s side.

’68 ended on sad note and ’69 wasn’t starting any better.

Memories of '68. Part 3
Memories of '68, Part 2
Memories of '68, Part 1


  1. The Holsum football team was about as soft as white bread.

    For some reason, that sentence cracked me up :)

    Here via Michele.

  2. Very good post. I enjoyed reading that.

    Michele sent me.

  3. Yep, the '68 Detroit Tigers with Al Kaline, Denny McLain, Mickey Lolich, Norm Cash, Bill Freehan... to name a few.

  4. It is always hard to lose a relative, but Christmas must be the worst time in the world for that.

  5. Yes, Chrisstmas. The most awdul time of year to have to smile for the cmaera.

    Sage, I so sucked at baseball. To the extent that I opted for T-ball. And was immediately dubbed "pitcher." And then, inevitably, a grounder rolled right into the toe of my sneaker. I could have then saved some small part of the game by grabvbing the ball, but no -- I had the glove in front of my face just in case (as I always worried) it would fly straight into my forehead. Unfortunatey I did not see when the ball bounced off my toe and straight up, behind my glove, where it met with my teeth, and that was the sad and bitter end of my sad and bitter bout with beisból.

    Güten Tag!

  6. Holy crap, there are a lot of typos in the previous!! Careless!!

  7. How interesting to read your memories of that year. I was born in 69 (sorry, bet that's made you feel really old!!) so it's fascinating for me to find out about that era from such a personal perspective. I will go back and read your other posts on 1968.

    By the way, Michele sent me, although I have been here before and have now bookmarked you. Wonderful site. Love your writing.

  8. It is quite wonddreful to read your memories of a time long past...even the very sad memories...I will have to go back and read the rest of 1968...

    Here from Michele today!

  9. Just curious did you keep a journal back in 1968 or are these memories so deeply a part of you that you can still recall them in such detail?

    Sports often made me feel little and unwanted in my school years. Our family never played much sports so I never really really learned to play them. I was usually the last one chosen whey they were picking teams.

    Now we did know our Bible having been sent to Christian School and my parents holding devotions with us every evening. So when church held Bible quizes, everybody wanted me on their team then. :)

  10. Michelle, someday I'll have to post about making white "dough-maker" bread--that spongy stuff that isn't very good--which use to be the main bread staple down south.

    Thanks Joe.

    Karen, I knew you'd enjoy hearing about the Detroit win.

    Kenju, with my grandparents and great-grandparents--I had one die in November, one in December and four in January. Winter seems to be a bad time. (btw, I was blessed to know all four of my grandparents and five great-grandparents.

    ing, your baseball memories are great--pitcher in T-ball. My batting was always strong, but I was an average fielder...

    Kimbofo, you're not the first to make such a claim--in fact, many are younger than you...

    oldoldlady, you must remember '68? eh?

    Tim, no journal in the 5th and 6th, I started journaling at the end of my college years and have kept it up since--but many of these are clear. The one thing I had to look up was Mike Shannon's name, and I thought he played Short Stop, but was right about his last inning homer and when I heard the name, realized it was him. And the Apollo number I had to look up, but I remember them going around the moon at Christmas.

    Actually, as I started to write, more and more stuff came up in memory, some of which I later figured out didn't happen in '68, like building a soap box derby, which I've already written about so maybe I'll write about '69 next.

    Thanks ya'll.

  11. great post...
    Over from the other Michele's

  12. I love that you remember all of those little details from the baseball games so long ago. Baseball seems to have that effect on people. Sounds like it was a very bittersweet year in many ways. Michele sent me today.

  13. As usual, great post Sage-man. You must be looking towards the current baseball season ... your Cards look very strong.

  14. I also remember my little league baseball team. I played shortstop and like ypur team we lost more games than we won.

    Michele sent me.

  15. Hi, here by way of Michele's; I remember trying earphone tricks, too. Putting one in, then leaning against my hand "just so" to cover my ear, plus the dangling wire. I'm sure it never looked as casual and natural as I hoped and imagined.

  16. OMG I wish I had your memory....I can barely remember what happened yesterday :)

  17. It sounded like your sports teams started off slow and then tapered off! (My grandfather's favorite expression.)

    I started my journal after graduating from college but I always wished I had kept one all my life. It would have made for interesting reading now.

    I find myself referring to old high school annuals and doing internet searches to get years in order. I can't imagine what it will be like when I get older.

  18. I can remember the texture of the carpet in the house I lived in when I was four, but I can't remember where I parked my car. . .