The Babe and the Boys
A Father's Day Memory
by M.L. Faunce
It's 10am at Lexington Market, in Baltimore, when I order a regular crabcake at the John W. Fraidley seafood counter. "The lump is better," I'm told, but I stick with the regular, a cake made from "special" grade crabmeat. Served on saltine crackers, it's deep fried and hot when I take my plate to a standup table to devour the delectable taste of the Bay.
On a hot, summer morning in Baltimore, so much can satisfy the soul, stir the memory.
I've come to Baltimore for more than summer pleasures. I've come to trace some family history recalling another summer day, now some three-quarters of a century ago. Then, on a warm afternoon in August of 1922, my dad's stepmother took him and his younger brothers, Henry and George, for a trip to the beach. Or at least that's what she told them as they pulled away from their home on N Street in Georgetown in Washington, D.C.
Their stepmother, Thelma, was an eccentric artist with slight interest in the ways and wonders of three young boys who had lost their own mother in the Spanish Flu epidemic. Instead of sand and sun and water, the boys found themselves at the doorstep of St. Mary's Industrial School, as far away as lads could be from a mother's love. When the gates clanked shut behind them, the imposing building ahead, it was a summer day they would not soon forget.
But some of the details would be forgotten over the years. Recently, my Uncle George, the only brother still living (he was six at the time) recalled that they went by streetcar and not automobile. "The old lady put us on board herself," according to his memory.
But what the brothers all remembered with clarity was the effect Babe Ruth had on their lives at St. Mary's. George Herman Ruth, a Baltimore waif but not an orphan, had preceded them at St. Mary's. From the time he was seven until he turned 19, from 1902 until 1914, and before he was called 'the Babe,' Ruth lived at the school. The Jesuits running the school became his family, his fathers, and St. Mary's the place he called home.
After Ruth left St. Mary's, he returned often to see 'the boys.' By then, they were his family, too. My dad recalled visits by the man who was a gentle giant around kids who were a lot like him, all members of a special club none had sought to join. "He'd reach in his pocket and press quarters in our hands," my dad once told me. "It made us feel like a million bucks."
Over the years, I've searched for clues to my dad's life, on summer days through the streets of Georgetown and Baltimore, not because this history was unknown to me, but to keep a connection that is forever a strength, constantly a gift.
Sometimes bits and pieces of my father's life come back in unexpected ways. Like finding my dad's grandfather's grave and pausing while the clerk read from a yellowing page now almost a century old. "Buried extra deep. Refused to pay balance," the record read.
Apparently, my dad's stepmother, Thelma had gotten into a quarrel with the cemetery. Expecting to be charged for the long-overdue balance, inexplicably I began telling the story of my dad and his brothers and St. Mary's. I probably even mentioned 'the Babe.' A kindly face studied me carefully, then asked, "how did they turn out?"
"My dad and his brothers? Fine," I replied. "Just fine."
As I ended my summer day in Baltimore, I thought about the brothers who turned out to be loving fathers, family men to the hilt. Big men with big hearts and gentle ways, all. And I thought about 'the Babe,' who had made them feel like a million bucks for just a quarter.
| Issue 24 |
Volume VII Number 24
June 17-23, 1999
New Bay Times
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