As many do at this time, I think a lot about the year I’ve just banked — the brevity of it all, the highs and lows, those I’ve gathered and those I’ve lost along the way. And, when it comes to the latter, there were three in particular I think of the most, all inexorably linked to me during my childhood, yet, in the case of two of them, unknown to each other.
While I probably think more about my childhood than others who choose to stay firmly focused on the present, I thought of those times far more deeply on three occasions this past year. Of course, the first of the three was when I lost my childhood friend Jim Fry, as much a modern-day Peter Pan when it came to his reverence to the important matters of childhood as anyone I’ve ever known, and someone I will miss every day until my fight is over.
The second time I had such strong thoughts of my youth came when Yogi Berra, one of my boyhood Yankees, passed away in September. It was his image I collected on baseball cards, and while he was certainly not my favorite Yankee of my youth, that honor, of course, reserved for Mickey Mantle, I think Yogi was the player I felt was the most real. He was short (his baseball card listed him at 5-foot-7) and looked a whole lot more like the men I saw while growing up on the 1500 block of Latham than, say, a Mantle, who seemed deity to me. And, boy could that squat future Hall of Famer ever hit!
As the years passed and I learned to appreciate through reading about Yogi his patriotism and fidelity to family and his unassuming engaging personality and his penchant for saying seemingly contradictory things that contained far more truth than the inattentive ever gave him credit, my admiration grew for him.
But, when I read of another passing of someone from my youth shortly before Thanksgiving, I realized that my favorite Yogi would forever be the Yogi of my youth, the one who stared back at my from my Topps baseball card.
What triggered that realization was when I saw the obituary of Quentin Maxfield. I instantly recognized the picture that accompanied the last piece of prose written exclusively for him, the prose that tried feebly, as obituaries always seem to do, to summarize a life well lived, especially one that spanned 93 years.
Mr. Maxfield was a big part of my childhood and remains in my mind linked to Yogi Berra because Maxfield’s Pharmacy, on Cole Street just south of Allentown Road, was where I got my first Yogi Berra card. His pharmacy was right beside the barbershop where I was taken to freshen up a ‘cut known as a pineapple, one where the clippers would shear off the rest of my hair while leaving a short longer section in front that was swept off to the side.
Following the twice-a-month haircuts, my dad and I would leave and always stop at one of the two places that book-ended the barbershop. Around the corner facing Allentown was CJ’s Carryout, run by CJ Zerante, and Mr. Maxfield’s Pharmacy was on the other side of the barbershop facing Cole. The establishment to which we went depended on whether my dad needed a six pack of suds or a ‘script filled.
To me, it didn’t matter much because I knew my payoff would be the same. I would get to pick out a couple of packs of baseball cards. While Mr. Zerante was always more loquacious and chatted my father and me up, which I appreciated since the early 1960s were definitely times when most adults subscribed to the notion that children were best when they were seen but not heard, Mr. Maxfield, on the other hand, I remember as being far more reserved. I suppose that may have had something to do with the commodities the men sold. Mr. Zerante sold parties; Mr. Maxfield sold medicine.
As I look back on my youth, I think I sensed even then in my childish unenlightened times a sense of gentility about Mr. Maxfield. I learned by reading his obit that he ran his pharmacy from 1959 through 1993, in other words, from the time I was opening packs of Topps ball cards as an 8-year-old until the time I got my first over-the-hill gag gifts at a surprise 40th birthday party.
And, when I saw that local obituary just a short while after I read the national memorials of the Yankee catcher of my childhood, I connected the two, despite their being oblivious to one another, and had the same thought, one that comes tinged with the sadness of losing the anchors of my youth. To me, that’s the hardest part of aging.
Despite the fact that one donned a chest protector and wore a mask and catcher’s mitt in Yankee Stadium and the other, a white smock and stood behind a counter in a drug store on Cole Street, smiling down at a young boy with a newly fashioned pineapple tearing open that familiar blue-and-red Topps wrapper, there are just some people from my youth to whom it’s so hard to say goodbye.
John Grindrod is a regular columnist for The Lima News and Our Generation’s Magazine, a freelance writer and editor and the author of two books. Reach him at firstname.lastname@example.org.