I thought about my distant past for a good chunk of the rest of the day as I drove back from my favorite retired barber’s house outside Delphos on that early May day. Of course, to call Dan Grothaus my favorite retired barber is to do a disservice to a legion of other old fellas who also would refer to Dan in similar fashion.
Whenever I go see the man who goes by the ultimate occupational moniker, “The Barber,” to sit a spell in his man garage, a space surrounded by walls filled with the sports-related memories of his lifetime, especially, the photos that demonstrate, without question, his ultimate love of baseball and the Cleveland Indians, I usually leave thinking about the past. Like most old dudes, so very much of our confabulatory content involves the past, as in our shared acquaintances and favorite sports-related memories.
On that day, we were joined by another more mature fellow and self-professed baseball lover, Fritz Shafer, whose enthusiasm for the New York Yankees and especially for Mickey Mantle matches my own zeal for the same team and player of my youth. The Mick’s No. 7 even hangs on a chain around Fritz’s neck.
As we sat talking baseball and lamenting its having been put on pandemic hold, the conversation swung around to our youthful memories of collecting baseball cards. Fritz, being the eldest in our threesome, spoke of their being but 16 Major League teams in the early ‘50s.
He spoke with pride in recalling a time he had the card of every team’s starting position player. Fritz recalled precisely the last card he needed, one that proved to be as elusive as Moby Dick was to Captain Ahab, but he finally managed to secure the card showing Cardinals’ second baseman Red Schoendienst, by trading a whopping 12 cards to a boyhood pal for the final piece to his baseball puzzle.
But then Fritz took his nostalgic trip back to his Harry S. Truman youth just one story too far, which, for those of you who know Fritz, isn’t that unusual. He began talking about his Schwinn-riding days and his doing what almost all boys who ever rode a bike used to do in far simpler times, which was to try to make that soundless mode of transportation into one that sounded like a motorcycle.
When Fritz said that to accomplish that goal, he used baseball cards affixed with clothespins attached to the spokes of the front and back wheels, Dan and I were aghast. We accused him of disrespecting the very game he professed to love by defacing the images of the heroes who took their positions in the field day after day for our entertainment. He tried to mitigate his crime by saying he only used doubles or triples, but we cut him no slack.
Listen, I told him, a true baseball lover would have done what I did a decade after Fritz’s Schwinn modification. In my JFK youthful years, I affixed the 10 of diamonds and the jack of clubs to the spokes, not, say a Don Drysdale and a Tito Francona, no matter how many of each card I had.
When Dan asked Fritz if he still had his cards (and I added sarcastically, at least the ones that weren’t flapped to death as he lifted himself off the seat to pump his legs harder to make the faux motor sound even louder), he lamented he’d lost them years later when his mother’s basement flooded and ruined the cards stored in a box on the cement floor.
Of course, I had to call Fritz out on that one as well. He violated the No. 1 rule when it comes to making sure your cards go with you when you cross the threshold into adulthood, and that is never assign custodial care of your cards to a mother! Despite the bounty of gifts our mothers provide, they are card killers.
Either by commission, by their not suppressing that desire to de-clutter the domicile, which compels them to throw them out, or by omission, by not having the Basement Doctor checking to ensure that sump pump will work when it’s needed, they have been responsible for the demise of more baseball cards than the number of little boys’ hearts that have been broken by pretty little girls.
As for my own card-collecting days, well, I treasure the memories of every trip to my go-to places to purchase those wax packs, CJ Zerante’s Carryout on the corner of Allentown and North Cole, and Grant’s Drugs on the far west end of the Westgate strip mall back in those pre-American and Lima Mall days.
I managed to keep them out of the hands of my sweet mother before misfortune befell them, so I can still, as I often do, look at them some six decades after I paid a nickel for every five along with, of course, that powdered slab of confection produced by Bazooka.
And, if I could only, similar to Dorothy’s Wizard of Oz, click my sneakers together and transport myself back from my 69th to my 9th year and stand clutching some coins in one hand and a pack or two of cards in the other before Mr. Zerante, who always insisted I call him CJ, my, what a happy little camper I would be.
John Grindrod is a regular columnist for The Lima News, a freelance writer and editor and the author of two books. Reach him at email@example.com.