Sunday, September 3, 2017

Along the Way-- The Mick

He stood bigger than life in the eyes of every child who'd ever heard his name. He'd always smiled at the kids as he autographed baseballs, golf balls, bats, and more. I stood near my father watching the commotion around us. Even though Mickey Mantle was nearly a household name for every American child in the 50's, seeing him in person and knowing his family made it special for many of us kids growing up in Ottawa County. 
My father, Johnie Stapp, with Mickey Mantle about 1956

One day he and his twin brothers, Roy and Ray, along with other Yankee players showed up at the Miami Country Club to play golf. It must have been in the summer because there were many people swimming, who suddenly jumped out of the pool and began to gather around the large and loud group of men. What I recall and what the facts are sometimes become twisted, but that day with a gallery of people we watched "The Mick" hit a tee ball off the first tee and fly it over the green (a par 4 about 360 yards), across Elm street behind the golf course, and into the fenced horse stalls owned by Mr. Lou Newell.  The gallery roared and the teasing and bets were on. "Johnny Dial" was the stud horse owned by Lou Newell, and for only a moment someone worried that he might have hit the horse, which made the golf shot even more lavish to retell.

My memories of Mickey seem quite colorful, when I recall my dad coming home from work sharing episodes of the days when Mickey and his friends came to the club to get away from the crowds and feel at home.  Billy Martin, Mantle's manager, asked my dad to give him golf lessons. Dad suggested that Martin come back often,  "so we can get that slice fixed." Martin just laughed. 

The Yankee players who came to Miami along with Mickey, George Coleman, and other celebrities sometimes played what dad called "destruction derby" with the golf carts.  I'm sure it wasn't what my dad liked to see, but Mickey and his friends always paid for the damage they imposed, and the men loved to retell the stories.  

Along the way, decades pass and memories grow fuzzy. This summer on my way to a golf tournament in Joplin, Missouri, along with my friend Kay Dalke, we took a sideways trip along old Route 66, and stopped at the Dobson Museum in Miami so I could take care of "burden and worry" that wouldn't leave my mind. As I talked about my problem with Jordan Boyd, Kay noticed the display on Mickey Mantle. Jordan suggested we locate the Mantle home a take a peek at history along the way to Joplin. 

With map in hand we headed north on Route 66 to
find his Commerce home.  Kay regaled me with her love of baseball and childhood family memories. Her grandmother's brothers were Paul and Lloyd Waner from Harrah, Ok. They are both in the National Baseball Hall of Fame. The Baseball Hall of Fame treated her family as special guest when they visited. She, like so many of us, remembers meeting Mickey Mantle, so finding his home was very special to both of us.

We were humbled by his small home. The plaque read: At the age of 5 or 6 his father started teaching him how to hit, they used the tin barn as their backstop. Mutt, his father (a miner) would pitch righty and Mick's grandfather would pitch lefty while teaching him the fine art of switch hitting....

Kay said, "Seeing Mickey Mantle's home was so exciting. It is hard to imagine the life of simplicity some of the greatest athletes of our lifetime have come from." 

Along the way, there's just so much to see and think about.   

Thursday, August 17, 2017

August Heat

It was a hot and sweltering night when the winds shattered the
summer silence. The thrashing limbs battered the roof as I sat glued to my book, lost in the mystery of who murdered Julia.  

"Get away. I'll toss the kid over." Bean was suddenly thrust into space, and the murderer barely holding on. Even with the tape over the child's mouth Beauvoir could hear the scream.

Then lights flashed inside and out and our house went dark but not quiet.  Rain and winds pounded the roof while I searched for my cell phone. At last I felt my phone and flashed a glimmer of light into the air. The dog bounced and whined in fear of the storm. Finding flashlights, I placed them in various rooms. 

The book had dropped to the floor in the excitement. I really wanted to know the name of the murder. I'm not beyond cheating on a book to find out who done it.  Taking a deep breath in frustration and exhaustion, I declined to cheat and savour the moment the next morning.  I crawled into bed and said goodnight world. Nearly four hours later the lights awoke us, I stared at the book and wisely returned to bed. 

Telling Jack the story the next day made us both laugh.  Such timing for the plot and the real storm to come together. Yet, I discovered in life that things occur that you simply can't explain.

It's been a summer filled with opportunities to meet new friends, to travel, spend time with friends from years past, to find peace in my heart as we approach a date marking eighteen years since I last hugged my parents, and a time to inwardly touch my mother's heart and say thank you, Helen, for saving Katy's life when a car ran the intersection and T-boned her.  

Like a character in the book A Rule Against Murder, I've learned to count my blessings each day, and say Thank You. 

Thursday, July 27, 2017

Readings and Greetings: Delightful, Delicious, and Dangerous

My husband and I both enjoy warm summer evening on the patio.  Fresh cheeses, berries, a variety of crackers, and a bottle of wine create a delightful summer atmosphere, even when the temperatures are soaring. Summer is our season, when we may ache from too much golf or gardening, but our muscles are not stiff, tight, or sore from the cold. 

Lately, I’ve been coming home from La Baquette with fresh light croissants filled with buttered calories that bring a smile to my lips or a fresh baguette.  Finally, my husband asked me, “Why the sudden interest in croissants and baguettes?”

Without a moment of reflection I laughed, “Hah! Blame it on Louise Penny and Inspector Gamache.”

“Oh, is this another French or Canadian mystery you’ve been devouring like chocolate mints?”

I smiled sheepishly. “Yes, the rich meals served by Gabri and Olivier at the Bistro in Three Pines are described like fresh honey from the hive. I can nearly taste the crisp baguette, smeared thickly with pate, as the characters indulge themselves in the foods.”

Later that evening I interrupted Jack’s television viewing to read from Louise Penny’s The Cruelest Month. Standing in the doorway to his computer room, I announced,  “Here is the type of description I’ve been reading for the last six months.”  Placing his computer on the floor and smiling at me, like do I have a choice, I began to read.

Just then Olivier appeared with their dinner…Gamache’s coq au vin filled the table with a rich, earthy aroma and an unexpected hint of maple. Delicate young beans and glazed baby carrots sat on their own white serving dish. A massive charbroiled steak smothered in pan-fried onions was placed in front of Beauvoir. A mound of frites sat on his serving dish.
Beauvoir could have died happily right there and then, but he’d have missed the crème brulee for dessert.

“Sounds rather heavy for a summer meal.”

“It’s not summer in this story it is during a blizzard in Three Pines, near Montreal, Canada.” I explained still standing in the doorway to his man cave.

“It does sound like a meal Pat French would prepare for us in her restaurant in Eau Claire."

"Yes, even the name of her restaurant, The French Press, is appropriate” The French Press

“Yes, it does. I think she’d like these books, too.”  I stepped back out of the doorway and reached for the phone to text her, but instead ended up on my computer writing about the foods and good reads.

Louise Penny touches our senses with emotions and teases our intellect, as we listen to Inspector Gamache question then listen as the characters share their stories. Always showing patience, always attentive Gamache listens for what others might miss. He gets to know each character surrounding the mystery, while the reader seems to be listening and looking over his shoulder. When he trips in the dark, the reader stumbles too. Just as the mystery begins to unfold for me, there’s another twist, and I’m sent back to rethink the clues over and over.    

I’ve skipped around reading Penny’s books, beginning with the A Great Reckoning. Each book is a standalone, but after reading several out of sequence I decided to go the beginning and start through the series correctly. I’m so glad I did because now I know more about the poet, Ruth Zardo, and her pet duck.  Her poetry is blunt, rough, and painful to read sometimes, but she is such a powerful character I can’t help but want to get to know her better.

Then last week I picked up a new book by mystery writer Donna Leon called Earthly Remains. It is book twenty-six in her mystery stories about Commissario Guido Brunetti set in Venice and the surrounding islands. As I’ve read today I felt myself carried to the luguna where Davide, a caretaker keeps his bees. Over a two week period, as Brunetti relaxes away from his demanding job as a detective, he and Davide row daily in the fresh air and waters around Venice.  Like Inspector Gamache, Brunetti is served fresh summer meals from the Mediterranean Sea. A platter of fresh shrimp, baby octopus, mussel, clam, canocchie (mantis shrimp), latticini de sepia (cuttlefish eggs) is served with olive oil, fresh baked breads and a bottle of wine.

Then Davide, who has become a friend to Brunetti goes missing, and the clues begin to fall in place, as the mystery unfolds.

Reading makes it so simple to escape my surroundings, and imagine another moment in time. After spending a day or two rowing near Venice on the Mediterranean, I plan to serve boiled shrimp, melted butter, fresh garden tomatoes, and a buttered croissant for dinner tonight.

I find that books are simply delightful, fresh foods delicious, and so much more fun when served with intrigue, danger, and mystery.

*Food for thought:  a Maple Bacon loaded scone with maple syrup, crispy bacon chunks and drizzled with maple frosting served with hot tea or coffee from The French Press