December 22, 2010

Memory Lane

On my desk sits a framed photograph of the baseball team my grandfather managed. "They're all dead now!" Mom might exclaim in the perpetual surprise we all feel at the brevity of life. A tree stands in the background which, perhaps, has escaped the ravages of time and bulldozer.

The team looks full of half-familiar faces. Hamilton, Ohio seemed so large and impersonal back when I was growing up; now it seems smaller and more insular. Looking in the high school alum magazine, one sees the same pattern of names. Doing genealogy research one sees the same continuity backwards.

The picture was likely taken in the early 1900s and Grandpa himself looks Jewish, what with the prominent nose and smallish height. I've always thought he had a most distinctive face despite the rather commonplace combination of Irish and German forebears. His dark eyebrows flare up high off the eyes and his cheeks are clearly delineated from his mouth and nose. Perhaps it was just that he was still "close to the boat" to look too Americanized, since his mother was an immigrant from southwest Germany.

German immigrants of the 19th century were notorious for being “good drinkers”. They were the opposite of the Irish, whose example provided much of the impetus for the costly experiment of Prohibition. The Germans were industrious and upstanding despite their penchant for beer and Grandpa took after that side, not having the problem with it his Irish father had.

He wears a uniform with an "H" on his chest, surely signifying "Hamilton". I wonder now if he ever felt the outsider, being a Catholic in the public school system when that was rare. Or as an athlete but a small one, someone who had to rely on a certain amount of stealth and skill rather than raw brawn.

Always a lover of sports, I didn't realize, growing up, that he was so good at them, that he wasn't just a spectator. He had “played the game” to paraphrase Howard Cosell...

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