I’m that Tired Guy, you know the one who cherishes a crisp, clear autumn day almost as much as a fine bowl of steaming clam chow-dah. I’m that Tired Guy, thrilled the Autumn Confluence is finally upon us.
Oh yes, the Fall season heralds to the world some of humankind’s greatest creations.
No, I’m not talking about cheerleaders, although they are a close second.
I’m talking about playoff baseball.
From an early age, I’ve been fascinated with sports. Growing up in Massachusetts I really didn’t have a choice. Between the dynasty that had hoisted 16 banners, the black and blue bruisers on skates, the Minute Men wearing shoulder pads or the snake-bitten boys of summer I had a wealth of entertainments from which to choose.
I blame both my dad and grandfather.
For years my dad picked up Doug and me on a Sunday morning, drive an hour or so through fifteen different towns until we arrived just before lunch time at my grandparents’ house in Sharon. After dispensing with the customary pleasantries and family traditions that included the obligatory “How are you doing in school?” interrogation from my grandmother, some really bad yet normally clean jokes provided by my grandfather and a gruff grunt of greetings from our ever loquacious uncle, my brother and I would descend like locusts upon my grandmother’s pantry and refrigerator with murderous intent.
(Ah, how I love the run on sentence! And that’s what’s so funny! I just fell victim to one of the classic blunders – the most famous of which is “never get involved in a land war in Asia”. But only slightly less well known is this: “Never go against proper grammar when food is on the line”!)
Armed with my grandmother’s homemade iced tea that never quite tasted the same each time we drank it, Doug and I happily dove into the glorious feast set before us. Gorged upon cold cuts, egg or bulkie rolls, cheese, mustard, mayo, Pringles chips, the occasional pickle and, of course, a bowl of Lipton’s ring noodle soup we then retired to the living room. The area was spartan at first impression, a long couch set against the equally long window separated by a coffee table and small love seat and anchored on one end by a squat color television and the other by my grandfather’s recliner. Sprinkled throughout were small frames on mantles or end tables bearing fond memories of the past: young cheerful gap-toothed grins and curly-haired curmudgeons from days long gone.
And there we gathered, each taking our accustomed places as decreed by the unwritten Hartog Accords passed down through the ages since Sports began. Our attentions were focused upon the colored face of the wooden box from which sound and light issued forth bearing news of the heroic deeds performed by mighty Titans known as Bird and Grogan, Evans and McHale, Hasselbeck (will bring us back!) and Rice.
For hours we were transfixed by their adventures, hearts upon our sleeves as we all glared, cajoled, cried, shouted and cheered our heroes to victory. At some point my father would retire to his basement room for a nap, both my grandfather and I nodded off, he upon his chair and me stretched out on the couch with a novel loose in my hands leaving Doug the sole custodian of the television and the ultimate responsibility of pulling for the good guys.
Hours passed and we’d all awaken refreshed, ready to finish the final two acts of our Sunday.
The first would be the choice of dinner, ranging anywhere from D’Angelo subs to KFC buckets to Canton House chinese food to the ultimate delicacy: Town Spa pizza!
What a wicked game you play
To make me feel this way
What a wicked thing you do
To make me dream of you
Arguably the finest pizza I have ever tasted, small circular shells of finely crafted cheese and sauce, dough and love. Oh how I miss thee Town Spa! My grandfather would drive us to the old pizza joint, and we’d go to the bar next door to play some pinball while we waited for our order to be ready. After a few tries at the old pinball machine achieving scores in the high five to six hundreds, we’d scurry quickly back to Town Spa. In the small antechamber that housed the designated takeout area patrons would mill about all anxious to carry the cardboard treasures home to their respective families. When the name “Harry!” was brazenly announced from the kitchen like the clarion cry of a thousand trumpets my grandfather swept forward triumphantly and laid claim to our prize. Homeward bound, the car’s interior was engulfed by the delicious blended aromas of italian spices, melted cheese, tomato sauce, hamburger and mushrooms.
(Editor’s Note: The Town Spa pizza to which I refer is circa 1989 and earlier before they moved the restaurant to Washington Street. After that, the pizza was decent enough…but never quite captured the essence of the original.)
Back at my grandparents’ house the poor pizzas met their timely demise amidst discussions of the earlier games and the usual outcry of non-mushroom lovers (and you know who you are!) mercilessly castigating my grandfather and I for adoring such a delicacy adorning our pizza.
Once the last piece disappeared, it was time for the Final Act of our Sunday: cribbage.
Some would describe this merely as a card game.
But to us…ohhhhhhh this was all about blood, guts and glory!
We competed in earnest, I with my lucky pillow in my lap, Doug seated upon the coffee table, and my grandfather nestled in the corner of the couch. We kept a running tally of wins for posterity…and bragging rights. There would be the familiar jokes and jabs, clever plays and setups and from time to time the triumphant exclamation from my grandfather when the points in the crib exceeded those in his hand as he gleefully moved his peg around the cribbage board.
In the end Doug and I learned strategy, math, gamesmanship and sportsmanship.
And above all that, we simply enjoyed spending time with family.
Many years have passed since those halcyon days. There’s a lot less hair on the dome, and thin silver threads have grown where none had been seen before. I now have two little boys whose adventures are just beginning, and don’t think I won’t be teaching them how to play cribbage when they’re old enough to learn.
Those lost Sundays resonate within me still and while the longing for Town Spa pizza and a few rounds of cards may have diminished with distance and time, the cherished memories spending Sundays with my Dad and grandparents will never disappear.