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Early Morning Trades

June 7, 2015

“In the summer, the song sings itself.”

– William Carlos Williams

When I was a kid, summer days lasted forever. The summers themselves flew by in a blink of an eye.

There wasn’t a lot of to-the-minute structure to these amazing days, but there was a lot of order. Weekdays had their own special rhythm for kids in the neighborhood. I was up early for my Chicago Tribune and Sun-Times paper route and by the time I was back home, caught up on the baseball standings and the box scores and stories from the day before. The papers were also my window to the world, where I read about Vietnam, race riots and burning cities, unrest on college campuses and all sorts of crazy things.

We were greeted by a sound summer breakfast of juice, boxed cereal, berries and toast. Boxes of boxed cereal. My parents called it “cold cereal.” When they said “hot cereal,” we knew they were talking about oatmeal or any of the others they would make at the stove. Here at the breakfast table, we’d get a preview of the day’s chores – cut the lawn, pull weeds, take out the garbage, vacuum, wash dishes, and other harmless chores.

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I love oatmeal, but in all the years I’ve eaten it, I don’t remember bonuses like this with “hot cereal.” One of my older cousins had the good sense to cut this from a “cold cereal” box and then years later, gave it to me.

Some days however, these simple duties seemed just so excessive. After all, summer was meant for lots and lots of neighborhood activity and just how could we squeeze in the hour for that unreasonably long list of chores?

Lawn cutting days could be pretty brutal, because the lawns were so thick and the grass was so long. Summer meant rain and hot muggy days, which was perfect weather for plush turf. Not so good for yard work. Lawns defiantly laughed at the skinny kids pushing the mowers up and down the neighborhood lawns.

The mower would disturb the mosquitoes in the lawn and aggressive swarms would buzz and land on us from head to toe. Sweat pouring off our faces and bodies, we’d dutifully complete our task, but oh how good it felt to finish and park the mower in the garage for another day. I remember some would try to make their parents’ yards feel like the grass you’d see on a golf course. Me? I got through it sometimes imagining I was preparing the infield at Wrigley Field.

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J was a White Sox fan. These two players were on the team back then. Tommy John was an All-Star pitcher who was the first player to have an injured elbow reconstructed in a way that allowed him to pitch again. The surgery is now a rite of passage for major league hurlers. Carlos May was also a good player. When he was 21, the military tried to make him a soldier in the reserves, where he accidentally blew off his thumb with one of their guns.

Even though the morning was the coolest part of the day by far, I don’t remember a lot of getting after the lawns first thing. I don’t know why. I think some of it was that there was a simple common courtesy we had for the neighbors to not to run the engines so early. Now days, the leaf blowers and other loud landscaping equipment seem to start at 7:00 in the morning, without care or concern that someone may be trying to enjoy the morning birds and a little peace and quiet. There’s no way we would have thought about doing something like that. I was sensitive to a squeak in the wheels of the red Radio Flyer wagon I sometimes used for the paper route in the early morning. A lawn mower engine was out of the question. Besides, we were boys. Cutting the lawn in the afternoon with the hot sun beating on us gave us another reason to be indignant.

Plus, we had more important and pleasurable ways to enjoy that special part of the day. There was nothing better than planning our days sitting on the cool concrete of the front stoop. No cell phones, no text messages, no emails to make plans or make plans to make plans. It started with a simple knock on the screen door from one of my childhood chums. Often, I’d hear first from J, my buddy next door. We’d talk through the day’s hurdles and commitments – a flat bicycle tire, an afternoon paper route, the chores, little league practice – and then get on with filling up the rest. It was all pretty easy stuff, such as figuring out who would in the neighborhood would be available for the morning pickup games and where’d we play them. Life couldn’t have been any less demanding.

Neither of us were clasping a coffee cup and sipping with the hope of a new day. Crutches like that were far in the future. Nothing encumbered us back then. We were flat-out ready for every single one of those long summer days.

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Walt Williams was short, strong and fast. His nickname was “No Neck.” J used to laugh about that.

Sometimes, J had his baseball cards with him. His cards were always crisp, clean and well-organized. Years later, J’s same pride of ownership presented itself with his careful custody of the prettiest convertible I’ve ever seen. Maybe he’s still careful that way.

I’d bring out my cards and we’d go through our collections together. We were as fast as Las Vegas card dealers with those cardboard treasures. We could recognize the players effortlessly as we held the cards in our left hand and swiftly flipped through with our right thumbs and index fingers. Sometimes we’d trade, sometimes not. We’d sort them, read the statistics and blurbs on the back to each other and wonder how we’d ever complete our sets and whether it’d be better to buy from the 7-11, Ben Franklin’s Five and Dime or the drug store. They were both bicycle rides away, but in different directions. These were the kinds of things we thought about.

I won’t forget these and other childhood moments. They are as far away now as Lewis and Clark’s discoveries in the west or Edison’s experiments with electricity, but there’s something about them that’s left a lasting impression. I thought about the baseball cards recently when a fellow blogger asked me if I wanted to trade baseball cards. It caught me by surprise and I chuckled out loud when I read his suggestion. It’s been a long time since someone asked me that question.

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I knew there was a reason I kept these cards.

Gary Trujillo writes a lively MLB.com baseball blog titled Coco Crisp’s Afro. He keeps us current with Oakland A’s stories of the past and sprinkles in current season happenings as well. There is plenty of color with the Green and Gold and Gary is just the one to keep the chronicle. Gary recently wrote about former A’s pitcher Bob Locker, a player with whom I was mostly familiar because he was on the White Sox before he was traded to Oakland. Locker’s card once lay on the concrete stoop of my parent’s house. Gary is looking for a Bob Locker A’s card. I know where he can find one.

44 Comments
  1. What a wonderful post! Isn’t it funny how baseball cards create memories that are so much larger than the cards themselves? I treasured a Willie Mays card from late in his career. When the Giants traded him to the Mets, I was so distraught I took the card, scribbled out the GIANTS logo and wrote METS across the top. I felt so betrayed. But, I still have that card …

    Liked by 1 person

    • Betrayal of the highest order. I read that Mays was traded to the Mets to give him a chance to make a few more bucks before he retired. The Giants finances couldn’t afford a big sendoff deal, so they found a team who had the money and commitment to pay him a lot. I don’t know if this is the way it really happened or a post-event justification. Regardless, he was a Giant. Not a Met.

      Like

  2. Such a wonderful sense of nostalgia this post gives. Starting at the age of 12, I babysat full-time in the summers for cash, but I still had plenty of free time to bike all over town or head to the library to read, which was my sanctuary.

    I think my sons would agree with you about the summer chores, especially after they had to mow the lawn and vacuum today. Oh, and dust. But it’s good for them. 🙂

    Liked by 2 people

    • And dust? Now really, Carrie. Was that absolutely necessary? 🙂

      It’s amazing the my parents had to create these lists. One would think we would have figured it out on our own and just took care of these mundane things. But of course, that’s not something a parent wants to bank on.

      I was taught a strong work ethic. I wasn’t born with it.

      Liked by 1 person

      • Yes, we have to make those lists too. They don’t seem to want to do those things spontaneously. Can’t figure out why…

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  3. Great post Bruce! Put a big smile on my face. Oh those baseball cards were one of the most important treasures of our youth. We would pretty know almost every player on all the team’s roster back then. Yes I was a Sox fan #1, but I would still root for the Cubs. All those cards featured in your blog I believe we all had. Yes a cold lemonade with some PBJ”S and trying to figure out how to spend our summer days was some of the best. Bruce, I will always remember our days together growing up. I don’t think they could ever be repeated because they were a classic. Once in a lifetime. Now a days if a child gets on there bikes and would ride as far as we did in the summer the parents would get in trouble by the police. I guess they call that” Free Range Children” now. Riding to Ben Franklin to get penny candy & a packet of Topps Baseball Cards was what we enjoyed.

    Thanks Bruce,
    J.

    Liked by 2 people

    • Jim – so happy to hear from you. It means a lot to me. Those long summer days were the best. What good fortune to grow up in a safe suburb those many years ago. I’m glad that we did it together.

      I was a bit confounded this morning when I could not find my Walt Williams card(s). I had to sneak a photo from the internet for this blog or waste too much time around here trying to find the real deal. But yes, we had all these cards on today’s post. I reached into a box and took the photos this morning. For all I know, you traded them to me.

      As for the Cubs and Sox thing, I never understood why a kid couldn’t cheer for both. It took a little more effort to follow the White Sox because of the weaker TV signal. But that’s where the radio and newspapers came into play.

      Don’t be a stranger.

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  4. Wow! Amazing post! I stopped collecting cards in my late teens but just recently picked up the hobby again in order to get signatures from the older players who were long forgotten and may not be on this mortal coil much longer. I’m only a few autographs short of completing the 1969 Athletics.

    my address is:
    2419 W. Grand Ave
    Alhambra, Ca.
    91801.

    Please put your return address on there Bruce. I would like to send you a few cool items.

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  5. Great memories. I was blessed to grow up in a house with a small lawn in front and a smaller lawn in back. And an older brother. And, even more importantly, a mom who liked to mow the lawn.

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  6. What a lovely post Bruce. The carefree days of our youth leave such impressions on our hearts. Like you, I had the good fortune to grow up in a great neighbourhood, spending hours outside playing & riding our bikes. When I started reading about your baseball cards, I could almost taste the gum stick that came in the pack of cards!

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    • Hi Lynn – It was easy living, for sure.

      That gum had a unique smell, texture and taste. It was nothing like Bazooka or Dubl-Bubl (sp?).

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      • It did indeed Bruce. Kind of chalky:) Double Bubble was & is still the best!

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        • Ha! Here I was trying to give it some sort of catchy silly spelling. For some reason, that’s how I recall the package. It’s been a long time since I had some.

          Chalky. Yes, that’s a good description. Some of my cards from when I was a kid still have the marks left by the gum’s powder.

          Liked by 1 person

  7. I appreciate your writing. My summer days were long, too, in Minnesota.

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  8. Sounds ideal. A lot has been lost.

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  9. I spent most of my baseball days with right field closed since we could only muster enough boys for that and of course pitches hands were out.
    I recall when the boys of Lincolnwood Dr. challenged your crew to a series. It felt like the world series or at least a cross town classic. The results are still in dispute. Love the images and also the sounds that cannot be heard above a mower.

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    • Yes, the time would come when our little section of the town opened up to visiting teams from yours. Just how funny were some of those match-ups?

      Some of the best however were the simple pickup games over at the schoolyard. People floating in and out as they could in between their yard work and other chores at home, their mothers’ calls for lunch breaks, and trips to a nearby water hose. Many on the fly adjustments such as closing right field and “pitcher’s hand out” if there weren’t enough players. And calls for “just one more inning” as it got closer to dinnertime.

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    • Results are *still* in dispute??? You had the Heyer Boys on that Lincolnwood Drive team, GB…the only thing in dispute was which one of them would get hurt first! 😀

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  10. Richard Haus permalink

    Bruce, what a great post. My 9 yr old son has a few baseball cards now, and I remember collecting them, too. In fact they were an incentive from my mother to practice piano and go to lessons when I would rather have been out playing with friends!
    Also, even though I grew up in the Bay Area with its weather, the way you described Chicago area weather matched up perfectly to my one season spent there!

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    • Hi Rich – always good to see you here. It’s nuts that we haven’t had coffee in ages. Shame on us.

      Baseball cards as a bribe? I think you have stopped playing the piano. Maybe your mom wasn’t getting the luck of the draw with the good cards when she bought them. It was so hard to tell what cards a kid would find in those magic waxed packs.

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  11. “Summertime…and the livin’ was easy….

    Great memories BT, JS and GB (Although we clearly have to work on GB’s). Might be time to get the gloves out and settle this once and for all…

    Streamwood School…Saturday @ 9am sharp. “Be there, or be square…”

    Liked by 1 person

  12. Bruce, so much great observation and memory you share here. I have a really hard time remembering much detail about my childhood, but the way you write this jarred a few memories loose. Kind of off topic but I think the guy in the background of the Tommy John card is #35 Alex Monchak who according to Wikipedia is one of the oldest living former MLB players.

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  13. Steve, Thanks for bring attention to Alex Monchak’s cameo appearance. I thought for a second about researching who that was before I published the post, but I had already spent the blog post time budget and in fact, was over budget because I persisted in looking for my Walt “No Neck” Williams baseball card. I think I will add Alex Monchak to the post tags. It just seems right.

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    • Your welcome Bruce. I looked at the TJ card and for whatever reason started wondering who was in the background so I looked up the 1971 White Sox on Wikipedia because they always list the entire rosters with numbers and there was # 35 and beside the number it said Alex Monchak. I had never heard of him so I clicked and his Wiki entry included the tidbit about him maybe being the oldest active player and that seemed appropriate considering the post was about the past and all.

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  14. You captured an era. The only time I really followed baseball was in 1968, when the Tigers won the World Series. But my brother had the cards and used to trade them with his friends. A lovely post.

    Liked by 1 person

    • Hello Naomi – the 1968 World Series was the first that I followed closely, after finding out a little bit about the fall classic the year before. I thought it was normal for the Cardinals to play in the WS, because they played in both 1967 and 1968. I collected newspaper clippings from the 1968 series and still have a few of them. Were you a Tigers fan for that series?

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      • Oh, yes. The only time I ever came home from school to find my MOM watching baseball! I knew the whole batting line-up and all the stats–Al Kaline, Bill Freehan, Willie Horton, Denny McLain. I’m not much of a sports fan, but that was an exciting summer for us all.

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  15. Ben Franklin’s I remember. Like so many said before me, you captured it well, Bruce. Funny how you describe so much activity and the endless torturesome chores, but I still wish for a little of that slow simplicity. 😉 My kid has to be reminded every Saturday. “Clean the bathroom, again?!” yep, every weekend, just as we agreed. It’s a little beautiful that kids will always be kids. And baseball will always have a way of making us remember warm summer days.

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  16. Bruce, you have stirred up the sounds and smells and sights of the summers from my childhood with your beautifully written post. Such simple, wonderful times, when hide-and-seek, Red Rover, a game of four-square, and catching fireflies were pastimes. And when me and my best friend would sleep overnight in her treehouse to keep cool in the heat of a Chicago summer because air conditioning was not commonplace. Marvelous! Thanks for the memories 🙂

    Like

    • Thank you, Stacey.

      The fireflies were an integral part of the summers. Fascinating little ornaments around the neighborhood.

      I never slept in a tree house to escape the stifling muggy nights, but we would pitch tents in the backyard. We’d trade baseball cards and play Monopoly by flashlight, being careful not to let the mosquitoes in. They could ruin everything.

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  17. I absolutely love how you write. You brought me back to my summer days with the snap of a finger, or in this case, the flow of your pen. God, I got goose bumps going back there. You describe it perfectly, even though I lived in New Jersey as a kid, and even though my brother is the one who ‘got’ to mow the lawn. I was the girl, so I couldn’t do that. Instead, I got the job of shoveling up the dog poop. I’m STILL indignant over that!!!

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    • Pamela, thank you for that kind word. It may be hard to accept, but I think you may have drawn the lucky straw on that chore list. I’m telling you, some of those dog days of August were so hot and muggy, a tour of the lawn with a shovel was a much better deal than slugging it out up and down, over and back with a heavy and loud lawn mower.

      Liked by 1 person

  18. Bruce, you really captured the essence of summer in this piece. You’ve taken me, and everyone else who has posted, right back to those hot summer days of childhood.
    The chore list before play, the various kinds of tag we’d play until dark, getting in trouble for getting our clothes wet by playing in the creek, those frozen popsicles in the plastic tube things (how’s THAT for a description) … so many memories and you’ve brought it back.
    Thank you for reminding me of the simpler times

    Like

    • Hello Laurie – homemade popsicles. Now you’re talking. I can taste them now.

      They were long wonderful days, weren’t they?

      Like

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