Saturday, June 29, 2013

Reggie Jackson: For My Mom, One Year Later

I wrote this one year ago...

This week's post ain't about Reggie Jackson, per se, or even about baseball for that matter. This post is about my Mom, Pattie. At the young age of 64 and just 3 years since her husband died, Mom is lying in a New Jersey hospital room on "comfort care." That pleasant term is the nice phrase for the "death watch". Mom was diagnosed with cancer a month ago and in that short period suffered a stroke, endured brain surgery to remove 2 bleeding tumors and is now in a coma dying from a third inoperable hemorrhaging tumor. By the time I post this, she may already have passed away. But that's neither here nor there.

My mother was never a huge baseball fan, she much preferred football, and much later, due to my brother's interest, soccer. However back in the late 1970's and early 1980's my Mom was caught up in that whole Reggie Jackson Mania that was sweeping North Jersey where we lived. Most of my friends and neighbors were as well (including my gorgeous 3rd grade teacher, Ms. Keslo, who broke my heart the day she tacked a poster of a shirtless Bucky Dent on the wall next to my desk). But I, brought up as the third generation of a staunch line of bitter Yankee-haters, didn't have that option. No, instead of reveling in the Yankees' seemingly endless string of World Series victories in that gleaming cathedral in the Bronx, I was left with the 5th-rate Mets and that bus station in Queens called Shea Stadium.

From 1977 on, while my Pop and I suffered through sickening seasons of Metropolitan's baseball, my Mom gleefully latched onto the biggest wave of baseball euphoria since Babe Ruth, Reggiemania. While I tortured myself by staying up late huddled under the covers with my blue transistor radio listening to the Mets drop another game to the Padres, Mom tuned the t.v. in to watch the Yankees making chumps of the Red Sox. I spent my money on packs of baseball cards hoping to get another one of the Mets also-rans while chewing that copper-flavored gum that came with the cards. Mom came home from the market with boxes of scrumptious looking Reggie Bars. The fact that they were made with nuts which I was allergic to just made it seem personal, like a kick to the balls.

I'm kind of rambling here, but bear with me. I guess what I'm trying to get at here is that my Mom seemed to take the game for what it was, a game. Me and my Pop, we took every Yankee win as a person affront, irrefutable proof that there was no fairness in the world. To he and I, the whole world was against us, and they were winning. Mom took the whole ride for just what it was, being part of something exciting.

Reggie Jackson seemed to embody late 70's New York City. He was bigger than life, fallible but he came through when you thought he was all but finished. They booed the hell out of him, even in his own house and still he bounced off the ropes and forced you to admire his talent as he rounded the bases on the way to beating the hell out of you. He fought with the press and they loved it. He pouted and complained and sulked. And he won. Jackson made things exciting again. I can't think of any player in my lifetime who made the game as exciting as I imagined Babe Ruth did. If Muhammad Ali played right field and wore God-awful ugly tinted glasses, I imagine he would have been like Reggie Jackson.

I remember when he said something about being "the straw that stirs the drink" on the Yankees. When asked about team captain and universally admired Thurman Munson, Jackson replied maybe he stirred it up too, but only in a bad way. The papers exploded and so did the fans. No one ever dared to disparage Munson, and Reggie became the guy you loved to hate on a team full of guys you loved to hate.

Now more than 30 years later even a casual fan knows of Reggie Jackson while most know Munson as that guy who crashed his plane.

I hated Reggie Jackson. I held him responsible for all the bad things in my life. The kids I fought with in the neighborhood all wore Yankee caps. The girls I thought were pretty all turned their backs on me, the large number 44 and "JACKSON" arched above it the being last thing I saw as they walked quickly away. Reggie played in a building that was as close to the Sistine Chapel as us Americans can build and my team played in a cruelly enlarged version of the locker room at the Y.

My Mom loved Reggie. She squealed with laughter as he propelled his team to yet another pennant. She felt sorry for him when those mooks in the bleachers threw batteries at him as he stood in right field. When he hit all those home runs to win another world series, Mom spent the winter happy with  boundless optimism for the distant spring.

And when Reggie was traded and the Yankees stopped winning, Mom found something else positive in life to root for. It's just the way she was. Well, I'm rooting for you Mom, but like the 1978 Mets, I know it's a lost cause. But I'm still rooting, just the same. It's just the way I am.

Postscript: Like my '78 Mets, Mom didn't make it. She passed away quietly on Sunday morning, July 1st, 2012. Rest easy Mom and tell Pop I said hi.

Post-Postscript: It's been a long year. The death of one's parents is a hard thing to understand or deal with, even at the wizened old age of 43. Sorrow manifests itself in many different ways, some more difficult to rationalize than others. In 6 weeks I'll be marrying the woman I love more than anything else in this world. The happiness I feel and the anticipation for the future I now am about to embark on is beyond description. Still, that sorrow tugs at my collar when I think that both my parents will never meet Andrea, never sit down to dinner with us or be there at our wedding in sunny California. It's a shame, because I know that if there was one thing in the world that would have made them both happy, it's knowing that I found the woman they always hoped I'd find. The love the two of them had for each other was so strong, so complete, and set the bar so high that it took me until I was in my forties to find a woman who I know I can share that kind of love with. It's a damn shame they can't be here to see it, but I'm sure they'll be looking down on us. 

Hey, maybe they can put in a good word or two for my Mets...

1 comment:

  1. Gary, best wishes to you on your upcoming wedding, and if I didn't say it a year ago, or even if I did, I'm very sorry for the loss of your mom.

    Beautifully written piece, by the way. Paints a vivid picture of Reggie, the way the Yanks and Mets and their fans were back then (and still kinda are; I've been spending a lot of time with Met fans of a certain age lately), and in one two sentence passage...

    "And when Reggie was traded and the Yankees stopped winning, Mom found something else positive in life to root for. It's just the way she was." managed to make me feel like I got to know your mom a little, too.

    Again, best wishes to you and Andrea, and thanks for doing what you do.