Summers with George

After the article that appeared in the New York Times, July 15th, about my friendship with George Steinbrenner I received numerous letters from across the country asking me what exactly was our relationship.

Was it a delightful friendship or were we teetering on the beginnings of love? I’ll leave it up to the reader to decide, because I honestly don’t know.

George and I met on a summer’s evening in 1949. We were teenagers living in Bay Village, Ohio. Summer evenings in Bay Village were soft and wonderful. Lovely tree lined streets, a dog’s bark in the distance, residents on tandems, youngsters coming of age and, for that moment in time, this was our town.

Shortly after our first meeting George called and invited me to go to the movies. He spoke in quick brief sentences but I understood every word. Of course, I said yes.

How exciting to be going out with an attractive young man in his fashionable convertible. What could be better than that?

We double-dated with two of George’s friends, Mike and Gloria.

The movie “Twelve O’Clock High” starring Gregory Peck was thrilling and when it was over we visited the Bay Village ice cream parlor. As soon as we finished our scoops of homemade ice cream and exchanging small talk with other local teenagers we headed for home.

Our first stop was Gloria’s house. Pulling into her driveway I couldn’t help thinking it had been a perfect date. The car’s top was down, night breezes circled me like a silken shawl and the stars were twinkling.

As we waited for Mike to say goodnight to Gloria at her front door George slipped his arm around my shoulder while with his free hand he drew my face close to his. Instinctively I asked him “What are your doing?” He replied, “I’m going to kiss you.“

Without another word I grabbed my purse, flew out of the car and proceeded to walk the block to my house.

In a split second George was in hot pursuit. I could hear him shouting, “Please get back in the car. If my parents find out about this I’ll be in big trouble.”

By now, Mike had returned to the car and was shaking with laughter. Gloria’s curious neighbors were peeking out their windows trying to see who was causing the raucous but, worst of all, everyone in our small town knew who owned the powder-blue convertible.

So, out of pity for George I got back into the car. You can only imagine how quickly I was driven home.

About a week later, when the dust had settled following our tragic date, George stopped at my house just to say hello.

We sat in the living-room sipping ice cold lemonade and chatting about all sorts
of things.

He wondered what my plans were for the summer vacation. I told him my father suggested I paint the inside of the addition being added to the back of our small ranch-type house. George offered to help me when he could.

He said much of his summer would be spent on the Great Lakes. His father’s plan for him was to work on the boats for their family owned American Ship Building. But George got home often and came over to our house to assist me with my project.

My house on Upland Rd in Bay Village

Various people did odd jobs around the house that season, still the five core workers were Jerry, a jolly African American cleaning lady, my mother, George, me and Uncle Joe.

Uncle Joe was my grandmother’s brother. The family thought of him as a frail little man who seemed to be always there, although, no one really saw him, until he met George.

Uncle Joe tended to the backyard gardens. In fact, all his tasks were out of doors because he had the disgusting habit of chewing tobacco.

Yet, each noon he’d come inside to join us for lunch at our wobbly kitchen table. And for the next hour the five of us would eat cucumber sandwiches while we discussed the pressing issues of those times.

One day George remained in the kitchen to ask for my mother’s permission to take her uncle for a ride in his car.

Mother felt it was a fine idea if Uncle Joe agreed. The look of sheer delight on the dear old man’s face was his answer.

Uncle Joe working in his garden

Even at my age I remember the joy I experienced watching our proud Uncle Joe sitting next to George as they backed out of the driveway and drove off into the afternoon sun.

They returned about three o’clock and when they entered the house a beaming Uncle Joe was carrying a mysterious satchel.

Not sure what to expect mother inquired, “What’s in your bag Uncle Joe? “

Then with a majestic gesture, he reached into his mysterious satchel and pulled out a package of the best brand of chewing tobacco known to man.

Oh yes, I loved George that day.

Occasionally we’d take a break from painting and sneak off to play tennis at the exclusive Clifton Club in Rocky River, Ohio.

But first George went home to change his clothes and get his tennis racket. He knew I also needed to change my clothes so, before he left, in a scolding voice he’d worn me not to wear my burlap sack. You bet I did wear it.

Let me take a minute to describe my burlap sack. The petal pushers were a cherry purple plaid with a long-sleeved matching linen jacket. And huge mother-of-pearl buttons completed my stylish ensemble.

Secretly I knew this wasn’t proper tennis attire but it was great fun annoying George.

When he came back to pick me up and found me dressed in my gorgeous burlap sack he’d frown and under his breath he’d mumble my maiden name, “Elster, Elster, Elster. “

My reply to all his mumbling was, “Now George, about your white bucks. What makes you think I want to date a Pat Boone look-a-like?”

Our favorite pastime on those soft summer evenings was to stroll along the winding roads in our hometown.

The rows of small houses nestling behind flowering gardens blended with the scent of roses in the approaching night air and, in a sense, this picturesque scene was mesmerizing.

Original art by Mary Jane Schriner

There was an enchanting house the two of us had chosen to be ours. We’d stand in the twilight’s shadows and peer through its picture window at an elderly couple sharing their last meal of the day.

While we watched the aging couple George would take my hand and whisper, “Someday, Mary Jane, this house will be ours and we will be them.” It was a magical time.

The entire summer we didn’t kiss. I guess neither one of us wanted to risk another uproar.

It wasn’t until the night before George left for college that he held me and kissed me. The kiss was a lingering gentle kiss. It showed me he cared but, as we all know, life can play tricks on young dreamers.

By September of ’49 George had returned to Williams College in Mass, and I was a senior at St. Augustines Academy in nearby Lakewood, Ohio. George often referred to my high school as the “Country Club” and, in hind’ sight, he happened to be right.

We corresponded a lot over the school year but we only caught glimpses of each other during the holidays.

In December George said, “The track is going well.” He received invitations for meets from Madison Square Garden, Boston Gardens, Philadelphia and the K.of C. in Cleveland. He felt his coach was priming him for the Olympics. And that was his dream.

After reflecting on our long-ago conversations, I began to see George’s quest was not for fame. He was becoming a young man driven by a powerful inner quest to always succeed. I hope George knew he did.

The summer of 1950 was greeted by the genuine concerns of my generation.

In 1945 World War II ended and, once again, the winds of war were upon us. By June of 1950 the Korean Conflict was starting and on every street corner confused citizens were questioning the validity of the war.

Train terminals were packed with anxious young men who had left their homes to serve in the military.. Sadly, statistics have shown 36,000 of them died fighting in an East Asian country few of us had heard of.

The Korean Conflict overshadowed everyone’s thinking. It accelerated my generation’s ideas and dreams.

College students tucked away light-hearted thoughts in order to deal with their unknown futures. And so… Enters George and Mary Jane.

We joked and did the usual summer things but nothing seemed real. The talk of war brought out the serious side in all of us.

And considering the seriousness of the times, I think its interesting George and I never discussed religion. He knew I was Catholic and that was the extent of it.

So, when George called me one day in August and said “Get ready Elster, I’m taking you some place special. “ I was pleased because I suspected it would be another of our pleasant adventures.

But after a long ride into the heart of Cleveland I became a bit suspicious. Then when he parked in front of St. Johns Cathedral I nearly fainted.

Not knowing what to do I sat in the car and waited for George to open my door.

Along with opening my door I heard him saying, “Come on M.J. lets go in.”

Then he took my hand and together we climbed the steps, opened the heavy church doors and entered the vestibule.

As soon as the doors clicked shut behind us it appeared we were the last two people on earth.

After genuflecting, with my arm wrapped around George’s arm, we walked down the narrow aisle to the alter and, with bowed heads, the two of us knelt beneath the Tabernacle.

Golden shafts of sunlight surrounded us and delicate shadows from flowers in slender vases slid across the glistening floor. Kneeling next to George I couldn’t help thinking how beautiful our friendship had become.

To this day I’m not sure why George took me there. Perhaps he was going to tell me that he loved me. I will probably never know.

With so much that has happened since, I sometimes wish I could go back to our soft summer evenings.

Mary Jane Schriner

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27 CommentsLeave a comment

  1. Hello Mary Jane,
    I just read your story and wanted to let you know how wonderful I thought it was. It is such a rare look into the early life of such an influencial sports icon.
    Thank you for sharing.

  2. As a lifelong New Yorker and Yankees fan, I am completely familiar with George Steinbrenner’s tenure as the team’s owner, a time in which he not only brought a great franchise to new heights, but firmly established himself — for better or worse –as “The Boss.” Reading Mary Jane’s recollections were really a breath of fresh air in that they presented the young George in a new light, served to humanize him and allowed readers a glimpse at the softer side of his life never publicized in New York. Thank you, Mary Jane. I now feel I know him just a little bit better.

  3. […] growing up in Ohio. This weekend, her son Michael wrote to us to let us know that Mrs. Schriner wrote a follow-up piece at her blog, with more insight into what the future Yankee boss was like as a young man. Read both articles for […]

  4. Well written, M. J. You brought back memories of my own summer of 1959 in Ohio.

    I, too, wish I could go back to those soft summer evenings.

  5. If he married MJ, maybe he would have been a better person, without the bullying and the frequent brutality to employees.

  6. Mary Jane;
    This blog is wonderful and you never cease to amaze me!! Can’t wait to read future adventures of the young Mary Jane. I never really cared for George Stienbrenner all that much, but now you have painted him in an entirly different light. Thank you so much for your stories and your friendship. Best of luck to you!!!

  7. Read about the trouble the Yankees give you re. the letters. It’s my understanding historically the recipient/holder of a letter owns the copyright, not the Yankees. they shouldn’t be able to keep you from publishing them!

    • Bobby: Your assumption is wrong. The writer of the letters owns the copyright to them, not the recipient.

      From today’s NY Times: “The person who wrote the letters has a copyright to them and the recipient is the owner of the physical copy,” said Diane Zimmerman, a professor at the New York University School of Law and a copyright law expert. “There’s a difference between ownership of the content and ownership of the vehicle the content is embodied in.”

      She said the squabble between Schriner and the Yankees was similar to J. D. Salinger’s successful legal fight to prevent the writer of an unauthorized biography about him from quoting from copyrighted letters that he had written between 1939 and 1961. Their owners had deposited them in university libraries.

  8. MJ, thank you for sharing these sweet stories.

  9. How truly very sweet! Thank you. Born almost right at mid-century (in the Bronx where I first lived about ten blocks from the old, beautiful, pre-1974 Yankee Stadium, part of my lifelong love of the Yankees), I came of age a couple of decades later than you and Mr. Steinbrenner did. But I clearly remember the subtle and not-so-subtle shifts of the times from the 1950s (my infancy and childhood) into the ‘60s (mid-childhood to adolescence) and ‘70s (youth). You captured very well the innocence; the timidity, confusion, and shyness offset by a certain temerity that flavored most friendships between members of the opposite sex in an earlier time.

    I am somewhat baffled by the refusal of the Steinbrenner family to permit you to use the text of the correspondence between you and George Steinbrenner all those years ago. So, he tried to kiss you—and finally did—and did other romantic things. On the whole, it appears that he comes off in a very positive light in these letters, and this can only present a gentler picture in the history of contradictory images that make up the George Steinbrenner legacy.

    On the other hand, I can understand, even after six decades, that perhaps Joan Steinbrenner and her children and grandchildren might find some reasons to be embarrassed and/or chagrined by some of the more intimate details. But, as some of these “revelations” have (today, October 14, 2010), already appeared in The New York Times, it is highly unlikely that anything else more revealing could surface. Well, if the law says the Steinbrenner family owns the rights to the content of the letters, there’s nothing more that can be done unless they should have a change of heart.

    Be all that is it may, thank you for bringing your friendship of days gone by to the attention of those way beyond your circle of family and friends. I think it was a touching and tender presentation of your recollections and youthful emotions and feelings, and you expressed it in a way that transported the reader back to your “soft summer evenings.”

  10. I loved your story. It takes us back to a simpler times and relationships. Good luck with your book.

  11. Beautifully written sentences.

    And a wonderful juxtaposition of complex feelings and simple beliefs.

    Brava!

  12. Mary Jane,
    Very, very sweet. Beautifully written. It shows a gentle time with two young people enjoying the world and each other and maybe even falling in love. What could anyone possibly find objectionable?
    Shame on the Steinbrenner family for bullying you and yours. I hope that those letters stay in your family. Please think harder before you put them up for sale. Your legacy may someday wish you had kept them instead of whatever money they may generate. Money gets spent. Memories and family treasures can be priceless to generations not yet born.
    Maybe you could sell movie rights? Hmmm…
    Keep writing with love.

  13. Please do not let those silly boys bully you, nor blur the memories of your youth adulthood. Shame on them for even trying. The blustery Boss himself is rolling in his gold plated crypt embarrassed at the childish antics of his former henchmen. Those letters are yours in spite of the silly protests of those small men.

  14. […] public figure George Steinbrenner and how he tried to get his swerve on back in the day, check out Schriner’s blog (she’s 77!) or an earlier story in the […]

  15. Mary Jane;

    Wow what a beautiful story. It reads like a novel. All this coming from a man many thought to be a “bully”. What a compassionate man and you sound like a darling lady. Thank you for letting the world know what a man Mr. Steinbrenner was.

  16. Wow. Frankly, including someone else’s letters would distract from the beauty of your writing. It appears to me you’d do just fine reflecting on your own experiences and observations, and occasionally reference others’ input. We already know too much about those other people, yours seems to be the story worth telling!

  17. Really refreshing prose, thank you. I don’t think it is your letters they are worried about. It is fear of setting a precedent. My innocent youth was shadowed by another war and Richard Nixon. George Steinbrenner came up in my life because he was the pivotal person willing to stand up and say that in the Spring of 1972, he was muscled into giving a large amount of cash secretly in order to subvert the new congressional guidelines. He stated that he knew other industrialists were also similarly shaken down. If he corresponded on that subject, those could be some interesting letters, and even at this late date the kind of thing that brings out things that go thump in the night.

  18. A beautiful memoir; very well writtten
    Thanks for sharing with all of us, Mary Jane.
    May GOD the Almighty bless us all.
    R.I.P. George

  19. What a great story Thank you. You seem like a wonderful person.

  20. As has been said a number of times already, your writing is beautiful, MJ. That said, it’s truly a shame that the Steinbrenners are so intent on controlling everything that even remotely affects their “status”. You seem to be handling it calmly enough. I’m afraid I’d be tempted to leak them to the internet but selling them to the highest bidder might be the more financially sound decision.

  21. 1st time reader. One word. BRILLIANT!!!

  22. Good GOD Almighty, shame on the Steinbrenner Family,…so all the money in the world and control of a baseball ( albiet bought and paid for) dynasty isn’t enough,….they have to stifle the creativeness and memoirs of a woman who seems wonderfully sweet and honest in her twilight, preventing her from sharing her personal experience. Many others have done similar things in this world. This is just another case of power and money exerting its will for the sake of doing so. Again Shame…..GO RANGERS ( wasn’t a Rangers fan but I am tonight!!!)

  23. Such lovely writing! So refreshing to be drawn back to a simpler time of soft summer evenings of innocence. Our youth of today should only know the treasure of innocence that seems to be torn from them too too early. You need not rely on prose of George for the content of your writing, although most people seem drawn to celebrity scuffle. You have a gift to transport the reader smack into your memories…and it’s a beautiful place, MJ! God bless you! Look forward to reading your book!

  24. What amazing memories to hold. Most of us would love to have lived at such an amazing time. To tell the stories of happiness and simple times, that’s what made life beautiful.
    I’m appauled at the stance the Steinbrenner family has taken. It’s strange really, they have a one time opportunity to actually humanize a man’s legacy without shame, and instead they choose to allow his reputation as a horrible, indecicive, greedy troll represent the man they love. To boot, they wouldn’t even be devulging any of thier own private memories of him – as a husband, father, etc. They would be using your memories and accounts of a beautiful time in history.
    Good luck to you Ms. Schriner, I pray your book is allowed to be published. We all need a lesson and a reminder of how life should be, especially for our tennagers of today.

  25. Hello Mary Jane,

    Your story is captivating and so well written, I also love your renderings. You convey a magical time full of youthful innocence and warm feelings. Thank you for sharing such a lovely story from so long ago. I would love to read more.

  26. Hello Mary Jane,

    Thank you for sharing your stories, they are wonderfully written. I think you should post more stories about your friendship with George on your blog. I also think you should post the letters on your blog. It is your blog and you are not doing it for profit. There are so many negative stories written about George, it is hard to believe anything he wrote in a letter would be bad.


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