My mother passed away today. She was so happy that she had the chance to share her memories with so many. She had a full life and will be greatly missed. Goodbye Mom I love you.
Note- This story was written by my mother shortly before she passed away.
Last night’s storm has left the morning pure and refreshed. Today I’ll wear my lace dress with the ivory sash.
The front door is closed and my family knows peace. Now it is time to leave my room and enter a welcoming world, overflowing with life.
I shall carry this small book and walk down the lane that has always led to my four seasons. Accompanying me will be the sweet strains of music that mingle with the playful footsteps of my elusive fiddler.
Once more I am young.
In a while, I’ll rest on the quilted ground with my head placed on a soft pillow of earth. From there, I can see a rainbow high above me. This day is to be mine.
My thoughts will be of tender times. The secret reflections of the beginnings of love. The miracle of life wrapped inside me. The particle of time when my infant’s hands extended to me. The sacred moment when my husband and I combined in a renewed communion. The golden days when the six of us sat at our table and shared ideas and dreams. I’ll remember when my parents bestowed their wisdom upon our children, and in return, received vitality from their young heirs. I will also rejoice in quiet unspoken victories only a mother knows.
Perhaps I’ll eat from the basket of fruit I offered to Michael, and watch the family cat yawn and lazily stretch his paw, as a moth flutters by.
In the late afternoon, once again the Fiddler strokes his violin slowly and slips into the niche of the oak tree. And I will be content.
Then with the shadows of the past lifting, I’ll wrap myself into the folds of the fragrant earth and enjoy a soothing sleep that prepares me to meet a bright tomorrow.
It will be a wonderful day, a mother’s day.
Note: Read more of Mary Jane’s short stories from her book “And So.”
As I read the letters I realized that gifts can arrive in unexpected ways. Sometimes they come wrapped in a memory.
I’ve always thought of my mind as a small treasure chest and my happy memories are precious jewels. Over time I placed these precious jewels in a secret corner of my mind never knowing I would, once again, relive those distant yesterdays.
After hearing about George’s death I opened the chest and took out my memories.
While I held the jewels in my hand I noticed a beautiful diamond begin to shimmer. So, I set it on a piece of black velvet in order to see into it better and there deep inside the jewel a memory came alive. It carried me back to a gentler world.
It was July 1949. George and I were sitting beneath the oak tree in my front yard. Warm summer breezes caressed us and sprays of sunshine brushed our faces but the most amazing surprise was our voices were clear as a bell.
We were laughing and joking about all sorts of silly things the way teenagers often do when our conversation began to take on a serious tone.
George was telling me his dream for the future. “I’m going to be the star of the Olympics. I’ll even run faster than Harrison Dillard.”
Then he asked me if I had a special dream. I replied, “I hope to become a famous writer and lots of people will want to read what I have to say.”
George hesitated for a moment then said, “Well Margaret Mitchell, maybe I can help you write a great masterpiece like her novel, Gone With The Wind.” But I was sure that couldn’t be.
The day had ended and the diamond’s glow was fading but as hard as I tried to hold on to the memory sleep overcame me. The next thing I knew morning had come and the phone started to ring.
It was my son, Michael. He called to let me know the NY Times wanted me to write a short story about my friendship with George. Their plan was to publish it the day before his funeral.
I was apprehensive at first because I’ve only shown the stories I have written to a few relatives and friends. Over the years I kept them tucked away in a box under my bed but soon my words would be read by many and I didn’t want to disappoint George or his family.
I used his letters as a backdrop and, as if by magic, the words flowed upon the paper. Suddenly, what I thought would be a difficult task turned into a joyful journey back from those long ago days when we sat beneath the oak tree.
On July 16th my articled appeared in the Times and I was so pleased to see that they hadn’t changed a word. Over the course of that day I received numerous calls saying how much people enjoyed the story and I honestly felt that this was a tribute to what a fine young man George was.
That night while I was relaxing in my favorite chair and I was locked away from the busy world outside it occurred to me that the dream shared with an old friend had finally been realized. And for at least one day, I was a famous writer. What a wonderful gift.
Now when I open the treasure chest and a jewel begins to sparkle I will take the memory out and place it on piece of black velvet for everyone to see because I love writing about those golden days when we were young.
Mary Jane Schriner
In 1956 my husband Joe, who took great pride in being a navy pilot during the Korean Conflict, had completed his tour of duty and, without hesitation, he brought are growing family back to Ohio. Shortly after Joe, Joseph Jr. and I arrived in the Buckeye state we purchased a small bungalow and setup housekeeping in, where else but, Bay Village.
Our starter home was a sweet little house, although, my father referred to it as the cracker box. In spite of that harsh criticism Joe and I spent long hours painting and cleaning the inside and outside of our charming bungalow. We planted deep forest green bushes along the sides of the house and to set off this typical postcard scene we put a large ceramic pot, filled with brilliant red geraniums, slightly left of the front door.
I think it’s best not to say where we displayed the pink flamingos but those shocking pink birds certainly lit up our neighborhood.
Now about George. Occasionally we would bump into each other at the Bay Village shopping center or sometimes I’d catch a glimpse of his powder blue convertible driving by our house. But, for the most part, we saw very little of each other over the preceding years.
So, when the phone rang one lazy summer’s day I was startled to hear George’s voice. He got right to the point, “MJ, the house next to mine is for sale and I wondered if you and Joe might be interested in buying it.”
Once I caught my breath, a million questions began to march through my brain. Why now? Doesn’t he understand our lives are going in different directions? What would Joe think? What would George’s wife think? Would are kids get along, and more importantly, where would we get the money? On the other hand, perhaps George’s call could have been a friendly gesture between two old pals. But, for whatever the reason, by the end of our conversation I was exhausted.
Before I hung up I assured George I’d talk to Joe about the house and then I thanked him and, said, “Goodbye.”
Later that night when I was alone in the living room the unexpected happened. I had a vision and, to this day, I can’t remember anything tickling my funny bone the way that vision did.
There we were, the Schriner family, living in the house next to the Steinbrenners. And, in the center of our front yard, lighting up George’s glamorous neighborhood, spotlight and all were those shocking pink flamingos. What could be funnier than that?
Oh, in case you want to know, I neglected to tell Joe that George called today.
Rap! Rap! Rap! “Answer the door Mary Jane. It’s probably George,” mother calls from the kitchen.
When I open the door George is standing there. After he flashes his sparkly smile at me accompanied by a hearty, “Hello Champ.” He breezes through the living room past the dining room and plops down on the puffy dusty-rose couch in our family room. But not until he stops and shakes hands with my father who is busy looking at the evening news on our brand new TV.
By now, George has helped himself to a handful of cashews from our, always full, nut bowl. Then, just to be polite, he joins my father and, within seconds, the two men become glued to the TV while they watch a disturbing seen unfold before them.
It seems a certain politician had abused, in all sorts of ugly ways, the trust his constituents had placed in him.
When my father finished listening to the politician’s confession he turned to George and said, “This is a prime example of how power corrupts.” He then continues to say, “If you destroy a man’s reputation for personal gain you weaken your own humanity.”
Over the years I often wondered if George recalled those prophetic words.
I would like to set aside my father’s veiled warning that evening and remember how comfortable and welcomed George felt when he visited our modest home on Upland Road.
On the other hand, the Steinbrenner’s house was far from being modest. In its day it was the loveliest house in all of Bay Village.
The first time I saw George’s home I was reminded of a house you’d see on a luxurious southern plantation.
It was centered on a picturesque piece of property and near the end of a long driveway stood an attractive carriage house where their servants lived.
Although George invited me, several times, I only attended one gathering at his home.
That Sunday afternoon when I arrived at the Steinbrenners, George helped me out of the car. Together we followed the cobblestone path to his front door and, for one brief moment, I could have been walking into a colorful Kincaid painting.
The snow white house shimmered in the afternoon sunlight and violet shadows from massive, turn of the century, trees slid across the emerald green lawn. Yet, standing in the midst of such grandeur and knowing I was about to enter the world of the rich and famous all I wanted to do was go home. But, out of respect for George, I couldn’t.
By 3:00 PM plenty of George’s closest friends were being served hot Hors d’oeuvres, delicate finger sandwiches and genuine French Petit fours on a charming closed-in porch that stretched across the back of the house. And, by the end of the gathering, the crystal punch bowl was empty.
Looking back, I must admit it turned out to a delightful afternoon. Although, there were two things missing – a puffy dusty-rose couch and a bowl of cashews.
It was the ending of one of George’s letters that caught my eye. He wrote, “A moment of silence for Sherman. Maybe you and I will have to pick out a new pooch for your Xmas gift.” While I read his letter, once again, a memory came flooding back. A memory of my mother, our dog Sherman and how George tried to make a painful situation better.
My mother was the epitome of refinement. Every soft-spoken word out her mouth became music to the ears.
Helen O’Toole was one of twelve children in a proud dirt-poor Irish American family. Upon completing the eighth grade Helen worked at a neighborhood five and dime to help supplement her father’s meager wages.
Still, night after night, by the glow from a candle’s flame you could see Helen’s silhouette through a small bedroom window and, with her head bent forward, she’d read and reread her most recent library book. There is no doubt, the desire to learn was burned into that little girl’s delicate soul.
During the late 1920′s Helen set aside her struggle to survive when she fell in love with Charlie and married him. The realization that she was no longer shackled to the past allowed her to be the admirable person she dreamt of being.
Back then, Helen would often be seen hobnobbing with the Bay Village intelligentsia or as a stellar member of the Bay Village Garden Club.
Each Spring, we’d find my mother sinking her beautifully manicured nails into the soil surrounding the colorful flowers, bursting into bloom, in front of our city’s stately Town Hall.
In everyone’s eyes this gentile lady was a, well-intentioned, force to be reckoned with.
Right here, I’d love to say Helen never stepped out of the character she, so diligently, created for herself but, AFTER ALL, she was a mere mortal.
Her troubles began when my father appeared at our front door carrying an adorable Cocker Spaniel puppy. On the surface, bringing home the puppy seemed to be a great idea except Charlie knew, as a child, Helen had been bitten by a German Police dog and, since then, she was terrified of dogs. But following long hours of pleading to let the puppy stay and a list of stipulations mother acquiesced.
By now, the puppy had wiggled out of my father’s arms and with his floppy ears and waggily tail he made a bee-line to mother and started to sniff her shoes. Then he laid the side of his face on her soft leather shoe and fell fast asleep. If, for whatever the reason, mother wasn’t sold on keeping the dog that dear little animal had just sealed the deal.
As soon as he became the newest member of the Elster family we asked my mother to name him. At the time I did wonder about the strange expression on Helen’s face when she gave him the grand title of Sherman of Bay Village – soon to be shortened to Sherman of Bay, anyhow, our lives went on until that horrible day.
That day seemed to be running along smoothly until Helen locked Sherman, who had grown considerably, on the back porch so mother could enjoy her afternoon ritual. Then, in her all together, she’d take a relaxing bath. And, as always, with her eyes shut and her head resting on the back of the tub she’d submerse herself beneath a blanket of bath oil and bubbles but, suddenly, the unexpected happened. She felt something wet on her cheek and it wasn’t the bath water.
Sherman had escaped from the back porch, found Helen and was, happily, licking her face.
My poor frantic mother, in her confusion, instead of pushing Sherman away she pulled him into the tub with her and the two of them nearly drowned. If you haven’t guessed, from that moment on, it was goodbye Sherman.
In the ambulance on the way to the emergency room, where mother was examined and released with a prescription for tranquilizers, she told us why she named the puppy Sherman of Bay. Because the first letter in the three words Sherman of Bay are SOB.
Yes, it’s true, mother was a mere mortal like the rest of us.
post script – When George heard what happened he suggested we give Sherman to two brothers, Mike and Bill Taylor, who were his friends. Which we did. Unfortunately, a month later, Sherman ran into the street and a car hit him. He died on impact and that’s why George offered to get me a new pooch for Christmas. I said no so he gave me a white cashmere sweater and golden cross on an intricate gold chain. While I was admiring the cross he said, “There’s not a lot of gold but there is a lot of sentiment.” Oh well!
The other night I was watching Turner Classic Movies and they were featuring 31 days of Oscar.
As I was watching Gary Cooper in The Pride of the Yankees I was reminded of a long ago conversation with George.
First, let me tell you, George loved sports. He especially liked track and field. George had once told me that his father Henry Steinbrenner II was a championship hurdler at MIT. To his father’s delight, George became an accomplished hurdler on the varsity track and field team for Williams College.
George also played halfback for their football team in his senior year and after injuring his shoulder was relegated to punting.
George corresponded often about his progress. I had to laugh when he wrote to me in December of 1949, “It’s not much of an experience when they keep sticking you in heats with Harrison Dillard. I’ve gotten so use to coming in last that if I were to get ahead, I think I’ll probably die of fright.”
Although I never met Harrison, we did attend the same college. Everyone at Baldwin-Wallace was so proud of him when he won his gold medals in the 1948 and 1952 Olympics.
I had heard in later years that George hired Harrison to be the training coach for the Yankees. It’s admirable to know that fierce competitors can become good friends.
Well, back to my story. George once confided in me that one of his favorite all time movies was The Pride of the Yankees. I hadn’t seen the movie so George went into considerable detail explaining how it was based on the real life story of Lou Gehrig.
George was so passionate in his depiction that I clearly remember a tear in his eye when he said, “Lou Gehrig, what a great guy!”
Little did I know that George would soon become the proud caretaker of such an illustrious organization so rich in it’s history of honorable men.
Legend has it George (Steinbrenner) and my father had quite an adventure. So, while I spin this yarn I will try not to let fact collide with fiction. But even the many times this tale has been passed down from generation to generation I still can’t help thinking, “Boys will be boys.”
Mid-summer days are generally uneventful in our hometown.
As was our custom, George and I would sit, side by side, on the puffy dusty-rose couch in our family room and watch the evening news with my parents.
After NBC’s John Cameron Swayze finished his report, with a mischievous twinkle in my father’s eye, he addressed George, “How about riding out to Lakewood Country Club with me. I want to show you my latest acquisition.” Being a curious fellow George agreed and, guess what, I wasn’t invited. Oh well, didn’t I say, “Boys will be boys?”
At the risk of getting ahead of my story I’m going to tell you what my father’s latest acquisition was.
He bought, what everyone should own, a brand new 1956 Cushman golf cart.
All of his life my father was intrigued by anything on wheels. Having a quirky sense of humor mother often joked, “If God knew I planned to marry Charlie Elster he would have given me a pair of wheels instead of these shapely legs.” They were a delightful couple.
Charlie’s love affair with cars began during his teenage years. The pastor of his church selected my father to chauffeur him in his fashionable Stutz Bearcat and if he wasn’t driving the priest on his house calls you could find him tinkering with the cars mechanical parts.
Fortunately, over the years, that learning experience served him well.
Along with finishing high school and the advent of WWI Charlie joined the military and was thrilled to serve his country in the motorcycle core. After a year of active duty in the Meuse-Argonne offensive he was honorably discharged from the army. He then returned home to Michigan where he decided to search for greener pasteurs and chose a vibrant Ohio.
In the beginning of his career the main thing he did, on his path to immortality, was to bring the first auto wash to Cleveland and from there he leased parking garages in upscale hotels such as the Auditorium and the Wade Park Manor. Later he leased parking lots in downtown Cleveland and eventually purchased properties in Cleveland’s business district.
Pretty soon, we knew my father had risen to the top when the Cleveland newspapers referred to him as Charlie Elster the “Parking Lot Magnate”. But I do understand none of this is comparable to being the owner of American Ship Building.
Still, I can’t tell you how proud I am to be the daughter of this self-made man. In my eyes, he will always be a Prince among men.
Please excuse me for digressing but at the ripe old age of 78 I sometimes find it’s more comfortable to dwell in the past. So, without further adieu, on with the story.
When George and Charlie pulled into Lakewood Country Club’s parking lot that evening my father was driving his dream car – a pitch black Chrysler New Yorker. Then, rather than going directly to a small barn behind the first hole where the golf cart was housed they made a detour at the men’s locker room. The reason being my father wanted to introduce his daughter’s friend to three of his special golfing buddies.
Following some serious hand shaking George, Charlie and his three buddies sat at a table in the middle of the locker room and ordered, to say the least, a few rounds of scotch and water. Then along with each round they thought it was great fun to order a Shirley Temple for an under age George.
At last, night had fallen and the four merry men, plus George, could be seen in the lime green golf cart zigzagging across the manicured fairways with Charlie at the helm.
And whether or not they were WWI vets these tipsy middle-aged men, except for George, considered themselves to be Doughboys as they bumped about on the back of the golf cart and along with waving beer mugs brimming with scotch and water you could hear them singing, at the top of their lungs, “It’s a Long Way to Tipperary.”
Now, it’s time to stop and ask the reader if they know why it was in God’s divine plan to put a boulder right in front of the golf cart. Certainly it wasn’t Charlie’s fault when he rammed into it and the golf cart tipped over causing all its passengers, even George, to spill into the sand trap on the 18th hole. What a sight these four captains of industry were, and George, as they stood in a foot of sand warning each other not to tell a soul what had just happened. Then, in the blink on an eye three of them shot a fearsome look at Bill Van Roy of Van Roy Coffee fame and someone said, “Whatever you do, Bill, don’t spill the beans,” and they all roared with laughter except for George.
Around 1:00 am George and my father were back in our house on Upland road and realizing Charlie’s condition mother had busied herself putting him to bed. This allowed a bedraggled George a little privacy in order to show me the injury he sustained on that fateful night.
Just above his ankle was a giant purple goose egg and, if you can imagine, I was speechless.
Sensing my confusion and attempting to reassure me he bent down to give me a big bear hug but, as caring as George tried to be, he couldn’t resist whispering into my ear, “Those guys are crazy!”
The next day I heard, through the grapevine, that George’s bump was shrinking and all of Bay Village was happy to learn his hopes for someday winning Olympic gold hadn’t been crushed.
That evening, as was our custom, George and I were back sitting on the puffy dusty-rose couch in our family room watching the news with my parents.
And the Legend lives on.
post script – My mother passed away 2 years ago. When Charlie passed away in 1970 the golf cart was sold to the local gas station for $50. I was able to find and restore an original 1955 Cushman golf cart this past summer (2013) . 1955 was the first year of the Cushman golf cart and the distinctive front and rear bumpers and three wheel design gave it a classic 1950′s look. Very few of these still exist today. We are so happy to have it back in our family once again.
For Cushman enthusiasts this is the Cushman Golfster, model 732 production unit #19. It was professionally restored by Del Reals Auto Body & Paint in Escondido, CA. Both Ricardo and his father did an amazing job bringing this classic cart back to it’s once proud showroom condition. We can’t thank them enough.
Over the next three and a half years George and I spent our summers together and corresponded when he was away at Williams College.
I saved the letters that he sent to me over sixty years ago so that I could reminisce from time to time.
Recently, I was asked to share my letters in a book that would describe George during his formative years. I was also asked to donate my letters to the Baseball Hall of Fame to be put on display.
The Yankees felt that my letters would cause “Untold embarrassment and damages to the Steinbrenner family and the Steinbrenner’s business interests.” While I find that hard to believe, I respect their decision.
Richard Sandomir of The NY Times wrote an insightful article about the Yankee’s response, you can read the full story here, Yankees Want Steinbrenner Letters Kept Private.
While much has been written about George in his later life as the owner of the New York Yankees, little has been told about his formative years. I would like to share with people a unique perspective of these wonderful times.
I hope that you enjoy my stories and stop back often.
As soon as we finished exchanging pleasantries George offered to buy me a cup of hot chocolate.
The two of us sat at a small table in the back of deli and told amusing stories about our children’s escapades.
Each us of us were careful not to mention our, long ago, relationship. We kept the conversation light and friendly until we were getting ready to go. Then, from out of nowhere, I startled George by announcing, “I still have all the letters you sent me.”
Once George regained his composure a wonderful smile lit up his face and with a quick wink he said, “MJ burn them!” And that’s what I intended to do when I got home but my day became unbelievably busy and I forgot.
Did you ever wake in the wee hours of the night and know there was something you needed to do?
Well, at 2:00 am the next morning that happened to me. So, I slipped out of bed, crept up the narrow stairs to the attic, found George’s letters and brought them down the stairs to the family room.
Next, I rekindled the fire my family had enjoyed earlier that evening and ceremoniously took the first letter and held it over the fire but, all at once, George’s signature caught my eye. “I miss you something awful Mary Jane. bonne nuit – Love, George”
Immediately I pulled the letter away from the fire and there I was all cozy and warm dressed in my flowered periwinkle nightgown reading the letters once more.
In one particular letter George explained about a campus brawl he had been in on a Halloween night. He tells me, “This morning I have a beautiful shiner and a lip that looks like the Graf Zeppelin but honestly Elster you should see the other guy.”
He then goes on to thank me for teaching him the manly art of self-defense. This brought to mind the all-time funniest experience I had with George.
In fact, while I was remembering that eventful day a little giggle escaped from my lips and suddenly I burst into gales of laughter.
On a winter’s evening in December of 1950 George drove me to Huntington Beach. This is the most picturesque area in Bay Village.
We parked on the side of a cliff high above a sea of splashing water and with his arm around my shoulder we watched the flocks of ring-billed gulls fluttering about in the icy winter’s air.
Then George whispered, “Aren’t the stars beautiful?” And I thought, “Oh boy, here it comes.”
As usual I was right. After he leaned over and kissed me he proceeded to go a step further and, as usual, I stopped him.
This was a handbook that, in part, attempted to show young women the value in protecting their virginity. Quite frankly, I doubt it is still being published. Who would buy it? Still it was, for me, a way of life.
When we arrived at my house the last thing George said to me was, “Some day I’m going to read your Catholic Girls Guide” and I was so frustrated with him the words just popped out of my mouth, “I’d like you to read it. There’s a great chapter on how to protect yourself from teenage boys with raging hormones.”
It was a week before I heard from him again.
Burn the letters – NEVER
Mary Jane Schriner