Mrs. Steinbrenner in the Shoe Store

50's walking shoesAs far back as I can remember a pregnant woman was a priority but this wasn’t so one brisk Autumn afternoon in 1955.

There I was, in full bloom, an expectant mother entering the local shoe store.

Arthur’s Shoe Tree, was and is, a highly respected establishment in our home town of Bay Village, Ohio.

When I crossed the threshold and entered the shop Arthur greeted me as usual. Then he ushered me to a soft leather chair and immediately asked what type of shoe I had in mind. Considering my delicate condition I replied, “I’d like a pair of comfortable walking shoes.”

He smiled a gracious smile, and said, “Your wish is my command,” but before he could get up from measuring my feet the bell above the front door started chiming and a young woman rushed into the store. Trust me, all eyes were upon her!

At the time there were several customers in the shop. Some were browsing while a smooth talking salesman was charming the others still everyone turned to see who was in such a big hurry.

After the woman got her bearings she looked directly at Arthur and spoke, “I need to be waited on now! George is in the car. You know how he hates to be kept waiting.”

As soon as I heard her mention George I knew she must be Joan Steinbrenner. What other George could it be?

In a split second Arthur was attending George’s poor wife. As for me, the abandoned pregnant lady, I sat in the soft leather chair and observed the fascinating scene unfolding before me.

It wasn’t long until a pleased Mrs. Steinbrenner left the shop with a box under her arm and an apologetic Arthur was back taking care of me.

At this point I should tell the reader what I learned from my, out the blue experience in the shoe store, but I prefer not to.

That day as I strolled out of Arthur’s wearing my new walking shoes I realized it was still a brisk Autumn afternoon and, indeed, all was right with my world.

In January I gave birth to a beautiful baby girl. Oh yes, all was right with my world.

Mary Jane Schriner
© All Rights Reserved

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

In Dresser Drawer, Recalling a Chivalrous Steinbrenner

(Published in the NY Times July 15, 2010)

Mary Jane's letters from GeorgeOver the years my mother wrote short stories about events in her life and kept them in a box under her bed. The stories were fascinating to read because they took us back in time to a place where we grew up. Last year, my mother organized her stories into a small book, “And So.”

Now, at 77, my mother spends her mornings working the front counter at a bakery, greeting loyal customers and, every once in a while, selling a book to a local resident who also likes to reminisce.

Last week my family flew in from San Diego to see relatives and friends. We wanted our children to see the old family photographs, so my mother reached under the bed and pulled out the box. She showed us some we hadn’t seen in years.

While we were sharing memories on Tuesday, we heard the news that George Steinbrenner had died. My mother went into her bedroom and opened her dresser drawer. She pulled out more than a dozen letters from George dating to 1949. She had spoken of them before but now asked if I would like to read them. Instead I asked her to share her memories with us, and here is what she told us:

I met George on a summer’s evening in 1949 when I was 16. My family had recently moved to Bay Village, Ohio. I was sitting on the grass beneath a splendid oak tree in our front yard when a streamlined, powder-blue Plymouth convertible sporting the license plate G7S pulled into the driveway across the street, at the home of the football captain. Lo and behold, a handsome young man got out of the car. Then for no apparent reason he looked in my direction and waved.

Over the next four years, George and I sat underneath the oak tree and shared our ideas and dreams. One of his dreams was to run in the Olympics. I am not quite sure if that was his dream or a need to please his father.

Every birthday and special occasion, George sent me a dozen gorgeous American Beauty roses. Seeing they came from the local florist shop and being a suspicious teenager, I’d ask the shop’s owner if George sent roses to other girls. The answer was no. But what else would he say?

We often visited the ice cream parlor in the center of our small town. Each of us would order a milkshake, although I could seldom finish mine. George would insist I take the remainder of the milkshake home. This was accompanied by a lecture from him on the evils of wastefulness.

During those years we went to movies, football games, baseball games, parties and once in a while to watch the trotters at the Thistledown Racetrack. Only once did George become angry with me.

We attended a dinner dance at the University Club in Cleveland, and after a rather tiresome dinner, the band began to play the Mexican Hat Dance. George asked me to dance.

I refused, saying, “It’s a silly dance and I don’t want to look foolish.”

George responded, “If you continue to say no, I am taking you home right now.”

And he did. You can imagine the ride back to Bay Village. The silence was deafening.

Original art by Mary Jane Schriner

When we arrived at my house, George, ever the gentleman, helped me out of the car and guided me up the porch steps to the front door. When he started to leave, he looked me straight in the eyes and said, “Don’t expect me to call you again.”

Early the next morning the phone rang. It was George. “Look on your front step.” I hurried to the front door, opened it and there, in all its glory, was a bright red sombrero with a small sign pinned to it saying, “Sorry.” In those days it wasn’t in George to stay angry.

In the late fall, hand in hand, we would stroll along the shores of Lake Erie while watching a golden sun melt into a frosty horizon. We were two young dreamers in harmony with each other and the world around us.

As time went on, we went to separate colleges and gradually grew apart. But I’ll always remember him as a fun-loving, kind and generous young man who brightened my youth.

In a letter from George dated May 15 1950, he addressed me by my maiden name and wrote: “Well, Elster, I bought a pair of white bucks today, and I thought you would be pleased to know that I plan to wear them all around the Hicksville town we live in. You can laugh till the cows come home, and it won’t bother me.”

He did wear the shoes, and I did laugh till the cows came home.

Mary Jane Schriner

 

The Day George Fought With His Dad

Lake Shore Hotel 1952

When Joe and I attended a wedding reception at the Lake Shore Hotel I could never have guessed how our day would end.

That afternoon we walked down the carpeted steps into the hotel’s ballroom.

High above us thousands of tiny glittering bulbs in chandeliers lit the room and across from us, glass doors with ornate handles opened to a sweeping view of Lake Erie under a sapphire sky.

Waiters dressed in immaculate white jackets, black bow ties, black trousers and polished black shoes weaved in and out of the guests while balancing silver trays of bubbly champagne.

Lake Shore Hotel Ballroom

As we waited in line to greet the newlyweds I noticed, on a small stage behind us, a woman in a satin gown stroking a golden harp. Her music caressed the well-wishers like a soothing balm.

Then, without any warning, a sharp voice cut through the joyous atmosphere and everything stopped.

It was the Maitre D’s voice. He was standing in front of a microphone on the small stage at the end of the ballroom. “May I have your attention. There is an urgent call for Mary Jane Elster. Please go to the phone at the desk in the lobby.”

Joe accompanied me to the lobby and stayed next to me when I took the call.

I was startled when I heard George. His words were erratic and I couldn’t tell if what he said was a plea or a demand. “You’ve got to meet me at the train station in the Terminal Tower. I’ve fought with my Dad and I’m leaving home.” George didn’t say what the argument was about but I knew it was serious.

George talked to my mother earlier in the day and she told him I was with Joe and he already knew that we had recently become engaged. But it didn’t seem to matter.

I tried explaining how wrong it was to expect me to go and besides, “How would I get there?” George said “Have Joe drive you.”

Because I hesitated George became annoyed. His final word was “Try” and then he hung up.

Several years later, after each of us married others, we spoke again. But that’s a story for another time.

Author’s note – Because I am losing my sight I am seldom bothered by outside distractions making my memories even more vivid.

Mary Jane Schriner

A Fragrant Memory

Yesterday on my 78th birthday my son Michael and his wife Michelle sent me a dozen lovely American Beauty roses and by late afternoon my small apartment was filled with their fragrance. It reminded me of a long ago time when I received my first dozens roses.

There was a knock at the door and a man’s loud voice called out, “I have a delivery for Mary Jane Elster.”

When I opened the door the man handed me a florist box with a red satin bow.

I quickly removed the bow, took off the lid, and to my delight, found a dozen American Beauty roses with a note inside.

The handwritten note simply said, “Happy 16th birthday, Champ.” Love, George

I still have the note, the red satin bow and best of all, the memory.

Mary Jane Schriner
© All Rights Reserved

Okay George, you’re “The Boss”

There he was, sitting in my father’s overstuffed easy chair, shaking his head.

I’m not sure what day God appointed George to run my life but he was my Boss long before the Yankees called him their boss.

That particular evening, in the spring of 1950, I was dressed in a navy-blue shantung suit and getting ready to go to a spinster dinner at my friend’s house when George stopped by to visit.

He took one look at me in my outfit and asked,”Why are you wearing that?”

My mother overheard him and when she came into the living room and saw what I had on, she laughed and said, “He’s right Mary Jane, you better change your outfit. After all, George is the BOSS.”

Mary Jane Schriner

Published in: on November 20, 2010 at 3:20 pm  Comments (2)  
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Miss Rheingold 1952, and the Crown goes to…

The phone rang at midnight and when I answered it I heard George’s voice telling me, “I just took Miss Rheingold home and I’m back at the William’s Club.”

At that time I had no idea who Miss Rheingold was but recently Bill Gutman, a well-known author and good friend, explained that, back in the day, Rheingold Beer ran a yearly contest in New York to choose the most beautiful contestant. Some of the finalist were Grace Kelly, Tippi Hedren and Hope Lange.

George said his date was with the 1952 winner Anne Hogan and then he went on to say, “Elster, you ruined me. I use to be fun – lots of noise – right in the center of the old party. Now, look at me.”

My response should have been, “That’s okay George why don’t you relax with a nice mug of Rheingold Beer.”

Mary Jane Schriner
© All Rights Reserved

George really did like Meatball Calzones!

Calzona RestaurantGeorge and I often went to a local Italian restaurant in Westlake, Ohio, called the Elzona. And as you can imagine, from watching Seinfeld, George always ordered the Meatball Calzone. I never paid much attention at the time but when I see that episode it makes me laugh.

In fact, George liked the calzones so much he nicknamed the Elzona the “Calzona.”

Author’s note – George preferred meatball calzones to eggplant calzones.

Mary Jane Schriner
© All Rights Reserved

Published in: on November 16, 2010 at 8:44 pm  Comments (3)  
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George gets his first taste of Humble Pie

In my two previous articles concerning my friendship with George Steinbrenner I described George’s Deluxe powder blue convertible but what I failed to mention was on my seventeenth birthday my parents gave me a sporty light green 1950 Plymouth convertible.

When George heard about my gift he hurried over to our house to check out my new car.

As soon as he saw that my convertible was smaller than his convertible a look of relief spread across his face. And to top it off the MJ40 on my license plate was not as prestigious as his G7S. Therefore, in his mind, he was still the teenager that owned the very best car in Bay Village, Ohio.

Original art by Mary Jane Schriner

One warm summer's day we were sitting underneath the oak tree in my front yard when we began to compare our cars. George complimented my car but, as usual, he boasted that his car was bigger, better and faster than mine. That was it. In his devious way George had thrown down the gauntlet and I knew I must accept his challenge.

That evening we met, with our cars, on a small dirt road in a neighboring suburb.

Then we parked our cars next to each other and at the count of three we put our pedals to the metal and like grease lightning we plunged into the night.

Halfway to the end of the road George zoomed by me and won the race. Then to make matters worse, when I arrived at the finish line he walked over to my car and said, in his most annoying tone, "Don't feel bad "Sport" it's not your fault my car is bigger and faster than yours."

We did race a few more times but our final race was so devastating for George we never raced again.

Our cars were parked together and at the count of three I took off in a cloud of dust but when I looked to the side George was nowhere to be seen. Of course, I stopped and went back to George's car and there he was, the race car king, sitting behind his steering wheel with a scowl on his face.

He explained that the gas gauge had broken in his "bigger and faster" car and it was out of gas.

Trying to help I said, "Don't feel bad, "Sport," I'll be happy to drive you, in my little car, to get a can of gas."

On the way to the gas station George was slouched down in the passenger seat. He was a broken man. I knew this was my chance.

So, with a sympathetic tone in my voice, I asked him if after we got the gas would he like to get something to eat and then I said, "I'd love to treat you to a big slice of humble pie."

We never raced again.

Mary Jane Schriner
© All Rights Reserved

Published in: on November 15, 2010 at 2:15 am  Comments (2)  
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A note from Mary Jane

Thank you so much for all of your wonderful and thoughtful comments. George and I were great friends. I truly enjoy the opportunity to share these stories of our friendship from so long ago. I will always remember him as a caring, kind and fun-loving young man who brightened my youth – Mary Jane

Published in: on October 17, 2010 at 1:06 pm  Leave a Comment  
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