A Brief Introduction

I first met George in 1949 when he drove by our house in his blue convertible and waved in my direction. I was sixteen years old at the time and had just moved to Bay Village, Ohio.

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.

Unfortunately, the NY Yankees insisted that my letters could not be used for the book or be placed in the Hall of Fame.

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.

My Letters from George – AP Photograph

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.

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

 

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