From Out of Left Field

George was always full of surprises and this surprise came straight out of left field.

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.

A Moment of Silence for Sherman

Charlie and Sherman - July 1949

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.

Myself, Helen & Charlie - August 1948

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!

George Goes Along for the Ride

Vintage, 3 Wheel, 1955 Cushman Golf CartLegend 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.

Charlie Elster WWI – 1917

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.

Bill Cannon, Charlie Elster, Tony Rini and George Hirkala

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.

Finally, the exhausted Doughboys and George, with my father steering, pushed his latest acquisition into the barn and went home.
3 Wheel Vintage Cushman Golf Cart

1955 Cushman Original logo and headlight

1955 Cushman Golf Cart with rear seat and bag holder

1955 Cushman golf cart all steel body

Original 1955 Cushman Golf Cart with Griffin Headlight

24 Volt Cushman Golf Cart with original Baldor electric motorAround 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.

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.

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

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