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!

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.

George Wanted Me to Burn the Letters

One memorable Saturday morning, after Joe and I were married a few years, I was leaving Keefer’s delicatessen when I bumped into George.

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.”

My Letters from George – AP Photograph

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.

But this time his face became flushed and he muttered, “Come on, I’m taking you home so you can read your Catholic Girls Guide.”

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

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

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
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Published in: on November 15, 2010 at 2:15 am  Comments (2)  
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