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

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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