Sixty Years Later a Wonderful Gift from an Old Friend

Last July when I heard my old friend George Steinbrenner had died I went to my dresser drawer and brought out the letters he wrote to me over sixty years ago.

As I read the letters I realized that gifts can arrive in unexpected ways. Sometimes they come wrapped in a memory.

I’ve always thought of my mind as a small treasure chest and my happy memories are precious jewels. Over time I placed these precious jewels in a secret corner of my mind never knowing I would, once again, relive those distant yesterdays.

After hearing about George’s death I opened the chest and took out my memories.

While I held the jewels in my hand I noticed a beautiful diamond begin to shimmer. So, I set it on a piece of black velvet in order to see into it better and there deep inside the jewel a memory came alive. It carried me back to a gentler world.

It was July 1949. George and I were sitting beneath the oak tree in my front yard. Warm summer breezes caressed us and sprays of sunshine brushed our faces but the most amazing surprise was our voices were clear as a bell.

George Steinbrenner Running Hurdles at Williams College 1952

We were laughing and joking about all sorts of silly things the way teenagers often do when our conversation began to take on a serious tone.

George was telling me his dream for the future. “I’m going to be the star of the Olympics. I’ll even run faster than Harrison Dillard.”

Then he asked me if I had a special dream. I replied, “I hope to become a famous writer and lots of people will want to read what I have to say.”

George hesitated for a moment then said, “Well Margaret Mitchell, maybe I can help you write a great masterpiece like her novel, Gone With The Wind.” But I was sure that couldn’t be.

The day had ended and the diamond’s glow was fading but as hard as I tried to hold on to the memory sleep overcame me. The next thing I knew morning had come and the phone started to ring.

It was my son, Michael. He called to let me know the NY Times wanted me to write a short story about my friendship with George. Their plan was to publish it the day before his funeral.

I was apprehensive at first because I’ve only shown the stories I have written to a few relatives and friends. Over the years I kept them tucked away in a box under my bed but soon my words would be read by many and I didn’t want to disappoint George or his family.

I used his letters as a backdrop and, as if by magic, the words flowed upon the paper. Suddenly, what I thought would be a difficult task turned into a joyful journey back from those long ago days when we sat beneath the oak tree.

On July 16th my articled appeared in the Times and I was so pleased to see that they hadn’t changed a word. Over the course of that day I received numerous calls saying how much people enjoyed the story and I honestly felt that this was a tribute to what a fine young man George was.

That night while I was relaxing in my favorite chair and I was locked away from the busy world outside it occurred to me that the dream shared with an old friend had finally been realized. And for at least one day, I was a famous writer. What a wonderful gift.

Now when I open the treasure chest and a jewel begins to sparkle I will take the memory out and place it on piece of black velvet for everyone to see because I love writing about those golden days when we were young.

Mary Jane Schriner


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 and “The Pride of the Yankees”

Here is a short story that Yankees fans will appreciate.

The other night I was watching Turner Classic Movies and they were featuring 31 days of Oscar.

As I was watching Gary Cooper in The Pride of the Yankees I was reminded of a long ago conversation with George.

First, let me tell you, George loved sports. He especially liked track and field. George had once told me that his father Henry Steinbrenner II was a championship hurdler at MIT. To his father’s delight, George became an accomplished hurdler on the varsity track and field team for Williams College.

George also played halfback for their football team in his senior year and after injuring his shoulder was relegated to punting.

George corresponded often about his progress. I had to laugh when he wrote to me in December of 1949, “It’s not much of an experience when they keep sticking you in heats with Harrison Dillard. I’ve gotten so use to coming in last that if I were to get ahead, I think I’ll probably die of fright.”

Although I never met Harrison, we did attend the same college. Everyone at Baldwin-Wallace was so proud of him when he won his gold medals in the 1948 and 1952 Olympics.

I had heard in later years that George hired Harrison to be the training coach for the Yankees. It’s admirable to know that fierce competitors can become good friends.

Well, back to my story. George once confided in me that one of his favorite all time movies was The Pride of the Yankees. I hadn’t seen the movie so George went into considerable detail explaining how it was based on the real life story of Lou Gehrig.

George was so passionate in his depiction that I clearly remember a tear in his eye when he said, “Lou Gehrig, what a great guy!”

Little did I know that George would soon become the proud caretaker of such an illustrious organization so rich in it’s history of honorable men.

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 1955 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 – 1955 was the first year of the Cushman golf cart (also knows as the Golfster). The distinctive front and rear bumpers, all steel body and three wheel design gave it a classic look.  Only a couple of the first year model still exist today.

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.

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”

George Steinbrenner love letter
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

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