Dad and Ted: a Dual Eulogy

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In this, Dad, a fourth generation New Englander, was hardly unusual, but growing up when he did and where he did, he made sure to take my brother and I to a ballgame at Fenway before Ted Williams retired. I was six, my brother Kevin was eight in 1960 when Dad drove us down Route 3, (which, I see, they're finally widening to three lanes all these many years later, because the Boston commute extends so much further north these days). Artie — Dad — would drive down 3 from Chelmsford, then onto what he considered the terrifying Route 2, thence to the even more harrowing Storrow Drive and a backstreets parking space that wasn't tough to find since (you can look it up) not more than seven or eight or ten thousand fans were showing up daily to see the Bosox play back then. Bleacher seats were a quarter; field boxes less than five bucks, but still you couldn't give them away. Teddy Ballgame's twilight notwithstanding, no one was showing — or next to no one.

Dad took Kevin and me to the game. This was all about tradition and legacies — beans, cod, Boston, swanboats, the Bosox — and not at all about winning, which was a good thing because the team, Ted excepted, well and truly stunk. "You've got to see this guy play," Dad said. "He won't be playing much longer." With that game in 1960 Dad secured something for himself, too: He saw Williams play in each of four decades. He had caught Ted coming up as a brash phenom in '39. Then both men had gone off to the war. Then Dad had gotten a GI Bill deal after his discharge to attend Suffolk Law at night while working in Lowell days. (Back then you could go to law school without ever landing a B.A., and the New World Order said you had to be ed-u-cated. Dad found these night courses at Suffolk, though he never intended to be a lawyer, and so he would drive to Boston after work in pursuit of his L.L.D, while Mom, who had loved him since 1938 but had waited until the hostilities were over — they're romantic, but prudent, in Lowell — enrolled in Fanny Farmer's cooking school so she could keep Artie company each evening in the Mercury. The year was 1946 and — you can look it up — because of what the Splinter was up to, Artie and Lu didn't log a lot of class time. They would park the car, hasten to the Fens and take in the Sox. The family joke would long be that their courtship was carried out largely in the presence of Ted Williams. Perhaps it was all for the good. Their kids would turn out to be pretty fair at cramming for tests, too, and would all become diehard Bosox fans in the measure.)

I digress.

But then, I guess this whole thing is a digression.

I've wound up writing about my dad a little, Ted a little, the Sox a fair bit and others in my family a fair bit through the years. I really cannot say what has been interesting and what has been self-indulgent and — in the case of Ted and the Sox — what has been economic (in order to write off a trip to Boston on my expenses or taxes). What I do know is that I loved my Dad, Boston, Ted, the Red Sox — and I still do, in about that order — and so with the weirdness of recent weeks, I find myself compelled to type some more on these topics and the recent intersection thereof.

First, in a digression on a digression, a tangent to these tangents, I extend thanks on behalf of the family to Tom Brady and Drew Bledsoe. I live in Westchester County now and have been New York-centered for two decades, but have never wavered in my devotion to, principally, the Bosox, with the Pats second, the Celts third and, then, the Bruins. Last year, when a particularly ugly Red Sox team came apart like an old Rawlings in early autumn, it was hard on my dad, who was then 85. The Pats gave us something to talk about, week in and week out, last fall and winter. Here was an overachieving team with a classy vet and a young lion and, well, it was all you could have hoped for. I am in this journalism racket and, therefore, can score tickets or credentials (I'm not rubbing it in, I'm just saying). But I didn't chase opportunities to see the Patsies play. I was content to sit before the tube, suck down a Sam Adams and call Artie every quarter on the quarter to compare notes. I was not at the Snow Bowl or the Super Bowl, but I was there with my dad. My wife, Luci, and I have twins who just turned two, plus a four-year-old, and therefore I was alone by the tube on those two late nights, even the Super one. Luci just can't put in those kind of hours for football. So I was alone, but hardly alone. I was with Dad. Mom (my mom) was hopelessly asleep in Chelmsford, and so Dad and I would sit with our cell phones on our laps and watch the action.

"How about that!"

"In the snow!"



"Brady's really something!"

Those are excerpts.

After the season, Dad clipped a full page ad that Bledsoe had placed in the Globe. In it, Bledsoe thanked the fans of New England for all their support, and said he would never forget them, even as he led Buffalo into whatever future awaited. "Always a classy guy," was Dad's scribbled note to me. That was the key thing for Dad. Such as Bledsoe, Plunkett and Parilli; Nomar, Tiant and Lonborg; Bird, Cousy and Russell; Bourque, Bucyk and Orr: Classy guys. The Carl Everetts and Terry Glenns of the world he had little use for, even if they wore our uniforms.

Ted Williams was, of course, a classy guy. "You know how much money he raised for the little kids with cancer?" Dad would ask me if I teased him about the Kid spitting at fans. "Millions. You know how many wars he fought in? Two. Two wars, and he really fought. A Marine. None of this USO stuff."

Dad died three weeks ago. It came pretty quickly — too quickly for the family — as lung cancer claimed him at 86. My mom, sister, brother and I had noticed him getting skinnier, but had probably been in the same denial that he had existed in before receiving the X-Ray results from the Lahey Clinic in May. At the time we were told he had six months to live if he did nothing. He was too old for surgery or chemo, but radiation might help. We started researching like mad and learned about a new drug that made things more comfortable, and perhaps even shrank tumors, in elderly lung cancer patients. We found a doctor at Lahey who was one of those prescribing the drug. He confirmed that Dad might be a proper candidate. But by then Dad was scheduled for several weeks of radiation, and it was decided to finish that, then see.

Dad, a two-pack-a-day guy since before the war, had done everything he could to fight mortality in his later years, including giving up cigarettes a decade ago after a mild stroke. His kids had married late and, therefore, his five grandchildren had come into his life late. He loved them dearly and wanted to see them grow a bit. He wanted to see them throw and catch a baseball. Now, he wanted one more summer. He was sure the four-year-old cousins, Caroline and Callie, would be swimming by September. That, he wanted to see. He sent five pair of his best short pants to the tailor and had the waist taken in on each. He was getting ready for the hot weather.

It was not to be. The radiation knocked the stuffing out of him. I sensed this a bit when last I saw him, in Massachusetts, over Memorial Day weekend. My mom and siblings were seeing him every day and so changes weren't so apparent to them. But as we sat in chairs on the lawn of my sister's place in Wellesley, sipping drinks and watching the kids play, the Sox game on the radio and discussion continually circling around to how well they were doing this year, Dad looked frail. My sister and I talked about discussing with Artie's radiation doc a switch in protocols — maybe that drug's an answer? — and, then, Artie plunged into four tough days and was dead. Suddenly. Just like that. A bolt to our consciousness. My brother wound up in the hospital himself with a bleeding ulcer, and the rest of us wound up bereft. (As is always the case with each and every family, I do realize.)

Just before Dad died I had attended a semi-annual lunch of the BLOHARDS club in New York City. The Benevolent Loyal Order of Honorable and Ancient Red Sox Die Hard Sufferers of New York is not an organization to which a card carrying member of the Fifth Estate should belong, because it is hardly impartial or objective. But I'm a BLOHARD, so sue me. Anyway, at this luncheon, held before the first Yankee Stadium Bosox-Yanks set-to of '02 (won by us, by the way), I hung out for a while with the Sox broadcaster Jerry Troupiano, met the young reserve second baseman Bryant Nelson and, then, enjoyed the company of my tablemate, Bill Nowlin, and his son. Bill is the founder and head honcho of Rounder Records in Cambridge, Mass, and a Red Sox nutcase of the first water, not to mention a Ted Williams fanatic. He knew the Kid, actually knew him. Nowlin had visited him in Florida last winter and had recently contributed a piece to the Globe Sunday magazine about Williams' Spanish heritage.

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