The Series In The Family

Our family has a bit of history with the World Series.

leaguepark-panoramaIn 1920, the Cleveland Indians squared off against the Brooklyn Dodgers in the World Series.  My grandfather, Gilbert Neal, then a mere lad of 22, told me decades later about taking the train from Akron to Cleveland to catch one of the Series games at old League Park.  The Tribe won the Series — which in those days was a best of nine affair — to give Cleveland its first professional baseball championship.  Grandpa’s favorite player, Stan Coveleski, won three of the games to help put the Indians over the top.

In 1976, Dad and I went down to Cincinnati to watch one of the World Series games between the Cincinnati Reds and the New York Yankees in old Riverfront Stadium.  We weren’t really Reds fans, but when you get a chance to see a Series game, how can you say no?  That was the right call, because it was an electric atmosphere and a game I’ll always remember.  It was the apex of the Big Red Machine years, with Rose and Morgan, Bench and Perez, Foster and Geronimo.  The Reds won that game, and they swept the Yankees to complete a year that causes some people to argue that the ’76 Reds were right there with the 1927 Yankees in the debate about which was the greatest baseball team of all time.

During the first half of my life, the Tribe was frequently terrible and at best mediocre, and never came close to the playoffs.  But then their fortunes turned.  The Tribe finally made it to the World Series again, in 1995 and 1997, but I didn’t go to any of the games.  I was busy at work, the kids were little, and of course the ticket prices were exorbitant.  And I guess I thought that, with the Indians turning the corner in the ’90s, we were likely to see another World Series in Cleveland in short order.

bn-qj049_1019in_gr_20161019190617Of course, that didn’t happen — until this year.  And when the Indians improbably beat the Boston Red Sox and the Toronto Blue Jays to make the Series, I told UJ and Russell that we had to go to a Series game up in Cleveland.  How often do you have the chance to go to the World Series and support your team, watch a game with your son and brother, and experience that unique thrill of being at a championship event?  This year, I was determined not to have the opportunity pass us by.  So Friday I went on line, groaned at the outlandish scalpers’ prices being demanded for seats at the initial games in Cleveland, and then sucked it up and bought three seats together in one of the nosebleed sections of Progressive Field for game one of the World Series.  I printed out the tickets yesterday.

So tomorrow night UJ, Russell and I will be in our seats at the ballpark in Cleveland — assuming that the tickets I paid through the nose for aren’t fraudulent, of course — to cheer like crazy for the Tribe.  We’ll all get the chance to feel that World Series hoopla that Grandpa Neal enjoyed almost 100 years ago, and that Dad and I tasted 40 years ago.  We’ll have an experience we’ll always remember, we’ll feel a stronger sense of connection to those long-departed family members, and we’ll add a bit to the family tradition with the World Series.  I’d say that’s worth the money.

Go Tribe!

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Why I’m Glad The Republicans Of The Family Aren’t Around To See This

I’m glad the long-time Republicans in my family aren’t around to witness the 2016 campaign.

Don’t get me wrong:  I wish they were still among the living.  But, with every new slide into cheap slurs and sophomoric behavior, I can’t help but shake my head at how those lifelong Rs would react to what we are seeing.

trump-lead_3512719bTake Grandpa Neal.  He first voted for President in 1920, for Warren G. Harding, and I’m confident he voted Republican in every presidential election for the next 76 years, making his last vote for Bob Dole in 1996.  After the 1968 election, he proudly displayed a plaque he received for his contribution to the Nixon campaign on his bookshelf.  He was a banker who voted Republican because he thought it was the party of fiscal responsibility, growth, and individual initiative, the party of prudent foreign and domestic policy that didn’t go in for the flash and dash of the Ds.  The Republican Party and its sober image fit him to a T. He was a modest paragon of propriety, always carefully dressed and primly mannered, with no flashes of crude humor.  He and Grandma Neal slept in separate twin beds.

Grandma Webner also tended to pull the lever for the Republicans.  She despised the Kennedys for the ostentatious displays of wealth and power that she thought let them get away with murder, and she was appalled by the scandalous behavior of some Democratic politicians.  She thought the Republicans were the more respectable party.

So how in the world would Grandpa Neal and Grandma Webner react to a Republican contest that has seen the leading candidate make a not-so-oblique reference to his sexual capabilities during a televised debate?  Could they rationalize a campaign in which the appearances of candidates’ wives become an issue and where trading crass insults seems to have replaced knowledgeable discussion of policy?  How would they respond to a candidate who routinely brags about how much money he’s made, who was a reality TV star, and has encouraged thuggish behavior by his followers?

I suspect that they would say that this is not their Republican Party anymore.

The Trump supporters say that he is giving the staid and stodgy Republican Party a much-needed shake-up and bringing new voters into the GOP fold.  Maybe that’s true — but maybe the Republican Party is just losing its way.  If Donald Trump is the nominee, what does the Republican Party stand for, really?  

In the Board Room, At Portage Country Club

IMG_2275Today Kish and I visited Portage Country Club in Akron, Ohio for the first time in almost 20 years.  It’s a grand old Tudor-style club that was the center of many activities for our family.  We’ve had wedding receptions there, it’s where I learned to swim, and today it hosted a memorial service for Uncle Gilbert.  He would have liked the fact that the occasion brought all the cousins together again at such a familiar location.

One of the most familiar places at Portage is the Board Room.  For years, Grandpa Neal would hold an annual family luncheon around the time of his birthday.  Everyone attended, and as spouses and babies joined the family the size of the gathering grew.  After we’d had our lunch Grandpa would give a little speech about what had happened to everyone during the year, and the lunch would be capped off by Baked Alaska (Kish’s favorite).

It’s been many years since we had one of those dinners, but the Board Room still looks the same.  Seeing the room and the pictures of the past country club presidents, I could almost hear Grandpa’s voice and see us all gathered around the table.

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When The Internet Is Fun Again

-6I recognize there are downsides to the internet. It can be an angry place, where anonymous people hurl their rage like weapons. It’s filled with porn, and scams, and falsities, and predators looking to inflict harm on the unwary.

There is so much about the internet that is bad that we forget, sometimes, that the internet can be fun, too. I remembered that today, when I received a comment on our blog from a fellow named Tim. He’d read some of our blog posts about Grandpa Neal, and he wanted to reach out and connect. You see, he’s related to one of Grandpa’s lifelong friends, and he has some pictures of Grandpa with that friend that he wanted to share.

This kind of contact with an unknown person is exactly the kind of thing that makes the internet so much fun — and, sometimes, so treacherous. I responded to Tim, we exchanged emails, and he has sent me some great old photos and news articles. This picture of the Firestone Bank 1923 basketball squad, which apparently won the Akron bank league competition, is a classic that made me smile. I’ve never seen it before. That’s a ridiculously youthful Grandpa Neal holding the ball, and Tim’s grandfather standing above Grandpa’s left shoulder.

Were it not for the internet, I never would have communicated with Tim or seen this photo. For all of its drawbacks, the internet remains an extraordinary communications tool. Thanks, Tim, for sharing — and thanks to the internet for making it all possible.

Direct From the ’60s, I Give You The Light Blue American Express World Travel Service Bag

When we cleaned out Mom’s condo to get it ready for sale, we removed a bunch of stuff that had been stored in cupboards and closets and ignored for years.  The paraphernalia was distributed among the five kids, to be examined later.

Among the boxes and bags that I received were two very old movie projectors, an old slide projector, slide carousels, a Super 8 hand camera, and lots of old movies from the ’70s.  They are found in two light blue, high-quality plastic American Express World Travel Service bags.

IMG_3727Richard and I are going to have to figure out how to work the projectors, but for now I want to focus on the American Express World Travel Service bags.  They are chock full of maps, passport cases, American Express travel tip booklets (one is entitled “Priceless Travel Secrets” in Laugh-In era typeface) and other items that harken back to a day when travel was a great adventure, something that you dressed up for and anticipated.  In those days, you went to an American Express travel agent to help plan your trip, and the agent gave you “free” stuff that made the impending journey even cooler — stuff like these little blue bags.  They reek of the ’60s and early ’70s, these little blue bags, like props you might see to set the time period on Mad Men.

The American Express bags belonged to my grandparents, who loved to travel and paid careful attention to every tip and suggested technique.  I can just imagine them holding this bag stuffed full of cameras, film, itineraries, and booklets as they boarded a Pan Am prop plane for the transAtlantic trip, both wearing hats and dressy attire, passports secure in their passport case in one suit coat pocket, American Express Traveler’s Checks carefully stored in their special holder in another pocket.

It was a different time then.

Grandpa’s Bowling Team

IMG_3667I ran across this classic photo recently and had to share it.  It’s a picture of Grandpa Neal’s bowling team, circa the mid-1920s.  That’s him in the middle of the back row — the slender, square-jawed fellow who still had some hair to part.

A pretty somber bunch, aren’t they, with their little bow ties, and long-sleeved, buttoned-up white shirts, and carefully shined shoes?  I doubt if they ever called a beer frame or engaged in any horseplay that might detract from their ability to pick up the ten pin.  Bowling was serious business in those days, when Akron was one of the centers of the bowling universe and dozens of teams competed for bragging rights in the Akron Masonic League.

Grandpa Neal loved bowling, and he participated in the Akron Masonic League for more than 60 years, until well into his 90s.

From Grandpa’s Bookshelf: Optimism Amidst The Great Depression

1939 was not a great year.  The Great Depression had lingered for 10 years, with no end in sight.  In Europe, the growth of Nazi Germany and then the invasion of Poland brought on World War II.  Aggressive totalitarian regimes were found across the globe.  You would not have blamed someone of that time for feeling deeply pessimistic about the course of human history.

And yet, there were optimists, even in 1939 — and I think Grandpa Neal was one of them.  His bookshelf included a small book called Thought Starters published in 1939 by the Imperial Electric Company of Akron, Ohio.  It has an unabashed motivational message, with chapters with titles like “Success Road is Wide Open,” “The Will to Win,” “The Go-Getter’s Way,” and “Ideas Are Worth More Than Cash.”  The book’s theme is that an optimistic approach, where opportunities are recognized and pursued, will lead to success.  The hopeful bullishness of the book is captured in this passage from the “Opportunities Galore!” chapter:  “You are living in a wonderful age.  Just think!  The greatest developments in the world have occurred during the past century.  And the years ahead will make current progress look like child’s play!”

Grandpa’s copy of Thought Starters is personally signed by John Hearty, the president of the Imperial Electric Company. I found myself wondering what happened to the positive-thinking Mr. Hearty and his company.  It turns out that the Imperial Electric Company survived the Great Depression and recently celebrated its 100th anniversary.  Mr. Hearty turned the company over to his son, who ran it until it was sold in 1983.  No doubt the optimistic, opportunity-driven attitude reflected in Thought Starters helped the company to be successful.

If people in 1939 could be optimistic about the future, we should be able to muster some optimism now.  Rather than wringing our hands about our current predicament, our country and our leaders be well served by adopting some of the can-do, positive attitude reflected in this little book.

From Grandpa’s Bookshelf:  Grandma’s Book of Sayings