The 1950s were a wonderful time to grow up in America. The world was at relative peace and the economy was flourishing. Moms and dads still held to values and, more importantly, they had time to teach them.
Growing up in suburban Nassau County, it was rare to visit the wilds of Suffolk. The occasional Sunday drive was the only time we ventured that far east. It was a hot July day when Dad packed the car and we headed east to visit Uncle Joe at his summer cottage in Mastic. We began on the Southern State Parkway and transitioned to Sunrise Highway. The final leg was Montauk Highway, east of Patchogue.
I knew we were close when we passed Dodge City and its Western motif. It seemed like an endless trek, with the vent windows reversed to suck more air into the car. No, there was no air conditioner in that 1956 Ford Custom.
Dad pulled to the curb in front of a sporting goods store along the old roadway. The car was enveloped in a cloud of blue stone dust as the engine cooled and ticked away. He cheerfully announced that Uncle Joe was taking us out on a boat, and we needed to buy bait.
We entered through the old wooden door and a musty smell assaulted me immediately. This store had served for many years prior to my discovery.
There on the counter was a brand-new fielder's glove: a Rawlings. It was a Mickey Mantle-autographed model, and I was hooked. "Can I have it, Dad?" I knew by the look on his face that this would require negotiation. "Please, Dad?"
My father scrunched his face and replied, "I don't have an extra $13, Son, but maybe you could earn the money, and we will come back."
"But what if it is sold before then?"
"Well, then you could look for another one," he said. "Maybe it wasn't meant to be."
I always hated that expression, "It isn't meant to be." Laden with worms but no fielder's glove, we traipsed back to the car and finished our trip. I spent the weekend being a pest.
I was 8 years old with a goal and could help with any project. I quickly learned that roofing shingles was beyond my capability. I returned home blistered and gloveless, but I had earned $3.50.
I labored through the summer at all sorts of chores. Cutting the lawn was worth 35 cents. Garden weeding was worth only 25 cents. Every night I dozed off with a prayer that the Mantle glove hadn't been sold. The World Series was about to start when I counted out my loot and found I had $13.
Dad was true to his word. We topped off the gas tank at 27.9 cents a gallon and pointed the old Ford east. Two hours later, we walked into the musty store.
The shop owner smiled in recognition. "I thought you might be back," he said. He reached under the counter and brought up the Mantle glove. I slowly counted out the coins as I spilled them from the coffee-can bank.
The shopkeeper smiled as he handed over my newest prized possession. I was never so happy nor satisfied at having achieved this goal. We returned home, where I learned to mold a pocket and work neatsfoot oil into the glove.
As I look back, I wonder if Dad and that shop owner had conspired to teach me a valuable lesson, or was it rather a sign of the times? I wonder if today's e-merchants would help teach my grandchildren the same values.
MORE SPALDEEN FANS
Kudos to Jack Pepitone, whose recent story ("Brooklyn Memories That Stick," June 14) really brought back wonderful memories for us.
For our stickball games, we usually found the superintendent's broom in the basement of our apartment house, unscrewed the handle and returned it at the end of the game.
Unfortunately, we did not have anyone as courageous as Albie to venture into the sewer to recover a lost ball. In Borough Park, they tried a wad of chewing gum on the edge of a stick, which worked as long as there wasn't too much water in the sewer. In Bensonhurst, we twisted a loop at the end of a wire hanger and "fished" for the precious ball.
The famous "Spaldeen" was truly the most versatile piece of athletic equipment ever invented. With it, we played not only two forms of stickball (on-a-bounce and fastball pitching), but punchball, box baseball, triangle, stoop baseball, running bases, catchers-flyers-up, I Declare War and hit the penny. All this without adult supervision or transportation. It was truly wonderful.
One question, Mr. Pepitone: If you played punchball, how many sewers could you hit?
Murray Altman and Lew Stein,
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