Saturday, March 25, 2017

Stogies and Ballgames

March 25, 2017

"It just doesn't smell right!" We were at the ball park watching the game, but something was missing. Suddenly it came to me and that's when I turned to Matt, the manager, and blurted it out. "When I was a kid, my grandfather took me to the ball games at Redwing stadium in Rochester. The stands were filled with old guys in white shirts, ties, and wearing fedoras. And probably seventy five percent of them were smoking big ol' stogies. THAT'S what's missing. A ball game doesn't smell right without the cigars!"

It's been a long time since those days. When I look through old photographs of my grandfather Bailey, I can't remember a single one that didn't have a cigarette dangling between the first two fingers of his left hand. And he never wore blue jeans. It didn't matter whether he was at work, fishing, or puttering around the yard, I never saw him wearing jeans. None of the men wore them back then; not where I grew up. Cotton twill, but never denim. And a man wouldn't think of showing up for church in anything less than a sport coat and tie, but preferably a suit. And shoes! The only adult men you ever saw wearing sneakers ("gym shoes" for anyone under forty) were professional basketball players. Everyone wore broughams, leather tops and soles. You wore them for dress until they wore out, then you had them resoled and you wore them for work shoes. And it was all made in America.

When did we start dressing down and cleaning up? A cigar is verboten in public places today. Light one up in a ball park and you'll be ushered to the front gate. Wear a shirt and tie to that same game, and you'll be looked at like you came from another planet. We can go out in a dirty, torn tee shirt, scruffy cut-offs and flip flops, swear like a sailor, and we're OK, but heaven forbid we should puff on a stogie. Even though I don't smoke, I miss those days.

All was not sweetness and light. Discrimination was overt and often brutal. If you had a heart attack, you usually died. We had only recently come through the trauma of a world war and Korea before being sucked into Vietnam. But ball games smelled like ball games should. My kids and grandkids enjoy benefits my grandfather never dreamed of. But they'll never know that sweet aroma that goes with the smack of the ball and the roar of the crowd. Mine is a blessing of a singular point in time for which I am grateful to have seen. And smelled.

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