THE DEAD AND THE DYING

The heavy decrepit bodies of the great and not so, mingled with their offsprings, children too young to realise that this too would be their fate. Pathetic men way past their glory days paraded pretending that they still had it, while bored defeated women looked on knowing they didn’t.

It was another day at the enclosed perfectly temperatured salt baths. The warmth was comforting to the skin and the soul and made old bones and muscles feel rejuvenated. The inhabitants floated safe in this maternal womb away from the business deals that no longer mattered in a world that no longer cared and was on its last legs. Some old guys studied the racing form while younger middle-aged men preferred the stock market. Some gambled with their own money while others ventured with what they had married into, or had inherited. All in all there’d be few winners that day. There were no more lucky numbers to be had, or surprise gold and mineral funds in a world that had been looted, raped and gang banged so many times there was nothing left. Certainly not energy for outrage. Only resentment from natives who had been trampled under foot and squashed by the invaders who destroyed paradise without ever having taken the time to truly look around and realise the greatest wealth was above the ground. But like rats they burrowed lower and lower into darkness desperate for any shiny morsel of opportunity. Never thinking any further ahead than that.

We had destroyed the world without realising that such an abomination also destroyed ourselves. What we project outwards also implodes us. Given time.

I stood in the warm salt water as the floating bodies of the dead and the dying circled me.

(C) Frank Howson 2019

Sketch by Frank Howson.

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MORE BABE RUTH STORIES

A LETTER TO OLIVER.

 

4 October 1998

 Dear Son,

 Did you know that the Baby Ruth candy bar is named after Babe Ruth because it’s the candy that he liked the best?

 He loved kids very much.

 And everywhere he went kids would gather ‘round him. Babe would always stop and sign their baseballs and give them his candy bars. One day a lady working at the golf club where he played asked him for a candy bar for her son and he didn’t have any because he’d already given them all to the kids. She said she had a little boy at home that would’ve liked one. Babe Ruth said he was sorry and walked away. But the very next day he took the trouble to come all the way back and he gave her a whole box of them for her boy.

 Another day he was signing baseballs for all the kids and he looked up and saw a man sitting on his own. He yelled out to him, “Do you want me to sign a baseball for your kid?” The man smiled and said that he wasn’t married and didn’t have a child. Babe smiled, wrote something on a ball and came over and gave it to me. It said “To Who May Be from Babe Ruth” and gave it to the man. The Babe said, “When you have a kid, give ‘em that!” Years later the man did and his daughter, who is an old lady now, still treasures the autographed baseball from the great man.

 A lot of the big stars didn’t have time for the kids, but Babe always did. He would sometimes sit there for hours meeting kids, talking to them, giving them advice, handing out candy bars and signing baseballs and autographs. When someone asked him why he did it, the Babe said, “I can’t help it, I love the kids”.

 Once when he went to the golf course to play he saw a kid who was waiting to meet him. He said to the kid, “Do you want to be my caddy today?” The boy’s eyes widened and he said “Boy, would I?!!!” And Babe paid the boy to be his caddy all day long.

 The next morning the boy was at school in class when he heard some footsteps in the outside hallway approaching his classroom. The door swung open and in walked the Head Master with…Babe Ruth. All the kids were stunned and excited to see him. Babe looked around the classroom until he saw the boy he knew. Then he smiled and said, “Hey, where’s my caddy?…I want to play some golf again today!” And the Head Master said it was okay for the boy to go off golfing with the Babe.

 Another day, before a game, a woman told the Babe that her son Johnny was sick in hospital and would he please hit a home run for him because it would make Johnny feel so much better if the Babe did. Well, Babe walked out to the base that day and held his bat up. First pitch, a strike!….Second pitch, a strike!….The crowd started to mumble and Babe turned to them and yelled out “You only have to hit one!”…The crowd fell silent and Babe got ready to try again. Just then Johnny’s mother stood up from her seat in the bleechers and yelled out, “Babe, hit one for Johnny!”  Babe heard her, turned in that direction, and then he did something that’s become really famous in baseball history. It is known as “The Called Shot”…because Babe pointed to the right outfield and said “There!!!”…And guess what?…The pitcher threw the ball and Babe hit it just exactly where he said he would. A home run. And he’d called it!! That has never been done before or since.

 One day someone said to Babe, “What do you think of Einstein?” and Babe said, “I don’t know. How many’s he hit?”

 A woman also told a story that when she was a little girl she needed an operation and her father was poor and couldn’t afford it. Her dad worked at Yankee Stadium and the Babe used to talk to him. One day the head surgeon of the New York Hospital phoned her and said he wanted to see her. She went in with her dad and the Doctor said that because her name was Smith and so was his, that he’d perform the operation for nothing so she could get well.

 The lady found out years later that Babe Ruth had really paid for the operation.

 When Babe was getting old, in his last season, he started to lose his ability. And a man said that he was there that day when a pitcher threw a ball at Babe he swung, missed it and it went threw his legs. Some people in the crowd started to boo Babe, and the man said that he was disgusted that some of the people would be so mean to a man who’d given them so much. The Babe didn’t hit a home run that day, and after the season he retired. You must always remember, son, a man is defined by the best thing he ever did, not the worst.

 Years later, they invited the great Babe Ruth back to Yankee Stadium to pay tribute to him. He was very sick by then, but he put on his uniform and walked out there with his bat and the whole stadium stood and applauded him. Even the players cheered him. The Babe bowed his head, and tears came to his eyes. Happy tears.

Even though he was very ill himself, he still made the effort and took time to visit the sick children in hospital.  He would go into the wards and sign baseballs for them.

 When he died, they brought his coffin to Yankee Stadium and all day people walked past to see him for the last time and pay their respects. No one could believe how big the crowd was. Children, old people, sports fans, all nationalities…they all came to see the Babe’s final appearance at Yankees Stadium. He was dressed in a nice suit and in his hand his daughter had put a baseball on which she’d written the words, “Saved for Home”.

 If you can be as kind and gracious with success as the Babe was, then you will be a great man. I know you will be, my boy.

 And always remember what your Dad says, “Keep your eye on the ball!”

 

(c) Frank Howson 2013

A BABE RUTH STORY.

(written for my son long ago when we were separated by distance, not love.)

 Oneday, Oliver Howson was playing baseball on the lawn outside his Dad’s apartment. His Dad had just gone upstairs to get a cool drink for the both of them, and Oliver was practicing throwing his baseball up in the air and catching it in his new mit. Suddenly, he heard a voice. A loud gruff old voice which made him immediately look up. Well, he couldn’t believe what he saw. There, in front of him, framed by the glaring sun, was a big man in a baseball outfit.

 “That’s pretty good, Oliver,” said the man. “Y’know, when I was your age I practiced catching the ball all the time. The more I practiced, the better I got.”

 “Yeah, that’s what my Dad says,” replied Oliver.

 “Well, he sounds like a pretty wise sorta guy,” smiled the big man.

 “He sure is,” said Oliver, “He’s my Dad!”

 “Y’know somethin’, boy?”

 Oliver nodded his head.

 “I used to play baseball for a livin’.”

 Really?” answered Oliver.

 “Yep. I played for the Boston Red Sox for a time. Then the New York Yankees. Then the Boston Braves. Didn’t do too bad either. Long time ago, that is. Way before you were born.”

 “Wow, that is a long time ago,” said the boy.

 “I started out practicing in my small back yard. As I said, I worked on catching the ball in my mit. Then I worked on throwing it fast and mean. I practiced and practiced and practiced until I could throw the ball so fast the batter’d be out before he’d even seen it go past!”

 Oliver laughed.

 “Then I worked on batting, and I became so good at it I hit 714 home runs!”

 Oliver was mighty impressed. “Wow, that’s a lot!”

 “Sure is, boy. But you know somethin’? It was fun. I found somethin’ I liked doing and I practiced and practiced until I was really good at it.  Y’know, I wasn’t a very fast runner. And I wasn’t a great basketball player. Or, a football player. But, baseball, I loved it the first time I picked up a ball and a bat. That’s the secret to bein’ good at somethin’, boy. Fall in love with it. Then while you’re having fun, and playing it over and over, you get better and better! It worked for me anyway.”

 “Thanks, I’ll take your advice…Mr…?

 “Ruth. George Ruth. But people call me Babe.”

 And with that, the man held out his big hand and shook Oliver’s.

“Would you like me to sign your bat?”

“I sure would, Mr. Ruth.” With that Oliver excitedly fetched it and the big man signed some words on it. Then the Babe looked up at something in the distance and smiled.

 “Looks like your father’s back with those drinks for ya.”

 Oliver turned his head and saw his Dad coming towards him carrying a couple of glasses of ice cold lemonade.

 “Yeah. That’s my Dad alright,” said Oliver. He then turned to smile at Babe Ruth, but he was gone.

 “Sorry it took me so long, son,” said Dad, “Hope you haven’t been lonely”.

 “Nah Dad. Guess what?!”

 “What?”

 “I was practicing catching, when Babe Ruth came over to give me some advice.”

 “Babe Ruth?”

 “Yeah, Dad. He was just here! But I thought he was dead.”

 Dad looked at Oliver and smiled. But it was a sad kind of smile.

 “What’s the matter, Dad?”

 “No, son. People like Babe Ruth never die. They live on in the hearts and hopes of people. Well, I just wished I’d have gotten the chance to meet him. Do you realise how lucky you are?”

 Oliver knew.

 “What did he say, son?”

 “All the things you told me, Dad. Every word. Exactly. All about practicing. And working at what you love doing. He’s pretty smart!”

 This time Dad gave a really big smile. Followed by a really big hug.

 “You know, son, when I was a boy. Just about your age. My Dad told me a story about Babe Ruth. It was about Babe when he was getting old and it looked like he wouldn’t be playing baseball much longer. And one day, he was sitting on the bench waiting to go out onto the field and bat, when one of his team-mates noticed how tired Babe looked. Really tired. The team-mate said, “Babe, why don’t you go home? We’re going to win this game easy, so you may as well take the day off and get some rest. You’re not as young as you used to be, y’know?”

 But Babe just looked at his team-mate, and smiled. “Thanks, Buddy,” he said. “But I ain’t going nowhere but out there. And when I get out there I’m going to be trying as hard as I was in my first game to hit a home run!”

 “But why?” said his team-mate. “You’re the great Babe Ruth! You’ve got nothin’ to prove to anybody anymore. You’re in all the history books they’ll ever write about baseball!”

 “That’s not the point,” said the Babe. Then his eyes looked out at the distant faces of all the thousands upon thousands of excited people that filled the giant stadium that afternoon.

 “Somewhere in that crowd,” continued Babe, “A young boy has come today to see Babe Ruth hit a home-run. And it may be the first and the last time he ever gets to see me. And I’m gonna be doin’ and givin’ everything I can not to disappoint him!”

 And that day, Babe Ruth walked out to the plate real slow. He held his bat up into position, looked at the ball in the pitcher’s hand, said a silent prayer, and gave it everything he had. And you know what? He hit a home-run right out of the stadium and a lot of boys went home happy. So did Babe.”

“Oh, I forgot. Babe Ruth signed my bat! Tell me what it says, Dad.”

His father looked at the bat and tears welled in his eyes.

“What is it?”

“It’s a message for us all, son. It says “Don’t let the fear of striking out get in your way.”

 Then Dad and Oliver played some baseball. And when Dad threw the ball Oliver hit it as hard as he could and the ball flew right over Dad’s head and into the neighbour’s backyard. That day Oliver Howson felt what it was like to be Babe Ruth.

 

(c) Frank Howson 2013