For Love of the Cards
Thomas hadn’t expected to be alive when the town’s time capsule was opened. He had been fifteen years old and the notion of living another seventy-five years was impossible. He had slipped his most cherished item into his family’s offering. His beloved 1947 St. Louis Cardinals autographed baseball, with Stan Musial’s rookie signature. What had possessed him to place this precious treasure into the time capsule only eight months after his father bought it for him at their final game? They had only taken second place in the National League – but his heroes had shone no less brightly in Thomas’ eyes.
The sun beat down on his age-spotted hand, as it reached out for the latch of the time capsule. At ninety, he was the oldest living person in his little hometown of Ladue, MO, population 8601. Soon to be 8600 if his erratic heartbeat was any indication.
His brow furrowed at the brief struggle he encountered with the latch. It was a bit rusty, even though it had been buried in a larger, steel container. His great-nephew, Tommy, started to reach out and help him open the container. Tommy was named for him, and they were often seen about town eating ice cream cones, at the movies or parks, sitting on Thomas’ front porch laughing and sometimes – tossing the old horsehide around in the back yard.
“Nah,” Thomas spoke to him, pushing aside his helpful hand. “I can do it.”
Tommy smiled and took a step back, with his left hand gently pressed to Thomas’ lower back, just in case.
“OK, Unc,” he said, “just wanting to help.”
The crowd gathered to watch these festivities included few who had been present at the Time Capsules internment at the foot of an oak tree by the Reed Elementary School playground. Besides Thomas, there was Derek Heidemann, the Ladue Pharmacy’s owner – he had been a baby in his mother’s arms on TC Day, as it was called. Also present was Thomas’s youngest sister, and Tommy’s great-grandmother, Connie Long. She was ten years Thomas’ junior, a spry eight-year-old who had, along with her oldest brother, outlived their six other siblings, her husband and both of her sons. No one else from the family had wanted to make the drive to watch the Time Capsule reappear.
The mayor, Nancy Spewak, had been allowed to take the first shovel full of dirt from above the capsule – handing it off to her aide to complete the job. She stood now to the right of Thomas, ready to help him remove the contents.
The latch suddenly popped loose; the loud sound was accompanied by the whoosh of the vacuum seal breaking. Thomas jumped a bit, steadied immediately by Tommy’s loving touch. He looked around, grinning like the Cheshire cat who hung out with old Alice, and nodded vigorously to the clapping crowd. Nancy stepped up and helped him aright the capsule and began taking out boxes and bags donated by various people from their town in 1947. Thomas’ family had been allowed a large box due to his father being an alderman, successful businessman and one of the most popular citizens of the day. Charles Meyer had been a war hero, coming home in 1944 with only one arm. He had taken over the family business, Meyer’s Market (later becoming the Ladue Market under younger brother, Mel). Thomas had spent many an afternoon, helping his dad unload and label the goods, as he placed them reverently on the shelves. It was Charles who had instilled Thomas’ love of hard work, baseball, and the St. Louis Cardinals. Thomas was handing down the same to young Tommy.
Nancy handed the Meyer’s box to Thomas, and Tommy helped him place it on the table provided for their family. He then helped him begin to reveal the contents. Nancy and staff brought out other items and situated each one on a table with the corresponding family or business or elected official’s name. She gave a short speech and invited the crowd to examine the tables and much laughter and discussion followed, as old-timers recited what they knew about the capsule’s contents.
Thomas took out the framed dollar bill that had been the Meyer’s Market’s first one earned. He pulled out a Collier’s Weekly magazine from January 1947 his mother had put in. Connie’s Raggedy Ann doll and a copy of Raggedy Ann stories by Johnnie Gruelle, published that year. Her dearest belongings, also. There was a local paper, dated May 10, 1947 – the day the Time Capsule was created and buried. Finally, Thomas pulled out his precious baseball. And there is sat on the table on a small wooden stand he had purchased for the occasion.
Oohs and aahs were heard over and over, as men passed by the treasure and recognized the signed orb, now a major collector’s item. Tony Delano, one such collector, stopped and offered Thomas $1500, once he had it assessed. He offered $500 down until that could be arranged and was reaching out to pick the thing up when Thomas interrupted him.
“No, thank you, Tony,” he said. He gently pushed the man’s outstretched paw away. Tommy stepped to the side of the table, just in case a firmer hand was needed to protect the baseball for his great uncle.
“But…” Tony started to reply.
“No, buts. I have been mourning the loss of this baseball since the last shovel full of dirt covered the capsule. Many was the time I daydreamed of stealing over here at midnight and digging the thing up to retrieve my treasure. I never imagined I would have it in my possession again. I have a glass case built to cover it and a center spot on my mantle reserved.”
Tony nodded in appreciation of this little speech and, after a bit more mooning, started to move off.
“Well,” he said as he turned, “if you ever change your mind, please let me be the first to know, will you?”
“Don’t hold your breath, Tony,” Thomas chuckled. “When I pass, this ball belongs to the young man standing here. My great-nephew, Tommy.”
Tommy gasped, never having heard of this bit of future booty coming his way. He looked up at Thomas to be sure he had heard right, and to see if he was only saying this to Tony to get rid of him. His great-uncle could be a card.
But his glance was met with the sparkling, blue eyes and winning grin Tommy loved so much. Thomas nodded his head once, and then gazed back fondly on the little sphere gleaming on its pedestal, there in the May sunshine.
“All yours, my boy,” he added. “It won’t be long on my mantle, the way my old ticker has been acting. But I want to enjoy it for the little time I have left.”
Tommy frowned. Thomas’ love and companionship meant more to him than any old, though collectible, baseball. But he kept silent, not wanting to break the spell the thing had over his oldest. dearest relative.
But Thomas was wrong about his ticker. Three more years whirled by the lovely town of Ladue – richest town per capita in Missouri. The 1947 St Cardinal team signature baseball sat under its glass dome on the cherry pedestal for three years of admiration; and many a story was told before the fireplace in Thomas’ rambling mansion.
At his funeral, the whole town turned out, it seemed. And Tony made his way to Tommy’s side in his great-uncles mansion where the wake was held. He offered a cool two grand for the cherished baseball. Tommy didn’t even make a verbal answer, just shook his head no, and turned to greet the next guest.
At the reading of the will, Connie, Tommy, Tommy’s parents and a few other family, friends and loyal household employees sat to hear what Thomas had left to each of them. Connie got stocks, bonds, family jewelry and some pictures and letters from past generations. Tommy’s mom and dad were left his Lincoln Continental, much to their delight. And so on.
Tommy was last to hear his inheritance. He was puzzled because the house, its
Contents, and his fortune had not been named yet. He was eager to get the baseball and take it to his apartment in downtown St. Louis, where he walked to work as a reporter for the St. Louis Post-Dispatch. Worked happily as a sports reporter.
Listening to the lawyer, he learned it was he who had inherited, besides the baseball, the mansion, its beautiful contents, the art collection, millions of dollars and various properties he had never known about. Tommy was now rich. He was stunned, as his father patted him genially on the back, aware for years that Thomas had made this provision. He had never let on to his son. His hardworking, kind, and generous son. He did not want to put that weirdness over the wonderful rapport Tommy had shared with his great-uncle.
The day finally ended. Papers had been signed for hours after the others left, until the lawyer and his secretary had bundled off down the road, leaving Tommy alone in the huge stone mansion. After snacking on a tuna sandwich, he ambled into the library and sank into one of the leather armchairs before the fireplace. He glanced up at the domed collectible, smiling as he thought of his great-uncle and the many fine times they had together. He suddenly stood up, removed the glass cover, and picked the ball up gently in his hand. He was careful to put his fingers between signatures, avoiding any smudges or smears on this perfectly preserved bit of history. He turned it over, reading the names and thinking how he would look them up on the internet. He would read each of their bios and see what they looked like and who else they had played for during their careers. He would wallow in the Cards, as his mentor had taught him to do, increasing his knowledge of names, stats and trivia galore.
As he went to place the ball back on the pedestal, he was surprised to see a slip of paper where the ball rested. He picked it up and read the note. And as he did, tears started gently rolling down his whiskered cheeks.
The note said, in his great-uncle’s spiderly scrawl:
“Tommy: You are the child I never had. You are the son I always wanted, even though you are really the child of my brother’s son. The hours we have spent together made my dull life sweet and rich. I want you to do something for me. You have never married, and you told me it was because you get so shy with women. I was the same way…but I was a lonely man until you came along, my boy. Find a way to overcome your timidity with women and find a lady worthy of your love and loyalty. Have children and if one is a boy, maybe he could carry on our family name. Take your family to see the Cards – eat the hotdogs, drink the beer, buy the pennants and the signed team balls. Enjoy the money I was blessed to earn and give thanks to the God who has provided all this for our families. I will wait for you, Tommy. One day we will meet on that Golden Shore and I will take you to see the 1947 Cardinals play a heavenly game of the greatest sport ever invented by mortal men. Baseball. Love to you forever, Thomas Meyer.”
Tommy thought about that note every day from then until he started attending the Toastmaster’s International. From that club he gained the nerve to speak confidently in public, which effected his career, as well as his love life.
And seven years after his uncle’s demise, he and his wife, Angela, brought home a healthy baby boy. Thomas Charles Meyers, Jr. He held the swaddled newborn up to the famous ball, and began telling him the story of Thomas Meyer, his great-great-granduncle. The legacy moved on, and the Cardinals won the World Series that year, and Tommy became a fervent believer.
A believer in what? The Cards and the game of baseball, more than ever before. And the hope of heaven, where he would again sit beside Thomas, cheering for their team and watching the bright banners in a golden sky.
He wondered idly if they would let him suit up as the “Fredbird” up there. Then he grinned down at his son and rocked him to sleep.