Saturday, July 12, 2008

Learning Early

The Red Sox made me swear last night. It would not be the first time, it will absolutely not be the last time. Frustration, annoyance and swearing are part of what it means to be a Red Sox fan. Really, it's what it means to be a baseball fan, but most definitely a Red Sox fan.

The entire character of what it means to be a fan of this team has changed in the recent past, it has transformed into a new kind of team and a new kind of fan experience. My little cousins know nothing of the pain and suffering of the Red Sox past, they are part of the new, the bright and shiny winning, World Series Champion Red Sox Nation. But I am old and haggard and my formative years were spent learning the ways of near misses, painful losses, blown leads, collapsed come-backs and that next year would be 'our year'. As I muttered obscenities at the tv screen and waved my hands around in useless exhortation the Red Sox lost to the Orioles. Bah.

It made me remember the story of when I first learned to swear about the Red Sox. It is nothing that I, myself, remember, but is a tale of family lore that I have heard many times.

In September of 1978 my grandmother, a widow, was marrying my grandfather. So technically he's a step-grandfather, but not to me. My grandmother, her mother, my mother, and a bevy of other ladies in the family were getting ready for the evening wedding. There was to-ing and fro-ing and slips and hose and shoes and perfume and make-up, it was a hive of activity and I was interested, but a little bored, too.

I went in search of my great-grandfather who was on the back porch hiding from the ladies. He was watching the Red Sox play the Yankees on a tiny color (fancy!) TV with rabbit ears and an extension cord that ran into the kitchen. Anyone who is a long time fan of the Sox just groaned 'The Boston Massacre!' and is well prepared for the rest of this story.

I climbed up on his lap and settled in to enjoy the game and sips of his contraband A&P Root Beer- yuuuum. The Sox had an early lead with the Yanks trailing by one. Grandfather was a pretty quiet guy, but during baseball games he was known to yell at the tv...a lot. I can still hear the echo of his, 'Nothing but a bunch of bums! Goddamn bums!' ring through the air.

When the fifth inning rolled around Reggie Jackson came up to bat for the Yanks and tied it with a homerun. Herbert took it well, I am sure.

Eventually I got bored and went to see what the ladies were doing. I climbed upstairs and found them all in my grandmother's bedroom. On the bed was a big jewelry box, the kind that opens like a treasure chest and there are trays and drawers to put all your best glittery goods. I decided to climb up on the bed and see. As I started to hoist myself up, the jewelry box tipped on the uneven mattress and launched through the air and crashed to the ground with bits of jewelry flying in every direction.

I looked in horror at the mess and then I stamped my foot and yelled, 'Goddamn Reggie Jackson!'

And then all hell broke loose. My great-grandmother, Bucko, shrieked, 'Heeeeerbeeeerrt what did you teach the baby!?!' as she charged down the stairs followed by my horrified mother. My grandmother yelled, 'Daaaad, are you watching the Red Sox, you're supposed to be getting ready!' as she burst out onto the porch followed by two of her sisters who weren't going to miss out on the fun. And there sat my great-grandfather totally bewildered as to what on earth he'd done to deserve having six women, mad as hornets, shaking their fingers and all yelling at once.

And that's how I learned to swear at the Red Sox. I hadn't quite figured out when to apply my new knowledge, but a few more years down the road I would have the art mastered. We in Red Sox Nation learn early to love the Sox, hate the Yanks, swear at them both and boo the umps. It's a rich local tradition- my heritage.

This is my great-grandfather's high school baseball team in 1922. He's front row, second from left. Pretty groovy, huh?

And here is Herbert and myself getting together to talk baseball in the early days.

Although I don't remember any of these events, it is a story that still lives in my family. When something goes wrong, something that aggravates and drives someone crazy they say, 'Goddamn Reggie Jackson!' I get phone calls from my mother that start with these words and I know that her day has not gone well. Your bag of groceries busts open in the parking lot on the way to car? Say it! Get a flat tire in the rain? Say it! The copier get jammed again? Say it! If anyone asks, you can blame it on me, or Herbert- he's taken the blame on this one for years.

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