Several days ago, I walked down the hall to get my mail. I always check the bulletin board sign-up sheets for upcoming events scheduled for our building. Coming up was a breakfast, a chili luncheon, our monthly birthday party with one of our favorites scheduled to provide entertainment. An every other month trip to the Casino was planned, plus the usual exercise, bingo, dominoes, and card game nights, along with Friday morning Bible Study. Usually there was a pen hanging from the bulletin board to make it convenient for us to sign up. Looked all around, no pen in sight.
So I wheeled my walker into the manager’s office next door to get a pen. The manager was on the phone. While waiting for Sandy to get off the phone, I said good morning to a fellow seated across from me. I had never seen him before and was surprised when he told me he had lived in the building for years. His apartment was just a few doors from ours.
We struck up a general conversation. How long have you lived here? Do you like it? Have you always lived in Cincinnati? Informative, but pretty boring stuff. He spoke in a monotone. No smiles. No interest in our conversation.
I decided to try one more question. Even though I knew the answer, I asked if he was retired. He told me he had been retired a long time. So, I asked the obvious, “What kind of work did you do?” His whole body went through a transformation. He sat up straighter and in a voice filled with pride, he replied, “I was a newspaper reporter for the Kentucky Post.” I am discovering many older people only see their value in their former profession.
His question asking if I remembered the Kentucky Post made me laugh. He chuckled when I told him I remembered not only the Kentucky Post, but the two afternoon papers, the Cincinnati Post and the Cincinnati Times Star. I even recalled those two papers later merging before finally closing up shop leaving only the original morning paper, The Cincinnati Enquirer.
Bert went on to tell me his beat had been a mixed bag. “I was an investigative reporter so I handled everything under the sun, but occasionally got assigned a really great story like the opening of Riverfront Stadium.”
With that remark, we were off to the races. I was a huge fan of the Cincinnati Reds. I asked him his opinion of Riverfront the first time he saw it.
Bert replied, “Found it a disappointment. How about you, did you like it?”
I told him Riverfront had never done much for me either. Too much concrete didn’t allow room for much character. However, I did remember one fun fact I heard during a TV interview. Roy Rogers, who was born in Cincinnati, said his family lived where Riverfront Stadium has been constructed and joked he was born at second base.
He hooted when I told him, “I did think Riverfront Stadium was very appropriately named until they changed it to Cinergy Field. I retaliated by calling it Riverfront until they tore it down.”
I continued, “Crosley Field had such charm and personality. What wonderful memories were in that little ballpark; the sun deck, the moon deck, the terrace in left field, watching Ronnie Dale at the organ playing special songs every time one of the hometown players hit a home-run.”
He seemed surprised that a woman was a fan, prompting me to tell him my mother had also been a huge fan. He almost choked on his words. “Your mother was a Reds fan?” Yep, she had fallen in love with baseball when we first moved to the Cincinnati area in 1954.
“She loved the Reds and so did my mother-in-law. They never missed a game, listening on the radio or watching on TV. My husband and I took them to the last game at Crosley Field and then to the first game at Riverfront, two weeks apart in 1970.”
We agreed the best name for Riverfront was in the mid-70s when it was labeled the Home of the Big Red Machine. Many local Cincinnati fans referred to the Big Red Machine as the best team to ever play the game. Who doesn’t remember Pete Rose and his head first slides, Johnny Bench’s bullet throws to second, (little) Joe Morgan, Tony (Doggy) Perez, Davey Concepcion, Ken Griffin, Sr., George Foster, and Cesar Geronimo? That team could hit, run, field and create excitement for fans, even when they didn’t win the game.
By this time, Sandy was off the phone. I left them to talk and I went back to the mail room to put my ‘John Hancock’ on a few sheets. As I was leaving the mail room, I noticed that Bert had a small box on top of the mailboxes, so I took it with me.
His walker was different from mine and couldn’t accommodate the box, so I offered to take the box down the hall for him. Arriving at his apartment, I found UPS had left a big box outside his door. Accepting my offer to take both boxes inside his apartment, he unlocked the door and asked me to put them in his library.
Assuming his second bedroom was his library, I put the two boxes on top of a hard backed chair so he could easily access them. I couldn’t help but notice he had books all over the room. Some were neatly arranged on book shelves circling his library while others were stacked on top of his desk, a little table across the room, and one small stack was on the floor next to a comfy chair.
Asking if I liked to read, we fell into an easy conversation about our love of books; briefly discussing favorite authors and a few favorite books.
As I headed for the door, I asked if I could do anything else for him. He said he was fine, but thanked me for bringing in his UPS boxes and for brightening his day with my smile and conversation. I had enjoyed my time with this sweet, old guy who had lived an interesting life.
Ending on a Positive Note: Our eyes cannot see the stories people carry inside. There has to be a conversation. An interesting conversation with a real person is always a fascinating pause in any day. Hope you are taking time to enjoy the people around you.