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Sep '11 05

Old World Pastime – On My Grandmother, Words and Baseball

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John Miller, a Belgian-American journalist, and a player/coach for the Brussels Kangaroos, is in his fourth year of writing Old World Pastime, a take on baseball as lived in 21th century Europe.

Last week she followed. Only months after my grandfather went Marjorie Miller, his wife of 68 years. She was 89, like him. A generation, gone.

Grandmom was shy. Only with difficulty did she connect with strangers. It was kindled by kin that she shone, a sparkly-eyed flower of wit and wisdom.

Her gift was words, gold polished by a life as reader, writer and raconteur. Grandmom’s hungry brain worked in narratives that picked up anecdotes and one-liners like spinning tornadoes.

She was a kind mother who raised five kids in a hard age for women, while her engineering husband tinkered with radar and rockets. But she knew God didn’t give her a brain just for nesting, so, after her kids grew up, she went back to school and got a master’s. She then ran the local library.

Her mind, like an iceberg, showed but a slice of what it stored. She was, among other things, a published expert on the science fiction writer Isaac Asimov, a thinking Christian who loved C.S. Lewis, and a progressive FDR Democrat. She read the New Yorker for over sixty years, and, I think, dreamed of taking a drug against her shyness and joining their quick-thinking writers for dinner in Manhattan.

This was the woman who welcomed me when I, grandson growing up in Belgium, travelled to Maryland. Like my grandfather, she relished her role as grandmother to a tribe marching the earth from California to Brussels.

She adored sharing the great American one-liners – How do you get to Carnegie Hall? Practice, practice – and repeated them like prayer. She also liked passing on wisdom gathered from the careful education she received from her meticulous elders. Only marry somebody you can’t stand the idea of not marrying. Time flies whether you’re having fun or not.

And, as with my grandfather, baseball was a piece of our bond. She loved the game’s history and color.

Her favorite player? Coco Crisp, outfielder and alliterative pun. “How is that Coco Crisp doing?” she would often ask when I called their house. (He’s hitting .268 for Oakland, grandmom.)

She knew how to pencil in a scorecard, and was proud of having tracked Don Larsen’s perfect game in the 1956 World Series, which she had watched on television.

She indulged in conversation about my Orioles. “They’re really not that good anymore, are they?” On most evenings when I showed up at their house, the Orioles game would be on TV. Maybe that wasn’t a coincidence.

And she was an equal partner to my grandfather’s gifts of baseball books, trips to camps and games, and support. When I was played my first game of American Legion in Linthicum, Maryland, there she was, sitting next to granddad in the first base bleachers.

In some ways, this column – words about baseball – is what a guy who is his grandmother’s grandson is meant to do.

My grandmother adored following the lives of her five kids and 20-something grandkids and their spouses. She kept lists of people’s birthdays and anniversaries, always making sure to mail us gifts, often books.

For a while, she published an enthusiastic newsletter called the Fitful Family News, whose title accurately conveys its exclusive focus on our successes.

That attitude, hopeful at the expense occasionally of the truth, was the spirited optimism of her generation. Sometimes forced, but brave and right. We shall overcome.

Most of all, her words and stories were her way of showing love — a gift to us, her very lucky family.

Feedback always welcome at oldworldpastime@gmail.com

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