... and furthermore, I got to meet Ted Williams
Here's a pretty good good-memory piece. It involves Elbie Fletcher, who used to play first base for the Boston Braves, and a Marine friend of mine, Bob Mathias. Sports fans should remember Bob, for he was the decathlon champion in the Olympics of both 1948 and 1952.
At the time -- which was around 1964 -- I was writing and doing general news at the Melrose Free Press, which was my first job after the Marines. Somehow, probably in the Globe, I learned that Mathias was to do some publicity thing at the North Shore Shopping Center, apparently for Sports Illustrated magazine.
Elbie was then working in Melrose, also, as the director of the Recreation Department, which (I expostulate) meant he was playing a lot of golf with Hal Poole and some other local course hang-outs. Sid Field Jr. and Bill Huntress were among them, I believe. It was a good, lively group.
Anyway, Elbie had taken a summer mob of local playground youngsters to a Red Sox game, and I went along to cover that happening for the Free Press.
"Sure," Elbie said, pounding me on the back, "come on along, Don. I'll introduce you to Ted Williams". And that happened. I don't remember who the Sox were playing, but during warm-ups, Elbie told me to follow him and we walked right down to the back of the dugout.
"Hey, Ted," he shouted over the rattle of the bats, "Come 'ere, come 'ere." And sure enough, Ted Williams's face lighted up when he saw Elbie, and he came right over to the stands. I was so flustered that I never took the picture of these two baseball greats -- and there I was with a big 4x5 Speed Graphic.
So I owed Elbie one. And the day came that Olympic Champion Bob Mathias was in town. He and I went through Officer's Basic for six months at Quantico, and it happened that we both found a place to live at the same big, old colonial plantation, overlooking Fredericksburg.
So for half a year Bob and I would hunt the fields, shoot water moccasins down by the Rappahannock, and try to pick off a pesky ground hog that was ruining the landlady's corn patch. The four of us -- Lorry and I, and Bob and Melba were pretty close; Lorry and I lived in what used to be the kitchen house to the plantation, and Bob and Melba were in the slaves quarters. Yes, the slaves quarters, a small rambling brick and stucco building about 100 feet in back of the big house.
It was beautiful there. The plantation, called Fall Hill, was surrounded by huge oaks on three sides, and looked directly down on the town of Fredericksburg. The owner was Mrs. Franklin Hall, a marvelous Southern matron who was as gracious as she could be.
On a tour thru her home we saw Revolutionary muskets just leaning against a wall, like they would be used any day now. Yes, George Washington did stay there once, as did General Robert E. Lee. During the Civil War, great battles took place all around that plantation -- the battles of Fredericksburg, Mary's Hill, the Rappahannock, Spotsylvania, the Wilderness -- firefights were frequent and within earshot There were ancient earthen embankments not a hundred yards from the house.
Mrs. Hall's oldest son Franklin had put together a swamp buggy, mostly from an old stripped down truck, but Bob and I would run that machine across the fields back and forth, flushing up quail like mad. One would drive, the other ride shotgun. Funny thing was, what we were doing was against the law, and several times we saw the sheriff parked over on Fall Hill Road, but he wasn't allowed to go on private property. At least not to enforce hunting laws.
Once we got out of Officer's Basic at Quantico, we lost contact with each other. He was pretty much in demand for public appearances, because in his dress blues, he looked like Mr. America himself. He had State Department duty and I understand he visited many American embassies around the world. Hey, two-time decathlon winner, now a United States Marine.
By the time we got out of Quantico, the shooting in Korea was over, and there wasn't too much need for a big Marine Corps. Both Bob and I spent our obligatory two years in service, then he went back to Tulare in California, and Lorry and I settled first in Ohio, then permanently in Melrose.
It was just about ten years later that he showed up in Danvers, at the Mall, to do some publicity for (as I remember) Sports Illustrated and the Olympic Committee. So this was my chance to provide pay-back to Elbie for introducing me to Ted Williams. I gave him a ring, told him I was off to see an old Marine buddy, Bob Mathias, and would he like to come along?
You bet. And when these two PR experts got together, it was the easiest assignment ever. Elbie whipped off his sport shirt and pulled on a Sports Illustrated T-shirt -- and of course Mathias was the California dude, all dolled up for a press conference. The thing went over pretty well and I think we had a beer and a sandwich, and Bob and I promised to keep in touch. The next I heard of him, he was a Congressman from Tulare.
But, like I said, it brings back fond memories. Elbie is gone and Bob is back in California. And Lorry and I are retired, on top of our hill here in Melrose.
March 1, 2002