NOTE: Very soon my sisters and I will be traveling from four different states for a reunion, something we’ve done almost annually since our mom’s death in 2004. This one, at our sister Carol’s home in Illinois, will be lower key than some of our destination trips (such as last year’s week in New Orleans). This is the thing–even if all we do is visit, eat, nap, play cards, laugh, and eat some more, it’s going to be important. You see, it’s OUR time as sisters just to be together–not to DO, but just to BE.
These gatherings have become even more precious since losing our youngest sister Lisa very suddenly at age 54 four years ago today. “Baby Luv” was taken from us way too soon as far as we will always be concerned. We were blessed to have had seven reunions in a span of eight years with perfect “sister” attendance before Lisa left us, the final one in blistery Chicago (see above pic). Immeasurable memories were created among us that we do not take for granted.
Below is a reprint of an article that Lisa, a gifted writer and poetic soul, wrote in 2009. It describes our experiences after the first five of these special sister gatherings, and sums up what we had learned thus far in the process. I’ve only added illustrations, as she expressed our sentiments far better than any of us. So on this anniversary of her home going, it’s only fitting that we hear Lisa’s “voice” once again. Enjoy her humorous take on “Dortha’s Daughters!” –TK
It happened after our mother died.
I am the baby of six daughters born to Harold and Dortha Worthington, of Cairo, Illinois, a small town nestled between the convergence of the Ohio and Mississippi Rivers. By 1972, the four eldest girls had rooted their lives in various cities across the country, and our Daddy- Deacon, School Board Member, and City Utilities Director- went on to be with the Lord. Mama moved Tara and me to Dallas, Texas, where she completed two years at Christ For the Nations Bible Institute, and received her License to Minister. In the ensuing years, Tara- who will always be one year older!- and I have established our lives here in Texas. Of our other four sisters- in order of birth- Donna lives in Florida, Carol in Illinois, Phyllis in New York, and Jan in Kentucky. We rarely saw each other- and almost never all at one time. Big families are a blessing; but you have trouble getting them all together when they’re grown.
Of course, miles are not all that separate us. A decade or so after the first four were born, the last two of us arrived, causing much excitement and, well, deserved adoration. But ten years is a long time when you’re young, so Tara and I missed out on knowing and sharing childhood with our older sisters. On occasion, one of us might say it was a blessing in itself; but usually that sister gets over her frustration pretty quickly.
Naturally, we all came together to mourn the death of our incredible mother, in 2004. After our other sisters had gone home, Tara and I were once again together. We will probably never agree on who had the brilliant notion to get all the sisters together to really visit and enjoy one another. (It was me.) Since we are now older and less tied-down, we decided we should never again wait for a death to dictate when we could gather as a family.
Emails shot across the country and back again. We began to reminisce about our childhood, sharing memories of Mama and Daddy, then of one another. Long forgotten feelings and impressions brought out much laughter and many tears. Our children began requesting to be included in the mailing list, because the stories were so revealing, funny, and touching. They learned things about us we can never live down- like a certain Floridian allowing Tara and me to “smoke” at a very tender age! Cigarettes were involved, and so was smoke, but we only thought we were big.
In the fall of 2005, we took New York City by storm. Well, the Big Apple is big enough that probably no one has missed the pieces we now carry in our hearts. And from that awesome gathering began our Annual Sister Reunion. Sounds like a good idea, right?
We have had a blast! We come together laughing, with one unnamed sister (from Kentucky) usually sporting some gag designed to embarrass us all at the airport. Old ladies don’t blush easily, though, and we all join in.
We’ve not only walked the streets of New York City- as Ladies, mind you!- but we’ve gone home to our roots in southern Illinois to visit family, become real Cowgirls by eating calf fries at the Fort Worth Stockyards (yes you did, Jan!)…
We went to Chicago to tie ourselves into yoga positions Mama would of never have approved, and even hit the Grand Canyon.
The echoes of laughter can still be heard, as we remember a shrimp dish that smelled so bad, a husband dubbed it “Dirty Panty Pasta,” the elderly lady with an unfortunate physical extremity hanging out during BINGO, “Freddy,” a fond nickname, the Ugliest Feet Contest, and the Great Artichoke Dance. Items like Bubba Teeth, gingerbread men, and toy tiaras now have a beloved history among us.
It sounds cruel to laugh while a “prince-ass” from New York is experiencing a broken wrist and heat exhaustion at the same time, but you should have been there! Our laughter and love got us through the crisis, and her good humor made it a joke the remainder of the trip…well, we’re still laughing, actually!
After five of these annual pilgrimages- no husbands allowed, please- I have made these three observations:
#1 – We didn’t really know each other.
Whether we lived hundreds of miles away, or in the same state, we hadn’t been around one another enough to really know each other. It takes more than blood kinship to accomplish a close relationship. We started out being very cautious, polite, and sensitive. Proper, you could say…But the first time one of my older sisters dropped a humorous personal reference, I literally choked myself, laughing so hard. It was very bonding, really- this kind of intimacy.
#2 – We’re growing to know each other.
My biggest surprise is that I have been so surprised by my sisters. In case you should happen upon them, they are: The Loving Protector, the Funniest Woman in the World, a Sassy Classy Diplomat, a creative Wonder Woman, and The Fountain of Youth. And this only scrapes the surface of who my sisters are today. They create, cook, teach, and care for others in ways I can only admire. I am speechless when I witness the depth of love and fondness they lavish among our band, sometimes when I least expect it. I have delighted in finding we share faith and politics, warding off countless differences of opinion. And, I have found Mama’s hands. The very hands that held me as a child, hung laundry, cooked my meals, and caressed my own kids, live in northern Illinois.
#3 – We’re an example for others.
Perhaps the fact that we’re constantly laughing and enjoying each other makes people assume we’re old friends. The universal response to our admission that we’re all sisters traveling together is, “Really?” Many confess that they could never get their sister/s to go on such a trip because they don’t get along well enough. We encourage them to try.
Not all childhood recollections can be good. Some wounded memories kick in automatically, because a child’s anguish has the capability to produce hurt for a lifetime. Our being together gives us the opportunity to see these flaws, ask forgiveness, and be healed. We are becoming Old Friends.
Now, each trip provides us with new experiences, enmeshes us more deeply with the lives of one another, and reminds us that We Six all share in the rich heritage of being “Dortha’s Daughters.”
–Lisa Worthington Dutton (first published in “Vibrant” Magazine, Fall 2009 issue)
The race we’ve been running, the parenting pace we’ve been keeping for twenty-five years, is about to drastically change. In fact, the very definition of what it means to be a parent is about to change. There’s a different rhythm, a different beat—one of a mentor, advisor, and friend.
School has begun again. Oh, how I love all the social media posts of kiddos heading off for their first day of–“fill in the blank.” Whether it be kindergarten, elementary, or high school, they are all special “first days.” But nothing compares with the moments those ” littles” actually leave our homes for college, military, or other doorways into adulthood. There’s a special angst reserved for parents of budding adults, causing us to wonder “was I a good parent? did I do things right? did I do enough to prepare them for this??” I pray special comfort for those of you in this season of life.
To that end, I hope you’ll enjoy this article I wrote in 2008 as the last of our three kiddos took wing and flew out of our nest. Although time has passed, the feelings of letting go, embracing their dreams as yours, and principles of “passing the baton” of life remain the same.
THREE DEGREES OF SEPARATION: HOW A MOTHER HAS LEARNED TO LET GO.
My husband and I hit the ground running with this “passing the baton” stuff. We’ve already had a couple of kids anxious to get on down the road. So, hey, I’ve taken this route before–been there, done that, paid the bills.
You’d think we’d have this “letting go” stuff down pat. You’d think it would get easier. But then you’d be wrong.
Long before I ever thought about “passing the baton,” I can recall praying that I wouldn’t “drop the baton.” Translated this meant “help me pass down to my kids what they need most to know.” Or, in more simple terms, “don’t let me screw up my kids and/or blow it as a mother!” Early on it was necessary to decide what elements make a “baton” worthy to pass in the first place.
BALANCE, STRENGTH, AND PURPOSE
It seemed to me that balance was important to a baton, making it easy to hold. From the time my children were born, I resolved I would enjoy each stage and every age, from infancy to adolescence. Looking back I feel I successfully achieved this goal. I can honestly say I never wished they would remain a toddler, or a second grader, or a teenager longer than normal. Especially not a teenager!
Appreciating and understanding the different personalities of each of my children was also important. I found each were unique and special and had to be approached and nurtured without a cookie cutter mentality.
Next, strength and flexibility must be found in a baton. My husband and I tried to teach our children to be independent and adventurous while appreciating time-tested traditions of faith and family.
For instance, we insisted on maintaining a prayer time before bedtime. Our children learned that 10:00 pm meant “it’s time to pray,” which included any and all visitors in the house. (This tradition has continued into their adulthood, but now Dad is the one who goes straight to bed after prayer!)
Finally, purpose is vital to a baton. “Destiny” was a familiar word my children grew up hearing during conversation and prayer. I always wanted them to know they had a future and a hope set aside just for them.
Now that would make a great inscription on a baton! After all, what’s a race about? It’s all about where are we are headed. Throw in a healthy dose of compassion for others, and you have a perfect blueprint for a baton race.
DRIVEN BY A DREAM
Prepared or not, we handed off the first baton to our intelligent and determined son. Between the ages of three and eight, he had a love affair with camouflage. So it was no shock when he pursued his life long dream and joined the Air Force. Delayed entry promised several years of active duty shortly out of high school and we were so proud of his choice. However, the recruiting brochures could not predict the 9/11 terrorist attack, which occurred exactly one week before his departure date in 2001.
Maybe it was all the little red, white, and blue pin-on ribbons I busied myself making and distributing (remember those?). But, starting with his goodbye party, I rode a wave of patriotic adrenalin that masked my pain of separation. That wave continued well into the following week. In fact, I began to think this stuff was going to be a piece of cake.
But that cake crumbled when I missed his first phone call, requiring him to leave a voice mail. With every repeat of that message, I cried harder and my heart sank lower. My little boy was actually gone! He had flown out of Momma’s arms and into the wild blue yonder of adulthood—with Uncle Sam waiting to send him to the uttermost parts of the earth.
Was I scared? You bet your B-1 bomber I was! But the idea of my son soaring in pursuit of his dream made me far more proud than fearful.
ARE THEIR DREAMS YOURS?
Five years later, our second baton was passed to our summer baby and oldest daughter. Nicknamed “Rosebud” shortly after birth, she was –pardon the pun—ready to blossom. She was our dreamer, our contemplator. For several years in elementary school, she seriously wanted to be President of the United States. Who was I to tell her any different? With her inquisitive mind and independent spirit, she wanted more than anything to leave home and attend a large university immediately after high school. So her dream became our dream, and separation followed.
Gleefully she headed off that August for “fish” camp, packing her car to the gills with all the things young ladies carry off to college. Her sister’s room was upstairs, and I began to notice an eerie silence downstairs. It was way too quiet. One evening I went into her room, now so full of emptiness. She had left a nightlight in the wall socket, just behind the bedside table. I remember the warm shadow it cast as I sat down in the darkness and cried a mother’s tears of change.
While I missed her wit and presence, I was proud that our Rosebud—baton in hand– felt so ready to take on the world without us.
WE HAVE LIFT-OFF!
And now our Baby Girl is eighteen…going on thirty. She’s our social, fun-loving Shooting Star, a born leader. She’s bubbling over about her exciting summer of travel before the grind of college brings her freedom to a screeching halt. While the decisions she is making in her universe right now pale in comparison to the ones she’ll need to make in the future, they are nonetheless important to any new female graduate planning for college. For instance, towers of recently washed and folded clothing, rescued from both her closet floor and busy lifestyle, are stacked on my kitchen chairs awaiting their fate. Hmmmm—which ones can she absolutely NOT live without? Which will be tossed? Which t-shirts will be put in the pile designated for her yet-to-be-made “high school quilt?” (note: this project was accomplished and presented to her as a college graduation present four years later!)
Every time now when I go into my kitchen, the emotional memories remind me “you’ve walked this way before.” Although thrilled for her opportunities, I am once again experiencing those familiar feelings of separation. Her bursts of excitement—and those darn stacks of clothes—scream “you can’t hold back this Shooting Star any more! Get ready, because she’s about to have her lift-off, too!”
I realize that my final lap baby, just as her brother and sister before her, is focused straight ahead…not looking back retrospectively, but looking straight into the future—just like any good relay runner would. It is up to us as her parents, about to finish this stage of our race, to squarely place the baton in her waiting hand. Perhaps I’ll holler a word or two of final instruction, but I can’t expect her to look back. The other two certainly didn’t.
TO THE BEAT OF A DIFFERENT DRUMMER
The race we’ve been running, the parenting pace we’ve been keeping for twenty-five years, is about to drastically change. In fact, the very definition of what it means to be a parent is about to change. There’s a different rhythm, a different beat—one of a mentor, advisor, and friend. I’ve discovered I’m comfortable with this new stride as we make our way over to the sidelines. We’ll be ready with advice, counsel, or other help as needed. But we cannot run their races for them. The baton is passed, and there is a satisfying sensation of completeness because we have lovingly let go.
Gazing at our children as they make their turns down their lanes, it brings me pleasure to recognize traits emerging. I see fruit of lessons learned as they pound the track. I also see familiar etchings on their batons, added not by us but by their grandparents, or even great-grandparents. They may stumble and make mistakes, but endurance is the key. The goal is not perfection, but purpose. I must trust that all three of the batons we’ve passed will help them stay the course, run their race, and lead them to their destiny.
Just as my parents before me, I am determined to cheer my children on until my last breath. Pardon me as I make my way up in the stands. It’s not easy to just sit and watch after all these years. But, you see, we have these three runners soaring, blossoming, and shooting across the track, and I need to root them on. Before I take my seat, though, how much is that popcorn?
I’m convinced there has to be such a thing as a baseball gene. I’m not sure what it looks like, but if OUR family DNA was diagrammed, my father Harold Worthington’s strand would look something like this….
“You see that pitcher that just came in the game? He won’t be in long, just this inning to get that guy out.” And so went the strategy instruction from a father to his daughter right behind me at a recent Texas Rangers’ home game. It made me smile. Without fail I think of my late father any time I attend a ball game. Baseball was a constant all of his life–and it helps connect my heart with his.
I’m convinced there has to be such a thing as a baseball gene. I’m not sure what it looks like, but if OUR family DNA was diagrammed, my father Harold Worthington’s strand would look something like this:
And, more specifically, if broken down into the most finite of gene shapes, it would appear thusly:
Now let me tell you why.
Daddy was born January 11, 1915, just twelve years after the Boston Red Sox won the first World Series. His home was 150 miles downriver from St. Louis in the Mississippi Delta “Dog Tooth Bend” area in far southwestern Illinois–a short distance from the Alexander County seat of Cairo, near the confluence of the Mississippi and Ohio Rivers. Harold was the middle sibling of seven, the son of a farmer/grist mill operator. His family was poorer than some but better off than others. As a country boy he learned to hunt, fish, and play baseball during the sport’s Golden Age. His professional heroes were, naturally, the upriver St. Louis Cardinals.
Around the time Daddy was first learning to bat, the famous Cardinals’ General Manager Branch Rickey spoke at a Cairo church luncheon. Legend has it that the team’s iconic emblem was birthed and designed as a direct result of that very meeting (inspired by a table centerpiece).
I’m sure Daddy grew up with this story, instilling an even deeper affection for the Redbirds. A 1920’s powerhouse, the Cards won their first World Series when Daddy was almost 12 years old, led to victory in 1926 by legends such as Mr. Rickey (responsible for MLB farm teams and racial integration) and the great player/manager Roger Hornsby. Radio was in its infancy, so Daddy probably listened to adults talk or read the newspapers on his own, studying the games’ box scores for tidbits of information.
St. Louis was the National League champ in Daddy’s high school freshman and sophomore years. Certainly inspired by the Cardinals’ winning ways, Daddy played for the blue and gold Branchers of Olive Branch High School. His position was second base, and with a .264 batting average, he helped Olive Branch win a local championship. Here’s Daddy as a senior in his baseball team photo:
A quick perusal through his senior year book (class of 1932) revealed a deep passion for baseball, and Daddy’s fervency was duly noted by several of his classmates. One praised him for his part in the winning spring season:
Another wrote a baseball-themed limerick, and another expressed “I am expecting to hear that you have signed up with the Yankees any time.”
The idea of playing in the same infield as Lou Gehrig or batting next to Babe Ruth in Yankee Stadium was any young ball player’s dream. But the Great Depression was my father’s stark reality. I’m sure he had some solace his senior year, however, knowing his beloved Cardinals were yet again World Series Champs. And while he admired the Yankees, he probably patterned his play after the 1931 World Series MVP Cardinal second baseman Frankie Frisch who led them to victory over the Yanks.
Work was scarce in Daddy’s depressed farming community. Within a few months after graduation, he joined FDR’s newly formed Civilian Conservation Corps (CCC)– right about the time Leo Durocher joined the Cardinals in 1933. Daddy served for six months with Company 1655 in then baseball-less Southern California near Tujunga, fighting fires in the mountains while living at the Tuna Canyon Camp. No doubt he thought of his days at the camp when the news broke of the Brooklyn Dodgers’ move west to Los Angeles two decades later.
After his stint in the CCC, he returned home to Southern Illinois in April, 1934, and joined local amateur baseball teams just for fun. That fall the Cards won yet ANOTHER World Series (under then MANAGER Frankie Frisch), this time against Detroit. I don’t know if during his remaining bachelor years he ever headed to St. Louis to take in games at Sportsman Park, but I’m sure he did if money allowed.
At age 23 he settled down with my mother, Dortha Davis, and hired on with the Cairo Water Company while continuing to play with area ball teams. Shortly after they married in 1938, Momma (an Olive Branch High alumnus herself) was motivated to pen these words in Daddy’s 1932 year book–“…I’m very proud of you for being one of the star members of the baseball team…I hope that if we ever have a son he shall have your love of clean sport and my love of education in general and can follow in your foot steps as a baseball player.”
Over the next few years, Daddy kept playing ball, and so did the Cardinals. My parents moved from the country into the city of Cairo. By the end of the 1941 season, Daddy had also fathered three daughters —but no sons.
Then came December 7, 1941.
The World War II era was a difficult time for all Americans, and my parents sacrificed along with everyone else. Daddy’s CCC Tuna Canyon Camp became a war-time internment location for “enemy aliens,” i.e. Japanese Americans. Exempted due to his critical civilian water company job, Daddy watched with guilt as his younger brothers, brothers-in-law, friends, and even his baseball heroes, went off to fight in the European and Pacific theaters.
“America’s Pastime” continued to serve as a temporary distraction from the more serious news of the day, just as it had during the Depression. Even FDR himself publically said “I honestly feel it would be best for the country to keep baseball going.” By this time, games were being broadcast over the radio, and my father definitely tuned in.
The 1942 Cardinal World Series winning team was considered one of the all-time greatest, and it was also the rookie season for Daddy’s favorite player—record-breaking Stan “The Man” Musial.
A war-time silver lining emerged for Daddy when the Cardinal owners decided to hold training camp in Cairo due to fuel and travel restrictions (not only that, but the St. Louis Browns practiced in nearby Cape Girardeau, Missouri). For two glorious spring training seasons (1943-44) there’s no doubt my father was one of many who watched the Cardinals practice right there in town. Fans like my dad must have burst at the seams with pride when they won the Series AGAIN in 1944. The Cardinals might have had “St. Louis” in their name, but they were definitely Cairo’s team, too.
When Cairo’s Cotter Field flooded at the beginning of spring training in 1945 due to the rising river levels, the Cards abbreviated their time and headed back to St. Louis in early March. Working for the city water company, I wonder if Daddy might have been involved trying to pump the water from the field? Maybe it’s just coincidence, but without spring training to watch in town and the war winding down, time had to be spent elsewhere. Strange that my sister Jan would be born in December, 1945. You do the math.
That made Daughters = 4, Sons = 0 for Daddy, if you’re keeping score.
Prosperity returned after the war in many ways. To celebrate their return to pro baseball, Cardinal hitters like Musial and his teammate Enos Slaughter picked up where they left off and barreled their way to another World Series win in 1946.
Daddy continued playing infield for various local baseball and softball teams, from Coca Cola Bottling to church leagues. My older sisters have many memories of how closely Daddy followed the Cardinals over the radio beginning in the mid to late ‘40s. It was serious business to him, especially without the aid of TV instant replay.
Phyllis and Carol remember the improvised plastic board he rigged up to tally up the box scores and detailed stats—sort of a precursor to a white board that could be erased after each game. Carol specifically remembers the triangular straight edge he used to draw perfect lines for the box scores—and Phyllis remembers wondering why in the world Daddy would care about all those stats when the game was over.
And then during the radio broadcasts there was the unmistakable voice of Harry Carey thundering out “It might be- it could be- it ISSSSSS! A HOMERUN!” Loud cheers would then commence by my sisters– followed by Daddy quieting them down so he could hear the next play.
Donna remembers that Daddy purchased his very first transistor radio in the 1950’s to carry in his truck (and Jan remembers it was red) to listen to the games. She can also remember accidentally breaking the plastic piece that held the batteries in place! Daddy grumbled, but was still able to fix it the way he fixed just about anything.
Donna and Phyllis also recall how summer trips to visit our mom’s relatives in the St. Louis area almost always included a Cardinals’ game. Phyllis remembers as a ten year-old being excited to go to a game (first at Sportsman’s Field and then later at Busch Stadium) but then getting bored and spending more time begging our Uncle Ray for money to buy concessions. At other times, Daddy would just make special trips to the games with his friends as time and money would allow.
Going to Daddy’s ball games was a family affair for years—my sisters would walk with Momma to the ball field at Cairo’s St. Mary’s Park, pushing the youngest in a stroller. Disinterest in the game usually set in quickly, so my sisters would play nearby with friends or catch fireflies at dusk. It was a true “Leave it to Beaver” era in 1950’s Cairo.
Daddy moved to centerfield as he got older, and baseball turned more and more to softball. Jan recalls how Daddy acquired the game nickname “Hog.” He could, and frequently would, catch anything hit to any part of the outfield. As age crept up, Jan also recalls the strong smell of Ben Gay ointment Daddy used to ease his sore muscles after each game.
The late 40’s and early 50’s began a drought of sorts for the Cards. I’m sure for an avid fan like Daddy, it was quite discouraging. Baseball changes began. A new owner took over in 1952 (hence the new Busch stadium name), and the American League St. Louis Browns moved to Baltimore in 1953 to become the Orioles. While Stan the Man continued to rack up tremendous baseball feats, the Cardinals continued to slump as a team. During this mid-50’s Cardinal downturn, Daddy had two more children—two more GIRLS—exactly a year apart. Six girls, no sons….and seemingly no one to “follow in” Daddy’s “footsteps as a baseball player” as Momma had hoped.
As I was number 5 of 6, my father was in his early 40’s when I was born. I have only one dim memory of watching him play outfield at an evening softball game in St. Mary’s Park. But, like my older sisters, I would have rather caught fireflies! Perhaps due to his increased work, church, and community responsibilities, he had choices to make. Although Daddy exchanged his cleats for league bowling shoes, he remained a huge fan.
I, too, remember baseball games on the radio, but especially the TV broadcasts. During meals, Daddy could watch the Cards on the black and white TV in the living room by strategically sitting at the end of the kitchen table. Daddy also found TV ballgames quite relaxing, as he could be frequently discovered napping in his recliner on weekends with a game droning in the background.
In the early 60’s, about the time St. Louis called up a young Bob Gibson from the minors and Stan the Man was retiring, my sister Jan met a young man named Jim at, of course, a ball game in a nearby town. Jim was his high school team’s star hitter, and even had several major league scouts interested in his abilities. But, love won out, and Jim pursued Jan instead of pursuing professional baseball—and Daddy caught a baseball-playing fishing buddy. Courtesy of sister Carol and hubby Kyle, the first grandchildren began making their appearances. In fact, when the Cardinals ended their 18 year drought and won another World Series in 1964 (behind the pitching of the aforementioned Bob Gibson), Daddy and Momma had been blessed with four grandkids—THREE of which were boys—keeping Daddy’s hope alive that his footsteps would still be followed onto the baseball diamond!
The late 60’s brought turbulent times. Racial tensions trickled down and divided Cairo—a southern town in a northern state. Gunfire due to racial factions could be heard downtown nearly every night the summer of 1967. As a church and community leader, my dad had many grave concerns on his shoulders. Both my mom and dad were firmly convinced our town did not have a white or black problem, but rather a heart attitude problem.
Fortunately, the Cards were on a roll again, and my dad was excited as they took another World Series that fall behind the fantastic play of two African- Americans–pitcher, Bob Gibson, and left-fielder Lou Brock. Baseball had to have been a wonderful escape, if even for just a little while, for the serious issues my dad faced daily. I can vaguely recall laying on the living floor and staring at the black and white images on the screen, finally beginning to understand what my dad saw (and didn’t see) in baseball. He saw no color but Cardinal red. They played for HIS team, HIS Cardinals, and that’s all that mattered. Looking back, I wonder if his childhood admiration of Branch Rickey, a man of faith who courageously introduced integration to the Majors in 1947 via Jackie Robinson, helped formulate Daddy’s belief system?
The assassinations of Martin Luther King (downriver in Memphis) and Bobby Kennedy in 1968 caused our little community to be more divided than ever. When I started junior high, Daddy had just been elected to the public school board where tensions were even deeper. But I learned that my father and mother both stood firm in their belief in our schools and in God’s equality for all, no matter the skin color. And even though Bob Gibson became the Cards’ first Cy Young winner by posting a 22-9 pitching record, it isn’t enough. The Detroit Tigers beat the Cards in the last St. Louis World Series my father would ever see.
Fast forward to the fall of 1969, just after Woodstock and the first moon walk. All hell broke loose in my eighth grade world. A local parochial school was formed, and due to “white flight” our public school system took a severe financial blow. But as a school board member, my father (and mother) continue to stand strong. My sister Lisa and I remained in public school, gained new friends, and discovered deeper truths about injustice and equality through the example of our parents.
As a stress reliever, my history teacher decided to let us watch the baseball playoffs and World Series day games being played during his class that September. Somewhere along the line I remember for the first time personally embracing the unique power of baseball to bring glorious distraction– if even for just a few moments– from life’s trials. The Series was between the heavily favored Baltimore Orioles and the Miracle Mets of 1969. As a National League town, most of us rooted for the upstart Mets. By the time the Series was over and won against Brooks Robinson and the Orioles, I was totally smitten with Tom Seaver and the phrase “BELIEVE!” I had become an official baseball fan, totally on my own two blue and orange Mets’ feet!
For family summer vacation in 1970, we headed out to visit sister Phyllis who lived in the New York City area. Even as a Cardinal fan, Daddy, as Phyllis recalled, had always held the Yankees in great esteem and longed to see a Yankee game. So, we as a family headed off to the Bronx, and entered the hallowed ground of the old Yankee Stadium. This was the very first time I ever attended a professional game, and I was with Daddy. We had seats somewhere along the first base line if I recall. I remember watching with amazement as Daddy opened his purchased program to the center, taking the sharpened yellow pencil provided, and proceeded to record every statistic about the game. He knew all the abbreviations, and he recorded every stat about every player on both sides. I do not remember who the Yankees played, but I remember my dad recording it all, and I remember asking questions. It must have been a bucket list moment for him (for many years I kept that Yankees baseball program—and I know I still have it somewhere. I long to look at it again, and to see my Daddy’s neat handwriting in the box scores, knowing now I can read it for myself)!
A couple of days later, he wanted to go again. This time only three of us went, and we ended up sitting in the bleachers. Wow—a 13 year old kid sitting in the Bronx Bombers Bleachers—now that was an educational experience! Again, I don’t remember anything about the opposing team—but I remember just being there, watching the game, and being with my dad.
Daddy and Momma left Lisa and I with Phyllis for a few weeks while they traveled and worked around the house. We had a wonderful summer of new experiences and adventures that included attending several Mets games at the old Shea Stadium in Queens– much to my baseball delight. Yes, the baseball torch had been firmly passed down to me by Daddy, even though it was not as a Cardinals’ fan.
Little did any of us know that year would be his last to watch the Boys of Summer. Daddy’s heart gave out and he died very suddenly at the age of 55 only five months after seeing the Yankees play in 1970. He was a well-loved pillar in our little community of 6000. The church he helped build and where he served as a deacon, First Southern Baptist, was packed to the gills for the funeral. What a legacy of integrity and faithfulness my father left us all.
Regional loyalties now dominate our family’s favorite teams. Jan and Carol have kept the Cardinal faith in Kentucky and northern Illinois, although there are Cubs, White Sox, and Braves fans scattered among their children. While Phyllis is a Yankees’ fan, Donna would say she is now a Texas Ranger’s fan—although her years in the Tampa Bay area as a Rays’ fan (and childhood affinity for the Cardinals) occasionally come into play. I laid down my NY Mets baseball “puppy love” and picked up a full blown passion for the Texas Rangers, as did our late sister Lisa, since we moved to Texas as teenagers.
But frankly, we three Ranger fans wondered if Daddy was giving the Cardinals a little heavenly help during their 2011 World Series win– especially when Jan declared “Rangers 3, Daddy 4!”
The baseball movie “Field of Dreams” touches something deep inside me, and I cry at the end every time. Yes, it’s a fantasy, but there’s something about the idea of “going back” to recapture lost opportunity that appeals to my heart. Since I was only 14 when he passed, there are so many important and insignificant things about my Daddy I didn’t know. Like, for instance, how did he like his coffee? Why did he organize our family photos the way he did? It what ways am I like him? Would he and Momma really have retired to their land in Arkansas? How DID he catch all those fish? What were his parents—my paternal grandparents—like? What would it be like to have an adult conversation with him about life in general? These are questions beyond my control that I must release to God.
Maybe it’s those corn fields that remind me of my Illinois childhood, but I can’t help but think Daddy would be one of those who would ask, standing on that freshly mowed ball field, “Is this heaven?”
So while there is much I don’t know about him, there is something I do know without a doubt. My father, Harold Worthington, had plenty of baseball DNA….and he successfully passed it down to his six daughters. We have in turn passed it down to our children and grandchildren. Except now our family baseball DNA strand looks more like this:
Daddy, perhaps you didn’t have any sons, but you now have dozens of grand and great-grand sons (and daughters) who have donned uniforms and picked up gloves and bats to play the game you adored. As Momma hoped over 75 years ago, they have indeed “followed in your footsteps as a baseball player” and “your love of clean sport.” They may be unaware that their love of the game is due in part from YOUR love of the game, but that’s our job to tell them. And we also need to let them know that if their Grandpa Worthington were here, your photo albums would be proudly brimming over with their game pics from Illinois to Kentucky to Texas.
This legacy you left us, Daddy, this love of baseball, may not cure the world’s ills. But it can give us a break from the madness. It reminds us that life is still better when played by the rules and there is an Ultimate Authority, and that life is a marathon and not a sprint. It proves that details matter, that sacrifice counts, that patience is indeed a virtue, and that we should never give up hope even with two strikes against us. It reminds us that everyone has the right to an equal chance in this life no matter the “color of their uniform.” Most importantly, it teaches us that even in loss there is a new day and new chances.
So, thank you, Daddy, for teaching us how to play baseball and, by doing so, how to live our lives. I’m sure you would agree that’s a grand slam on anybody’s score card!