R.I.P. Mo Weber

Last Friday, I received news that my baseball mentor and good friend, Mo Weber had died. Mo lived a good long life, having just turned 96 on June 24th of this year. I wrote about him in three different books, and I’m sure that he would laugh and say, “You better write about me now, too.”

I first met Mo over 15 years ago when he was a coach for the New Market Rebels of the Valley Baseball League. I interviewed him for the first time in November of 2008. We met for lunch and when we left, the restaurant staff was setting up for dinner. As it turned out, he became an entire chapter in Safe at Home: A Season in the Valley.

Mo always had a quip or a story, and it was often the same story, but that was one of the many characteristics that made Maynard G. Weber so lovable.

Mo was a character.

He taught me so much about the game that I love. Me, and about a million other people. We spoke the language of baseball, and one of my great pleasures in life has been sitting right behind home plate on some warm, lazy night in New Market with Mo, who is studying the action on the field the way an art critic might view a painting. That’s not surprising as his father was Max Weber, to whom the New York Times referred as “the dean of modern art in this country.”

Mo is silent as the pitcher comes set and sneaks a peek at the runner on first. The pitcher looks once, twice, then fires homeward as the runner takes off for second.

“Catcher has slow feet,” says Mo as the runner slides in safely. Classic Mo. (If the catcher doesn’t set his feet quickly, he can’t throw quickly enough to catch an average runner, must less a speedster, even if he has a strong arm. It is a compliment to think that Mo knows I’ll understand the meaning of his comment.)

Mo, himself, was as quick as they come. Quick with a laugh, quick to exhibit kindness, quick to take an interest in anyone who showed love for the game.

My friend is gone, but he is not lost as some people like to say. He contributed so much knowledge and joy and love to this world, and nothing in the Universe has more permanence than those elements.

I had the honor of writing the inscription for his plaque which hangs on the wall of the Rebel Park concession stand. It was placed there in 2015 when Mo’s Rebel uniform number, #1, was retired. I think it is a fitting epitaph:

 

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Huntingburg, Indiana Is a Championship Town

We Americans currently focus on our divisions so much that we are blind to the good that people do for one another.

By way of illustration, I give you the Dubois County Bombers of Huntingburg, Indiana.

The Bombers are one of eight teams playing in the Ohio Valley League, a summer college baseball league just like the Valley Baseball League here in the Shenandoah from where I write. Al and I attended one of their games back in 2016, and produced an Off the Beaten Basepaths video on the team and their ballpark, League Stadium, which was used extensively in the filming of the movie, A League of Their Own.

Mike Uebelhor, a managing partner of the Bombers, and his wife Mary, whose lack of an official title belies the many responsibilities that she is asked to fulfill, “spearhead” the Dubois County Leukemia Association, which Mike founded years ago. For five years now, they have asked their players, as well as their vendors—young ladies who don the uniforms of the Rockford Peaches—to sign up for the Be the Match bone marrow registry. Twenty-four did so last Wednesday.

“We’ve had matches from some of our other drives, but have not yet had a match from a Bombers drive,” said Mary via Instant Messenger. “Once you are in the registry, you stay there, so there’s still plenty of time for any of them to be called. It’s sooooo exciting for us when we hear that one of our registrants is a match for someone!”

Mary, who has been on the registry for 25 years herself has never been called, but added, “What a cool thing to be able to save someone’s life – or at least give them a chance!”

No corporate spectacles, no pink baseball bats, no calling attention to how woke our brand is. Just this “cool thing” that a bunch of people in Dubois County, Indiana, and their baseball team do that could, you know, maybe help somebody someday.

Such championship towns cover the map of the United States, and such heroes are everywhere. Thank you, Bombers for reminding us of that.

League Stadium, Huntingburg, IN. For the record, the Bombers won the OVL playoffs in 2015 & 2017.

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Vulgar Dancing at the Virginia Military Institute

One’s imagination is stirred considerably by a fascinating clip from the “Out of the Past” section of the July 1, 2019 Winchester Star, which relates the story of the Virginia Military Institute’s final ball in 1919. It seems that on June 25 of that year, “some of the alumni and several unidentified girls” did the Shimmy, in spite of the fact that “the authorities of the institute had given warning earlier in the evening that the introduction of such dances would cause the immediate closing of the [dance] hall.” Apparently, “the ‘Shimmy’ and cheek dances,” had been “denounced as vulgar and impossible of being made fit for polite society by the International Association of Dancing Masters.”

Well, as one may imagine, any young man, be he an officer and a gentleman or not, is going to attempt to do something which his elders deem “impossible of being made fit for polite society,” especially when it can be done with “unidentified girls.” According to the Star, “when the ‘Shimmy’ dance was well under way Colonel Purdie, the commandant, ordered the orchestra to play ‘Home Sweet Home,’ during the rendition of which, the hall was cleared and the ball ended.”

The Shimmy was only two years old in 1919, and its popularity increased dramatically that same year with the publication of the song, “I Wish I Could Shimmy Like My Sister Kate,” a title which is such a delicious mixture of words; words almost as tasty as, “impossible of being made fit for polite society.” Anyway, the Shimmy became a favorite dance of Flappers in the 1920s, though still considered vulgar, and it was banned in many dance halls. What we now think of as “the Shimmy” or “shimmying” is just how they thought of it, too, or as Wikipedia describes it, “the body is held still, except for the shoulders, which are quickly alternated back and forth.” These words do not do the actual movement justice, of course, especially if performed by one who is blessed by nature with rhythm and with a physique most suitable for shimmying.

So, if you want to shimmy like your sister Kate, who “shimmies like a jelly on a plate,” I urge you to watch the instructional video by clicking here. It will show you that the dance began as something akin to a cheek-to-cheek seizure, but quickly evolved into what we think of today. And if I had a time machine, I would set it for Lexington, Virginia, the evening of June 25, 1919 in order to see something like the following:

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Dress Barn Sent Out to Pasture

I can’t believe that it took this long for Dress Barn to go out of business, a move that was announced the week of May 19th. I mean, was there a worse name in all of retail than Dress Barn?

Dress Emporium—fancy.

Dress Collection—solid.

Dress Store—boring, but accurate.

Dress Barn?

I would love to have been in the board room when Dress Barn was being named. What were they thinking? It must have been some man who said, “Our research department feels that a bovine reference will really moooove the ladies to graze—I mean shop—in our stores. Can anyone think of a name that will make women feel like heifers?”

“Stockyard of Dresses?”

“No . . .”

“Dress Pasture?”

“No . . .”

“How about Dress Barn?”

“Perfect.”

Whenever I walked by, I always expected a sales girl to be standing at the door with a cattle prod going, “Move it along, Bossy, the sales are in the back.”

“Lumber on back to our leisure wear, ladies!”

I wonder how they missed the tagline, It’ll behoove you to shop at Dress Barn? . . .

Anyway, it had to be a man who came up with the name, because women are word sensitive: Command the language and you command the ladies. Clearly, Victoria’s Secret, for example, was named by a woman, and not by whoever came up with Dress Barn; otherwise it would have been called Grandma’s Underwear Barn.

By the way, if anyone out there knows the guy—and it was a guy—who named a line of J. C. Penny’s clothing Sag Harbor, please pass along this post.

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The Bedford Boys Tribute Center

It is really Green’s Drug Store, and not Omaha Beach that is the epicenter of the Bedford Boys story. Green’s was not just the main hang-out in town, which meant that every one of the Bedford Boys had been there often. It also housed the little telegraph office from which, on July 17, 1944, the horrible news began to arrive in town. Telegraph after telegraph announcing that the sons, husbands, fathers, and brothers of Bedford were killed or missing in action. It clacked away on Monday and for the next several days and all began with the dreaded words, The Secretary of War desires that I tender his deep sympathy . . .

The story of the boys’ death on Omaha beach, and the deep wounding of the entire town is now being told at the Bedford Boys Tribute Center, in what used to be Green’s Drugstore on the corner of Bridge and Main Streets in Bedford. Ken and Linda Parker opened the center at the end of April, and it is replete with the mementos and belongings of the boys, donated mostly by surviving brothers and sisters who are only now able to open the boxes, and touch the items stored there so long ago. Their story is as poignant as the boys’ themselves, and Ken, who also leads the tours, is a master at telling these stories.

Along one wall are the photographs of all 20 Bedford Boys who died on the morning of

Elmere Wright played 3 seasons in the St. Louis Browns minor league system. The telegrams announcing first that he was MIA, then that he was killed, are at right.

June 6, 1944. There are bibles, baseballs, Purple Hearts, and wedding announcements displayed in the cases. At the end of one row sits the teletype. The teletype. The only message now is a sign on it that says, Please do not touch. Thank you. It seemed to look at me as surely as the photos on the wall did and–the Parkers will please forgive me–I lightly touched the keys. There was life in the old machine yet, and it tapped out a message: Feel that?

Yes, I do. You can feel it all over town, the grief that somehow became embedded in the bricks and the floorboards and the old teletype. It may be a sentimental fantasy, but if enough people pay their tribute, perhaps one day the grief will lift.

The Bedford Boys Tribute Center is located at 104 N. Bridge Street in Bedford. Call 540-425-5598 or email coabedford6644@gmail.com for more information. Make it a point to visit. You won’t be sorry that you did.

It’s quiet, now, but not silent.

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One Can Only Imagine

The National D-Day Memorial and the town of Bedford are places that force the imagination to engage. This was especially true on Thursday, during the Commemoration of the 75th Anniversary of D-Day. The first plane to fly over was a German FW-190, fighter plane. It circled the crowd, slowly it seemed to me, and I wondered what it was like to be a British citizen seeing such a plane, wondering in turn if it was in its death spiral or if it was simply looking and would once more escort the Nazi bombers who were destroying London. To look up at the dogfights above, to wonder if the bombs had hit their targets—they surely hit something, and killed someone—must have been a helpless feeling indeed.

Later in the ceremony, which was punctuated by two brief and poignant speeches by Director of Veterans Affairs, Robert Wilkie, as well as Vice-President Mike Pence, a series of dignitaries read the words of 26 actual participants:

“The water was turning red from the blood.”

“Every man was a hero”

“I heard cries for help.”

“I was 19 years old, and I was afraid.”

I can only imagine.

A veteran and his proud family

Before the final flyover, approximately 100 veterans were introduced to the crowd as their names and contributions to the war were read. Some were quite spry and walked with a steady gait, while others hobbled along or were wheeled past by a current member of the same military branch in which they had served. All were proud, and all must have been thinking where they were 75 years ago. I can only imagine their feelings on this day.

We ventured into the town itself on Friday, to a newly established “Tribute Center” specifically honoring the Bedford Boys. (More on this site later in the week.) It is housed in what was once Green’s Drugstore, which, like most drugstores in most small towns at the time, was the social center of the community. The displays and the building also command one’s imagination. Co-owner and tour guide, Ken Parker understands this. “The footprints of the Bedford Boys are all over Green’s Drugstore,” he remarked at the beginning of the tour. Indeed.

And there on a wall are the framed photographs of the 20 young men from the town who were all killed on June 6, 1944. They seemed to actually look back at those who have in essence, come to pay their respects, and shrug as if to say, “It was worth it.” Of course, that could just be my imagination.

 

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D-Day Arrives in Marsh Point

Seventy-five years ago tomorrow morning, Americans up and down the East Coast awoke–or were awakened by–the news that the Allies had begun the invasion of Fortress Europe by landing troops on the beaches of Normandy. (Of course, folks on the West Coast received the initial, unconfirmed reports around 10:00 p.m. June 5th.)

The news brought a sense of satisfaction that the payoff for two years of rationing

Statuary at the National D-Day Memorial, Bedford, VA

and sacrifice was now at hand, but there was no sense of celebration, for this was merely the first step in what everyone knew would be a long and bloody fight before the Nazis were subdued.

Working from accounts in the Winchester Evening Star and other sources, I recreated in Chapter 19 of The Boys We Knew what it might have been like to receive the news:

Elizabeth was aroused by what seemed to be a familiar sound, but lying there in the dark, she couldn’t quite place it for a moment or two.

A church bell.

She picked up the clock and brought it close to her face to see that it was a few minutes before 5:00. As she replaced it on the night stand, another church bell began to ring. Then another. Moving quickly now, she rose and went to her open window wondering if she might see half the town on fire; but there had been no siren calling in the volunteer firemen.

Then, she knew.

Dashing into the hall, she almost ran into her father who was coming to wake her.

“It’s the invasion,” he said. “It’s started.”

“I know.”

Margaret, throwing on her robe, as she emerged from the bedroom, looked at her husband and daughter, and without a word, the Bittner family hurried downstairs and turned on the radio:

You’ve just heard Edward R. Murrow, reporting for the combined American Networks, read General Eisenhower’s Order of the Day. As we approach the top of the hour we repeat the official Army bulletin that reads “Under the command of General Eisenhower, Allied naval forces, supported by strong air forces began landing Allied armies this morning on the northern coast of France.” It’s I-Day, ladies and gentlemen; the invasion of Fortress Europe has begun, the first wave of troops landing on the beaches of Normandy, France some five hours ago.

Gerald leaned into the free-standing Zenith from his chair on one side, while Margaret sat on the edge of the couch on the other side. The ornate design and multi-grained woods used in the construction of this radio that Gerald bought new in 1938 made it resemble a miniature cathedral, and Elizabeth, on the floor before it and staring at the circular dial near its sweeping pinnacle looked like a worshipper at its feet.

“Stay safe, Jimmy,” whispered Elizabeth to the dial.

They listened as commentators discussed early casualty reports and what the Allies needed to do to secure the beachheads. They speculated about how long it would take to crush the German army and cautiously suggested that the war may well be over by Christmas.

“Maybe that war,” said Gerald, “but we’ll still have one to go.”

Tomorrow morning will find Martha and me at the National D-Day Memorial in Bedford, VA where many D-Day veterans have been assembled for what the Memorial is terming, “The Final Salute.” I will chronicle our experience next week.

To mark tomorrow’s occasion, The Boys We Knew e-book version is available for only $0.99, both Thursday and Friday.

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