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By Frank Barning
My love of baseball started in 1952 as a 10-year old. My mother and I would watch Brooklyn Dodgers games on WOR, Channel 9 in New York. She hadn't been a fan but somehow we developed something we could share.
Her father, Walter Maunton, had died in the 1918 influenza pandemic. The same month, October of that year, his sister Lulu was taken by that ravishing illness. As many as 100 million people were killed world wide. Mother was two-years old at the time and my grandmother was left with three children.
Walter Maunton was a sign painter in Brooklyn. I remember being told that he knew the owner of the Brooklyn Dodgers, Charles Hercules Ebbets, who built Ebbets Field. Construction began in 1912 and the first game was played in 1913.
My grandfather painted some of the signs at Ebbets Field, I was told. I know very little else about the man and only one photo of him, that I know of, remains. It was pasted in my baby book. When my mother was in ill health in her late 80s, she looked forward to dying "So I can be with daddy again."
It must have been the family connection to Charles Ebbets and his ballpark that made us Dodgers fans. At the time, there were three baseball teams in the New York metropolitan area, and if you followed the game, you had to choose a team.
I remember a game we attended at Ebbets Field in 1955. It was a hot, humid night and sitting next to my mother was a rather large African-American woman who vociferously loved her Dodgers and especially its Black players. When Jackie Robinson or Roy Campanella came to bat, she was in her glory. Junior Gilliam was one of her favorites and kept referring to the young player as "honey".
My mother had grown up in a practically all white world. She was out of her element and went out of her way to cheer for her very friendly neighbor's heroes. She did not feel threatened but was more than a bit intimidated. This was a new experience.
The new experience heightened late in the game on this humid evening. Her neighbor was wearing a short-sleeved dress and was perspiring profusely. Much to my prim-and-proper mother's discomfort, Junior Gilliam's fan whipped out a huge handkerchief and started mopping her armpits. The look on mom's face was priceless, somewhere between shock and horror.
After completing her underarm drying effort, the neighbor unfolded the damp handkerchief and spread it over her lap with more than a little to spare for mom's right leg. Well, I thought mother would pass out on the spot. Bravely she kept a stiff upper lip and did not complain. However, she gave me a furtive glance that expressed her true feelings.
My mother survived and pleasantly joked about the handkerchief incident as dad drove us home to Levittown in our 1949 Plymouth. And from then on, Junior Gilliam became one of her favorite players. "Come on Junior honey," she would yell at the black and white Admiral television screen, when No. 19 strolled to home plate.