GOODBYE MINNIE MINOSO
It was supposed to be a dark, overcast day – gloomy, with thunder and lightning, and a werewolf howling in the distance – like the start of a Dracula movie; that’s how I envisioned this day, that’s how I fanaticized this ominous moment in my life. For the past six months I dreaded the morning of September 11, 1951, but as I looked out the window of my second story bedroom, I saw a radiant blue cloudless sky. This was supposed to be the worst day of my life; I did not want sunshine. It was not part of my script!
And my mother bounced around the kitchen with a contrived buoyancy; she did her best to keep the morning cheerful. She made my favorite breakfast and even served a peeled and quartered orange; she knew I loved oranges. We listened to “Don McNeal’s Breakfast Club” on the radio, like we always did, and marched around the breakfast table … just my mother and me. My father never got into childish things like that; he was always on the serious side. I don’t think he ever really acted silly.
I was twelve years old, and this was to be my last day in Chicago. We would be leaving after breakfast, moving to Miami Beach Florida. My father had a heart attack the previous year and the Chicago winters were too difficult for him to tolerate. So, he retired, sold his paint and wallpaper stores, and decided to move the family to Florida. I was heartsick about the move; I would be leaving my very close friend, Michael Bernstein, but I understood that we had to move, for my father’s health.
He was sixty and seemed like a very old man to me; his posture was bad and he was somewhat unsteady when he walked, but he walked with dignity. Because of his heart condition he had trouble climbing the stairs to our second story apartment; he needed help, either from my mother or from me. And he was very concerned about the drive to Florida, a drive which a younger, healthier man could make in two days. He told my mother that we would take five days to make the 1,400 mile trip … stopping at 3:00 PM every afternoon. In 1951 my mother didn’t drive, nor did she read maps, so my father would do all the driving and I was the designated map reader.
I banged a large wooden spoon against a pot as my mother and I marched around the breakfast table, a daily ritual with the “Breakfast Club.” The radio program began with a “first call to breakfast,” then a few boring guests, then a “second call to breakfast” … and finally… breakfast. My father just read the morning newspaper, the stock market pages.
The phone rang; it was Michael Bernstein. He didn’t cry – but his voice cracked. “Damn! Myron … why do you have to move? I’m really gonna’ miss you.” Michael said he was coming over, by bike, to say a final goodbye. He lived only five blocks away. I made that walk many times, even in the snow and the biting wind of Chicago – which is the only thing about Chicago that I hated. The snow was OK, it was even fun, but the wind was horrible. I remember sometimes making the five block walk to Michael’s house, walking backwards .. to shield my face from that ice cold wind.
“Rose, turn down that damn radio,” my father lifted his head from the Tribune, and growled at my mother. “I can’t hear myself think.”
“Sol, this is our last day in Chicago, who knows if they’ll have this program in Florida, let us enjoy our final march.”
My mother gave a look of defiance, which was unlike her … normally, she agreed with anything my father wanted. But, on this last morning in Chicago, she raised the volume a little louder and I continued banging the pot with my wooden spoon. I lifted my knees high in the air as I marched around the kitchen table, shouting: “second call to breakfast.” I didn’t want to think about the reality of the day. I loved Chicago and I would be leaving my sister Bobbie, who just got married a few years earlier, and my two-year old nephew, Barry. We had such fun in our apartment when Bobbie and Barry came to visit. Barry was just beginning to walk, and we laughed as he struggled and kept falling, and Barry recognized that every time he fell, we all laughed, so he kept falling on purpose, just to get more laughs from his mother, grandmother, and me ….I was only 12, and it was fun being called “Uncle Myron.” How many kids who are twelve years old are uncles?
The car was ready to go; my mother packed most of our personal stuff a month before the trip. So, after breakfast we just closed the door of our apartment , left the furniture for the new tenant, and went down to the car; no one was there to wave goodbye, not even my older sister; she said her goodbyes the day before. I urged my parents to wait a few minutes; Michael was coming over, and I wanted to see him, one final time. We sat in the car; my father lit a cigar as we waited for Michael.
“Sol, please,” groaned my mother, “not so early in the morning, that stinkin’ cigar makes me sick.”
He got out, stood at the side of the car, and puffed away as we waited for Michael.
Several minutes later Michael came racing up the street on his bike. He hopped off; threw his bike to the ground and ran toward me. We hugged .. and didn’t know what to say, but neither of us cried. It was a sick feeling, an emptiness in my stomach. I tried to say something but a lump in my throat made it difficult to talk. Michael was older than me, taller than me, and knew a lot about many things, especially World War II; he knew all about Hitler and Tojo and Mussolini and the details of how each of them committed suicide or was killed.
Finally, I broke the silence: “I’ll … I’ll .. I’ll write as soon as I get to Florida.”
Michael turned to my father: “Mr. Lindell, don’t forget to bring the tape recorder, so Myron and I can send tapes back and forth to each other.”
“Don’t worry Michael, we packed it with the movers,” said my father. “And say goodbye to your mother and father for us.” My father had a great deal of respect for Michael because they both read a lot, and to my father, if you were a “reader” everything in life would fall in place. My mother thought Michael was a wild kid because he often wore a German helmet and raced in and out of traffic on his bike and because he was twice suspended from school for “unspecified violations.” One of those violations, I think, was for carving a huge picture of his dog on a desk.
We drove away and I looked back through the rear window of our 1947 Packard. I waved goodbye to Michael and to Chicago, and to the White Sox, my favorite baseball team. I was in the back seat .. alone .. and I buried my head in a pillow so that no one would hear me cry. We were on our way to Florida – to Miami Beach – a place which we had visited frequently, but only for short winter vacations. I was positive that I would not like living there. The beach was fun, but after a week of swimming what else was there to do?
As we drove to Florida my job was to read the detailed map and the information booklet prepared by the Chicago Motor Club. I was alone in the back seat, working as navigator, tail gunner, and bombardier … I imagined that we were flying in a B-17, on a bombing raid over the southern part of the United States .. wiping out pockets of escaped Nazis. It was a secret mission; I was commissioned by President Truman. I couldn’t even tell my parents. If I was captured I would have to swallow a poison capsule. I had a few hidden M&M’s, just in case!
Michael and I frequently played war games. I was always the American; he liked to be the German … the commandant of an elite battalion of Storm Troopers. He said the Germans had a better disciplined army than the Americans, but we won the war because we could manufacture more airplanes and tanks; my father agreed with him.
We took the Outer Drive south; I loved that highway … the vista of the lake and the beautiful Chicago skyline .. it was the prettiest view in the world… except maybe Paris when the American army, led by Ike, marched through the Arc D’Triumph and rescued the city from the Nazis. I saw pictures in Life magazine. I wish I was there, marching in that parade. I couldn’t understand why Eisenhower had to run for president in 1952 … … we should just appoint him as our next president.
Later that day we listened to the White Sox baseball game on the radio, but not until I finished dropping a few of my bombs … I “leveled” the giant crematories in Gary, Indiana. This ugly smoke filled city was a secret haven for escaped Nazis, a place for them to prepare for World War III. The word “GARY” was a clandestine acronym: “German Army Relocation Yard” ….not many people knew that, but I figured it out.
The White Sox were two games behind the Yankees in a heated pennant race, with only one week remaining in the season; Minnie Minoso, the new Cuban rookie stole two bases and the Sox were leading the Yankees by a run. It was a fast and exciting Sox team that year; many sports writers called them the “Go Go” Sox. We listened intently to the game until we were outside of Chicago radio range; the sounds of Chicago faded … replaced by Indiana grain reports … and the price of wheat and barley.
“What’s barely?” I asked my father.
“Those are the little white things that float in mushroom barley soup.”
“Dad,” do you think Minnie Minoso will be as good as Babe Ruth?” Minoso was the most exciting baseball player in Chicago.
“Well, he is good, and he is fast, but I don’t think you can compare him to Babe Ruth,” said my father. “But that new rookie in New York, Mickey Mantle, looks like he might become a big home run hitter.”
I hated the Yankees ….. almost as much as I hated the Nazis. For a Jewish boy growing up in post World War II Chicago, the blue and white “NY” of the Yankees was the second most hated symbol, second only to the dreaded Swastika. I couldn’t believe my own father was saying that Mickey Mantle, a New York Yankee, was better than Minnie Minoso. But, my father was very biased; he was born in New York and never lost his loyalty to New York teams. I loved my father, but wouldn’t accept his opinion that Mickey Mantle would ever be better than Minnie Minoso. Impossible! I was a big collector of baseball cards in Chicago and had five full shoe boxes, the entire ‘49, ‘50, and ‘51 series, with doubles and triples of many cards. Of course, like most kids, I never chewed that sickening saccharine gum; it tasted like powdered cardboard. When my mother said that we wouldn’t have enough room in our new apartment to save all my cards, it was like pouring salt into an open wound; she was destroying the last vestige of my Chicago identity. I could only keep one box; I had to make important decisions; which cards to save; which cards to cut. I saved five Orestes “Minnie” Minoso cards and dumped the two New York rookies: Mickey Mantle and Willie Mays.
“OK, here’s a riddle,” said my father, as he thought of a few geography questions to break the monotony of the boring drive. “What state is round on both sides and high in the middle.”
“Alaska,” I shouted.
“Wrong. Alaska is only a territory,” replied my father.
“How bout’ Colorado?” asked my mother.
“No, Colorado and Wyoming are square on the sides and high in the middle.”
“OK … I give up,” I responded.
“Ohio,” said my father. “Round on both sides… O’s …. and H-I in the middle.”
“That’s stupid,” I groaned. “OK my turn. What’s the longest word in the English language?”
“Antidisestablishmentarianism,” said my father.
“No. Its SMILES ….. an S on both ends and a mile inbetween.” That even got my mother to laugh.
On the fifth morning, as we passed through Claxton, Georgia, I studied the travel booklet prepared by the Chicago Motor Club and informed my parents that Claxton is the “Fruitcake Capital of the World.” We all laughed but refused to eat any fruitcake when we stopped for breakfast at a local truckstop. My mother, father, and I all agreed; we hated fruitcake, especially the green cherries, or whatever those little green things were. I had a few bombs left; I dropped one on Claxton. Lots of Nazis were walking the streets of this very clean little town pretending to be Americans, but I could see through their disguise, especially when they smoked. Real Americans hold their cigarette between the index finger and the middle finger, with the palm of the hand turned toward the face; Nazis hold the cigarette between the thumb and index finger, palm facing outward. I learned that spy trick in a Humphrey Bogart movie. One well placed bomb at the old courthouse would take care of the Claxton problem.
We were definitely in Nazi territory. Along the highway I observed a series of covert cryptograms from a Nazi organization known as Burma Shave. The signs were spaced exactly one tenth of a mile apart. I jotted them down to send to President Truman. He would have the secret code deciphered.
A Man, A Miss
A Car, A Curve
He Kissed the Miss
And Missed the Curve
Were the Caesars
Instead of Razors
They used Tweezers
I don’t remember how much longer it was after “Operation Claxton ” but we finally reached the Florida border. We were greeted by a large billboard, “Keep Florida Green,” and a picture of a pretty woman in a bathing suit drinking orange juice. My parents cheered as we entered the state; I sat there quietly, consuming the pages of my Chicago Motor Club booklet, to see what important attractions we would be passing in Florida. Were there any good sites to drop additional bombs? I learned that Florida oranges outsold California oranges; I never knew that before. In Chicago we only ate California Sunkist oranges; I liked them better, much better; they tasted like oranges were supposed to taste. On the outside Florida oranges looked just like California oranges but that was deceptive. On the inside, they weren’t even a real orange color.
Somewhere south of Jacksonville, as we scanned the radio, searching for baseball scores … I heard the devastating news. During the past five days … while we were driving south through rural America, completely out of touch with the world, while I was dropping bombs and eradicating enclaves of hidden Nazis, Mickey Mantle hit five home runs and the Yankees beat the White Sox four consecutive games. The Yankees had just clinched the pennant. I wanted to cry … but I didn’t. Twelve year old boys don’t cry. I just stared at the ugly billboards along the Florida highway…. more pictures of women in bathing suits drinking orange juice.
“Where are the coconut trees?” … I broke the long uncomfortable silence.
“They’re in south Florida,” said my father, “they don’t grow here in the northern part of the state.”
“Goodbye Minnie Minoso,” that was all I could think as I fell asleep. I slept for the entire state of Florida, until we reached Miami. The next voice I heard was my father, asking directions from a teenage boy, how to find the causeway to Miami Beach. The boy was barefoot, carrying a fishing pole, and he spoke with a deep southern accent.
“Y’all take this here road for two lights.” He pointed his pole to show the way. “Then hang a right to the Beach, but be careful, that’s where Satan lives.”
And as we crossed Biscayne Bay to the tropical island that was about to become my new home, I would not allow myself to enjoy the spectacular view – the wide expanse of open water – the swaying palm trees that lined the causeway. I would not even read the Chicago Motor Club booklet. Nothing about Miami Beach could possibly interest me; how could I ever like a city where the oranges weren’t even orange… and I was sure they never heard of Minnie Minoso; he was from Cuba, what did they know about Cuban baseball players in Miami Beach?