From time to time, Bill Littlefield is asked to visit with a group of people and tell stories. Sometimes he comes back from such occasions with a new one of his own.
“Rita can tell you a story,” her husband says. Rita’s husband is Joe, and he is right.
Rita shakes her head, but now everybody is looking at her, or at least everybody who is not getting coffee or a donut at the plumbers’ union hall in Dorchester, which is where I am supposed to be speaking, but what I have to say comes in second to Babe Ruth’s wake, which is where Rita was on August 19, 1948.
“My friend said we should go to Yankee Stadium,” Rita says. “It was only a couple of blocks from where we lived in the Bronx. It was nice. I lived there ’til I was 19. But I was only eight then, and my friend was a little older. We went to the stadium all the time. It was a short walk.”
“But the wake,” somebody says.
“Well, we stood in line for hours,” Rita says. “I was bored, but my friend said we had to stay, and like I say, she was older. And finally the line moved into a narrow hall, and she told me we were going to see Babe Ruth, and I told her ‘But he’s dead.’ She nodded, and I got it that I was going to see a dead body, and I was thinking, ‘Oh, my gosh.” But by then it was too late to turn around, and we kept going down that narrow hall, and then, behind a big piece of glass, there was Babe Ruth. I don’t remember whether he was in a coffin, but he was wearing his Yankees uniform. I remember that.”
I’m sure she does, and I am thinking then about Babe Ruth in his uniform behind the glass, and the long line of people shuffling past him, and I am wondering whether there is a player today who is waked at the ballpark just a few days after he dies, and the people who see him play and some, like Rita, who are too young to do that, stand in line to see him off.
I have lots of time to think of things like that, because now Rita is talking about the very pleasant parks that were near where she lived in the Bronx, and the track where she and her friends would run, and the walk across the bridge to the Polo Grounds, where they could watch the Giants play on a sunny afternoon and collect their autographs after she and her friends have all the Yankees autographs they need.
I am also thinking that somewhere in the group of retired plumbers and plumbers wives there is some plumber or plumber’s wife who is wondering “Why do we invite this guy from the radio to come speak to us, when Rita can do it, and anyway all this guy is doing is listening to her?”
And then I am thinking that if anybody or maybe several people are thinking that, they have a point.