And with that in mind, I am here to tell you the story called “The Baseball Card Caper.” Friends, it is a true story and the names and places have not been changed to protect anybody. Why? Hmmmm, the Statute of Limitations has definitely run out. Hopefully!!
It was the summer of ‘59. Big cars with their big fins and big engines. Color TV was just beginning. James Arness was the Marshal on Gunsmoke. Ed Sullivan was saying every Sunday night, “It’s gonna be a really big shooooooooe.” And my beloved New York Yankees were once again the best team in baseball.
It all happened in Chelsea, Iowa, at Sheda’s Grocery Store. AND UP TILL RIGHT THIS MOMENT, NO ONE HAS EVER KNOWN. The good book says that “confession is good for the soul.” Well, maybe it’s ok to confess today, but I’m sure glad I didn’t confess way back in 1959....or for that matter get caught.
As you know from several previous columns, we had a grocery store in Chelsea. We sold all the essentials and even a few of the extras. Big slabs of beef were kept in the walk-in freezer and Dad did the butchering. Mom ran most of the rest of the store and we sold everything from beans to pretzels and milk to candy bars. And in the summer time.....Sheda’s Grocery Store sold baseball cards!!!
One card and one piece of bubble gum came in the package and the cost was ONE PENNY. Yep, one whole cent. Now as the son of the owners, one would think that everything in the store was mine anytime I so desired. Au Contraire!!
Mom had strict rules and folks, if you knew my mom.......she was small but....well, let’s just leave it at that. And these strict rules included no taking of anything from the store without permission. Nothing! But during the baseball season, if I did my chores, sweep the floor, straighten the canned food, stuff like that.....I would get to have five penny packages of baseball cards. Our delivery truck came every two weeks so I got five cards every two weeks also. Which isn’t much for an eight year old kid. So I had to be very careful on which card to take. I only wanted the Yankees.....Mickey, Roger, Yogi, Whitey and the rest. But how? I didn’t give a hoot about cards of the Twins, Cubbies, Giants or White Sox. I just wanted Yankees.
Now I, to this day, have no idea how this ingenuous plan snuck into my mind but it was a plan, actually a dream, to behold. Here’s what I did. Gulp! Don’t breathe a word of this to anyone, especially my brothers and sister. When Mom would go outside for a while to hang up the wash or something, she would sometimes ask me to “mind the store.” Something told me that if I took the box of baseball cards into the house, which was attached to the store, that I could figure something out.
I turned the old gas stove on, got the flame up high, took out a butter knife and proceeded to get that knife into the flame. Holding the knife with a pot holder, I got it as hot as possible. Then removing the knife from the gas stove flame, I slid the now-hot butter knife under the paper wrapping which was adhered with glue. Sometime it might take two or even three trips to the flame but eventually I was able to melt most of this glue off just enough to be able to open the paper wrapping and see what the baseball card was!! There I confessed!!
Mea culpa, mea culpa, mea maxima culpa. If it was a Yankee, I kept it and if it was some other team, I quickly licked the wrapping and tried to get it to stick back together.....to be sold to one of my friends!!! Sometimes it stuck, sometimes it didn’t. Those that didn’t got put way down on the bottom of the box.
Every once in a while one of the kids would buy one of the baseball cards and the package came apart quite easily. And I think Mom sometimes suspected something. So I never actually got caught. That’s the good news. The bad news? Well, I never thought of it before, but Mom is up there in heaven right now.......and waiting for me. I hope there are no corners in heaven. That’s The Way I See It.
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