Under The Influence

To laugh often and much, to win the respect of intelligent people and the affection of Children; to earn the appreciation of honest critics and to endure the betrayal of false friends, to appreciate beauty; to find the best in others; to leave the world a bit better, whether by a healthy child, a garden or a good name; to know that one life breathed easier because you lived…this is to have Succeeded.  – Ralph Waldo Emerson

I found  statement this on a cold blustery wintry day, just a few days after my grandfather passed away. It was scribbled by him on a scrap piece of paper that I found in a crumpled discarded box that belonged to him. It was just a simple handwritten statement that was tossed aside in a box to be taken away with the next load of trash.

At the time, I did not think too much about this little note. I just folded it up and stuck it in my pocket.  I was too busy trying to throw away the trash that was left behind after the funeral by my family as they “went through” the house that my grandparents built and lived.

Standing there in the middle of the basement, the hard evidence of a life finished was piled up around me. I slowly began to realize that my life was changing. Everything that I had grown up with was now going to be somehow different. The path of adulthood that seemed so clear just a few days before was now clouded with doubt and fear.

I lost my Grandfather. He passed away on Christmas Eve 1986. His heart simply gave out…it was his time. I would like to say that I accepted the fact that he was gone with reverence and understanding – but I can’t. His death came as a crushing blow to me. It was sudden and I was up in Michigan when I should have been at his side.

Only a few days before he was holding my first son in his hands…now my son would be cheated from knowing the man that made me proud of who I was.

This incidence of finding this statement written on a piece of paper took place in 1986.  I remember it so vividly. It clearly was one of those life moments that a person never forgets.  This one was mine.

Sometimes in death of a loved one we sometimes ignore some of the negative things that person may have done in their life and tend to only focus on the good that could be said of that person.  I am sure over the years I have done just that.  I probably have given my grandfather more credit that he deserved.  There have been times where I totally blocked out the fact that at times he was not a great father to his own children and as I strain to think about what I remember of him as a husband to my grandmother most of what I remember is not good.

That being said, I cannot find one instance where I remember him not being a “great” grandfather to his grandchildren. He was always wonderful to his grandchildren.  The perfect example of what a grandfather should be to a child.  If I am going to write a blog about the influences and stories of my life that have shaped who I was and who I am and the “way I tend to be”, I have to start with the one that influenced me as a child.

One of my fondest memories that I have with him was a trip he and I took to the grocery store in Norwalk, Ohio when I was about 10 years old. As we were walking up and down the isles, trying to get everything on the list he had. He leaned down and whispered in my ear that he wanted to introduce me to this man that was walking down the same aisle. He shook hands with this tall lanky manLefty Grove Pitch; it appeared as if they knew each other. My Grandfather said, “Mr. Grove, I would like to introduce your to my grandson, David” He looked at me and said, “David, I would like to introduce you to Mr. Robert Grove.” I shook his hand and I was wondering why my grandfather was showing so much respect?  Why did he use the words, “Mr. Grove” and not just call him by Robert since they appeared to be friends?  I didn’t pay much attention to rest of their conversation. We ended up actually going to a little diner and had lunch and a cup of coffee with “Mr. Grove”.

It was in this diner that I had the realization of the significance of this chance meeting with “Mr. Grove”.

For it was there I found out that Mr. Grove was Robert Moses”Lefty” Grove.
He was a hero tlefty_groveo my Grandfather, a baseball legend, and a member of the Baseball Hall of Fame. He was one of the greatest pitchers to ever play the game. He won 300 games and struck out the side with 9 pitches – not once but twice, he accomplished this.

Lefty Grove has led the league with the lowest ERA more than any other pitcher (9).

Once in the ninth inning against the Yankees, with a runner on first, a one run lead and no outs, Lefty struck out Babe Ruth, Lou Gehrig, and Bob Meusel on 10 pitches to win the game.

It was a very special day for my grandfather. He was able to have a cup of coffee with a legend that he called a hero. We sat tJames Russel Lee (1942) My Herohere for an hour or so; eventually, it was time to go our separate ways. As my grandfather waved goodbye, I think I saw a glimpse of the young man he once was. He was reliving a part of his childhood.

I waved goodbye to my new friend “Mr. Grove” and suddenly he was gone.

Some people pass through your life and disappear in a flash. You get over it. 

But the good ones… The real ones… The ones who count….stay with you for the long haul.

The thing is, after all these years, I couldn’t tell you what we talked about.  What do I remember, is sitting in that diner, being young, having lunch with the man who influenced me the most as a child.

My Grandfather, James Russell Lee.