My late mother, the great Henrietta Bruce contributed eight boys and three girls to the global mass of mankind. On Oct. 20, 1995, “she returned back to the earth from which she was formed.” Out of the eight “Bruce brothers” originally deposited on this planet by “nana” Bruce- only three remain—to admire daisies from above ground.
Last Sunday, I attended a pre-memorial day cookout at the home of one of my two remaining brothers. His name is Robert Lee Donald Bruce. I could never get the Robert Lee part of his name quite figured out. However, my best guess is it was because my mother was born on the Granite Quarry Native American reservation, near Salisbury, N.C. in 1917. At that point in history the south hadn’t really fully accepted the fact that General Robert E. Lee had lost the American Civil War but convinced my naive mother and the rest of the Stillwagon clan that he had won.
“Skip” as he is affectionately known by friends and foes alike, and “Peewee” as his wife Charlotte is otherwise known, always put on a grand affair for the official holidays of the year, so I didn’t expect anything less at this shindig.
As we scanned through old family photos my mind drifted to where else, sports. After a few glasses (or paper cups) of homemade “vino” my mind really began to wander.
Where do the great athletes of the past go when they break the camp of life? Will they receive a pair of platinum sandals to continue their eternal journey through the golden streets of heaven or are they forced to contemplate their ultimate fate of facing the fire and brimstone showers of hell.
What would the late Pirates manager Charles “Chuck” Tanner consider heaven or hell? Would heaven be sipping nectar made from the juice of the sweetest fruit; or would his post-life reward be to win the NLCS and World Series every year? If “Skip” Tanner were sent on to hell would he be forced by the “Prince of Darkness” to watch the footage over and over of lead footed Sid Bream sliding across home plate scoring the winning run for the Atlanta Braves against the Pittsburgh Pirates in game 7 of the 1992 NLCS?
What would the greatest reward for Wilver Dornell “Willie” Stargell be? Would it be to to hit ball after ball over the right field roof of old Forbes Field, being the only Pirate permitted to come bat with all of his teammates being allowed to take a break during the “bottom” part of the inning. Or would Willie be forced to relive his many legendary strikeouts?
In 1988 when Stargell was inducted into the Hall-of-Fame, he said, “I had two very special managers, Danny Murtaugh and Chuck Tanner. I learned an awful lot from both of these men.” He described Murtaugh as “a man would sit back and tell Irish tales [while] spitting tobacco juice on your shoes.” Murtaugh who died in 1976 had already joined the ranks of the dead; the quick witted Stargell was still doing the quick step.
Stargell died almost simultaneously with the opening of PNC Park in 2001. At the time Tanner said, “When you had Willie Stargell on your team, it was like having a diamond ring on your finger. Now, every opening day at PNC Park, everybody will know this is Willie Stargell’s day. He’s up there, and he knows the Pirates are opening today.”
Tanner was alive to take part in the inauguration of what some people describe as the best ball park in America. Stargell, who some people would say carried the Pirates and their former home Three Rivers Stadium on his broad shoulders during his career, did not live to see and participate in that glorious day.
Whatever you do ladies and gents you will either be the quick or you will be the dead, depending on what deeds you have performed in life. One day as someone reads my obituary I will certainly not be one of the quick.
There are some people that do not give a crap about sports or the athletes that participate; that is okay. It is also okay for those who love and support the world of sports and the players that dedicate their lives to provide pleasure for all of us that do.
Listen up, please. Don’t dust off your past on the annual “memorial” day that is allotted for that specific purpose. Take out a few minutes at the end of a busy day. You know one of those days that you may not really feel like going to the cemetery to perform a little bit of “landscaping” and maintenance on the eternal homes of those who are no longer able to do so. Also, do a bit of maintenance on the “cemeteries” within your minds; in other words, let the dead bury the dead.
Hey “Skip” got any more of that “vino?” I have a piece of time treasured advice for you boys and girls. Don’t ever stop the memories and don’t ever allow the memories to stop you.
(Aubrey Bruce can be reached at: firstname.lastname@example.org or 412-583-6741.)