Tuesday, December 13, 2016

The Property of Charles Metzner

The name is written in cursive, the letters faded but, amazingly, still legible. I do not know Charles Metzner, never met him, but almost 100 years ago, almost 30 years before I was born, he gave me a gift.

Between 1921 and 1924 the Exhibit Supply Company manufactured a set of 193 baseball cards. The cards measure 3 3/8" by 5 3/8". Black and white images of many of the stars of the game are pictured. Players in various poses, and at the bottom of each card is a cursive spelling of the name and a smaller, all capital letters description of their position and team.

Geo. H. 'Babe' Ruth

I recently went on a collector's website and learned that the key cards in this set were Ty. R. Cobb, Rogers Hornsby, Walter P. Johnson and Babe Ruth. Charles Metzner did not have the Walter P. Johnson card but the others are at my fingertips at a moment's notice..

Today is the 37th anniversary of my dad's passing. The memorial candle flickers on the dining room table. The same table where last week the book that once belonged to Charles Metzner sat.

My dad was in summer camp in the mid 1920's. His counselor, at least one of those summers: Mr. Metzner. I can only imagine the passion that my dad displayed for his sports heroes. Even in  1932, when my dad was 14, he compiled a book of clippings of the most significant athletic events of the moment. This book has for many decades been nestled next to the other one which once belonged to Charles Metzner.

I don't know what motivated Mr. Metzner to give my dad this gift. Maybe he thought that this collection was but a child's undertaking and he was outgrowing such things. Maybe my dad was relentless in his request. Maybe it was a spur of the moment decision. Maybe it was deeply contemplated and considered.

My memories of baseball cards and camp are decidedly less uplifting. When I was but six, I spent my first summer at sleep away. And much like my dad before me, I was consumed with my love of sport. But my attraction to the baseball cards of my counselor was less honorable. I remember being held back from activities one day as my counselor scolded me for taking some of his cards. I was not a master thief, unable to read the cursive handwriting that showed the rightful owner's name. But this is not a story about my failings. Well maybe not entirely.

The baseball cards that sat on the dining room table last week were not there solely for my viewing pleasure. Also sitting at the table were two auctioneers, one of whom took particular interest when I had mentioned, almost in passing, what was once the property of Charles Metzner.

It has been so many years since I really looked at this book, or at the many hundreds of baseball cards that I had collected in the 1950's and early 1960's. When my children were much younger, we would occasionally pull these out of storage and they would be saddled with a few minutes of my reminiscences of my dad and of my own youth. But my children are now both in their 30's and what really was the purpose of holding on to Mr. Metzner's past belonging?

I sent a text message to the auctioneer the following day and asked about the extent of his interest in Ruth, Cobb and Hornsby. But even as I wrote this note, I was filled with a sense of uneasiness. These were vestiges not of baseball played almost 100 years ago, but of my dad and me, and a shared passion.

He wrote back shortly after and expressed his continued willingness to acquire these pieces. But the more I thought about it, the clearer it became that I would be dishonoring the memory of my dad and also the gift from Charles Metzner if ever I were to say yes to an offer, whatever it might be.

And so today, I watch the burning candle and remember everything that my dad was, and everything that he meant to me. And I am glad that the gift from Charles Metzner is where it now and forever belongs, safe at home.


Robert said...

I have received so many nice comments directly to me on this piece. I share some of these with all of you:

Beautiful article. Whenever you write about Grandpa it always makes me wish- each time even more- that I had a chance to know him LK

What a warm and special tribute to your Dad B

Lovely S

Great story F

Nice piece T

Very nice piece LC

Nice to think about Uncle Dick again MV

You wrote a beautiful sentiment today DS

Beautiful piece G

As long as you have the cards the cherished moments of your father will always be maintained MW

I really love this and I am especially happy that I can still hear your father's voice LS


Anonymous said...

Great article and I still remember you showing me those cards, as well as your beat up collection of your baseball cards so many years ago. I loved seeing your Dad’s cards and am still sorry that I was never able to get my own Tops Mickey Mantle card.


Harvey F Leeds said...

Does it still have the bubble gum? When you guys go on her next bike ride use a clothes pin to attach the cards on the spokes to make that flap flap motorcycle sound!!