In search of Mickey Mantle
LORI OSIECKI ILLUSTRATION
My mother-in-law, Ms. Larda, was talking about the old days. She is real glad that the rules for ladies’ underclothes have changed.
They used to be called “foundations,” she says. Whenever you dressed up, you wore a mandatory girdle that squeezed you three sizes smaller and also held up your stockings. If you wanted to breathe, you had to stay home in your nightgown.
She also remembers that the entire city of New Orleans didn’t used to get either ecstatic or gloomy every week depending on how the Saints played, because there weren’t no Saints except the ones the Pope canonized.
There wasn’t no Pokemon or Minecraft, but kids still found plenty to do instead of homework. One thing they did, especially the boys, they collected cards with Major League baseball players on them. They came in packs of Topps bubble gum. The gum must have tasted terrible, because the kids either threw it away or chewed it just long enough to spit in their sisters’ hair. They don’t make that gum no more, but she heard some of them cards sell online for big money, if they’re unblemished.
She remembers one year when she took her kids trick-or-treating for Halloween. Leech, Lurch and Lout were ghosts of dead baseball players. They had old pillow cases with eyeholes over their faces and baseball caps on their heads. The girls, Larva and Gladiola, both were Cinderella. Gladiola was just 1 year old and Ms. Larda decorated her stroller like a pumpkin.
They had gone maybe a block when Ms. Larda noticed Lurch wasn’t swiping his sisters’ candy or nothing. She wondered if he was sick. Maybe a chill? Mothers believed chills were deadly. But no. He finally told her, all choked up, what happened that day at school recess.
There was this game they played with their baseball cards. They propped the cards against the playground fence and flung other cards at them. If you hit somebody’s card, you got to keep it. That day, Lurch had, without thinking, played with his precious, one-and-only Mickey Mantle card. And a bigger kid won it. He was devastated.
It was spoiling his Halloween. After they trick-or-treated a few houses, he said he just wanted to go home and give out the candy, and she said OK.
He curled up on the couch and had ate half the Tootsie Rolls he was supposed to give out before anybody come to the door. Then, when they held out their bags, he spotted packs of Topps gum in them. Turns out the Dalhousies, the people down the street, were giving it out.
He threw on his dead baseball player disguise, rushed over there ... and got a Willie Mays. He put on his Lone Ranger mask and went back. He got a Hank Aaron. Finally, he went back wearing Ms. Larda’s church hat, but they were on to him.
So he started offering every trick-or-treater who came by three Tootsie rolls for each pack of Topps they collected from the Dalhousies. He got Ted Williams, Rusty Staub, Bill Henry. He ran out of Tootsie Rolls.
He had to open the McKenzie’s box of doughnuts in the kitchen. (The next day was All Saints’ Day, and in those days Catholics went to Mass before breakfast, then proceeded to the cemetery and tidied up the family tomb. The doughnuts were to scoff between Mass and the cemetery.)
The doughnuts were gone when Ms. Larda and the kids got home – and still no Mickey Mantle.
Then Lurch noticed baby Gladiola had a pack of Topps gum. She had chewed it open and was nibbling the card. And it was Mickey Mantle.
But Gladiola was a strong-willed child, and she wasn’t giving up that card. He tried dipping a pacifier in ketchup, which she usually loved, but she wouldn’t turn it over.
Ms. Larda said she felt sorry for him (she didn’t know about the doughnuts yet) and she dug out a shoe box of old baseball cards from a garage sale, and between the two of them they managed to distract Gladiola long enough to switch out Mickey Mantle for an old Tookie Gilbert card.
Of course, Mickey Mantle had a few tooth marks, but Ms. Larda didn’t give Lurch no sympathy about that. It ain’t as if it was worth good money, she told him.
And that, says Lurch, is why they ain’t rich.