Lakeland, Fla. – The last couple days have slipped away from us. It happens. It is a hazard of the road.
When entropy arrives, it is useless to fight. Might as well try to lasso the moon and turn back the tides.
Sometimes things flow smoothly and all seems well, even if you spend a week with you car in various states of repair.
Other times nothing works. This is one of those times. So I’ll just stumble on through it, even if it means spilling words which seem out of time with this journey.
We got the behemoth back Wednesday. Maybe that’s the problem. Our hands are no longer tied by the vagaries of automotive distress. Freedom has overwhelmed us. We are adrift again, subject to our own inertia.
Let me say a quick thanks to the good people at Rick’s: Lil’ Allen, Joe, Esther and Rick Jr. Lil’ Allen labored over the behemoth for 8-10 hours Tuesday and Wednesday. We got charged for one hour of labor. Thank you, Rick’s. I’ll offer a more appropriate tribute at a later time.
I’m forever saying this, I know. It worries me. I fear losing track of the stories I have yet to tell. They go back nearly a month now.
We never made it to the Everglades. At least not yet. People seem worried an alligator will get Max. This collective fear has wormed its way into our subconscious. We ran into Gary X. again Wednesday. He told us about Hector, the pet alligator he had years ago. He told us to be wary, to keep a close tether on Max, lest an alligator pop up onto the shore and snatch him away. Gary isn’t alone. Esther said there are snakes down there big enough to eat Max. My mom and sister, they expressed worry, too.
Battling our private malaise, we set off west across Florida. We are within an hour of Tampa. We’ll see what happens next.
Back to Wednesday. After Rick’s sent us on our way, we shook off the sadness of parting by making the one-mile drive up Ponce de Leon Boulevard to the playground adjacent to St. Johns County Public Library. Max swung on the swings, slid on the slides and generally abandoned himself to the timeless frivolity of childhood.
He also rode the carousel a couple of times. Just a dollar a ride. What a deal. Still, I can’t see a kid on a carousel without thinking of Joni Mitchell’s haunting “The Circle Game.” Beautiful and harrowing all at once. And so it goes. Up and down, round and round. We are, indeed, captive on the carousel of time. We can’t go back. Would that we could.
We left St. Augustine on Wednesday evening, though we didn’t leave at all. We secured a spot at Faver-Dykes State Park on Pellicer Creek. The park sits on more than 6,000 acres of floodplain swampland just off the intersection of I-95 and U.S. 1. Though it is 18 miles south of Rick’s Muffler Shop on Ponce de Leon Drive, it claims a St. Augustine address.
As state parks go, it’s affordable: $19.80 for a night with full hookup. We got there and sort of collapsed. We ate the pizza which had gone uncooked Tuesday when we lost electricity at Rick’s. We might’ve been any other old couple in the campground. Becky and I played Scrabble while Max slept. Dragged out of bed before 8 a.m., he crashed early and hard.
We got up Thursday. We got showers, which were free and refreshing. Then we drove a half-mile to the picnic area. Longleaf pines towered above us. Last year’s needles covered the ground and filled the air with their aroma. Nothing like the smell of pine to dispel the accumulated tension of life on earth.
Max played while I read Joe Mitchell to Becky. McSorley’s Wonderful Saloon. Mitchell’s wonderful prose. Then I played with Max while Becky made lunch, a delightful, catch-as-catch-can bean-and-cheese burrito.
We raced back and forth from the playground to a short wooden walkway which overlooks Pellicer Creek. We didn’t see any alligators or cottonmouths.
Max did spot a bird perched on a branch that poked out of the water on the creek’s far side. An anhinga, I believe. Never heard of an anhinga. Looks like a cormorant, which like to sit atop pilings at ferry docks on Puget Sound. Variously known as a snakebird, American darter or water turkey, the anhinga derives its name from the Brazilian Tupi and translates as “devil bird” or “snake bird.”
No sooner had we begun to observe it then the anhinga sent a stream of excrement splashing into the dark water of Pellicer Creek. Max laughed. I laughed, too. Sometimes nature is funny that way.
The brooding water, lined by ubiquitous swamp grass, reminded me of “Gentle Ben,” the old TV show about a boy and his bear. Funny, the associations memory drags up. I don’t know if I’ve thought of “Gentle Ben” in the last 40 years.
I consulted Wikipedia. The show included a total of 56 episodes aired between 1967 and 1969. Clint Howard, Opie Taylor’s older brother, played the boy. I didn’t recall this. Nor did I remember Dennis Weaver as his dad, a park ranger.
I do remember them tooling about the Everglades in an airboat, a watercraft peculiar to swamps. It is equipped with a distinctive aircraft propeller in the stern. It looks like nothing so much as a rowboat propelled by a giant fan.
Guess that’s a long-winded way of saying the setting along Pellicer Creek had me waiting for an airboat to come flying out of the tall cross and disrupt the disquieting peace.
As long as I have descended into pointless personal history, I’ll double-down on a digression inspired by the name of park’s name. The land Faver-Dykes inhabits was donated by a longtime St. Johns County official named Hiram Faver and named for his parents, Alexander Hall Faver and Florida Dykes Faver.
The name Dykes, specifically, sent me reeling back to the summer of 1971.
I was 8. My dad was 43, or seven years younger than I am today. He took me to Veterans Stadium in South Philadelphia. My first Phillies game. It was the Vet’s inaugural season. As I remember, we had plans to attend a game at storied but decrepit Connie Mack Stadium at 21st and Lehigh sometime during the 1970 season. The North Philly neighborhood was in the grip of urban decay. Rising crime. White flight. We chickened out, I think.
It probably was a Sunday. I thought it was Aug. 8. My memory fails me. Aug. 8, 1971, was a Sunday, but the Phillies were out of town. They split a doubleheader in Pittsburgh. Perhaps it was the previous Sunday.
On Aug. 1, 1971, the Phils lost at home to the St. Louis Cardinals in 13 innings and fell 21 games back of first-place Pittsburgh. As it is, I recall nothing about the game.
What I remember: It was Old Timers Day at the Vet. I used to have a program. My dad had a friend, Ray Kelly, who was the Phillies beat reporter for the Camden Courier-Post. My dad exploited this connection to secure me two high-profile autographs. Two legends. One was Stan Musial. I think the other was Joe DiMaggio, though it might’ve been Ted Williams. I’m not sure if either of these guys liked to sign autographs.
I can’t remember because I misplaced the program with the irreplaceable signaures somewhere along the way. That’s how I roll.
I remember looking at the program in later years and noting Satchel Paige’s presence. I wished Ray Kelly had landed me that signature. I’d be able to tell people I lost Satchel Paige’s autograph. That’d be cool.
Anyway, the old-timers game featured a team of onetime Phillies against a team of former all-stars. The managers were Charlie “Jolly Cholly” Grimm and Jimmy Dykes, the latter providing the excuse for this rambling bit of nonsense.
On the occasion of Old Timers Day, the Phillies honored Dave “Beauty” Bancroft, a veteran of their first World Series team who had been inducted into Baseball’s Hall of Fame that year.
Beauty Bancroft. The 1915 World Series. The Red Sox won in five games. Nowadays, it’s impossible to imagine getting to see a guy who played baseball during the second year of World War I. The only memory I retain of that day is Bancroft shuffling out to the pitcher’s mound to accept the honor. He wore a newsboy cap, which accentuated the old-time feeling. His back was stooped, his gait labored. He seemed impossibly ancient.
But in 1915, Bancroft was a mere child, a god nimbly traversing the river of youth. He was a 24-year-old rookie. He hit .294 in the World Series. He singled and scored a run in the eighth inning of Game 1 as the Phillies surged to a 3-1 victory. It would be the franchise’s only victory in a World Series until 1980.
Some more trivia, courtesy of Baseball Reference: Twenty-year-old Babe Ruth, though he won 18 games for Boston that season, didn’t throw a pitch in the series. The Red Sox used a total of three pitchers over five games. The Phillies employed four. Ruth made just one appearance. He faced Grover Cleveland Alexander as a pinch-hitter in the ninth inning of Game 1 at Baker Bowl, grounding out to first.
The time, it is a heartless whirlwind. The ages fall away like a leaf floating to the ground on a cool autumn day. In 1971, it had been 56 years since 1915. Nearly 42 years has washed past me since that summer day in 1971.
Jimmy Dykes, Charlie Grimm and Dave Bancroft all were born in the 19th century. They are all long dead now. Bancroft lived another 14 months, dying in Superior, Wis., on Oct. 9, 1972.
And so, time rolls on without mercy. We struggle to invest it with some kind of meaning before if rolls us asunder. I suppose that’s what this journey is about, my feeble attempt to put my personal journey into some kind of perspective before the journey runs out.
Time is not on my side. Time doesn’t choose sides.
We are all powerless in its awesome wake.