I walked over to a closet in my office, blew a bit of dust off the top shelf, and picked up a box.
To my delight, I opened the bulky package to find what I had been seeking all week. The large box was marked with the word “irreplaceable” in big, stout letters on the outside, and “Rita’s home movies” on the inside.
I slipped the CD into the computer and sat back in my chair with anticipation. The screen flickered for a moment, and then suddenly lit up with the 8mm movies chronicling some of the special times in the lives of the Haley family.
My sister, Rita, had filmed many of the movies in the late 1950s and 1960s, and they are indeed “irreplaceable.”
The first movie showed Rita stepping from the front porch of our home in Port William walking toward her brand new 1957 Chevrolet. The car was sporting glossy red paint with white trim and large tail fins like a great swordfish from the Northern Atlantic.
Then came a formal dance at the old Port William High School in honor of my parents’ 25th wedding anniversary. Everyone, even the bachelors in the family, danced and whirled to the Bill George Orchestra, alternating between slow dances and picking up the tempo with an occasional square dance.
There were two baseball movies that particularly caught my attention. The first was taken during a trip Rita and my mom made to Chicago to attend a wedding. The movie actually showed very little of the wedding, but focused on a baseball game they attended between the White Sox and the Washington Senators at old Comiskey Park.
The second baseball movie was taken in the stands of Crosley Field in Cincinnati. Those who remember Crosley Field will know the ballpark was an oasis, an island in the middle of an urban setting, full of excitement and wonder. Inside the stadium you could see the beautiful green grass, the bright lights, and smell the aroma of hot dogs and peanuts.
The movie was unique because Rita was sitting about 10 rows from the field with her camera trained on the Reds’ dugout as several players walked up from the field, into the stands, and headed toward their locker room that was located down a long ramp in the middle of the stands. As the players walked by, fans reached out to shake their hands, offer scorecards for them to sign, and some of the fans lightly patted the players on the back.
Although the film had no sound, you could sense a hush coming over the crowd. Then Ted Kluszewski, wearing number 18 on his jersey with cut-off sleeves, walked out of the dugout toward the stands. He signed a few autographs, and even stopped to pose for pictures. To see the players walking up through the stands was amazing.
The final movie was one my sister had filmed at one of the family reunions, back in the 1950s, at the old Port William High School.
It was sweltering hot on that particular Sunday, and the family had taken refuge underneath the large buckeye trees, where a slight wind blew and the beverages were cold. There were three or four metal tubs filled with ice, Pepsi, Coke, Hires Root Beer, Barq’s Orange Pop and Cream Soda; and large containers of homemade tea and fresh lemonade. Watermelons were in another iced tub at the end of the table, and there were 10 tables full of every kind of food imaginable.
Roughly 200 cousins on both sides of the family had shown up for the reunion. As Rita filmed, many turned their heads, covered their faces, or stuck out their tongues, as was the norm in the early days of home movies. Some even ran out of the picture when the camera was aimed at them.
Everyone played softball on the diamond. Some of the men were so old they could barely walk, let alone run, but they played ball nevertheless. After the game, the men played cards and drank beer. They would laugh and argue, but soon return to the table for more poker.
The kids had sack races and lined up for games of egg-toss. A highlight of the afternoon was when the older men would tie balloons full of water on the back of their pants with a string. Their wives would hand them a rolled-up newspaper. Smack! Thud! Whack!
The game was on.
The goal was to use the newspaper to smack the balloon causing it to burst, and soaking the wearer with water. The game became particularly amusing since most of the men had been drinking beer all afternoon.
Some got mad, fell down, had difficulty getting up, chased their cousins around the field, and hollered at their wives to bring them larger newspapers.
The last movie slowly stopped, and when it was over I stared at the screen for the longest time.
What we would give to spend just one more summer under those buckeye trees in Port William, and have the opportunity to see all our loved ones again.
Pat Haley is a former Clinton County commissioner and former Clinton County sheriff.