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I never told this to anyone, but Mickey Mantle lived in my garage for 22 years. It was a small garage, a garage that held one car, two brooms and my childhood.

One day, when I had kids of my own, my mother called to tell me she was selling the family homestead.

“Don’t throw out the good stuff in the garage,” I told her.

“I already got rid of most of that junk,” she said. “If you didn’t need it all these years,” you don’t need it now.” Mothers and their logic.

With fear in my heart and murder on my mind, I jumped in the car and drove over the Tacony Bridge as fast as Maury Wills stealing second, to see if anyone had survived the massacre. My mother greeted me in a babushka and a scornful look. “The junk I saved for you is over there,” she said, pointing to a half-empty Dole fruit  cocktail carton she had taken from the Penn Fruit.

I quickly rifled through the contents:

Two 78s of Patti Page singing, “How Much is that Doggy in the Window?” A football autographed by Bucko Kilroy. A broken box of Mr. Potato Head without the noses. Two tangled Slinkys. Half a pimple ball. An open tube of Testors glue. A pack of number 3 pencils. A transistor radio with the volume dial missing. And six pairs of Don L. Verzo’s tweezers

“Oh, my god,” I said. “What did you do with Mickey Mantle?”

“The kid who lived across the driveway?” she said. “I never touched him.”

“No, that was Mickey Docktor.”

“He’s a doctor now? See, he made something out of his life.”

“No, not Mickey Docktor, Mickey Mantle, the baseball player. I had his rookie card. It’s worth a lot of money.”

“So, you’ll send him a nice letter. Maybe he’ll give you another one.”

You have to understand, other than building model hot rods on the kitchen table, baseball cards were my life. I flipped them, I traded them, I put the bad players on the spokes of my Schwinn and rode them to their death.

“And my autographed Richie Ashburn,” I said. “Where’s Richie Ashburn?”

“Ashburn?” My mother had that look on her face, that look she got when the milkman left cottage cheese instead of sour cream. “That,” she said, “doesn’t sound Jewish to me.”

“What’s the difference what he is,” I said. “I stood in line for five hours to get his autograph. And now it’s gone. Gone! Gone with Stan Musial and Willie Mays and Sandy Koufax. Everything I care about is gone.”

“No it’s not,” she said, suddenly looking motherly. She reached as high as a 5’2” woman in pink ballet flats with huge rosettes could reach and pulled a manila envelope off the top shelf.  “Look,” she said, “I saved all of your report cards from elementary school.”

“But I don’t want my report cards. I want Richie Ashburn and Stan Musial and Willie Mays.”

She thought for a minute and then her eyes lit up. “I have an idea,” she said. “You can invite them all to the house, and I’ll cook dinner. I’ll make them brust and kugel.”

Now with the possible exception of my Uncle Harry’s vanilla malted, there was nothing I loved to eat more than my mother’s noodle kugel. But still.

I drove home that day a defeated man. With the exception of Mr. Potato Head’s eyebrows banging on the bridge, it was a silent ride, a melancholy ride. As the girders went by, so did my childhood. And, by the time I hit Palmyra, it was gone.

Years later, I would become friendly with Richie Ashburn. I would tell him the baseball card story. And he said: “You have no idea how many men tell me that same story.” To soothe my soul, he gave me an autographed picture.  It still hangs in a place of honor in my home. But somehow, it just wasn’t the same. You know, like cottage cheese instead of sour cream.

July 2013
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