Saturday, January 01, 2000

Years come and go, but memories linger

101-year-old fan has had countless experiences

The Cincinnati Enquirer

        Foreman White, who is 101, is traveling. His eyes aren't so good, his hearing comes and goes, but his mind is a passport full of stamps. Oh, the places it's been.

        Look over there: It's 1927. Foreman is in a crowd of people at Sixth and Main downtown, watching the World Series. Actually, his eyes are glued to a 5-foot by 5-foot wooden board that bears the likeness of a baseball diamond.

        Every time the New York Yankees put a man on base, a bulb lights up on the scoreboard. Someone is behind the board, listening to the game on the radio or taking the play-by-play off the Western Union wire. Foreman is fuzzy on the details.

        The Yankees of Babe Ruth and Lou Gehrig put a lot of men on base in the '27 Series. Foreman recalls the lights jumping around the board like they were late for a train.

        “The big fat guy hit a lot of home runs that year” is what Foreman recalls of George Herman Ruth. “Back then, people would go nuts over the

        World Series. Now, they got too much other stuff to think about.”

Bright lights, green grass
        His mind travels without prompting. His mind has a full backpack, a thick walking stick and a sturdy pair of shoes. All it needs is an invitation to go.

        “Did you follow baseball, Foreman?” I ask him.

        Well, of course. America in the '30s was baseball. And boxing and horse racing. But baseball mostly, a quieter sport for a gentler time.

        It's the 1930s. Foreman is at Crosley Field. He and a friend have secured box seats from beer baron George Wiedemann. Foreman recalls the greenness of the grass and the miracle of the lights.

        More than two decades later, his daughter Ruthie would bat eyes from her box seat at Yankees catcher Yogi Berra. He batted back.

        To Foreman, Crosley was like his living room. Small, comfortable. Close. Intimate enough that his daughter could flirt from her seat with the opposing team's catcher, during the 1961 World Series.

        “The new place was never like that,” he says. Foreman went to Riverfront Stadium once, for the 1970 All Star Game.

        “What about football?” I ask him.

        It's 1910. Foreman is going to watch Ohio State play Iowa. As a boy, he lived a mile from the Columbus campus. He knew then what we suspect now. “A lot of times you wondered why they went to school. All they did was play football,” he says. Nothing is new. Nothing changes but the names.

        It's the early '70s. Foreman is walking the streets of Hyde Park with Waite Hoyt, recently retired from the Reds radio booth. They're discussing the World Series.

        His mind spins and turns and prospects his past. He graduated from Walnut Hills High in 1919. Except for three years spent in Indianapolis, he's been here ever since. Foreman was a painter, and then he sold paint. He painted the Carew Tower. He brushed samples of paint on the Sunlite Pool at Coney Island, before the pool held a drop of water. He hunted arrowheads at a supposed Indian burial ground in Mariemont, though when he ponders that notion now, he says, “I don't know why a dead guy had any use for an arrowhead.”

Memories don't change
        It is 1999. Foreman reads the papers, grumbles about “pitchers making $34 million for four years of throwing baseballs 60 feet.” He watches the Bengals on TV, until they begin losing, then he turns them off. Mostly, he keeps up with sports so he'll have something to talk about with his friends at mealtimes. He lives in a Sharonville retirement com munity.

        Memory is a funny thing. Thirty years later, you can remember 6th grade — your teacher chewed gum, your girlfriend Karen Frey wore canvas Converse high-tops — but not where you put your car keys.

        It's funnier still how time shapes memory, bends it until it looks less like the true past than a piece of leaded glass. The thing about sports memories is, they're rarely bad.

        The just-expired century blitzed from slow to fast to hold-onto-your-head. There is too much of too much, so we spend lots of time hanging on and keeping up. It's good to remember. It slows things down.

        Foreman White, who was born on Sept. 10, 1898 — “a Spanish-American War baby,” he says — brought in Year 2000 the way he has every new year in the last few decades. He watched the ball drop in New York and he drank a Pepsi. When you've seen one century, you've pretty much seen them all.

        Then he went to bed, free to dream.

        “I followed sports regularly when I was young,” he says. “Of course, that was a long time ago.”

        Paul Daugherty welcomes your comments at 768-8454. Fair Game, a collection of his columns, is available at local bookstores.


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