Gilded Afternoons

The following was prepared as a column for the Boise Weekly. Thought I could get away with a baseball story—sort of—because it would have come out in Wednesday’s paper, and I was counting on the World Series going seven games. But my story got pushed back a week, the Series ended as I anticipated, and now the timing was wrong. Plus, I had, in the meantime, written a piece not so dependent on coinciding with something else for its effect.

But I am never one to throw away something that took me two or three hours to write, so here it is, while we’re still basking in the afterglow of the baseball season.—Bill Cope

Gilded Afternoons and the End of Amity

Pardon me, please, for a personal indulgence in rural nostalgia—a brief memento of a more bucolic time and setting. As I have spent little time rehashing my pastoral past over the past 22 years on these pages, I feel entitled to a quick dip in Ye Olde Village Wistful Well (and I don’t mean “The Village At Meridian, which ain’t olde, ain’t a village, and ain’t someplace I’d go to dip anything in), especially since this story involves the confluence of a World Series, an warm communal memory, and a modern tragedy little more than a month old.

I start with the fact that long before so many of our present-day neighbors decided—for reasons beyond me—that the Chicago Cubs are the regional favorites, another team commanded local baseball loyalties, at least for a season. The Pittsburg Pirates. I had just turned 13 when the Pirates beat the Yankees, four games to three, in the 1960 Series, but was plenty old enough to be excited, as was the rest of my town’s citizenry, that there was a Meridian boy on the roster. Vernon Law, pitcher. He was with the Pirates throughout his career, 1950 to 1967, and in spite of taking the mound with an ankle injury and torn muscles in his hurling shoulder, Law was the winning pitcher in Games One and Four against New York.

That fall was also my first and only year attending Amity School. With its oiled floors and thin, lath and plaster walls, it was one of a network of two-room schoolhouses set out among the dairy barns and alfalfa fields that defined Meridian at the time. I’d spent the first three years in one school, the next two at another, and the six grade—the final year in the boondocks before me (and the other 18 classmates with whom I matured from scamp to pubescence) would be bussed into town to join the rest of Meridian’s student population—at Amity. That same year, a modern school—by which I mean a pumice block bunker with enough floor space to accommodate six classes and indoor toilets—was under construction less than two miles from Amity, and we would be the last class to ever attend that intimate little school.

Another reality over which history-deprived Millennials might swoon with disbelief is that in 1960, the entire championship play-off, as well as the overwhelming share of all major league games, were afternoon events. The first time a Series game would take place at night was still 11 years in the future—in Pittsburg’s Three-Rivers Stadium, as it happens. What’s more, televisions at the time were of a design that, once one of those bulky boxes came to rest in a family’s living room, it stayed there. No one would consider loading such a heavy cabinet and all those delicate vacuum tubes into the car and hauling it to work so that they wouldn’t miss a baseball game.

But while televisions were getting bigger, radios had gotten smaller. And smaller, and smaller. They never, to my knowledge, got as small as an Ipod, but they  certainly got small enough to tuck into a breast pocket or a lunch box. I tried to commandeer the Cope family transistor, but Dad got to it first. No way was he going to miss those games, especially the two Vern Law was scheduled to pitch. And Mom was holding onto her cheap plug-in model in the kitchen. She wasn’t much of a baseball fan, but she knew the Law family, personally—no surprise in a town where everyone knew everyone.

Happily, other classmates came from families with more than one transistor radio, so there was no shortage of mid-century high-tech being carted into Amity. Our biggest concern was whether Mrs. Beeson—the one and only six-grade teacher for an area approaching 50-square miles—would let us listen to the games.

Not only did she approve, Mrs. Beeson brought her own radio—a table-top model with enough volume and presentable tone to fill the entire space of Amity’s two classrooms. For seven afternoons, between October 5 to Oct. 13, 1960, the sixth grade came to a stop—as did everything else in and around Meridian—and farm boys and girls from a dusty little outpost nearly 700 miles from the nearest professional baseball team hooted and cheered and applauded every strike, every out, every pop-up fly, every first base tag, coming from the miracle arm of our home-grown big-leaguer. Meridian’s own baseball lord.

And at the dinner table, later, we’d run it all down again with our Dads and Moms, repeatedly, making sure we’d all heard it the same way. Out of 12 years of public school and eight more of college, I have no more perfect, joyful sense of belonging—a contentment so ripe and rich, the whole community could share in it—as from those seven golden afternoons at Amity School, 1960.

* * *

 Five weeks ago, in a little house that had been converted from a two-room schoolhouse to a single family residence almost 60 years back, a stranger came into that home, confronted a sick old man, his wife and his mother at gunpoint, and after an encounter with responding police, he burned the building to the ground, killing the 84-year old mother, harming the sick man so grievously that he died within hours, and immolating himself. I can’t know if that family was aware their home had been a school, once, or if they ever still called it “Amity.” I did, as did those friends I’m still blest to have from back in the year a Meridian boy brought down the Yankees.

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Amity School and the 6th grade class, 1960
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