Tag Archives: Papa

Papa’s Day plus 70 years

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Papa wham

Frank B. Wham, Sr. circa 1944

Today more than any day of the year, I think of Papa Wham. More than his birthday (July 7), more than Christmas or Thanksgiving, more than Father’s Day, more than the anniversary of his passing (July 17), the anniversary of the D-Day invasion is my memory of Papa. This year is the 70th anniversary of the Operation Overlord invasion that finally opened up the second front in Europe the Soviet Union had been so adamantly insisting upon for years. Seventy years since the beginning of the end for Hitler and his 1000 year Reich. For Papa Wham and thousands of young men like him, it was another day away from home and the people they loved. I’ve seen the news coverage of the ceremonies in the Normandy cemeteries and I’ve marveled at the large number of veterans of that day who made the trip back to those stormy cliffs to remember. None of them are younger than their late 80s, but every single one of them stands as straight as age and appliances will allow as the colors troop past and the national anthems play. These are not young men and for many of them, this will be their last tour of the battlefields of their youth. It’s nearly a cliché now, but this is the flower of America’s Greatest Generation and those flowers are quickly fading.

If Papa were still with us, he’d be 97. This year will mark twenty years since his passing. It’s been two decades since I’ve seen his gentle smile and heard his sweet voice. To have known my papa when I did and as I did — as my beloved grandfather and one of the two greatest men I’ve ever known — was not to picture a warrior primed for battle. Papa ran a service station then an auto parts store. He vacuumed the house for Granny Wham on Saturday mornings and dozed off sometimes in church on Sunday mornings when Preacher Jeff wasn’t holding his attention. He loved baseball — especially his Atlanta Braves. He loved me and each of his three other grandsons (though I’m pretty sure I was the favorite.) I just never viewed my precious Papa Wham as anything other than my papa.

As I’ve gotten older, though, I’ve often wondered what Papa thought about “his” war. I never asked him for any details. I was too young to know how to gently and politely ask an older man about his service and Papa never volunteered his thoughts on anything but the most innocuous incidents, the funniest stories. I wonder about things now though. Papa was in his middle 20s when he went to fight the Nazis. He was a small town South Carolina boy riding to war on the Queen Mary ocean liner. What was he thinking 70 years ago today as his LCI splashed towards the narrow strip of sand? If I’ve heard correctly, Papa was in the third wave of the invasion, which meant the beach was still “hot” in terms of enemy action. Was he scared? I can’t imagine Papa Wham being scared any more than I can imagine Daddy being scared, but having watched the invasion scene of Saving Private Ryan time after time, I can’t see anyone in one of those boats not being terrified.

I know from his service record that D-Day wasn’t Papa’s first rodeo. He’d landed in North Africa during Operation Torch. He had been at Anzio and had taken part in the Sicily campaign. Still, this was attacking Hitler’s Atlantic Wall of Fortress Europe. I wonder how many friends he’d made in the two years of serving with the First Infantry Division, “The Big Red One.” I wonder how many he had seen maimed or killed in terrible ways. Had he ever killed anyone? I simply can’t see Papa as a killer, but it was a war and a terrible, bloody war at that. I know he could shoot because I’d seen him do it, but did he ever shoot a man? If he did, I never knew and I was brought up to well to ask.

What did he do in England during the build up for the invasion? What about during the days on the road in France when every American soldier was a liberator and a hero? Papa was dashingly handsome; especially in his uniform. Did he turn the head and catch the eye of a pretty English shop girl? Did he spend a quiet hour with some lovely French maid? To me, it’ll always be “Papa and Granny” but Papa wasn’t married to Granny yet and he was a long way from home with the possibility of being killed dogging his every step. I know it would seem scandalous to some — especially my Aunt Cathy — but I would hardly think less of my precious Papa Wham if he’d spent an evening with a European girl. He was kind and sweet and if Granny Wham loved him, why couldn’t a red-headed Scottish lass have been taken with him as well? I think entirely too much of Papa and his steadfast integrity to even entertain the idea I may have some kin on the other side of the Pond I don’t know about. That’s just not the kind of man Papa was . . . but if it did turn out I had a Belgian relative or two, I certainly wouldn’t think any less of Papa. It was a war.

A war he fought 70 years ago thousands of miles from home. Oh the questions I wish I had asked.

Rest in Peace, Papa, and Rest in Peace to all the brave fallen of that terrible war.

Love you all and keep those feet clean!

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Papa and the Braves

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Papa Wham’s Atlanta Braves cap hangs right where he left it, 15 18 baseball seasons ago.

Today would have been my beloved Papa Wham’s 96th birthday, so I’m re-running this post from a few years ago in his honor.

I can’t believe, no matter how hard I try, that my papa has been gone for 18 years. Looking back to Papa’s passing in 1995, I realize he was the first extremely important person I lost.  It just simply does not seem possible.  I miss him these days more than ever because I sure could use his support and advice on a lot of things right about now.

I take my love of baseball in general and the Atlanta Braves in particular from my Papa Wham. In 1978, Granny surprised Papa with a special present when she signed their house up to be the first “Cablevision Equipped” residence on Weathers Circle. Now Papa could watch the Braves on the new Turner Broadcasting Channel out of Atlanta right from the comfort of his favorite couch instead of having to go sit in the car and listen to the games on the car radio.

From that first season until I was old enough to stay by myself several years later, Papa and I didn’t miss a game through the week and I’d often make Mama take me to Granny and Papa’s on Saturday or Sunday or both so he and I could watch the weekend games together.

If you call yourself a Braves fan, I have one question for you? Who are Chris Chambliss, Glenn Hubbard, Rafael Ramirez, Bob Horner, and Bruce Benedict? If you don’t know those names, you are not a Braves fan, you are a BANDWAGON jumper who attached yourself to Papa’s beloved team AFTER their meteoric rise from worst to first and the subsequent instant classic that was the 1991 World Series. Those names are the starting infielders from the 1981 Braves team that finished a miserable 15 games back of the NL WEST leaders and eventual World Series Champion Los Angeles Dodgers. Papa and I watched them all. I lay on the floor next to his couch and listened as Papa told Bobby Cox how to manage a game through the television.

Papa and I used to kid each other that we would pay any price for tickets if Atlanta ever went to the World Series. For all the years we watched WTBS, the Braves making the post-season, much less the Fall Classic, seemed about as likely as country ham and cheese grits as the breakfast special of a kosher diner. Still, we watched faithfully. Dale Murphy was a bright spot and when he won the MVP in 1982, we two were deliriously happy. I got my license a couple of years later and mostly stayed by myself, but come summer, at least twice a week and one weekend day I’d pull in to the driveway and run in just in time to watch some new hotshot throw the first pitch of the game.

I went off to Clemson in the fall of 1990. The Braves were on their way to a fantastic finish a mere 26 games out of first. Papa and I groaned about that season all winter. Then came 1991. All summer, I’d cut grass, watch cars, and ride up to Granny and Papa’s to see the Braves play. It LOOKED like they’d finally put an awesome team together, but 15 years of utter futility had taught us not to be optimistic. Still, they kept winning and when I went back to school, the Braves were making a run at the pennant.

I can remember this next part just as easily as if it were yesterday. I was standing in front of a big screen TV in The Tiger Town Tavern. It was after midnight; the Braves were playing the Pirates. The winner, unbelievably, would go to the WORLD FREAKING SERIES. A new kid named John Smoltz pitched a complete game and shut out the vaunted Pirate batting line up — including a young (and much smaller pre-steroid Barry Bonds). The Braves were going to the Series!

I almost got in a fist fight pushing my way to the front of the pay phone line (this was way before everyone had a cell phone) and called Papa. Granny answered the phone and just as I asked her if Papa was up to see the game winning run, I heard him call from the den, “World Series, son, we’re going to the World Series!” Granny just laughed and took him the phone where we replayed every crucial at bat during the entire game.

Unfortunately, Papa took sick later that week. I’d scraped up enough to get us tickets to at least one game, but he was under the weather and Granny said “NO.” So that was that. I ended up watching three of the seven games of the Series against the Twins with him and we were on the phone talking as we watched Gene Larkin break our hearts with the winning hit in that unbelievable game seven.

Papa and I never did get to see the Braves play in any of the World Series of that awesome 15 year run when it seemed the Braves couldn’t be beaten anymore. He was on oxygen by the time little Francisco Cabrera’s pinch hit and Sid Bream’s slide sent us to the 1992 World Series, but I sat with him and together we watched Joe Carter and the Toronto Blue Jays beat us. A baseball team from CANADA. The shame was too great to bear.

Papa was gone by the time the Braves made the series again in 1995. He died of a heart attack in Daddy’s arms right after the All-Star break. His beloved Atlanta baseball cap hung on the top peg of the hat rack in the kitchen right where he’d put it the week before . . . the last time he’d worn it before he became bed-ridden. I wanted to bury it with him, but Aunt Cathy couldn’t stand the idea of parting with it, so we didn’t. I’m glad now. It’s still right where he hung it. It’s never been moved. Cathy will gently dust it off every now and again, but it’s waiting for him.

I sat alone in tears and watched the Braves beat the Indians in game 6 of the 1995 World Series to win the only World Series they would win during their streak. The next day, I cut the box score out of the local paper, had it laminated, wrapped it in a plastic bag and buried it under the gravel in the corner of Papa’s plot. The Braves haven’t won another series since. I guess all the magic of their greatest fan just petered out once he was gone. I miss him terribly and to this day, fifteen eighteen years on, I can’t watch a Braves game without thinking of him.

So to all you fathers and grandfathers out there, take in a game and make some time for each other. I love you, Papa.

And I love y’all!

Keep your feet clean now!

Asterisks Don’t Tell the Whole Story

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My all-time favorite player! Squeaky clean, awesome player, plenty of homers, great guy . . . no Hall of Fame. That’s a crying shame.

I’m a baseball fan from way back. Some of my earliest, clearest and fondest childhood memories are summer nights playing catch with Papa Wham after supper then going in to get a shower before stretching out — Papa on the couch, me on the floor — to watch the cellar dwelling Atlanta Braves of the late ’70s and ’80s play ( and most likely lose) a baseball game via the original incarnation of Ted Turner’s TBS SuperStation on the only TV set on Weathers Circle with cable instead of “rabbit ears”. I’ve watched the game all my life. The fact my beloved Budge is an extremely passionate and knowledgeable baseball fan figured highly in my decision to marry her. I just love the game.

Keep them out? I don’t think so.

Unfortunately, a huge span of my best baseball fan years occurred in what’s now labelled “The Steroid Era.”  Mark McGwire, Sammy Sosa, and Barry Bonds, along with a multitude of other MAJOR stars and superstars, admitted or were otherwise implicated in the use of “performance enhancing drugs” throughout the 1990s and early 2000s. Now the vast majority of those PED tainted players have retired from the game I cherish and several of them finished their careers with statistics gaudy enough to guarantee them entry into the holy halls of Cooperstown’s Baseball Hall of Fame, but steroids are still haunting them.

Rafael Palermio, great numbers but not so good at telling the truth.

Consider this, seven of the top fifteen players on the All-Time Home Run List, including Barry Bonds at the top of the pile, are tainted by proven or alleged steroid use. Roger “The Rocket” Clemens is the only person in baseball history to win 7 Cy Young Awards as the greatest pitcher of the year, but he has a dark cloud of allegations hanging over his head that at least some of those 7 awards are the result of steroids. Because of the scandal, a lot of baseball purists have conducted what I think amounts to a statistical witch-hunt and cried out that NONE of those implicated in steroid use should EVER be admitted to Cooperstown.

I think that’s a load of crap myself. Sure, I’ll concede to purists a ball hit off a “juicer’s” bat will most likely fly farther than one hit by a “mere” major leaguer. As Shakespeare said though, “There’s the rub!” They still have to HIT THE BALL.

Villain or hero? Where would baseball be without his ’98 season.

According to polls by USA Today, ESPN, and Sporting News, hitting a baseball thrown by a major league pitcher is THE hardest feat in team sports. A several pitchers in the history of “The Show” have been able to consistently throw the little white ball with stitches on it in excess of 95 mph. More than one — Nolan Ryan and Randy “The Big Unit” Johnson come to mind — routinely surpassed 100 mph. At that speed, the hitter has around 0.4 seconds to find the ball and put his bat on a trajectory to intercept that ball. Hitting a baseball is so difficult anyone who can consistently do it 1 out of every 4  at-bats can make a good living in the major leagues, those who can hit .300 for a year are awarded with dump-truck loads of money. The one in a million, literally, who can hit safely 40 times out of a hundred for an entire season stands to get awards and buildings named after them. Steroids might make the ball fly farther, but they don’t slow the rock down on its way to the plate.

Baseball people also forget just how much the game owes those “juicers,” particularly Mark McGwire and Sammy Sosa. In 1994, the Major League players went on strike. The entire post-season — including the World Series — was cancelled. The work stoppage went on into the 1995 season. Fans were pissed off and I was one of them. These guys get millions of dollars to play a kid’s game and they are gripping about not getting enough? Anyway, baseball was in a black hole bunch of trouble after the strike. Estimates show attendance at games and television ratings dropped 20% in one year. Baseball was on life support.

Not my favorite person, but he could seriously damage a baseball and that’s not just due to steroids.

Then came 1998 and “The Great Home Run Chase.” Sosa and McGwire lit up the scoreboards with homers and people who swore they would never watch another baseball game again plopped back down on the sofas and tuned in to see if a 40+ year old record could fall. When it did fall in September with Big Mac’s 62 home run, baseball was back in the high life again.

Personally, I don’t see what the huge uproar is about steroid use. It’s dangerous to the user and it helps in healing, but does it make someone a better ballplayer? I don’t really think so. Besides, what’s the difference between the steroid abuse of the 90’s and the cocaine epidemic of the 70’s and early 80’s? People forget just how many ballplayers from THAT era have admitted to using the Peruvian Marching Powder, but no one would think of putting asterisks by their names or taking them out of the HOF.

These guys were trying to play better ball and hit more home runs, which is what they were being paid to do and what fans were paying to watch. They weren’t shooting up in front of kids who admired them. Truthfully, if Congress had kept its collective nose out of it, the whole thing would have passed just like the cocaine debacle did. Unfortunately, America LOVES a good scandal, even if it costs their icons everything.

Oh, and lets lease not bring up “character issues.” The majority of baseball’s heroes were “characters.” Babe Ruth was known to show up to games with colossal hangovers. Mickey Mantle struggled mightily with alcohol and was an inveterate womanizer. As far as role models go, if I had a son, I would MUCH rather him view Mark McGwire as a role model than one of the HOF’s founding members.

Keep him in but not let in “juicers”? Where’s the justice in that?

I’m talking about “The Georgia Peach” Ty Cobb. Ty Cobb was a marvelous baseball player, but he was one of the most odious human beings to ever put on baseball spikes. He was racist, a bigot, and an outright dirty player, but he smiles from a bust in Cooperstown.

So instead of making the Steroid Era superstars out to be villains and denying them their rightful places in the Hall of Fame, judge them by what they contributed to the game. If not for their tape measure homers and gaudy pitching stats, baseball might have died out by now. These guys aren’t evil; they aren’t even particularly awful. In reality, they are modern day heroes, the kind that are hard to find.

Love y’all and keep those feet clean.