Rising from the Rails: Pullman Porters and the Making of the Black Middle Class by Tye Larry

Rising from the Rails: Pullman Porters and the Making of the Black Middle Class by Tye Larry

Author:Tye, Larry [Tye, Larry]
Language: eng
Format: epub
Publisher: Henry Holt and Co.
Published: 2005-05-31T21:00:00+00:00

5

Behind the Mask

IT WAS THE only baseball they had. And now it was gone.

It was their only ball because in Freeport, Maine, of 1918, where boys gathered to play baseball every afternoon between school dismissal and chore time, the town could not afford a playing field, real bases, uniforms, or even a backup baseball. Not with fuel shortages, food rationing, and a flu epidemic infecting the nation. The spare change the boys could pull together totaled one baseball. One. But because Freeport was a baseball town, one ball was enough. Boys joined the team as soon as they were big enough to grip a bat. They played on the empty lot between the high school and town hall, using old sweatshirts as bases and battening down windows within range to keep the glass intact and ball in play. If the ball landed in tall grass, the game was suspended to ferret it out. If a batter connected hard enough to knock off the cover, the men at Dave Longway’s garage stuck it back on with friction tape. During the frozen winter the boys painted their baseball yellow to see it in the snow.

And then on a lazy afternoon near the start of summer, the ball, the same one that the Freeport fry had played with for months, was lost. It sailed off Hank Soule’s bat up over second base, cresting over the iron railroad tracks that ran through the outfield, descending like a rocket on a brilliant harvest night. Then it landed—thwap—right in the open palm of a Pullman porter on the Halifax-bound sleeping car. The porter was no more prepared to catch a ball than the boys were to lose theirs. But there it was, floating through the open vestibule of his parlor car, and he raised his open hand, instinctively, as any good American boy would know to do. And for a moment he was as stunned as they.

It all seemed like a dream as the boys reflected back. The old Maine Central work train motoring ahead on tracks just fifty feet behind second base, an empty Pullman sleeper in tow. The porter waving with his free hand, clasping the ball with his other. The boys were mesmerized—at the hit that sent their ball straight into the train door, and the ease with which the porter snagged it. Then they were enraged—that he had kept their only baseball, and there would be no more games till they could scrabble together enough dimes to buy another. Something had to be done. Perry Taylor got the number of the train from the stationmaster, Charlie Bailey, and wrote a letter to the president of the Maine Central. The other boys added their names. Who was that porter, they asked, and could he bring them back their ball? Please. They mailed the missive, then pooled their coins and bought a brand-new hardball at the sporting-goods counter of L.L. & G.C. Bean, the local department store that would make their town a destination.

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