I wrote this about a year ago. Just now catching up to post it.
A few days ago, we were in New York, and while meeting up with some co-workers at a bar in Brooklyn, I ran across a flagpole in front of the Barclays Center at the intersection of Flatbush and Atlantic Ave.
The plaque on the flagpole reads as follows: “This flagpole stood in Ebbets Field until Brooklyn’s famed ballpark was torn down in 1960.” Ebbets Field was where the Brooklyn Dodgers played their Major League Baseball games before they moved to Los Angeles and became the Los Angeles Dodgers. They were also my Grandpa Dave’s favorite team.
I read the sign, and I suddenly felt a very real connection to my grandfather who’s been gone for nearly 20 years. He often wore a gray Brooklyn Dodgers T-shirt when my family visited him and Grandma Essie in Fort Lauderdale when I was growing up, and my mom told me that she had looked for that piece of clothing after he died. She never found it.
As I looked at the flagpole on that cold day, I was about two miles northwest of the actual site of the stadium where I’m sure my grandfather used to cheer for the Dodgers on warm summer afternoons as a young man.
In the past few days, I’ve been thinking about the past more than normal. I’ve always thought that if I had a time machine, I’d immediately go to New York City in the 1940s to see the men in their baggy suits and their wool hats, to ride the subway amid all the cigarette smoke, to catch an afternoon ballgame at Ebbets Field or the Polo Grounds, and to spend a day without worrying about what’s on the internet. Maybe, I’d even run into my grandparents in Brooklyn—to see what they were like before they had kids of their own (they apparently loved going out on the town—even after their children were born).
But my longing for a past I’ll never experience isn’t unique. Just now, I stopped a DVR recording of my favorite Twilight Zone episode. It’s called “A Stop at Willoughby,” and it’s about an ad executive from the late 1950s who is stressed by his job and his unsympathetic wife. One day, he falls asleep and dreams that the commuter train he’s riding has suddenly stopped in a town called Willoughby. He looks out the window and gazes at a scene where a mustached man is riding a penny-farthing and two barefoot boys are on their way to a fishing hole. A man sits waiting on a horse carriage, and musicians run through a parlor song on a bandstand in the middle of the town square. The conductor of the train tells him it’s 1888.
The episode continues with the ad exec daydreaming about Willoughby and trying to make his way back there. The episode ends in tragedy, but I’ve always appreciated that appreciation of history, and hopefully, my kids will one day share that same sense of wonder of what it must have been like in the days gone by. That’s why I’ve interviewed my parents about our family history. That’s why I’ll do the same for my in-laws. That’s why I interview the kids the night before the first day of school every year.
Maybe someday, the kids of my kids will stand at the former site of Fulton County Stadium in Atlanta and wonder what it must have been like when their grandfather cheered on the Braves in the 1980s, where the men wore mesh trucker hats, short jean shorts, and long, striped socks, where the place smelled like stale beer and cheap cigarette smoke. And for them, I have one clear answer:
It sucked. The Braves back then were fucking terrible.