*note from my Dad who typed this from my Mom’s handwritten story – I was looking through some cabinets and found some short stories Collette had written along with this true story of what happened in our lives back in 1960. It gives a little more insight into the one I loved so dearly. Dad
I didn’t know the summer of 1960 would be the end of my husband’s professional baseball career. He had pitched four years in the majors, but this particular year, he was with Richmond, Virginia, and at that time Richmond was in the International League, Class AAA, which is one step below the major league.
Ben was blessed with an illustrious athletic ability, and signed a professional contract when he was only seventeen years old with the Boston Red Sox. This was long before the days of the big bonuses.
He played the summer of his senior year with a farm club of the Boston Red Sox, therefore he couldn’t accept any of the many scholarships to some of the best colleges in the South that were offered him. Once you play professionally, you can’t play any sport for a school. I don’t think he knew this at that time because he was so young.
We were married when I was nineteen and he was twenty and started our lives in spring camps in Florida. After spring training, we would head North to find a furnished home or apartment to rent in the town that was the home town or base for the club that he would be playing for that year.
I stayed in the club’s home town alone when the club would travel to the different cities, counting the day’s and waiting for the nights when the game would be broadcast on the local radio station. Sometimes they would be away two weeks, and in the majors, as long as three weeks.
Our daughter was born in Scranton, Pa. It was difficult being so far from our real home, which is in North Carolina, but with the help of some very good friends, my Mom and Dad, and Ben, I made it. Most important, God was with us the whole time, during that long, humid, and almost unbearable summer.
We finally managed, with careful planning, and budgeting, to build a house in our home town, and had to sadly close it up in the summer during the baseball season. The three of us had mixed emotions about leaving, and felt we were too far away on many occasions. It was an interesting life, but lonely and often times scary, with the responsibility of a small child, and being alone so much. I think back about those years and thank God for His loving care for all of us.
When our daughter started school, she and I stayed at home, and Ben traveled south to Florida for spring training which lasted about six weeks. When school was out, we left our home to go to the ball club’s home city. It is an understatement to say we missed our family and friends. I know the attention that baseball players and their families receive from the dedicated and great ball fans helps ease the pain of being homesick. Thank goodness for those good people we met during all those years.
Our last year, as I said before, was in Richmond, Va., then a New York Yankee farm club. Since our home in North Carolina was only about a three hour drive, I would drive home when the club traveled to various cities to play, spend a few days, then meet Ben when the club returned from their road trip.
On the last road trip that he would ever make, I was preparing to drive back to meet him the next day. The club had been in Miami for a few days and was ending the road trip in Columbus, Ohio and scheduled to fly back to Richmond the next day. Ben called me from the Grant Hospital in Columbus and told me not to drive back to Richmond as planned. He was sick and they thought he had heat prostration. I knew by the sound of his voice, that it was more serious, but tried to put that out of my mind. He told me that the rest of the ball club flew back, but the doctors wanted him in the hospital due to his high fever. All of his luggage went back on the plane with the club, and he only had the clothes he was wearing at the time. When he called the next day, he said his fever had not gone away, and they didn’t know what was wrong. I later learned it had been 104 to 106 for several hours of each day and night, accompanied by shaking, painful chills.
A kind, very concerned couple, that was friends of another ball player on the Richmond Club, brought Ben a shaving kit, bedroom shoes and a robe. I do wish I had had the foresight to have gotten their address at that time. God knows who they are and I know that is truly all that matters.
Finally, after the third phone call, and no improvement, I called the ball club’s Doctor in Richmond. Dr. Haddock, and what a concerned, caring, and understanding man this Doctor was. I asked about Ben’s condition and if he thought I should fly out to Columbus. He said if he was me, he would, and if the Doctors there in Columbus didn’t soon diagnose what was wrong, he was flying out. It is a mild statement to say I was afraid, I was terrified!
In all those years, I had never flown to a strange city alone. Ben was always there waiting for us, or better still, with us. My Mother kept our daughter and Dad drove me to the airport fifty miles away. I wasn’t thinking clearly, because I packed my toiletries, but only one change of clothes, thinking I’d stay in Ben’s room for a day or two, and then we would fly back together.
I was in a state of shock and total dullness when the steward on the plane, interrupted my drained mind asking if I was going on a vacation. When I told him of my husband’s illness, he saw the mounting tears and anxiety in my eyes. He sat and talked with me the whole trip, except when he had to perform his duties. That flight wasn’t crowded. I know God sent him to me, because I was so frightened, and he helped me more than he will ever know. My mind started functioning again.
We landed in Columbus. No one to meet me, no one to get my luggage. I managed, and found a cab. The driver asked, “Where to lady.”
“Grant Hospital” I replied. He was very indifferent to any problem I was having. His only concern seemed to be his own welfare, and the fare I would pay. God was working in his mysterious ways to toughen me up a bit for what was ahead.
I walked in the hospital with my suitcase and asked the receptionist what room Ben was in. I noticed the hospital was very old, and thought to myself that I had never seen an uglier, gloomier, or more depressing place. I understand they have a new and modern Grant Hospital now.
When I finally found the room, Ben was sitting up in bed holding a telegram I had sent telling him when I would arrive. When he saw me, he started crying. I embraced his feverish body and tried to comfort him with the little strength I had left. I was used to sickness in my family, but not my six foot four, strong Ben. I would see more of the emotional upsets in the following days. I learned much later that the disease had affected his central nervous system. My husband was too young and strong to be afflicted like this.
Planning to stay in the room with him, I noticed a chair and thought I could sleep there just for a couple of nights, just until we both could fly back home. The Doctor’s wouldn’t allow me to do this until they did more tests. I stayed all that day, and saw the fever come back, with the horrifying chills. His body would shake with pain, and there was nothing I could do for him, except be there. I don’t think I have ever known such total helplessness in my entire life.
I was told to leave. Wearily I picked up my suitcase, and even though I didn’t think I had packed much, it seemed to weigh a ton. I remembered someone had said there was a hotel a few blocks away. I noticed, as I walked with a slouching zombie-like shuffle through the dark and threatening parking lot to the hotel, it wasn’t the best section of town to be alone in.
The bellboy looked sneeringly at me in a way that petrified me when we were going up in the elevator. The tiny room was disgustingly shabby, stifling hot, and impossible to lock the dilapidated door. I was completely exhausted, too afraid to go out for food, and too afraid to go to sleep. I put a chair in front of the door, and flopped down on the bed. It was so unbearably humid and sultry, I felt I might faint. I could hardly breathe, even with the windows open. There was no breeze.
I have always believed in God, and prayed as we all do, but at times almost automatically. This time, my prayers were different. I was talking to God, my Heavenly Father, as a child would to his earthly father aloud. The tears streamed down my face, and for awhile all I could say was, “Please, please God, I’m begging!” Hear me please! I’m tired and so afraid and Ben is in a critical condition. Help him please God-guide the doctors and help them find what terrible disease he has. I’m so alone and weary, my body aches and I’m frightened in this ugly suffocating room. Please hear my cry. Please dear God, let me know you are with me.
At that very moment, a cool breeze quietly filled that decrepit room, and cooled it in a way no air-conditioning could have. My tears vanished and I felt God’s presence surrounding me. Soothing peace and total confidence flowed through my entire being. Knowing God was sharing my room, I said a simple, “Thank You” as I drifted off to sleep.
The room was still amazingly cool when I awoke the next morning unafraid, and knowing God would be with me on this trip. I had the courage to ask for a better room, and after explaining to the desk clerk of our ordeal, was given a spacious, airy room on the top floor. It wasn’t “plush,” but looked exquisite in comparison to the one beside the elevator shaft. That is where I spent the next fourteen nights.
I later learned the hotel was mainly for older people, retired people, and I guess when I walked in that night, they may have thought I was a lady of the evening, which would explain the appalling room I was given.
After many tests, a spinal tap showed that Ben had viral meningitis and encephalitis. He was put in isolation, so I could no longer visit in his room, but I had a chair outside his door, and could talk to him from the hall.
Day by day, he slowly improved, but the weight loss was so rapid that when he could finally leave the hospital, I wasn’t sure he was strong enough to make the trip.
We flew to Richmond because we had to get our clothes that were still at the house we had rented there, then we would drive to our home in North Carolina. On our flight, a Priest sat across the aisle from us, and when I saw him make the sign of the cross over his heart, I glanced at Ben, but was smiling when I held his hand. I said another simple, silent, “Thank You God.”
An employee of the baseball club met us when we landed in Richmond. He turned the car radio to the ball game, and we heard the sportscaster announce that we had landed. I couldn’t believe the loud roar of applause and cheers that we heard. It was touching that all those people had been concerned, and were now sharing the over-whelming relief we felt from our agonizing painful journey.
When the friendly and caring young man let us off, he said with a soft, understanding, kindness in his voice, “you both look like you’ve been through “Hell.”
“You can believe that,” I answered with a grin, “but God was walking with us all the way.”