Sometimes you know your neighbor, but sometimes you don’t. (At the outset, let me say that this has nothing to do with nosey neighbors who are the bane of every neighborhood.)
Before Rob and Carol Winthrop moved onto our street, I had met them and knew a little about them through mutual friends. I even knew about their attractive house, which has the prettiest ginkgo tree in Athens. At least it has the biggest and prettiest canopy when its leaves segue into golden hues in autumn, which is just a few weeks away.
Their address was originally the residence of Mary Ethel Creswell, the first female graduate of the University of Georgia. There are many firsts associated with Creswell, including the fact that she became the first dean of the College of Family and Consumer Science and held that position until retirement in 1945. Creswell Hall on the UGA campus is named for her.
Lately, I have been bumping into Rob Winthrop as he is taking his morning walk, which has resulted in brief conversations about our lifelong affection for Ted Williams and the Boston Red Sox.
That came about naturally for Rob, who was born in Boston. I discovered the Red Sox in the Johnson County Library in Middle Georgia as a kid, never thinking I would ever see a big-league game and certainly not being lucky enough to travel to Boston and see the Sox in live and living color.
A recent treatise after taking in a Red Sox game—even in a forgettable year—caused Rob to send along a memoir which he wrote for his daughter, Meg, her husband, Nick, and his grandchildren.
He entitled his memoir “Baseball and quail hunting.” His musings are well done and make you aware that people who appreciate tradition are often given to massaging their passions with the passing of time. Some keep their thoughts to themselves, which is not a bad thing, but a tip of the hat to those like Rob who take the time to “reminisce in print.”
He remembers seeing Ted Williams, known as the “Kid,” crush a homerun over the right field bullpen at Fenway Park. That soaring home run, a feat of raw power and grace, will never leave his mind’s eye.
Rob attended Fessenden Boarding School in Boston, which allowed him to have something in common with two well-known U. S. Senators from Massachusetts, Ted Kennedy and John Kerry. In Rob’s memoir, there is the revelation that Kerry is his first cousin.
In one of our “mailbox” conversations, Rob, a polite and modest gentleman, wanted to know if I had ever read John Updike’s unforgettable piece in the New Yorker Magazine about Ted Williams’ last at bat as a major leaguer. If you don’t know the story, the great slugger homered in his last official at bat. What an exclamation point to a sensational career!
If you have any affection for baseball history, google Updike’s excellent story: “Hub Fans Bid Kid Adieu.”
The “Breaking of the Curse of the Bambino,” when the Red Sox, after 86 years, beat the Yankees four straight games in the playoffs and then swept the Cardinals in the 2004 World Series, was a high moment for Rob.
Rob’s love of baseball naturally motivated him to try out for his boarding school team, but he became resigned that while he loved the game, he “was not very good at it.” However, that didn’t keep him from maintaining a serious rooting interest in his beloved Red Sox.
With his other sporting interest, he became expert. Shooting quail became a ritual at Groton Plantation in South Carolina. Rob shot his first quail when he was 14 years old. In peak years in the 1960’s and 1970’s at Groton, he had the time of his life.
“The measure of a good quail hunting day was coveys per hour and the number of quail killed in a day,” he says. “Coveys per hour is a more meaningful statistic, as wild quail are hard to hit, so there is a lot of missing. On Jan 21, 1969, Mr. Robert (Uncle Bob) killed 65 wild quail on his 65th birthday, a feat that will never be equaled.”
With the demise of wild quail hunting and the loss of reflexes, owing to advancing age, Rob gave up wild quail hunting as wild quail gave way to release birds.
“Still,” Rob remembered, “I did relish one more chance at a wild quail, and what better time than on the eve of my 65th birthday. There was only an hour of daylight left on December 13 (2011 at Groton Plantation). I took my beloved two-year-old black lab, Maggie, with me and my backup quail shotgun, a 20-gauge Ithaca side by side. With no pointing dog to find quail, all I expected was a nice walk around Badger Pond on a beautiful winter evening.
“As it was getting dark, I took one last walk near the edge of Badger Pond, just enjoying the beautiful sunset. Suddenly, an explosion of quail. I had walked into a covey that had gathered (“coveyed up”) for the night. A hard right shot and one quail down; a high shot into the sunset and another quail down. I gave Maggie the command, “Hi-Lost” the British equivalent of ‘Dead Bird.’ It did not take her long to find both birds. I put her on the picnic table beside the two wild quail I had just killed for a photo-op.
“My thoughts ran back to Ted Williams last at bat and his home run 51 years before. This was my moment, a double on the last at bat of my wild quail hunting career on the eve of my 65th birthday. No witnesses, just Maggie and myself and an unbelievable memory.”
Maybe, you now know my neighbor, too.