“Love is the most important thing in the world, but baseball is pretty good, too.”
Waiting for Teddy Williams by Howard Frank Mosher is a knowing, funny and poignant novel about life, love and baseball. I never met the author, but I wish I had. He was by all accounts, an original. He settled down as a young person, taught English, lived and wrote for most of his adult life, in the Northeast Kingdom of Vermont, an area I’ve driven through many times. Waiting for Teddy Williams is one of more than a dozen books that he wrote, some of which I’ve read, some still on my to-read list.
Howard Mosher knew about baseball.
I would have liked to have sat down with Mr. Mosher across a table, shared a tipple or two and had a conversation about things of common interest, baseball and books being two of them. Even if he had been inclined to do this, sadly, I’ll now not get the chance. Howard Frank Mosher died in January of this year. It is my loss, as it is the world’s. His was a distinctive creative talent and voice that —thanks to his writings—still speaks out as a legacy to those who would seek, find and open the cover of a book that he authored. My good fortune is to have read this one just at the beginning of another baseball season.
Howard Mosher knew about baseball. He knew about it in the way a person just knows about anything they have experienced in an up-close-and-personal-way. The same way you know about something that you’ve touched, have had in your hands, have smelled, tasted or have examined with a magnifying glass, hundreds of times. And that knowledge about baseball plays out in consecutive little vignettes in Waiting for Teddy Williams. But Howard Mosher knew about other things too. He knew about people. He knew about their unspoken desires, their fears and their foibles. He knew what motivates them, what gives them enjoyment and fulfillment and what frustrates them. I got the feeling that, during his life, he had seen the best and worst of humanity.
The author had a soft spot for underdogs.
Waiting for Teddy Williams is a story very much about the game of baseball. It is set in a small, fictitious New England town that has a factory that turns out the Green Mountain Rebel; real-wood, white ash baseball bats.
The locals are enamoured of the game, and specifically of the Boston Red Sox baseball team. So much so that: “Time was, on a summer afternoon in the northern Vermont hamlet of Kingdom Common..” when the book’s protagonist: “…could walk completely around the rectangular village green and never be out of earshot of the Red Sox game on somebody’s radio.”
On a game day, everyone there listened to the Voice of the Sox. It could be heard: “…drifting out through the screen doors of the IGA, the hardware, the five-and-dime, and the office of the Kingdom County Monitor, where Editor James Kinneson sat by the front window typing and listening to the game.”
Retirees from the bat factory “…sat out on the hotel porch in the sunshine in folding chairs listening to the game on Fletch’s hunch-shouldered Stromberg Carlson.” Kingdom Common is such a Sox booster haven that the factory building has a twenty foot by fifteen foot facsimile of Fenway Park’s Green Monster on its roof.
But the book is also about much more than baseball. It is a coming of age story, a story about familial love and the importance of family. And it is a book that examines thwarted ambition and celebrates and revels in dream fulfillment.
The author had a soft spot for underdogs. The principal characters are moulded from the red clay of reality found in north-eastern Vermont, but their psyches, personalities and behaviours are tweaked to be endearingly (depending on one’s cultural sympathies) quirky and idiosyncratic.
The main character’s name is drawn from epic Vermont lore. The story opens in the head of eight-year-old Ethan Allen, who goes by E.A. throughout the book. E.A. eats, sleeps and lives for baseball. He is introduced as: “A slender, redheaded boy in jeans and scuffed Keds and a T-shirt and a Sox baseball cap. Not big for his age but wiry, with hair the color of barn paint and a pale blue stare that was already as cold as the ice on Allen Mountain in January.”
Of such whimsy are the book’s heroes and their back stories constructed.
E.A.’s father is not in the picture (the family reference is: “Gone and Long Forgotten.”) He has a mother named Gypsy Lee who runs RFD Escort Service, Inc. (for local and other gentlemen) and is an aspiring country music songwriter. He is home schooled by his mother and studies the classics (Pride and Prejudice and The Fall of the House of Usher). His acerbic grandmother (Gran Allen) grows marijuana (for medicinal purposes), reads the Weekly World News tabloid (PRESIDENT GREETS ALIENS ON WHITE HOUSE LAWN) and spends her days in an old-fashioned wicker wheelchair (although she doesn’t need it). They have a car, “assembled from a ’51 Chevy, a ’53 Ford and a ’78 Pontiac”, named “The Late Great Patsy Cline”.
Of such whimsy are the book’s heroes and their back stories constructed. E.A. also has regular clandestine conversations with “the Colonel” a bronze statue of his namesake that stands in the village green near the baseball bat factory. At night, he reads The Illustrated History of Major League Baseball, in his slanted-roof loft bedroom with its “..single bulb hanging from the ceiling.” and dreams about playing for the Boston Red Sox someday.
He created his villains—like Devil Dan Davis—mostly out of whole cloth as well.
Howard Frank Mosher was firmly grounded in New England’s Northeast Kingdom, but his imagination was in residence somewhere at altitude near a cloud. He was able to accurately capture the spirit and flavour of small town and rural Vermont while sending the story off into the realm of the fanciful. He created his villains—like Devil Dan Davis—mostly out of whole cloth as well. “Dan sold used parts and machinery out of his junkyard and did contract jobs requiring heavy equipment like his Blade. His avocation, however, was feuding with the Allens.”
“Dan’s sixty-ton D-60 Blade was the biggest bulldozer ever made – powerful enough, Dan said, to push over a courthouse. He cut logging roads and maple sugaring roads and farm roads and roads into gravel pits, doing great and irreparable harm to the environment.”
“Every Monday morning Devil Dan changed the crankcase oil of the Blade whether he’d used the machine that week or not. He dumped the old oil into Allen Mountain Brook, which ran into the Kingdom River just below the meadow where Ethan and Gypsy played ball.”
Waiting for Teddy Williams is a clever and warm-hearted work of fiction that explores the hopes and dreams of everyday people, with occasional flights of fancy that go zigzagging off into semi-mythical territory. It should appeal to baseball fans or any reader with an open and untrammelled mind. Where does Teddy Williams fit in to the story? I won’t spoil it for you, although anyone who knows anything about baseball will recognize the name. REG
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