I’m on fire to tell you a Yogi Berra story. But first, a few words about storytelling.
What I miss most about hosting a daily radio show is sharing stories with listeners. So I’m thankful to The Mountaineer for giving me the opportunity to share a story occasionally.
Telling a story on radio is easier for me than putting a story on paper. That’s why I admire the writers at The Mountaineer. Whether news or sports stories, tales of tragedy and triumph (like those surrounding the recent flooding), or stories about the area’s history (which I particularly enjoy), it takes talent and discipline to write every day. Even if I had the talent, I don’t have the discipline.
Another form of storytelling is songwriting. Tom T. Hall, who died a few days ago, was so good at this art form he was billed professionally as “The Storyteller.” He possessed the rare ability to condense a long story into a two- to four-minute song. I was privileged to know Tom T. and his wife Dixie quite well. One of my cherished memories is listening to him tell the stories behind some of his hit songs, such as “Harper Valley PTA,” “Old Dogs, Children, and Watermelon Wine” and “I Remember the Year That Clayton Delaney Died.”
In recent years, storytelling festivals have become popular. One of the most ‘in demand’ storytellers is Waynesville native Donald Davis, who now lives on the N.C. Outer Banks. Donald, who was a United Methodist minister for 25 years before becoming a professional storyteller, travels the country telling tales, many based on his experiences growing up in Haywood County.
I recently caught up with Donald during his travels. He’s an annual fixture at the National Storytelling Festival in Jonesborough, Tennessee, and tells me that, while many events are back to live performances, this year’s festival in October will be virtual. This means you can tune in from home and, perhaps, hear Donald tell a story about someone you know. (Ticket info at storytelling.net.)
Now to the Yogi story I want to share. You don’t have to be a baseball fan to be familiar with the late Baseball Hall of Famer Yogi Berra. In 1950, Yogi had 597 at bats and struck out only 12 times. Amazing! Some hitters strike out more than that in less than a week. Yogi is known though, not only for baseball, but also for his malapropisms and other sayings.
You may have a favorite, such as “Nobody goes there anymore; it’s too crowded.” Mine is: “If you don’t go to other people’s funerals, they won’t come to yours.”
But there’s something else about Yogi I’ll remember forever: his humanity. I recently heard his granddaughter, Lindsay, tell a story about her grandfather.
The year was 1955. The New York Yankees, Yogi’s team, were in Florida for spring training. The Yankees had just signed their first Black player, Elston “Ellie” Howard, eight years after Jackie Robinson had broken baseball’s color barrier.
Jim Crow laws were still in effect throughout the South and restaurants were segregated. Thus, Ellie couldn’t dine in a restaurant with the Yankee team. Nor could he stay in the same hotel. (A doctor befriended Ellie and provided him sleeping quarters.)
To prevent Ellie from eating alone, Yogi would get his food from the restaurant and go join Ellie. Here’s where my imagination takes over. In my mind’s eye, I can see Yogi and Ellie sitting and eating under a shade tree somewhere near the restaurant.
After hearing Lindsay Berra’s story about her grandfather, when I think of Yogi now, my first thought is not about baseball or a Yogi-ism, but about the milk of human kindness that ran through his veins.
We should all strive to be remembered in such a manner.
Dave Hogan is a retired disc jockey who lives in the Lake Junaluska community.