The Little League Manager

As featured in Springhouse Magazine

The spring of 1986 was no different for a “youngster” of 80 in Harrisburg, Illinois than it had been for the last twenty years of his life. Charles “Dee” Barrett was ready for the umpire’s call: “Play Ball!”

He would begin getting ready, as he did every year about that time, when the big leagues were swapping players and cutting deals for the next season. Although the Golden Years of a man’s life should have been filled with the three “R’s”: retirement, rest and relation, Barrett didn’t know it.

To him, it was more like B, P and W: baseball, politics, and work; plus the added attraction of extra-curricular activities – not necessarily in that order.

At this time of year, it was time to worry about pitchers, always a scarcity in Khoury League circles for the 11 and 12 year olds. Since 1965, Barrett had worked with the youngsters and felt like one of the crowd. He wasn’t much taller, if any, than most of his “boys.” He might have possibly been the oldest Khoury League manager around. To hear him tell the story, he was at one time the most feared.

Be that as it may, baseball was Barrett’s number one hobby in Spring. He thought anything initiated later than February was off to a poor start, and started talking up league meetings. By March, he was ready, but try outs were held up until April, exasperating the veteran warrior of little league. He was a hard taskmaster, critical and often heard to yell, not only at the boys, but umpires as well.

“Whaddaya mean, swinging at that one? It was way over your head. Come on, you know better than that!” he would bite. Sometimes it made the boys mad enough to begin a hitting streak.

It was no surprise when he yelled: “Hey Ump! Where’s the strike zone tonight?”

Barrett trained the boys hard and often, expecting and usually getting hard work out of them. Added to that the parents who were hardy and handy enough were called on to coach, umpire a base, or whatever was needed.

Barrett was slow to laud the good plays, but on one was prouder of the boys. He daily scanned the news for development of the lives he had touched, however briefly. He proudly pointed out any accomplishments, whatever field of endeavor they were involved in.

Twenty years of managing teams led to earlier years players sometimes presenting their sons to try out with Dee Barrett’s team. Young men and boys yelled out “Dee!” on the streets, and he turned to see if it was one of his boys.

The reputation Barrett built with at least eight championship material teams followed him. In the last years, his wins had been fewer, partially because it was more important to him then to train the boys for the future.

The stocky-built eighty-year-old admitted he always found it hard to cull the not-so-good players, sometimes keeping the limit of 15 on his team. He bemoaned the fact that there were fewer teams available now for the boys–and girls–because younger men with families were hard to recruit as managers and coaches.

If Barrett had gotten his way, every boy and girl would have played baseball or at least softball in the Summer, and he would have liked to see a city league formed to “let ‘em all play.” It was often that he bought gloves, shoes and shirts for the lesser income kids.

Barrett’s baseball hobby began–most serious to him–began in early boyhood as a sandlot pitcher and shortstop in 1918 in Southern Illinois. He was quick to remember great opposition pitchers in a neighboring town in the Thirties, and coaching Kiwanis League baseball, umpiring some.

He played in Michigan as a young married man where he worked in factories before, during and after WW II. After trying unsuccessfully to enlist–thick glasses were his bane–Barrett returned to his home town in Harrisburg, Illinois as a plasterer and lathing contractor until his first retirement.

A twenty year stint in little league managing began in 1965 at age 60. It was a passion that had not lessened prior to his death at age 84. Having come close to a championship playoff in 1983–losing out by a throw-away ball to first–disappointment wrapped him in discouragement and he decided he might be getting old; to old to help the boys any longer. He dropped out of managing for a season but kept a foot in the door as treasurer of the league plus unofficial, unappointed watchdog.

Barrett was encourage later by his second wife who had spent six hot summers at the fields to “get back in the game.” That year a downhill slide of the number of teams playing and lost managers was too much to bear. The beloved sport was losing supporters.

Barrett fired back in support in 1985 by again managing a team. One such year, the season was almost over before he discovered his shortstop was indeed a short-haired girl. He couldn’t believe her name wasn’t Steven. She was good, he had to admit to his wife.

He was unsuccessful in pushing for an increase in the number of teams, but was happier not sitting on the sidelines.

In addition to the main hobby of baseball, there was Barrett’s year-round group of the “Dee Barrett Singers.” At the drop of a hat, or more realistically, the ring of the telephone he could be convinced to engage his group of gospel singers without a negative thought.

“Sure, we’ll be there if we can get together,” he would promise, and then ordered all of the singers into action. He would sing one of his compositions–the only one set to music–with little or no coaxing. He had written poetry during his high school days.

Besides full time employment as custodian of a three-story Baptist church in his home town “since retirement at age 62” Barrett was street and alley commissioner of his beloved city; Saline County secretary-treasurer of his chosen political party, and a precinct committeeman of some 34 years.

Every upcoming March primary would find Barrett campaigning for himself for the precinct position, or a candidate for something else. Added to this he would be campaigning for everyone he promised assistance. However, baseball would remain his time-consuming project.

Few days or nights found the untiring man at home. In addition to council meetings, regular and special he attended Odd Fellows Lodge faithfully, and all church functions requiring the custodian on the scene. There were political meetings, senior citizen council, Khoury League meetings, singing practice, and some Sunday afternoon union meetings. He was the Local president of the Cement Masons and Plasterers.

If nothing else was on the agenda he might ask his 50-year-old travel-worn, just-got-home-from-work wife: “Is there a dance somewhere at the senior citizens’ center? We ought to go.” She often crumpled inside but never fainted.

Of course, relatives must be visited occasionally and there were Christmas parties, fund-raisers, picnics, a never-ending list. On their honeymoon in Italy in 1979, his young wife of forty-three gave up attempting to keep up with him and he strolled the streets alone stopping people “if anyone spoke American.” To his credit, but to his new wife’s dismay, he refused use of the elevator to their fifth-floor room.

This youngster was born Charles Deneen Barrett, named after Governor Charles Deneen of Illinois. He was born and raised in southern Illinois. Barrett graduated from Harrisburg

High in 1924 with honors in shorthand and typing accompanied by a passion for sports. He toyed with the idea of professional boxing during teen years.

“I was good at it, but Mom talked me out of it,” he often said., “but I wasn’t silly enough to keep it up.”

It seemed a big boxer twice his size scared him into leaving the ring after a few hits. He also worked sixteen hours a day for a local ice company–the days of horse-drawn ice-wagons–to help support his four sisters and parents.

Barrett retire? Rest? Relax? Not for that senior citizen. The Golden Years were but a part of his zest for life, and he expected to live to be at least 103; “killed by a jealous husband” when he danced with the man’s wife.

At age 84, paralyzing strokes following his oldest step-daughter’s death took a toll and he succumbed while believing he would someday soon step out of the dugout and manage another team. He died quietly, no pain, just murmuring “something’s awful wrong” as he grabbed his chest with the good left arm.

But–his wife could hear God softly whisper: “Let’s play ball, Dee.”

Tornado Alley Trauma

by Lois Fowler Barrett
As featured in Marion Living Magazine

I distinctly  remember pressing  my face  against a window, staring into blackness,  trying  with  all  my  might  to see  the house across Reeves  Street in Marion, Illinois on  that  dreadful – world falling apart – day, in  1940. I  can’t  personally  remember  what day or month it was, but one child survivor  remembered  there  was  another  month of school after.

“I cain’t  see Deaton’s!” I shouted.  My going-on-seven -years brother, Lyndel, was  in the room.  No  memory  exists of  whether I said  anything  more. I held my doll tightly as I watched  hail  bounce off  the ground. It was strange and unusual weather. Noise and blinding lightening  blacked  out visibility across  the street.

My  mother, Lois  Barnes, answered with   a command  from the kitchen:  “Pauline, get  away  from  the  window!”  My father, Luther, wasn’t  home.

Lyn, two years older,  remembers  that  Mom yelled “It’s coming!” before  the  house began  to  roll from  west  to east. He said  he could  hear gravel hitting – could it have been hail –  as we started to roll.

It’s important  to know  the  layout  of  houses where we lived and played.  Our  grandparents’ house  rested on  land across  an  alley to the east. My  uncle’s  family  lived a few hundred yards to the north of our  house on the  west side of the alley. The  rest  was open  field. Grandparents  Irl and Allie Radcliffe  owned  that oversized “block,” with  a  narrow  alley  separating  two parcels.

Aside  from  this ,  my  strongest  memory  is  one  of  confusion,  in  the aftermath  of  the  tornado,  as my body  hung  high in the air on upright  bed springs  against a wall.  A blue dress and  red  coat  supported  my  weight. Lyn strongly remembers the red coat with a collar. I  remember  crying  later  because  my  dress  tore.

Suspended  there,  I could  see   my  brother  lying  on  the floor  –  or  what  had  been  the ceiling  –  with a coal  stove  leg  pressing  against  his head.  I   had  no concept  of  death   at  that  tender  age. Thank God,  he  survived, and  at  seventy-two,  sports  a scar on  the side  of  his head. I  notice it, and  the scene  floods my mind. He tells me  now  that  he didn’t know he was injured.

Also, Lyn  tells  me  that  he tried  valiantly to drag me off  the  bed springs, but couldn’t, so left  me  hanging there.  Memory  does  not  serve  me as to how long I  hung  there. Also I don’t  remember my  mother lifting  me down, but  he remembers.

While I was  rescued, he was directed to “get help!” and climbed over debris toward what should  have been  my grandparents house.  It was on fire.

A  definite story is that  my  mother  was  pinned  down  by  a cabinet and  kerosene from a five gallon can pouring onto  her. Apparently,  she  managed to free  herself and save  me. That explains  the story of  her  clothing “glued “to her body. My  oldest  brother,  Luther,  said  the doctor had  to  remove  rice  from  inside  her ears. The  rice  probably poured into her ears from the cabinet.

While  I  hung  there,  my  brother lying in the floor, and my mother pinned in the kitchen, the story  goes  that  my  uncle, Lawrence Radcliffe, with his home gone, anxiously  sought  shelter  for his family. On  the  way – and  before  he attempted  to  rescue anyone – my  uncle  encountered  insensitive,  heartless  looters only  minutes  after  the  tornado’s  invasion. They  were angrily  chased away,  as reported  by  my cousin,  Kathy,  who  learned  from  an oft  repeated  story.  The house was on fire  with  his parents pinned inside!   If  he  used  any  strong  language, it  was  not repeated.

It’s common  family talk that  my grandmother  was pinned  between a fallen chiff-a-robe  and  a  wood burning  stove,  fully  in danger of  burning alive. Our  home rolled east  across  the alley onto  their house.  My Uncle Lawrence – after safely depositing   his  wife and  daughter  in  a  neighbor’s  house –  along  with   my older  brother, successfully  ripped  aside everything to rescue her. He was inside when the tornado struck.

It was time to find Grandpa!  They discovered him  pinned down on  a bed  by  the  roof,  attempting to raise  it up with sheer strength, cracked  ribs and all.  Underneath, or at least by his side,  was   my baby sister,  Jeannette. Grandpa  was  in the process of laying  her on  the bed  when  the  cyclone struck.  Luther – a frequent  visitor – said Grandpa  yelled,  “Tornado!” as he headed for the bed.  He spent so much time with Grandpa, he can be counted as a credible witness.

Here, two stories unfold. Lyn  remembers  that a decision  had to be made –  due to the fire – on which person  to save.  It was  quickly decided  that  Grandpa  would be the one – he was Lawrence’s father, after all – so  they grabbed his legs and pulled  him free. He  had  an  arm  wrapped  around  Jeannette  and  she  was  pulled  free also.

Older  brother  Luther said  she  was  unconscious  and  turning  blue, and that the shape  of  her  head  was  imprinted  in  my grandfather’s chest, crushing his ribs. “Well, even  with  broken  ribs,” Lyn laughs, “once out of the danger,  pushed his beloved  pickup free of the fire area.”

The rescued ones  were taken   across  the  street, where  Mrs. Deaton  – I wish I could  remember her first  name – rose  to the occasion  and  blew  into  my sister’s  mouth  to  revive  her.   “It  was  old  time CPR, ” Luther laughs.  My  mother,  my grandfather,  my sister,  and  my  brother, Lyn, were  taken to the doctor. Lyn  said he wasn’t  hurt  that  he knew of,  but didn’t  want  to be left  behind. The doctor found his  head wound . I  imagine strong-willed Grandma  didn’t  let them go without  her. I don’t know if Luther went along.

The Deaton  residence  was  only about forty feet from  our homes, and though  turned slightly crosswise  on the foundation, sufficed  as a temporary shelter for survivors of the disaster.

Earlier, when Uncle Lawrence sought  shelter  there for his wife and baby girl, Kathy,  Mrs. Deaton  was  reluctant to allow  anyone  inside. Upon  my  uncle’s  strong  insistence – he had already  boldly dealt  with looters – she changed  that  attitude.  Whether she  was apprehensive  because  of looters, or whatever  reason,  my  uncle  became frustrated enough to shout at  the  neighbor   until she admitted  them.   My aunt  had  already risked drowning by falling into a water-filled ditch. She wasn’t the only one who ended up in a ditch, Lyn says.

I cannot,  for the life of me,  remember  arriving at Mrs. Deaton’s house, or how long I was  housed  there, but I vividly  recall  Mrs. Deaton  owned  a pug-nosed  bulldog – a protective little animal –  who zealously, and viciously,  guarded  his  mistress if we dared go near her.

My eighty-four- year-old aunt, Aileen Radcliffe, confirmed stories of  how  her  family  was saved.  Wisely,  my Uncle  Lawrence  gathered  them  on their  bed – a family of  three at that  time – where  the head and foot  supports  served as a barrier between  them and  the roof  as it blew away.  I  was later  told  that  he calmly  sitting in a chair reading,  and   my  aunt  was  rocking  Kathy when  the weather  became  danger. They decided on  the bed as the safest place.

My  brothers  also  remembered  that  the woods  to the east of our homes was flattened  as though  mowed down  by a giant  lawnmower – typical of tornados.

Although  uprooted, our house  did  not  burn, and  was salvaged  by  my uncle. He  rebuilt it northeast of my grandfather’s land,  across another  alley from his original house.  My  aunt  lives there still,  on  what  is  now  named  Radcliffe Street.

My father  moved  us to a rental  house on  North Vicksburg  Street in Marion.  Red  Cross provided  my  grandparents  a new,  two  room  house several  yards east of the destroyed one. That  house is  there  yet, at  the corner of Radcliffe and  Reeves  Streets.

I  vaguely  remember following  Grandma  through  the burned-out  remains of  her   house, searching  for  melted change – money brought home over night from  their downtown café, The  Farmer’s Lunchroom – located  on The Hitch Rack.

She  picked  up shiny lumps of  metal  I presume to have been  pennies, quarters, nickels, and dimes.  I  think  I remember a look  of pain on her face as she  rolled the lumps around, and then allowed  me to hold  them. Was she thinking how to operate their business  without cash ? Where would they live?

Thank God, no one died in that dreadful event, but the  memories, and for some the fears, never fade. Ask any survivor in our family.

Now, when  the weather sirens  blow  in  Marion, do people  pay attention  to the sound?  Do they seek shelter?  They would  if  they  knew  the  trauma.


Jul 26, 2010 - Chicken Scratchin's, Poems    No Comments

Two Years

Two years, my love have passed  by us
And they were filled with first-   attraction;
Bitter-sweet and all that fuss
Of loving and longing and little  action.

This anniversary coming up now
Holds me close to the past
Of your gentle, sweet love–and  how
You held me, taught me, to hold  and last.

If by some chance my hillbilly king
You remember the way we  became
And how I learned to love

The sound of your name.
Just a year ago I chanced to see
What life could be outside the  walls of ME
And learned, like you,  it’s  wide!

Now, putting all that past away-
Could we be friends or more again,
And learn to love and laugh all  day;
Or would it fail and bring us pain?

My hillbilly, my love, my friend,
I cannot forget the good we had
I cannot see our closeness end
Or ever see our friendship bad.

So knowing this come away:
Away and begin a new tomorrow.
We’ll laugh and dance and sing all day,
And live without the sorrow.

Yes, I admit I need you
More than you need me–
But what is wrong with us two
Tying me up–and you be free?

– Lois Fowler (Barrett), 1977