Since publishing my first novel, The Bridge, I get a lot of questions. Guys I knew growing up want to know when I learned to spell. More polite people want to know why I write, how I got started, how do I create characters, when is the movie, and so on. But there are two questions I like most and have the most endearing answers. 1) What is the most extraordinary thing that has happened to you as a result of your books? 2) What is the most poignant moment that has occurred?
The oral version of this story is much longer. For the blog I’ll keep it as short as possible.
A new friend’s wife’s grandparents live near Stan Musial. I confirmed that I was named after Stan Musial and the new friend got me a Stan Musial autographed baseball. This instantly elevated the new friend’s status to good friend. I sent him and Stan Musial a book and a thank you card.
A few months later, Roger, a friend from high school called and asked if I’d written a book. He was very suspicious at first and wanted to know if my wife had written it. We finally got to the purpose of his call. As it turned out his mother-in-law was the care-giver for Stan and Lillian Musial and she’d seen Stan Musial reading a book written by a person from Marble Hill. She called Roger to see if he knew the author. Roger called me and wanted to know about this so called book deal.
A week or so later Roger’s mother-in-law, Betsy, called and extended an invitation to the Musial’s home. Debbie and I assumed that we’d be among many others at the Musial’s. We were wrong.
We expected to see several cars at the Musial’s but when we arrived there were none. We double checked the invitation and waited for others to arrive. After a few minutes we realized no one else was coming so we nervously approached the front door and rang the bell.
Several anxious minutes passed before the door slowly opened and an elderly lady with beautiful piercing eyes rolled up in her hover round. She wrapped on the storm door with her cane and said, “Are you the author?”
It was an easy enough question and I responded, “Yes ma-am.”
“Come on in,” she said. “I’m Lillian. We’re watching Magnum P.I.” Debbie and I followed her down the hall to their den where Tom Selleck was racing around on the big screen and Stan the Man was sitting comfortably in a recliner.
“Hello,” Stan said and pointed toward a comfortable looking couch. “Have a seat.” Lillian told Stan that they had company and to turn off the TV. A conversation about who was the most hard-of-hearing between the two them ensued and the TV was finally turned off. Betsy, their care-giver, who we’d never met and only spoken to by phone, walked in near the end of the audiology debate.
Debbie and I, realizing we were the only guests invited that day, and in the presence of greatness, entered into a state of shock, where we remained for the balance of the day. Lillian asked if we were hungry and offered to fix us a chicken sandwich. Stan held up a copy of The Bridge and asked about the book. It was as if we were visiting an aunt and uncle rather than a legend and his wife. We had the temerity to change the course of the conversation and got the Musials to tell us about themselves
Lillian was seated to our left and Stan to our right. Our heads swiveled back and forth from Stan to Lillian. One would begin a story and the other would finish. We heard bits and pieces of their high school days, Stan’s first year with the Cardinals farm team, his year in the Navy, and a little about his trips to Africa with Curt Gowdy.
Stan asked Betsy to get one of the ‘good’ baseballs. He signed it “To Stan From Stan,” blew on the ink until it dried, tossed it to me, and smiled. I felt faint.
Betsy gave us a sign when she thought it was time to go. “We need to be going,” I announced and Debbie and I both stood. Lillian blocked our way with the hover round and insisted that we go on a house tour. For next forty five minutes or so Lillian pointed out photos taken of her and Stan with every President since Harry Truman and countless celebrities. She gave us a detailed narrative of the circumstance surrounding each photo.
Betsy, concerned about Lillian getting tired, did the right thing and again encourage Debbie and me to make our exit. Lillian, hearing the exchange, asked Betsy to go find an autographed clock to give to us as a gift. When Betsy left to find the clock Lillian grinned and said, “That’ll keep her busy a while,” and then she resumed the house tour.
Betsy returned about twenty minutes later with the clock. It’s on my office wall; I’m looking at it now.
Saying the visit was unbelievable is not an exaggeration. I have an adjective I use in only the most extreme circumstances. The visit was truly unbelievable. The Musials treated us like family. When we were leaving Lillian thanked us for taking the time to visit them.
Betsy winked and whispered, “She means it too. That’s the way they are.”
Question #2 will be covered is a subsequent blog.