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Jesus Alou

December 24, 2008
 Untitled 
Once, during the first December I remember, a car barreled into our yard, tearing up some bushes, and my mom made wreaths out of the wreckage. The wreaths signaled that the big day was getting closer. When Christmas finally came, I got the gift I’d been wishing for, from the FAO Schwartz catalog I’d been using as a prayer book: a fist-sized green metal combat van that shot small yellow rubber missiles from guns in its roof. Freshly unwrapped, it felt heavy, solid. I’m tempted to say it felt magic, even holy.

There was nothing better than Christmas. There was nothing better than getting things.

And boy, did I get things. My family lived on the cheap throughout the recession-stung 1970s, and there were times when we were just barely scraping by. A yearly pre-Christmas tradition was my mom tearfully telling my brother and me that because of money troubles “Christmas isn’t going to be the same this year, boys,” a claim we learned to shrug off because every Christmas morning the lower half of the tree would be obscured behind a mountain of presents, like always.

It was my favorite day of the year, and no other day even came close. I got and got and got. By the end of the hours of unwrapping I was always high from candy and getting, my arms resting on stacks of brand new things. It was always a little sad to come to the last present, that moment like the first strand in the gradual unraveling of the feeling of holy solidity given to me by all my new things.

Those things all broke, eventually, or were lost. None of them have made it to the present moment, and only a few exist in my memory.

I did recently replace a gift from a long-ago Christmas. Maybe it was a gift for my brother and me, or possibly even a gift for my brother that I took co-ownership of. It came from my uncle during the day’s second stage of gift-getting, when my extended family gathered: a Neft and Cohen baseball encyclopedia. Its size and the tiny type and all the numbers seemed daunting, a grown-up thing, but below that there was something calling to me, saying that there was a place for me somewhere in that book. Eventually it became my bible.

This was in 1974. I’d gotten my first baseball cards that year, just a few. In 1975 I began to collect even more. It can’t be an accident that my biggest childhood hobby, by far, included key elements from my favorite day of the year: wishing, unwrapping, sugar, and getting. 

This card came to me that year, and I’m sure it made an impact. Jesus? A guy named Jesus? (I certainly didn’t know at that time that the player actually pronounced his name Hay-Soose.) And not just any guy, but a balding, troubled man with lines and bulging veins marking his face, seeming as if he’d just discovered that he’d locked his keys in his car again.

Jesus came into my life that day, but not the flawless cherubic Jesus afloat in the carols my extended family sang every Christmas as my brother and I took turns on our new Mattell Electronic Football and ate peanut brittle. No, this was a new Jesus, an imperfect sweating journeyman with waning numbers and decreasing playing time. This was the Jesus that would in a tiny but persistent way stay with me as all my other childhood gifts scattered to the various landfills of this holy finite world.

14 comments

  1. 1.  Wilker, you never fail to amaze me. Happy holidays!


  2. 2.  Thanks! Happy gift-getting and giving and singing and nog-drinking and general merriment and rejoicing to all. Hope everyone gets what they were wishing for.


  3. 3.  As usual great stuff. have a great holiday.


  4. 4.  As always, wonderful stuff. I hope you have a wonderful holiday season.


  5. 5.  My first impression from that card was that Jesus looked old. I must be having a mindmeld with Welker.

    I have an essay due for a book about Pumpsie Green in a week and an hour. I planned on finishing a rough draft by December 15, but I finally finished it tonite. Well, it’s almost finished. I came here to find words that I wrote about George Scott and plagiarize myself. One of these days, I’ll have to learn how the writerly types amongst you handle things. I was able to hammer it out by writing first thing in the morning a couple of hundred words at a time.

    Enjoy the Winter Solstice however you celebrate it.


  6. 6.  By the by, I got a baseball encyclopedia as a lad or my family did. It was a circa 1977 Turkin-Thompson one with a pic of Tony Perez doubling up #10 of the Yankees in the World Series. I think that we looked at it so often that it fell apart by 1980. My favorite part was the stadium diagrams.

    At some point during this decade, I started collecting baseball encyclopedias. I came a cross this one again about a month ago at New Haven Reads. That’s some sort of program that helps kids with reading and has a book exchange of sorts. I grabbed it and it’s finally part of my collection again.


  7. 7.  I think this might be the first card you’ve shown that I’ve never seen, anywhere. I certainly would have remembered this one.

    I, like you, Josh, had a Neft and Cohen encyclopedia that I cherished like a Bible (I’m a year younger than Josh, but I didn’t get mine until 1980). I would spend hours, spellbound, reading the season recaps and discovering teams and players I never knew existed, using it as a basis and source book for the creation of my various “All time lineups” and APBA research. No single tome of any type brought me as much joy and devotion. I updated and bought a new one every five years or so up until 1998. Tragically, this year is the last edition.


  8. 8.  I remember distinctly reading a paperback “Year in Review” type of book (it had to be a 1981 season preview, because I remember it described the 1980 World Series) with my Mom in the car.

    I was reading a passage aloud to her, and I said, “Ivan DEE-GEE-ZUSS”.

    “DEE HAY ZOOS,” she said.

    “What?”

    “It’s pronounced ‘dee hay zoos’, probably. It’s a Spanish name.”

    “Oh.”


  9. 9.  “Locked his keys in the car again.” A perfect description of that face.

    My brother and I would always make jokes about the names Jesus Alou, Ivan DeJesus, and Pepe Frias.


  10. 10.  Jesus does seem a bit distraught and tense in that photo. My memories of him are as a Giant. The kid brother, who was supposed to be the best of the Alou siblings. He used to do a weird neck twisting thing before stepping into the batter’s box.


  11. 11.  I just noticed that Jesus was wearing a windbreaker in the card. Does that help narrow down the date of the photo, Sox Fan from PT?

    I actually consulted an online version of the Farmer’s Almanac to find out if it was thundering in Detroit one day in the early 60s. I never realized that such a resource was available.


  12. 12.  The name I remember mispronouncing as a kid by anglicizing it was Jose Pagan. Not PAY-gun, but puh-GONE.


  13. I alwyays thinks it’s incredibly ironic that we celebrate Jesus’ birthday by giving small children replicas of war implements.

    Chirstmas presents were always a crap-shoot in my house because of two reasons:

    1-My father spent the better part of decade in and out of bankruptcy with his business.

    2-My Parents grew up in occupied France during WW2 so I had to hear stories of a good present being a bar of chocolate or an Orange or the gestapo confiscating my Granfather’s car. So I couldn’t help but feel my complaints were rather trivial because I hadn’t received the “Kung Fu” grip version of the G.I. Joe.

    Jesus Alou was traded to the Mets in 1975 and My sister an I attended a game in late July vs. the Astros. We were sitting in the second row in the outfield at Shea and Jon Matlack and Jesus Alou were walking a short distance away. My sister asked the two Spanish speaking guys in front of us to yell for Jon Matlack to come over, somehow they interpreted “Jon Matlack” as “Jesus Alou” instead and then spent the next 15 minutes having an in-depth conversation about God knows what with Jesus.


  14. I had this card a kid. I remembered it vividly. The Jesus name was powerful to me too. I’m like who would ever name their kid Jesus?!

    I recall one christmas. Must have been 1974. We were dirt poor. My father was in and out of the sparsely furnished apartment in a government subsidized “project” in Connecticut. I was about 8. I wanted an electronic football set so bad and I knew we didn’t have any money. We slept on the floors and we ate Indian-style on the kitchen floor. I decided to draw up a note for my mom to tell her how badly I wanted that electric football set. I didn’t want my siblings to see the note, but I wanted my mom to get the note. I decided to leave the note in her tampon box in the bathroom. I can still recall lieing in bed and my mom went into the bathroom. I can still hear her laughing out loud in the bathroom. I got the electronic football set.

    My favorite team was the Vikings who had recently lost the super bowl to the Dolphins (1973). I opened the box and discovered that the two teams included were the Dolphins and Redskins (the two super bowl teams from the 1972 season)! My mom was kind enough to buy me little containers of purple and white paint. I spent hours painstakingly painting all the Redskins into Vikings, and painting all numbers of the Vikings players. I loved that set.



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