Letter to Yaz: an UpdateJune 28, 2010
As I’ve mentioned on this blog and in my book, when I was a kid I sent a letter to Carl Yastrzemski asking for his autograph. I started checking the mailbox within a day or two of sending that letter, and continued checking the mailbox for years, long after a reply would have been plausible in any way. This bit of unrequited yearning made it into a recent Boston Globe article on me and my book, and a kindly Globe reader named Ann Beaudoin from Worcester, Massachusetts, took note and contacted me:
Hello, I just read the story in the Boston Globe about your book appearance, and it mentioned your favorite player was Carl Yastrzemski who never sent you back an autograph. Funny, I was just going through old stuff in my attic and came across Yaz’s autograph, which my husband got at a local grocery store back in 1977 when Yaz was doing promo hawking Hilshire Farm kielbasa.
An envelope from Worcester arrived in my hands a couple of days later with this slip of paper inside:
Some words jotted near the upper right corner of this side of the slip of paper hint at what is on the back of the slip. But I have waited a long time for the markings on the back of the slip to make their way to me, so I feel compelled to search for clues on how the circle that started with me sending a letter to Yaz was finally completed. I think the list along the left side may shed some light. Of all the grocery store items listed in the left-hand column, only onion rings remained elusive. A can of onion rings.
Onion rings seem to have been an issue that predated the creation of the list. The bearer of the list had perhaps brought onion rings home once before, but not inside a can, leading the possibly frustrated list-maker to underline not once but twice the word can.
“We need onion rings, but in a can. You got it? A can.”
“I got it, I got it.”
“Because last time—”
“I know, I know, I know. Jeez.”
“Don’t ‘jeez’ me. A can.”
I’ve been a husband for a little while now, so it’s pretty easy for me to imagine this exchange. Who among us husbands hasn’t been sent off with such a list, only to return home, shoulders hunched, some crucial part of that list unfulfilled? I know I have. So I find myself imagining the bearer of this list wandering the aisles at length, unable to locate a can of onion rings.
If it were me pushing the cart, I would begin to think, not without some self-pity, about how I’d never even seen a can of onion rings before. Who knew they even existed in can form? Such a capitulatory line of thinking would give way to me daydreaming about the onion rings sold on Nauset Beach, back when I was a kid and my grandparents lived on Cape Cod. The onion rings at the Nauset Beach snack bar were greasy and good, and the smell of them wafted out over the beach, combining with the other smells, the sea, sand, suntan lotion, to create one of the more indelible scent memories of my life. I’d wish to go back, not only to Nauset Beach but to my childhood, to when my grandparents were alive and would go with me and my brother and our whole family and aunts and uncles and cousins to the beach to lie around and get sunburned and try to bodysurf on the thrashing waves in the freezing cold Atlantic.
But meanwhile, back in the grocery store, no onion rings in a can. And so to compensate I’d do what the bearer of this list seems to have done—cross out each found item extra hard and thoroughly, as if to prove my list-fulfilling capabilities.
Then I see myself taking one more mostly hopeless loop through the aisles, glancing at shelves I’d already looked at but not really seeing them this time, instead letting my thoughts reach forward to my arrival home, where I would deliver an impassioned speech on the impossibility of locating a can of onion rings anywhere on earth, given the great time and dogged attention devoted on my part to the search.
And that is when, rounding a corner to the encased meats section, I would come upon a commotion, people beginning to form a line by a relatively small, tired-looking man with flecks of gray in his hair, seated behind a folding table, a pen in his right hand, the scent of Hilshire Farms kielbasa aloft on the muzaked air. I would join this line and ready the only signable item on my person, the back side of the grocery list.
Though I wouldn’t have thought of it this way at the time, when I sent my letter to Yaz over thirty years ago I was asking a question of the universe. The universe answered with silence for so long that I thought silence was the only answer, but it turns out the answer to the deepest question I could think to ask as a child is this: onion ring. Do prayers come true? Do gods answer letters? The answer is neither yes nor no. The answer is empty. The answer is a circle. The answer is an onion ring.