Letter to Yaz: an Update

June 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.


  1. Of course, onion rings have served as an answer to big questions before:

  2. That is AWESOME!

  3. i absolutely love how this has come full circle. i was and am a red sox hater, but i grew to have great respect and admiration for yaz in his later years and desperately wanted him to knock one out of the park on october 2, 1978, because i hate the yankees even more.

    when i was a kid, my mother used to make this casserole with campbell’s cream of mushroom soup, green giant green beans, and durkee french fried onion rings — from a can (http://bit.ly/bKUaCt). unforgettable.

    i always thought the answer was 42. don’t stop believin’…

  4. I was fortunate to get my Yaz autograph at a baseball card show in Dearborn, MI after he retired. I felt like such a starry-eyed kid, even though I was recently married and qualified as an adult. I was amazed as my dad struck up a conversation with Yaz as they has a mutual friend. I don’t think I said more than “Thank you,” but my dad became a real rock star for me that day.

  5. that is so awesome Josh. What will you do with the autograph? Is there a way to display both side of the paper?

    And your talk of onion rings, especially the scent memory, brought me instantly back to a memory of my youth.
    The town next to ours in Western New York was where they made the canned onion strings that everyone uses for green bean casserole (linked by seaver41 above). We used to drive though that town to get to places to the east on Lake Ontario (campsites, a Ren-Fest) and you would always get a huge whiff of that tremendous smell from the onion strings factory. We always looked forward to it. It used to be a Durkee product but it was gobbled up by French’s and whoever owns them. I went by there over Memorial Day and the smell was gone. My dad said that they shut down business at the original plant and moved it out west somewhere

  6. As already posted, ask for French’s and don’t be fooled by cheap imitations: http://www.frenchs.com/products/FrenchFriedOnions.php

  7. I remember Yaz on Larry King’s radio show years ago touting his bio.

    Someone called, “I wrote you for an autograph but you never answered.”

    The King let Yaz twist in the wind. I’m sure I heard the beginning of a nervous giggle. Or panting?

    “Caller,” King interrupted mercifully. “Maybe he never got the lettah. I’d send it again.”


    Was that Josh on the air?

    Tom Owens

  8. Ann (who sent the autograph) just weighed in via email on my speculations about the long ago trip to the grocery store:

    “I am laughing so hard reading this, I am crying. You nailed it, my husband always forgot something or brought home the wrong thing. It got so bad I started putting the list in the exact order of the grocery aisles for him (which is probably more of MY issue than his, can you say “perfectionist”? hahahaha) Anyway, after 35+ years of marriage, I now handle our grocery shopping. It’s amusing now to see clueless guys in aisles on their cell phones asking wives questions about their lists. I guess it is a timeless issue.”

  9. In a similar situation, I received a beloved autograph (Hall of Famer Judy Johnson, Negro Leagues) from a complete stranger several years ago. Story for another time.

    I encountered Yaz a while back in a curious place north of Boston. At first I didn’t know who he was, and he wasn’t being particularly friendly, so I decided not to bother him by requesting an autograph or seeking to engage in conversation. It just seemed best to leave him alone.

    Still, I treasure the memory of not talking to him. I was happy just to be in the same place with a famous ballplayer, both of us doing the very same thing on a bleak February morning when everything felt dead. We were in a greenhouse full of sunlight. We were both buying flowers.


  10. Beautiful.

    The onion ring (1 can!), Ann’s quote (“I guess it is a timeless issue”), the big imperfectly-circular loop (like an onion ring) in Yaz’ autograph.

    Just beautiful.

  11. Hilarious!

    With my wife, after I deliver the impassioned speech on the impossibility of locating a can of onion rings anywhere on earth, her response is always:

    “Did you ask anyone to help you?”

    And she knows my answer is probably no…

  12. I laughed out loud and enjoyed this one very much.

    Thank you.

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