Tuesday, December 26, 2006

Message with a Bottle (Dickie Post, Jim Beam, and my mother in law)

My mother in law died two and half years ago and my wife’s sister was the one who wound up clearing out her mother’s house and putting everything in storage. My mother in law who died at eighty after raising eight children was the sort of woman who kept everything. She seemed to have every Christmas card, graduation program, and letter sent to her by every member of her very large family in a box somewhere. She also kept more eccentric mementoes like matchbooks and coasters from hotels she had stayed at with her husband who died thirty five years before she did, menus from restaurants where she’d had meals worth remembering, magazines with articles she considered interesting to some family member even if they didn’t mention family members, and a large number of small items no one could identify. My sister in law didn’t feel it was right to throw out what her mother treated as treasures and has spent the last couple years slowly sorting through them all. When we see her, she always brings along a few of her mother’s keepsakes to either pass on to us or just share their significance.

This Christmas my sister in law brought along a sealed fifth of Jim Beam Whiskey that had been stored in a box with a note. My mother in law spent more than forty years of her life as a nurse, mostly on night duty. In between raising eight kids, she had managed to make it through what was then the brand new nursing program at the University of San Diego. There was even an article with a big photo of her surrounded by all of her children in the San Diego newspaper that marveled about the fact that she had somehow managed to move ahead with her career while still having a family. On New Year’s Day 1970, it happened that one of her patients was San Diego Chargers running back Dickie Post.

Post was listed at 5’9” but was probably a couple inches shorter than that but had two pro bowl seasons in a five year career. He led the AFL in rushing with 873 yards (that's right) in 1969. The AFL and NFL had begun playing in what would become the Super Bowl in 1967, but the two leagues remained separate for all other purposes until the year after Joe Namath and the Jets beat the Colts in 1969. By position, playing style, and size, Post was LaDainian Tomlinson’s direct ancestor though he was merely good rather than great. Ironically, the Charger's are having their best season in many years in 2006.

The note accompanying the bottle of Jim Beam which is curved just so to fit into a hip pocket says that the bourbon was a “Christmas Gift” from Dickie Post who made the gift in frustrating and excitable circumstances. For me, this brought up the image of a somewhat drunken young running back (he was 25 at the time) who had found his way to Sharp Hospital at the end of the season. The record shows that Post had steadily improved his yardage totals each of his first three years and then suddenly went into decline in the 1970 season. My wild guess is that he had a knee injury and may have been in the hospital for post-season surgery that didn’t take. This was essentially his last moment as a “star” and he may or may not have known it on New Year’s 1970.

Of course, there are a number of other scenarios that fit the note. He might really have given the fifth of Jim Beam to my mother in law as a “gift”. He also might have been at Sharp Hospital to visit someone else who was staying there only to learn that he couldn’t bring bottles of whiskey into a ward. My mother in law and Dickie Post, if he remembers it at all, are the only two people who would know for sure and my mother in law isn’t around to complete the story for us.

Her note says that she decided to keep the bottle just in case it turned out to be valuable some day. It did turn out to be valuable, but probably not in the sense that my mother in law imagined. She was thinking it would be valuable because it came from the Chargers star running back, fwiw LaDainian Tomlinson is the last person anyone would imagine running around a hospital ward with a fifth of Jim Beam in his hip pocket. Thirty six years later it became valuable because it reminds us that my mother in law was the sort of individual who thought every little memory was worth saving somehow.

My sister in law decided to use the occasion to break the seal and pour herself a sip from the bottle. The bourbon apparently was still good. She was going to put the 9/10s of a fifth that remained back in her car until her husband reminded her that she didn’t want to be driving around on Christmas night with an open container of alcohol in her car, just in case they get stopped. For the moment, the bottle is sitting on a high shelf in a cupboard in our kitchen.

We talked some about finding Dickie Post, who appears to be still alive. He’d be about 61 now. Ultimately, we decided that he might not want to remember having bottles confiscated from him in a San Diego hospital at the very moment his fame faded. Of course, I still remember the guy, but I’m weird that way about sports trivia. I actually even saw Post play once back when the Boston Patriots played at Boston College.

When my wife and her sisters get together, they talk endlessly about every detail of their family history. Usually, the memories stop somewhere around 1970. That was the year my wife’s older sister died at 16 during heart surgery for a congenital condition and just a couple years before her father died. They seem to savor every moment of the years right up to then. It’s strange how that bottle of Dickie Post’s Jim Beam sits right on the boundary line of their memories of their mother and their family. For this one Christmas, it was like their mother was still there laughing with them over this 36 year old message with a bottle.



At 12/29/2006 03:35:00 AM, Anonymous Anonymous said...

What a quirky Antiques Roadshowish moment! The Jim Beam would have been worthless as a memory if *you* hadn't been the husband -- because outside of Dickie's family maybe two people alive remember enough to paint these intriguing possible scenarios. How peculiarly & niftily synchronous.

At 12/29/2006 07:16:00 AM, Blogger Dale said...

What a sweet story. My mother is a bit of a collector as well. Your post game analysis was something else Chancelucky!

At 12/29/2006 11:31:00 AM, Blogger Chancelucky said...

It's interesting to look back on how different sports stardom was in the 1960's. Lance Alworth who might have been the greatest receiver prior to Jerry Rice and who was one of Dickie Post's teammates went broke a few years after retirement. He got into the storage rental business and now is doing really well again, but an number of star professional athletes had to find a way to make a living after their retirement.
Today's NFL pension is so high that even if you blow it, you're pretty well taken care of post retirement. That's assuming you get to put in the years.
I do hope that Dickie Post wherever he is these days is doing well.

At 7/07/2008 10:41:00 PM, Anonymous Anonymous said...

that was a great story. I stumbled across this doing research on Dickie Post. My son is extremely talented when it comes to football, and my wife and I have been wandering for years where this talent comes from. We recently learned that he is a distant relative to Ladanian Tomlinson on my wife's side, and when learning that Dickie Post lived in Oklahoma prior to college and the pros it naturally sprang the question could he be related seeing how my son's biological father is from Oklahoma and carries the same last name. I would love to find out for sure, which is why I was researching him when I stumbled across your wonderful story.

At 7/29/2008 02:25:00 PM, Blogger Chancelucky said...

thanks for dropping by and commenting. Hope your son does well in his football career and in life.
I have no idea why different people wind up having special talents. It's certainly somewhat genetic, yet it's clearly some combination of other things. My daughter's a much better athlete than I ever was for instance. That's partly because she's so driven about it, something I didn't share.

At 6/25/2009 04:55:00 PM, Anonymous Anonymous said...

Dickie or Dick as I knew him, was in Montana (The Bitterroot Valley) in the late 1970's. He used to shoe our horses. Great guy, and some fun stories as he worked on the horses.

At 1/05/2011 10:38:00 AM, Blogger Todd Tobias said...

I have done a lot of research on the Chargers of the 1960s, and have spoken with Dickie Post. Last I talked with him, he was a semi-retired horse shoer (as he described himself), living in New Mexico. He seems to be a very nice guy.

At 12/16/2011 03:05:00 PM, Blogger Chancelucky said...

Really glad to hear that Dickie Post's life after the NFL turned out well. I didn't mean to imply that he was a "drunk" in 1970, fwiw. It was more that it might have been a very sad moment for him and he might have had the bottle for that reason.


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