By Mark Harriman, Editor
December 22nd would have been my father’s 78th birthday. We lost him two years ago when that 200 year old oak tree was slow in getting out of his way.
He survived for a short while after the accident and even joked about his condition in the emergency room, laughing at his mishap despite more broken bones than Evel Knievel on a bad day.
Jerry Harriman was a true Renaissance Man to the end, the last of a dying breed around these parts. A great roadmap for a life well lived.
He spoke fluent French, finished three books a week over a period of 50 years (that’s over 7,000 titles in his adult lifetime) and spent almost 30 years in elected office.
After graduating from Providence College, he joined the Army and became a spy at the tail end of the Korean War, spending countless hours trailing the Russians in Tokyo. When that job was done, he earned his master’s degree in history and toyed with the teaching profession.
He eventually embarked on a career in banking and lived in New York in the late 1950’s, where he met my mother. He used to say “We had New York when it was good.” Mays, Mantle and Snider each played center field and all was right with the world.
My parents ultimately moved back to Massachusetts and when the Knights of Columbus needed someone to cater an event, Jerry led the crew of a few select pals and his famous fiery chili recipes were born. I hated watching those beans soak for days on end.
When the pastor wanted to a throw a Communion Breakfast, no problem. Jerry and his cooking buddies went to work and they did steak and eggs for 200 without a hitch.
When the pastor called back about a 100th anniversary celebration for the parish, Jerry offered his familiar refrain. “Piece of cake,” he said. It didn’t matter that he had never tackled a clambake for 1,200 before. He led his crew like he earned a degree from Johnson & Wales.
When Jerry decided to retire after a long career in banking, he didn’t take up golf. That wasn’t suited to his style.
He went to law school with students less than half his age, passed the bar on his first try and opened up his own law practice.
My mother was a legal secretary for many years and she eagerly worked along side him. When he hung out his shingle, I called to congratulate him and asked what he was doing on his first day as a lawyer.
He deadpanned “I’m chasing my secretary around the desk. I’m the only guy in town who can do that and not get in trouble!”
He practiced law for over 12 years and took just about as many pro bono cases as he did paying ones.
Jerry was also a devoted husband and father, who always found time to attend our games. One year he estimated that he and my mother saw about 80 basketball games played by my three siblings and me. I was less than a gifted athlete, but I always heard a cheer whenever I touched the ball.
Despite his many accomplishments in life and for all of his wonderful traits, my father did have one major character flaw, though. We often went to great lengths to hide the fact that he was an ardent Yankee fan.
Based on his misdirected passion, we always felt that he was incapable of having an intelligent conversation about baseball. And to top it all off, he lived less than 20 miles from Fenway Park. In our house, it was ‘Blasphemy in Boston’ on a regular basis.
In his yearly breakdown of the American League, the Yankees were always going to come out on top, even after they landed Ken Phelps and Dave LaRoche.
He reveled in wearing his Yankee cap out in public and for years ‘Reggie Bars’ were a staple of his diet. He loved to quote the eponymous creator of that candy bar. “Chocolate and nutty, just like me.” It wasn’t a reference to anything in particular. He just liked to say it.
In Jerry’s eyes, the Blessed Trinity consisted of Mantle, Berra and Whitey Ford. And George Steinbrenner always sat at the right hand of The Lord.
He was at Fenway in 1978 for the one game playoff and, whenever possible , he quoted Sox manager Don Zimmer from his post game press conference that day. At the most inappropriate Red Sox moment he always blurted out “Bucky Bleepin’ Dent” and cast a pall over the room.
We weren’t without our own zingers, though. In cleaning out his papers, I discovered a dozen hand-made birthday cards we gave him over the years. Given the content, I can only speculate as to why he would have ever kept them.
Invariably, they would say something like “We love you, Dad. It’s the Yankees we hate.” Or “You’re not too bad for a Yankee fan.” Pretty tough stuff coming from a pack of prepubescent Sox fans.
Given his undying love of the Bronx Nine, Jerry even tried to secretly convert us to the Dark Side at an early age. And it is here that I must make a confession: My very first Major League Baseball game wasn’t at Fenway Park.
You guessed it. Yankee Stadium. Summer 1973. Complete with the old monuments in center field. Yankees and Rangers, with this new thing called a designated hitter. How dare he? I was practically traumatized at the age of 7.
As you can imagine, in our house it was always Yankees versus Red Sox. And there was never any middle ground. Up until 2004, he always won, though somehow even after the Sox grabbed two World Series titles in four seasons, he still wouldn’t give up and admit the obvious. He’d just start ripping off statistics about consecutive championships and various Yankee dynasties. Yada, yada, yada.
I know for a fact that it upset him even more that I didn’t call him the night the Sox beat New York in the ’04 ALCS. I gleefully waited for two days. When we did finally speak, I think I opened with a comment about the weather in October. I could practically see the steam coming out of the phone.
But something changed after we lost Jerry in January 2008. After that, whenever I saw some guy in a Yankee hat walking down the street, I no longer felt the urge to toss a barb or two in that direction. Suddenly, the sight of that navy blue hat with the embroidered ‘NY’ on the front made me think longingly of him.
When the Yankees signed Mark Teixeira before the 2009 season, I didn’t howl that the Evil Empire swooped in at the last minute and stole him from Our Guys. Things were different now. Calmer. More introspective. My first reaction was “Gee. The Yanks really made themselves better for the next couple of years.”
It’s all different now that he’s gone. What I wouldn’t give to talk baseball with him one more time.
Happy Birthday, Dad. As you used to say, we’re glad you came to live with us.
I guess the Yankees aren’t so bad after all.