Perhaps the most famous American to ever wear #42 was Jack Roosevelt Robinson. Jackie was a great American for a lot of reasons. His baseball career was before my time, or at least I was in diapers and fairly uninterested in baseball as his playing days came to an end in 1957.
His first professional stint was with the Kansas City Monarchs in 1945-46. The country needed baseball then. The Great War was coming to a close. Men and women of all colors had sacrificed their lives in the cause of war. It was about time that the two league system went away. If men could fight together, surely they could play ball together. Jackie spent the next 10 years with the Brooklyn Dodgers, and the rest is history.
He was born in Cairo, GA. That would be pronounced “Kay-row” for those of you not familiar with the correct phonetics of Grady County, GA. Also home to the nearly world famous Cairo Syrup, made from sugar cane, that I poured on my pancakes as a child. And certainly not to be confused with the label of Karo Syrup which is made from corn starch and often used on small children to loosen up the digestive system.
The local high school football team is known as the Syrupmakers. Evidently, the name came from a stormy Friday night years ago, during the middle of one heck of a football game. The guys over at the Roddenbery Syrup plant broke out all the company rain coats they could find for the football players on the sidelines. “Cairo Syrup” was emblazoned across the back of the raincoats and the name stuck.
The number 42 has a great deal of Biblical significance, as well. Believe it or not, there are folks with a whole lot of time on their hands who try to figure out all the secret numbers in the Bible. To me, 42 is just a number. One more than 41 and one less than 43. But if you think that this is all there is to it; well, you’re just not thinking hard enough.
42 is the same as 6×7. Okay, I get that. Learned that in 4th grade. But hold on there Nostradamus, there’s more to it. “7” is the number of perfection. God’s number. He created the world in 7 days, even if the 7th day was a day of rest. 7 is complete. 6 is one less that perfection. 6 can never measure up to 7. Satan’s number. Thus, for all you math wizards, 42 stands for the battle between Good and Evil. Exactly why the Beast of Revelation was free to do battle for 42 months.
My own Bible shout-out for the #42 is the in the story of Elisha. Evidently the old prophet had a bald head. And evidently he didn’t like to have anyone make fun of his bald head. He’s traveling along the road one day to go do some prophet stuff, and the kids from town are following him and poking fun at his bald head. When Elisha had had enough of it, he turned around, pronounce a curse on the little boogers, and right then and there two Mama Bears came out of the woods and tore apart 42 young’ns limb from limb.
Moral of the story. Bears can count to 42. Be # 43.
By about now, if you haven’t given up on reading this, you are perhaps wondering about my fixation on the number 42. And by the way, none of the previous information has anything to do with the rest of the story.
I was thinking about 42, which I’ll eventually get to. And that did make me think about Jackie Robinson, because I miss baseball. But then my mind went sideways from there.
My real story begins somewhere close to the summer of 1966 when I was almost10 years old. Our family was headed to see friends in Baton Rouge, LA. It was hotter than hades. The Ford Falcon had plastic seats and no AC. The skin on your legs stuck to the seats with all the sweat. Traveling US 80 was the only route before the interstates.
We were dying of thirst as we passed through Selma, AL. We stopped at Brown’s Drug Store to get a fountain drink. I actually remember the pink neon sign out front. The store is still there, right on Broad Street about a half mile after you cross the Edmund Pettus Bridge over the Alabama River.
While I was in the store, I noticed this older woman. She was probably 11. Bare feet, wearing shorts and working on an ice cream cone from the counter. At 10, I thought she probably had cooties and therefore steered clear.
By the time I got to college, I had forgotten all about Brown’s Drug Store. I know that’s a big leap in the story with lots of gaps, but bear with me. But it’s important to note that at 18 I had decided that girls did not actually have cooties. My buddies had lied to me. In fact, I’ve never even seen a cootie.
I was walking across campus and noticed this older woman. She was probably 19. She was on crutches. Trying to balance a pile of books. Trying to open a door that led to the professors’ offices. Being the gentleman that Mama had raised, I opened the door and offered to carry her books. I later offered to take her out for pizza. After that, to accompany her as her escort for the Homecoming Court.
Anyway, I opened enough doors for that girl on campus that I eventually gave her a ring and a promise. I had been wishy washy. She went out with a few other guys. But she took me back and we have been together ever since. That wedding day was this week in May 42 years ago.
My wife is Selma born and raised. She can verify that I’m not lying. On one of our many trips back to Selma over the years, I saw Brown’s Drug Store. That pink neon jumped out at me and I told her about stopping there on our way to Baton Rouge.
It turns out that she remembers a hot summer day at Brown’s Drug Store. She remembers seeing an incredibly cute younger man. Probably about 10 years old. He was drinking a Coke from the fountain. And she remembers thinking, “I’ve never seen him around here. He’s probably a dork.”
Neither of us can be sure about that fateful encounter at Brown’s Drug Store, but we have laughed and joked a lot about all the “what if’s”. What if that was her? What if that was me? What if meeting up at college was an honest to goodness fairy tale story where two people were destined to find each other and were meant to live happily ever after.
The number 42 is a crazy number. It also happens to be the number in degrees that defines the arch of a rainbow. And everybody knows what you find at the end of a rainbow. Gold.
Happy 42 years Babe. I have no idea what I might do with 43.