A PHILOSOPHER'S SHRINE

I’ve seen it all before, mostly while interviewing the parents of some famous athlete -- trophy cases chock full of awards, keepsakes, and memorabilia ... even a few books, but mostly college textbooks, a few classics and dime store novels, along with an occasional bible -- but nothing like this trophy room. This was a whole room full of hardware, like the wall of fame at Joe Marty’s Bar and Grill in Sacramento, only to a lesser degree. It was the books that captured my attention. Hundreds of them. My God! The Library!

   Damn ... Rotten Ronnie decided to tag along for the ride on our date to visit Mrs. Van Roth. As we headed south, over Marysvilleʼs E-Street bridge, I looked in the rear view mirror and noticed the ghostly silhouettes of large, grand old structures that were once reminiscent of a proud and prosperous downtown Marysville -- the brick, five-story Marysville Hotel designed in the likeness of San Franciscoʼs St. Francis Hotel, the Baroque-like State Theater, the Art Deco Tower Theater, and several other old historic edifices that were now boarded up and littered with the skull and crossbones of Hispanic art and bathroom graffiti of modern punk. These grand old works of construction had been vacant for decades and reduced to empty shells. Steep rooftops of illustrious and celebrated Victorian homes, built in the late nineteenth and early twentieth century, also slowly faded behind the huge fortified berm that protects the city of Marysville from the high waters of the Yuba River. As we descended over the bridge, I couldnʼt help but notice that the opposite levee, supposedly protecting the Olivehurst- Linda area, was about half the size as the one on the other side of the river. “Whatʼs up with that?” I asked. “Who was the Frank Lloyd Wright that designed this levee system? It seems as though it was designed and built to fail.”

   “They work just fine,” snapped a sarcastic Mr. Hughes. “Since 1950, Olivehurst-Linda has been flooded three times and Yuba City once. Marysville has been high and dry ever since the levees were built. Bureaucrats caused the great flood of eighty-six. Theyʼre in the business of sellinʼ water to customers in Southern California so they waited until the last minute before openinʼ up the flood gates. The ground was already saturated due to heavy rains that winter and the mountains had a huge snowpack ... then came a Pineapple Express -- a week of warm rains from Hawaii. It was a triple-whammy. The weaker levee on the Olivehurst-Linda side broke and houses in West Linda were up to their rooftops in water. There were lawsuits but government lawyers tied them up in court for twenty years. The old-timers died before ever receiving a penny.”

   I took the Feather River Boulevard exit, backtracked a few blocks, then followed the levee down Riverside Avenue. Styx pointed out an abandoned building where Van Roth had once spent the summer as a teenager. “Itʼs hard to believe that he once spent three or four months in the back of old Sallyʼs Saloon,” she grumbled. “He just shut himself up in that hole for the whole summer. Donʼt know why and never asked. It was during our last year of high school and he didnʼt even play baseball that summer. He grew up in a good household with great parents. I figured he moved out just to be on his own.”

   “Like I said before,” insisted Hughes. Somethinʼ happened in high school. Somethinʼ had pissed him off. After spendinʼ time in the military, I went back to Yuba College and noticed that he was a different guy. Not so much off the ball field, but during the games.”

   Van Roth must have had an awakening and isolated himself from an indifferent world. Wonder what happened. Crossing the Yuba River and into the Olivehurst-Linda area was like driving into a John Steinbeck novel -- house after house, street after street, block after block, mile after mile -- nothing but shacks, lean-tos, cabins, and old beat-up, rusted-out house trailers ... nothing but blight as far as the eye could see. Central heating and air conditioning would be a luxury as swamp coolers dotted most of the rooftops. Several blocks had a gravel or dirt road running perpendicular to a main paved road. The unpaved lane had five or six cabins on each side forming a court -- Bibeeʼs Court, Lotteʼs Court, Hamonʼs Court, Couchʼs Court. The majority of these shanties appeared to be little five or six-hundred-square-foot shoebox-like structures. They were most likely built shortly after World War Two, during the late forties and early fifties and rented by migrant farmworkers. Tortilla Flat would seem like Beverly Hills compared to Olivehurst-Linda.

   Low-pitched roofing consisted of rusted, corrugated tin or crumbling asphalt shingles. Paint was peeling from wood plank siding. Some of the houses didnʼt even have a foundation and were built right on top of sandy loam, or the river bottoms before the levees were built. Lawns were uncut and weeds grew tall while fences leaned or had fallen to the ground. Junk piled up in front yards, back yards, and just about anywhere where there was leeway. Old cars were parted out leaving behind scrap-iron carcasses. Every block was like a giant flea market with several yard sales. Chickens, goats, pit bulls, and rough-looking young men roamed the neighborhoods. There were no street lights, curbs, gutters, nor sidewalks. Usually, slums and ghettos are separated by a set of railroad tracks, but in this case, by the Yuba River. Styx and Davie Van Roth didnʼt grow up on the other side of the tracks; they grew up on the other side of the river, a waterway that separated two distinct lifestyles -- namely, the haves and the have-nots.

   “So, how many people live here in the Olivehurst-Linda area?”

   “About twenty-thousand,” replied Styx. “Ten thousand in Olivehurst, five in East Linda, and another five here in West Linda.”

   “You would think with that many people, at least one ballplayer would have made it to the major leagues.”

   “Major leagues!?" snapped Hughes. “Hell, no one from Olivehurst-Linda has ever signed a pro contract, much less become a major-leaguer.”

   “Seems odd. So whereʼs downtown?” I asked.

   “Downtown?” blurted Mr. Hughes with a cynical laugh. “Thereʼs no downtown.”

   “No downtown with over five thousand residents?”


  “Hell no!” barks Hughes. “No bank. No police station. No post office. No clothing store. Nothinʼ ʻcept Cloverleaf Grocery, Smittyʼs Liquors, and a bar on every corner.”

    “Whatʼs the crime rate like out here?” I asked. “It must be fairly high.”

   “A lotta gunfire,” says Hughes disgustedly ... drive-by shootings, pot growers blasting thieves trying to raid their gardens. There's also break-ins, woman beatings, rapes, and child molestation. You name it ... they got it. Itʼs pretty much lawless out here.”

   "Iʼm sorry Styx, but didnʼt you say that you also grew up out here?”

   “Oh yeah. Just across the way in Olivehurst. We loved it back then ... didnʼt know any better. We fished and swam in the rivers, went camping, picked fruit in the summer to make a few bucks, and walked into Marysville to watch movies at the State Theater. It was great and wouldnʼt have had it any other way, but itʼs different now. They carry guns and murder people. Back then, they settled their testosterone wars with fists. There were some black eyes and a few bloody noses, but no one got killed. There may have been one murder a year and it was a big deal. Itʼs fairly common now.”

   “All right,” I said. “Iʼve seen enough. Iʼve got a fairly good idea what Olivehurst-Lindaʼs all about. Which way to the Van Roth house?”

   “One block to your left,” explained Styx. “Cottonweed Avenue.”

   Like an oasis amid a desert of squalor, the Van Roth house stuck out like a Taj Mahal compared to the rest of the landscape. It was near twice the size of most of the other homes, although maybe only fourteen-hundred square feet in size. It even had a shop building, all on about a half-acre. The lawn was mowed and the bushes were trimmed. The red brick planters that lined the front of the house were blooming with red geraniums that popped against the white stucco finish. Unlike the rest of the neighborhood, the white house with bright green trim seemed to be in fairly good shape.

   We were greeted with the warm, eye-twinkling smile of Mrs. Van Roth, an elderly woman, probably in her mid-eighties. She appeared at the front door with the aid of a modified medical walker -- a four-legged metal support with handlebars. Slit tennis balls under the legs made for easy gliding over the hardwood floors. A bicycle basket, mounted at the front, was packed with orange pekoe tea bags, Kleenex, bottled water, Tums, a pair of scissors, a bible, and goodies -- M&Mʼs, Junior Mints, and Animal Cookies. The old woman is a nummy-head.

   Styx and Hughes made a quick exit after exchanging a few pleasantries and a brief introduction explaining my business. They went for a walk and said to pick them up after the interview at The Branding Iron, formally Bowmanʼʼs Tavern, just three blocks away. Mrs. Van Roth seemed to have short-term memory loss, however, was as sharp as a tack when it came to time regained or remembrance of things past, even events that took place fifty to sixty years ago, especially if it involved her family. “Iʼll brew us a pot of tea,” she says. “If you like, youʼre welcome to visit the boyʼs rooms while youʼre waiting. Theyʼre at opposite ends of the hallway.”

   Eldest son Bobbyʼs room was adjacent to the kitchen. We talked as she prepared the tea. Above the headboard were two rows of hardbacks, all of the religious nature. “Looks like Bobby was into religion,” I remarked.

   “Oh no,” she quipped. “Quite the opposite. Bobby took all of his books with him when he moved to San Francisco, back in the sixties. Those are my books. I use to teach Sunday school. Every Sunday, I opened up my heart and let the good Lord rush in. It was a great feeling after church, when I walked past those church doors with my two boys by my side. I think Davie felt something warm too. He was glad the sermon was over so he could get back to the ball field; that, and because those hard, oaken pews hurt his butt. The boys went to church until they were old enough to decide for themselves. Both stopped going when Bobby got his driverʼs license and Davie must have been ten years old. I read the Bible and pray fifteen minutes every day after morning tea and still feel the warmth and tingling in my shoulders whenever I think of our sweet Lord. So, ... when was the last time that you went to church and prayed Mr. ...?”

   “Quinlan. Afraid itʼs been a while, maʼam. Iʼm a bit of an agnostic.”


   “A what?”

   “Iʼm uncertain ... still waiting.”

   “Well, you better not wait too long. Heaven doesnʼt wait.”

   “So, Bobby moved to San Francisco during the sixties,” I said, quickly changing the subject.

   “Yes, and wouldnʼt you know it, he moved right smack dab in the middle of all those hippies.”

   “And ... what did Davie think about all that hippy-dippy stuff?”

   “Oh, ... I donʼt think he thought about it much. He had his baseball and his books.”

   While the tea steeped, Mrs. Van Roth shuffled off to a nearby closet and returned with an antiquarian-looking scrapbook. What is it with grandmas and mums? I donʼt think Iʼve ever interviewed one without the breaking out of ye olʼ scrapbook. If not that, then photos stored on their cell phones. She opened the withered tome and pointed to a black and white photo labeled Pops--1940. “Look at the black, slicked-back hair,” I chuckled. He was wearing dark slacks and an open collar short-sleeve shirt with a pack of smokes rolled up in one sleeve while leaning up against a 1932 Ford Highboy roadster, a la James Dean. “Are those spats heʼs wearing? He looks like a mobster,” I gibed.

   “Oh no,” she snapped. “He was no gangster. He did, however, sleep with a pistol under his pillow and rode a big motorcycle. “Pops” was the strong silent type. Nobody messed with him.” She then turned to several photos of her eldest son Bobby -- cap and gown on high school graduation night ... Bobby, sitting inside his fireball red, 1950 Olds “88” coupe ... a young teen standing with his pet spider monkey Chee Chee perched on top his shoulder like a pirate and his parrot ... a young boy wearing a Gene Autry cowboy outfit with a pistol in each holster, and Bobby in his twenties posing next to his younger brother, both wearing sleeveless, big-daddy tee-shirts.

   “Look at those guns,” I said.

   “No,” she replied. “Heʼs not wearing his guns.”

   “Bobbyʼs muscles,” I explained. He had the biceps and upper body of a Schwarzenegger. “And, ... look at that square jaw.” She deliberately skipped a few pages, then left the room for a few minutes. Out of curiosity, I turned back the pages of time but got caught in my awe. She returned, and with a quivering lower lip, began to tremble as we both stared at the photo of a small boy who looked to be four or five years old. The young lad was smiling while on crutches and wearing a Forrest Gump-like brace on one leg. Tears began to stream down the cheeks of a weeping Mrs. Van Roth.

   “My poor Bobooski,” she sobbed. “The health department posted a large, orange warning sign outside our cabin. We were quarantined and couldnʼt leave the property!” she stammered while fighting back her tears. “Eventually, they took him to Shriners Childrenʼs Hospital in San Francisco and operated on him ... over and over again. Nothing worked. He caught polio!” she wailed. “He would have to walk with a heavy limp for the rest of his life.”

   Mrs. Van Roth had gone back in time; back to when they first moved to the Yuba-Sutter area in 1947 and were living in a small cabin at the Blue Goose Auto Court in Yuba City. Sadly, I offered to visit at another time; however, she gathered herself and pointed towards another bedroom. Davieʼs room was just down the hall.

   “Whoa!” A hundred lit candles with chanting in the background came to mind while imagining the mantra of Om. The room was unkept as if the memories of Mrs. Van Rothʼs second son were sepulchered in the dust of this rather large bedroom; but what a treasure trove of baseball arcana. Untouched for nearly fifty years, this shrine possessed the ambiance of a mausoleum, but Mrs. Van Rothʼs son was still alive. Before me, at the opposite end of the room, was a small shelf that stretched the length of the wall. It was high up, close to the ceiling, and contained twenty-five to thirty baseball caps, and judging by their condition, in chronological order. To the far left were four rumpled and faded, woolen green hats with a white felt P, obviously the little-league Panther caps; the team that Styx had talked about ... two more woolen caps -- black with a white O L and a star in between -- little-league All-Star caps. The second cap contained three official pins -- area, district, and section, meaning this team had advanced quite a long way during All-Star competition ... then six maroon Babe Ruth League caps, three containing the star ... two black caps with the official embroidered American Legion crest -- Yuba Sutter Post 405 ... four black caps with an orange M for Marysville High School, I presume ... two more: blue with a scripted YC for Yuba Collage followed by two black caps with the white TC for Twin Cities. Next, was a red cap with an embroidered red bird followed by one that looked just like a Minnesota Twins hat ... two more caps with the red bird; then a black one with an oriole, and three more with the red bird ... three brown caps with a large embroidered M, an odd-looking gray hat with an embroidered lumberjack, and finally, one more Yuba College cap. Looks as though Davie played a lot of baseball and for several different teams.

   Directly to my right were three shelves of trophies, also in chronological order: 1965 Batting Champion ... 1965 Top Pitcher ... 1965 MVP ... 1966 Batting Champion ...1966 Top Pitcher ... 1966 MVP ... 1967 Batting Champion ... 1967 Top Pitcher ... 1967 MVP ... 1969 Yuba College Batting Title ... 1969 Yuba College Top Pitcher ... 1969 MVP. What happened in 1968? 1970 Yuba College Batting Title ... 1970 Yuba College Top Pitcher ... 1970 MVP ... 1970 MSBL Top Pitcher ... 1972 Redbird Batting Title ... 1972 Redbird MVP. What happened in 1971? 1973 Redbird MVP ... MSBL All-Star trophies for 1970, ʼ72, ʼ73, ʼ74, ʼ75, ʼ76, and 1977 ... 1977 Redbird Batting Title ... 1980 Lumberjack Baseball Top Hitter .400 ... 1980 VSBL All-Star.

   To my left was a daybed with the wall above covered with plaques, certificates, photos, and blue ribbons; also in order of event. The ribbons were for the fifty yard dash, followed by two Sierra Foothill League All-Conference awards, two Golden Valley All-Conference certificates, a GVC MVP award, and an All-State California plaque. The rest of the wall was filled with photos, some action pics, ranging from little league to an older gentleman in a Yuba College uniform, presumably Van Roth in his thirties. A small closet in the corner contained team jackets, jerseys, an old glove, a beat-up pair of white kangaroo spikes, and a small bat that looked more like a large billy-club -- thirty- inch Louisville Slugger.

   The north wall consisted of two, six-foot-long chest of drawers butted together with five rows of bookshelves mounted above -- all jammed full of books, maybe a thousand, mostly published in the nineteen-fifties and sixties. Most didnʼt seem to be of any value as many were Penguin paperbacks, Modern Library, and second editions, all fairly common. Erlenmeyer flasks, beakers, and other pieces of lab equipment served as bookends. A Willy Mays bobble-head and a Ted Williams figurine sat on top of the chest of drawers completing this museum of memorabilia.

   No big deal. Iʼve seen it all before -- trophy cases filled with hardware, autographed baseballs, footballs, and basketballs, some signed by the playerʼs team, others inked by some famous athlete; also, ribbons and plaques, team sweaters, jerseys, and jackets; even a few books, but usually textbooks, history books, classic novels, or bibles. Most of these trophy rooms are like time capsules where one buries current items, then digs them up decades later to reminisce and notice how the times have changed; however, this room had a different aura to it and it was because of the books. Itʼs the books that captured my attention. Good God. The Library! There must be more than a thousand volumes and mostly hard-core philosophy books. Iʼve always thought of philosophy as an intermediary -- a fulcrum which attempts to teeter or balance the empirical and the abstract -- a go-between or tool for providing meaning and reason when science and or religion cannot -- a No Manʼs Land, exposed to attack from both sides. This No Manʼs Land is philosophy. I read somewhere that itʼs the job of a philosopher to ask questions and to warn their fellow citizens about the dangers of that which is written in stone. I also thought philosophy as a branch of knowledge that causes melancholia.

   Mrs. Van Roth entered the shrine and appeared fully recovered. She sat down on the day-bed using her walker as one would use a folding TV tray. “Feel free to look in the drawers,” she says. “Thereʼs more.”

   One of the drawers was stuffed with little scraps of paper, whole sheets torn from notebooks, and a few napkins. Written on these yellowing, old pieces of paper were notes, sayings, quotes, maxims, axioms, aphorisms, proverbs, adages, and whatnots that the boys collected and hung onto for some reason: So, Socrates, you paradoxical gadfly. All you knew was that you knew nothing ... Oh Descartes, you and your cogito. Who is this presumed I thatʼs doing the thinking? A priority that thinks? You doubt the world but not the I that thinks ... All the worldʼs a stage. And all the men and women merely players--Jaques-Act II, Scene VII--Shakespeare... Extreme hopes are born of extreme misery--Bertrand Russell ... Observe all men: thyself most--Ben Franklin ... I went to the woods because I wished to live deliberately, to front only the essential facts of life, and see if I could not learn what it had to teach, and not, when I came to die, discover that I had not lived--Henry David Thoreau. There was a notation attached to this one written by one of the Van Roth boys. Why you hypocrite, Thoreau. You sneaked into town to visit Emerson every week and your mom came to the woods bringing you pies and cookies. Youʼre no woodsman. Youʼre a fraud ... I am not what I am, says Iago, but Popeye says I ams what I ams and thatʼs all that I ams. I hate spinach, but the sailor knows more about the self than Shakespeare ... and “Pops”--if you want something done right, youʼll have to do it yourself. Apparently, the Van Roth boys did a lot of reading but were skeptical of these masters and did not take their writings that seriously ... like Big Time Wrestling.

   The next drawer contained pamphlets and brochures: The Parkland School of Baseball, written by Dave Van Roth, 1970 Yuba College Baseball Handbook, Yuba College 49er Baseball 1988, District 8 California State J.C. Baseball Team, plus several brochures from baseball clinics. Another drawer contained four scrapbooks with Appeal- Democrat newspaper articles -- Little League (1959-1962). High School (1965-1968). Babe Ruth/American Legion (1963-1967) and College (1969-1970). The scrapbooks contained a history of Davieʼs baseball career from 1959 to 1970.

   The last drawer contained letters addressed to joe, 5533 Cottonwood Ave. Marysville, Ca. USA. 95991. The return address was joe, General Delivery, Vera Cruz, Mexico and postdated January and February 1966. Others, with the same names, were from Port Orford, Oregon and Virginia City, Montana. “These letters are both to and from joe. Whoʼs joe?” I asked.

   “Oh, ... oneʼs Bobby and the otherʼs Davie. They often called each other joe and other silly nicknames like Shark Bait and Kadiddlehopper. I donʼt know why. Bobby had quite the imagination. They often joked around and played their little games. So, ... what else would you like to talk about Mr ...?”

   “Quinlan. James Quinlan. Letʼs start from the beginning maʼam. Tell me about your parents. Where were they from and what did they do? What was it like when you were growing up?”

   I turned my attention back to the books while Mrs. Van Roth continued with her lifeʼs saga. Like the caps and trophies, they were aligned in chronological order, not by author or subject matter, but when they were read. I must say that Iʼve never seen an athleteʼs shrine quite like this one -- a sepulcher of philosophy books and trophies. Looks like Van Roth must have been some kind of philosophical ballplayer. Thatʼs gotta be a first.

   “Well, ... I grew up in Mojave, California,” continued Mrs. Van Roth. “There really wasnʼt much to do back then. For excitement, my sister Molly and I would take long walks out in the desert and build big bonfires with the tumbleweed. Both of our parents were from Texas. I canʼt tell you much about father. He died of tuberculosis when I was one year old. He worked for an oil company in Texas before moving to Mojave and going to work for the Southern Pacific Railroad. My mom, Mabel, was a hostess at a restaurant; at the train-station in Mojave.”

   “Sounds as though she might have been a Harvey Girl.”

   “She was a Harvey Girl! I have a picture of her wearing one of those black and white uniforms, something like a nun would wear only with a big white bow on top of her head. I remember her telling me what it was like to be a Harvey Girl -- no gum chewing or makeup, and she had a ten oʼclock curfew. She had to be prim and proper and her boss was very strict. She lost her job when she remarried. Harvey Girls had to be single and.....”

   The first few books were chemistry books, inscribed DVR, 1964. The next dozen or so were physics texts, all dated 1965 to 1966 -- Einsteinʼs The Meaning of Relativity, Bohrʼs Atomic Physics and Human Knowledge, and Radioactive Substances by Marie Curie. There were other books written by Werner Von Braun, Ernst Mach, Max Plank, Linus Pauling, Robert Oppenheimer, and Werner Heisenberg. The last two books were also by Einstein -- Ideas and Opinions and Out of My Later Years.

   There was a beaker for a bookend, then another section of books, only these ones were not science books. They were philosophy books and dated 1966 and early 1967. Seems as though Davie had a change of heart and something led him to philosophy, probably a mistake. I thumbed through the last books written by Einstein only they were not about physics. I could tell by the chapter headings of his Out of My Later Years -- “Moral Decay” ... “On Freedom” ... “Morals and Emotions” ... “On Education” ... “The War is Won but Peace is Not” ... “On Military Service” ... “Why Do They Hate the Jews” and “The Goal of Human Existence.” This was no science book. It could have been Einstein who veered Davie Van Roth towards philosophy.

   “Itʼs been said that the Harvey girls helped civilize the wild west by turning brutes into honest men,” I added, as I multi-tasked with my attention continuing to focus on the books. “They made good money but had to meet certain qualifications. They had to be attractive, intelligent, well mannered, and courteous......”

   The next section of books were written by great thinkers and lawgivers: Ciceroʼs Oratory, Lucretiusʼ On the Nature of Things, Marcus Aureliusʼ Meditations. At the end of Caesarʼs Commentaries, someone notes: The Romans were ignorant and brutish compared to the Greeks, but at least they established law and order ... and historians: Herodotus, Livy, Xenophon, and Polybius.

   The historians were followed by a small section of religious books: The Confessions of St. Augustine, five large volumes of St. Thomas Aquinasʼ Summa Theologica, and other books by Martin Luther, Dante, and Erasmus. Perhaps Davie had a tough time understanding these tomes as there wasnʼt much in the way of underlining, except for the Aquinas and Longfellowʼs translation of Dante Alighieriʼs The Divine Comedy. Along the margin, next to Aquinasʼ “Five Proofs for the Existence of God,” he noted; But who or what created your God? From where did this great unmoved Mover come from? But then again, who created that first spec? Another notation came at the end of St. Augustineʼs Confessions: Youʼve sinned by stealing those pears and somehow believe that all will be forgiven upon your confessions. Like most of the rest, you are a Platonist. At least you wrote, Who am I instead of What is man.

   “Your son may not have been much of a churchgoer or believer but it looks as though he at least studied some of the great religious leaders.”

   “Well, thatʼs encouraging. Maybe thereʼs hope for him after all.”


   “What kind of books did Bobby read?” I asked.

   “Oh, he liked that Sigmund fellow.”

   “Sigmund Freud, the neurologist and psychoanalyst?”

   “Yes, thatʼs him. Iʼm sure Bobby read all his books.”

   “Sounds like Bobby might have been interested in self-analysis. Did he go to college and study psychology?”

   “He went to college for a few years and then dropped out. He was studying economics so he could become an accountant but found it boring. He was more interested in staying up all night playing cards with his buddies. “Pops” offered to buy him a Corvette if heʼd stay in school and get his degree; but instead, he quit and moved to San Francisco. Bobby just didnʼt have the ambition for making money or having a career. He roamed around a lot -- Mexico, Central America, Oregon, Montana, New Mexico. He read his books, did a little writing and traveled. Eventually, he raised a family. I guess thatʼs all he really cared for.”

   “Sounds like Bobby might have been a bit of a free spirit -- a wandering soul during his early years ... lived a different life, like a nomadic soul moved by storytellers and dreamers ... set his feet in new sands and dove into new seas, often leaping without thought while living for the moment ... always looking for the next adventure.”

   “Yes, that sounds like my Bobby. A lone wolf at times. Deak was just the opposite. He went to college for six years and got himself a teaching degree. He always had irons in the fire ... always had a job, sometimes two or three at a time.”

   “Deak? Whoʼs Deak?”

   “Davie. Bobby nicknamed him “The Deacon” after that football player. We called him Deak for short.”

   “You mean David Deacon Jones, the famous defensive end for the Rams?”

   “Yes, the team with the horns on the helmet and that Deacon fellow was his favorite player.”

   “Good choice. He was one of the “Fearsome Foursome” along with Rosey Grier, Lamar Lundy, and Merlin Olsen. They made up one of the greatest, if not the best defensive line ever to play football. Maybe Iʼll write a book about them someday.”

   The next section was mostly books which I have heard about, even read a few -- Hobbesʼ Leviathan, Machiavelliʼs The Prince, Pascalʼs Thoughts, Humeʼs Treatise on Human Nature, Lockeʼs Essay Concerning Human Understanding, Kantʼs Critique of Pure Reason. There were other books by Lord Byron, Goethe, Shakespeare, and Descartes.

   “Tell me about your husband. Whatʼs Mr. Van Roth like?”

   “He died about fifteen years ago. The death certificate says he died of silicosis from working in the mines but he also smoked at least a pack of Lucky Strikes a day. Unfiltered. Darn those cigarettes! Pneumonia finally took him.”

   “Sorry, maʼam. Do you know much about his childhood?”

   “Pops,” as she liked to call him, lived a tough life, growing up on an alfalfa farm about twenty miles outside of Lancaster, California where he was the younger of seven brothers. He quit school at age thirteen, ran away from home, and never looked back. He worked for room and board on a farm for a Japanese couple before finding work at a copper mine. Later, he went to work as a brakeman with the Southern Pacific Railway that made stops in Mojave, California and thatʼs when “Pops” Van Roth met Miss Eunice Adams, eight years his younger. Evidently, “Pops” robbed the cradle; not uncommon in those days. They married in 1940, just after she graduated with honors from Antelope High School where she was a Merit Scholar, a member of the California Scholarship Foundation, and was looking forward to college ... then “Pops” rode into town.

   “I donʼt know what came over me. I grew up in a strict, Christian household, studied, got good grades, and dreamed about going to college. Then, all of a sudden, I got swept off my feet and got married. So much for college,” she said with a shrug of her shoulders.

   The classic Westside Story, I thought -- Bad boy “Pops” Van Roth rides into town on his Indian Chief motorcycle, sweeps the prim and proper Eunice Adams off her feet, and together, ride off into the high desert of Southern California. They left the area and went from town to town, wherever “Pops” could get work in the mines. They lived outside the towns of Barstow, Needles, Angelʼs Camp, Blythe, Paso Robles, Tehachapi, California, and as far away as Globe, Arizona. During the war, “Pops” was exempt from the military. They needed miners to extract copper and silver for bombs and bullets, so he kept working the mines. After the war, they decided to move north where “Pops” went into the logging business and became a gyppo. Mrs. Van Roth thought she was moving to the mountains around Grass Valley with the big, beautiful pine trees; but instead, found herself mired in the slums of Olivehurst-Linda where she later became a school librarian.

   A gyppo, she explained, is a self-employed, independent log-hauler paid by the board-foot as opposed to the company man who gets paid by the hour. The company man is a sandbagger and hogs the road by taking his time and collecting more hours, thus more pay. The only way a gyppo can make more money was by making two trips a day which would mean working from sunup to sundown. “Pops” hopped-up his 1953 Gimmy with a much larger Cummins diesel engine and could easily pass the company man; even going uphill on a steep mountain road. For “Pops,” that trip up the hill often became a race between the tortoise and the hare. They competed for the road and couldnʼt stand each other. “Pops” also hated the California Highway Patrol who laid in waiting for the speeding “Lead Foot” Van Roth.

   The fourth shelf contained books that appeared to be the most read, possibly several times over. Initials and notations indicated that most of these books were read by both boys and were heavily underlined -- Nietzsche: No one is accountable for existing at all, or for being constituted as he is, or for living in the circumstances and surroundings in which he lives. The fatality of his nature cannot be disentangled from the fatality of all that which has been and will be. He is not the result of a special design, a will, a purpose; he is not the subject of an attempt to attain an 'ideal of man' or an 'ideal of happiness' or an 'ideal of morality'--it is absurd to want to hand over his nature to some purpose or other.

Kierkegaard: Deep within every human being there still lives the anxiety over the possibility of being alone in the world, forgotten by God, overlooked among the millions and millions in this enormous household. One keeps this anxiety at a distance by looking at the many round about who are related to him as kin and friends, but the anxiety is still there, nevertheless, and one hardly dares think of how he would feel if all this were taken away.

Franz Kaufkaʼs Metamorphosis: What a fate: to be condemned to work for a firm where the slightest negligence at once gave rise to the gravest suspicion! Were all the employees are nothing but a bunch of scoundrels, was there not among them one single loyal devoted man who, had he wasted only an hour or so of the firm's time in the morning, was so tormented by conscience as to be driven out of his mind and actually incapable of leaving his bed?

J. P. Sartre: What is meant here by saying that existence precedes essence? It means first of all, man exists, turns up, appears on the scene, and, only afterwards, defines himself. If man, as the existentialist conceives him, is indefinable, it is because at first he is nothing. Only afterward will he be something, and he himself will have made what he will be.

Dostoyevskyʼs Notes From the Underground: One's own free unfettered choice, one's own caprice, however wild it may be, one's own fancy worked up at times to frenzy -- is that very "most advantageous advantage" which we have overlooked, which comes under no classification and against which all systems and theories are continually being shattered to atoms. And how do these wiseacres know that man wants a normal, a virtuous choice? What has made them conceive that man must want a rationally advantageous choice? What man wants is simply independent choice, whatever that independence may cost and wherever it may lead. And choice, of course, the devil only knows what choice.

   Although popular during the mid-twentieth century with placing emphasis on the individual, these existential writings of pessimistic radicalism by writers such as Sartre, Kafka, Dostoyevsky, and Nietzsche were never my forte. Too often, they are filled with nihilistic gloom and doom while stripping those of their protective barriers ... often leaving behind the remains of an ugly, naked egotistical self.

   “So, tell me, maʼam. What were the boys like while growing up?”


   “Different”

   “Different?”

   “Yes, unusual. Canʼt say that either was a choir boy. Both were restless. Bobby was at least loving and had a fairly normal childhood, even considering his handicap; but later, he began drinking and crashed several of his cars that “Pops” had built for him. Most likely, he was drunk and driving too fast. He was the smartest of the two boys but a tad scatterbrained. Davie seemed to have more common sense but picked up a few bad habits from his older brother. Iʼm afraid he was also a bit of a rebel.”

   “A rebel? What kind of rebel?”

   “Even though he was extremely shy and reserved as a child, he kept getting into trouble, mostly fistfights. They started once he entered kindergarten and continued all the way through high school. His grades were good but got suspended from school and kicked off the baseball team more than just a few times. He definitely did not like anyone telling him what to do ... didnʼt matter if it was me, his teachers, or his coaches. As far as I know, the only one that he had any respect for, or looked up to, was his older brother Bobby. He rejected me from the day he was born ... struggled from the very beginning to escape my caress. Hugs and kisses were out of the question! At times, he was like a caged animal who desperately wanted to get out.”

   She seemed a bit perturbed so I turned my attention back to the books. The top shelf was mostly penned by Bertrand Russell ... from his huge three-volume Principia Mathematica and 895-page History of Western Philosophy to the three volumes of his autobiography. In between was a wide variety of books by Russell on different topics including: A Critical Exposition On the Philosophy of Leibniz, German Social Democracy, The Problem With China, Introduction to Mathematical Philosophy, The Analysis of Mind, Marriage and Morals, Education and the Good Life, Satan in the Suburbs, The Will to Doubt, In Praise of Idleness, War Crimes in Vietnam... These were all dated 1969 or 1970 and initialed DVR. Odd, but among the Russell editions was a bright red, leather-bound copy of the Bible -- King James version. Russell was an atheist-leaning agnostic.

   Mrs. Van Roth got up and offered to refresh my still full cup of tea. I pointed to the MSBL trophies and asked if she knew what league they were from.

   “Oh, I canʼt remember. Somewhere up north.”

   “Do you remember where Davie went to college?”

   “Yes, Yuba College. Just a few miles away.”

   “You said he went to college for six years. Where else did he go?

   “Somewhere up north,” she said, again with a shrug of her shoulders.

   “How about those caps? The ones with the red bird stitched on them. What team was that?”

   She hesitated with a wrinkled brow. “Oh no. I canʼt tell. Iʼm not supposed to tell,” she says with a sense of guilty alarm.

   “Why not,” I asked.

   “No! Pops will kill me if I tell. He said no matter what, donʼt you ever tell. Heʼs never coming home! Iʼm never going to see him again!”

   Once again, she became distraught, just like before when she was reminiscing about Bobbyʼs handicap. She seems to go back in time, in and out of reality -- back forty, fifty, even sixty years ago. I quickly changed the subject. “Letʼs have our tea now.” The ploy worked. She liked waiting on people; liked being a hostess, just like her mother Mabel, the Harvey Girl.

   Somewhere up north. Somewhere up north. Bart, Hughes, and Styx had said the same. Somewhere up north was getting on my nerves. The MSBL -- The Minnesota State Baseball League? The Montana State Baseball League? The Mountain State Baseball League. The Maine State Baseball League. Iʼd heard of the California and Florida State Baseball leagues but not these other State Leagues.

   There was one item left that I hadnʼt checked out -- a metal strongbox in the bottom drawer. It was about eight inches by twelve inches by three inches deep, like a waterproof money box. “Any idea whatʼs in this box?” I asked. “Itʼs locked.”

   “No, but youʼre welcome to open it if you can. Iʼd like to know whatʼs in there myself.”

   Of course, Iʼve seen these kinds of strongboxes opened several times before while working with the police department and had no problem picking the lock on the metal container. “Must be something important inside,” she said excitedly.

   I was afraid that I was about to expose one of her sonʼs long-forgotten stash as I jimmied the lock. “Phew ... appears to be some kind of compendium.”

   “A what?”

   “Something like a secret diary. These are someoneʼs recollections and journals,” I explained. “They are dated and go back more than forty years. Wonder why theyʼve been locked up in this box for all these years? Any idea who they belong to?”

   “No, but they must belong to one of the boys, maybe both.”

   There were about a hundred sheets of onionskin inside, all in perfect condition. They were neatly hand-printed in block with quill and ink and comprised journals, memoirs, and recollections.

“I must have been seven or eight years old when Bobby tried to strike me out with tin cans. Empty Starkist tuna cans came in like swerves or big sweeping curveballs. Mangled Carnation condensed milk cans were his fastballs. They became jagged little balls of steel after knocking them around several times and an inside pitch could cut you. This is how I first learned how to hit.” (Van Roth, Davie. Recollections & Journals of a Ballplayer)

   “Seems like your son Bobby taught Davie how to play baseball.”

   “Yes ... and thatʼs not all he taught him,” she grumbled with a stern, furrowed brow. “They used to stay up all hours of the night reading and discussing these books. They drove Bobby away. Luckily, Davie had his baseball.”

   “So, where is Davie now?” I asked.

   “Oh, ... Iʼm not sure. He moves around a lot. Here and there. Maybe Arizona.”

   I didnʼt refuse another go-around of tea as Mrs. Van Roth seemed to be enjoying herself now. She lived alone and probably enjoyed the company. While I had a moment, I logged onto local police reports. Working with the police department and writing crime reports for the New Haven Times several years ago is an asset. No crimes reported. Next, I checked the local assessorʼs office followed by a residency check. Mrs. Van Roth was right. Her son did move around, and quite often ... in fact, 25 different locations in the last 25 years, sometimes owning two or more houses at the same time. His listed properties and residences included Yuba City in 1986, Loma Rica in 1987, again in Yuba City at several different locations beginning in 1988, and then several homes in Yuba County, Lake Wildwood, and Medford, Oregon before moving back to Yuba City. His last known address was just off Pinnacle Peak Road in Scottsdale, Arizona. He seemed to be on the lam. Who or what was he running from?

   It was getting late and I had put poor Mrs. Van Roth through the wringer. I looked around the room and took a few photos with my Alpha-phone before giving the dear old lady a big hug and said maybe we could visit again sometime. “Any time,” she said. “Iʼm not going anywhere.” By the time I got to the Branding Iron Saloon, Styx and Hughes had a pretty good buzz going on and didnʼt mind the wait. They were just getting started. I dropped them off at the Cortez Room in downtown Marysville and got a big hug and peck on the cheek from Styx, much to the chagrin of Mr. Hughes. “Check out coach Lee on Doc Adams Road,” she says. “He and Davie use to coach together at Yuba College several years ago and he might have some info.” Right, but first, other matters needed tending to. The lure of Styx and this aura surrounding Van Roth was causing me to neglect my other duties. Time to check out Sacramento.