HIS NAME WAS MISTER FLOYD (FIRST IN A SERIES)
Mister Floyd was a railroad man, a career employee with the old C&O, the Chessie System. As a young man he was quite the semi-pro baseball player up in Northern Virginia who had the talent and drive to make it big in baseball until he received a serious leg injury on a slide into home plate and walked with a slight limp for the rest of his life.
I’m not really sure what brought him to Newport News. Maybe it was the work opportunity or maybe it was because his future bride who was from Poquoson, but I can remember him from the time I was about five years of age. He lived on Park Avenue, the same street I grew up on about a block away and he had two boys, both much older than me. The oldest son was twenty years older than his little brother who was a classmate with my older brother from grade school at Wilson right through to graduation from NNHS.
I remember walking with my dad sometimes in the evening and Dad would always stop to talk with Mister Floyd who enjoyed sitting on his front screened porch almost any evening except for the cold of winter. They weren’t close friends, but Dad and Mister Floyd both appreciated hard work and enjoyed sharing stories from different work-a-day environments.
It was about four months after Dad’s death that I really became aware of what a special man Mister Floyd was. And it began because of baseball, a game I loved to play although I knew I’d never be a star. But it was the camaraderie, the sportsmanship, the thrill of the occasional super play that attracted me.
Now I had no idea that Mister Floyd had asked Mom how I was doing, that he saw me as a sad young boy who had no father and he was aware of my fondness for the game. He asked if he could invite me down on a Saturday afternoon to watch the Saturday afternoon Game of the Week with him. The Missus would prepare snacks and us “two men” could talk baseball from the comfort of his screened in porch where watched the game.
Mom told me a few days before and also about Mister Floyd’s baseball past. I was excited thinking about how he could give me pointers on the game and hopefully I could later put them to use. I looked forward to the coming Saturday as it was early in the baseball season.
Saturday came, I went and had a great time. Mrs. Floyd made fresh home baked ham sandwiches on warm homemade bread with potato salad and a chocolate cake for dessert. And the game, between the Yankees and Orioles was a good one. Mr. Floyd gave me tips on stealing bases, a few finesse moves and even how to steal signals. And it was the beginning of a great friendship until I went away to college. Even then, when I came home for the summer I routinely visited with him.
But there was something really special that he did for me on that first birthday after I started watching baseball with him. He called me on my birthday and told me I had left a hat at his house and needed to retrieve it. I had no memory of leaving a hat, but dutifully walked up the block and knocked. He opened the door with his hands behind his back and a big smile on his face.
Suddenly, he pulled out the most beautiful Louisville Slugger I had ever seen and he presented it to me while Mrs. Floyd stood by smiling.
“Happy birthday, Son,” he said. “I asked your mother what you wanted most for your birthday and she said this was it. I’m glad she let me get it for you.”
I hugged him and went home beaming, not believing my good fortune to have a fine man like this as a friend. And there’s one other thing I need to mention. He also gave me a brand new Chesapeake & Ohio employee hat and I must confess that for years to come, even in high school, I always remembered to do one thing when I ran my heavy duty, old fashioned metal scale sized freight train. I loved it especially since it was the last Christmas present I received from Dad, so whenever I spent some quiet time playing engineer, I always wore Mr. Floyd’s C&O hat.
I remember as man in my twenties when I died, crying when I learned of his death. He was a wonderful father figure, a hero to me in his own right, and will always be remembered. I was fortunate to have known him.