Dogwood trees are in bloom finally, which means spring is officially here. When I see dogwoods in bloom I feel sorry for those of you who don't live around here because they are one of the most beautiful flowering trees in nature and I think back to my high school friend Ernie M.
Ernie was from a family that lived up the road from us. They were poor but proud folks who were known all over the area and his eldest brother John even had a measure of fame when his murder was featured on 'Unsolved Mysteries' in the late 1980's. Ernie, his older brother Darrell, and I were baseball crazy in the mid 1970's. We were at the age when we were just starting to like girls but still too shy to do anything about it. We were too young to drive and drugs and drink hadn't entered our lives yet, so we played baseball. We ate, slept, breathed, lived baseball. We collected baseball cards, cut out articles about baseball from the newspaper, and we sliced baseball photos out of back issues of Sports Illustrated in our high school library. I was a Red Sox fan, Ernie was a Yankees man, and Darrell was a Reggie Jackson fan, so he followed whatever team Jackson was on at the time.
We not only loved jabbering about baseball and collecting anything about it we could, we also loved playing it. At one time or another we all tried out for the varsity baseball team but none of us ever made it. But that didn't stop us from playing it any summer or fall afternoon we could. They were much better than I was, especially Ernie. He could throw further and harder than me and he hit like champ. They had hand me down baseball gloves, shoes with holes in them, and shorts that were about to fall apart, but they gave it 100% every time. Especially Ernie.
And Ernie had something special as well, he had a homemade bat that he had crafted himself. He made it out of a dogwood tree. He cut the tree, carved the bat out, sanded it down, and by gawd it was a thing of beauty. Back then casual cutting of dogwoods was against the law because they were the state tree of VA but Ernie didn't care, he was a baseball outlaw. And he swung that bat like a pro. He guarded it like it was magic. He'd let you use it but if you didn't get a hit or a homer almost every time, then he'd take it away from you. I can't say as I blamed him, he wanted to keep his bat pure.
As time went on, we discovered our nerve with girls, got stoned, found punk rock, and then in 1980 I moved from Lee county and never saw Ernie or Darrell again. I heard Ernie died, he froze to death one night out in the woods, he suffered from mental illness it turned out, he may be gone but I'll always remember him when I see a dogwood in bloom or hear the crack of a bat.