Sunday, June 26, 2011

"It Matters Not How You Play The Game..."

Today would be Mildred Ella “Babe” Didrikson Zaharias’ 100th birthday were she still living. Actually, she died at John Sealey Hospital, in Galveston, Texas, on September 27, 1956, at the very young age of 45. My lot is to write the story in 600 words…hang on…

First, let’s get this name thing down. Mildred Ella Didrikson was born in Port Arthur, Texas, on June 26, 1911, to Ole and Hannah Didricksen, immigrants from Norway. She later changed the spelling of her surname to Didrikson. She claimed to have acquired the nickname “Babe” (after Babe Ruth, Sultan of Swat) upon hitting five home runs in a childhood baseball game. The rest of her name(s) came from her marriage to professional wrestler, George Zaharias, in 1938.

Babe graduated from Beaumont High School in 1929, but did not attend college. Instead, she took her singing ability and harmonica talent on tour and ended up recording several well-known songs on the Mercury Records label. Her best seller was “I Felt a Little Teardrop.”

Babe was an avid winner in Track and Field. Her track team won the 1932 AAU Championships in spite of the fact that she was the only one on the team. Following her winning ways in the Olympics, Babe performed on the vaudeville circuit with her Babe Didrikson’s All-Americans basketball team and the bearded House of David (commune) team.

By 1935, Babe began to play golf. She may have been most famous for her prowess in this sport. In 1946-47, she won both the United States Women’s Amateur Golf Championship as well as the British Ladies’ Amateur Golf Championship. She turned pro in late 1947 and was involved with others in founding the LPGA. Her serious illness (colon cancer) ended her career in the mid-1950s. Babe won her last major tournament, the U. S. Women’s Open championship, one month after undergoing cancer surgery. She died in 1956 and is buried at the Forest Lawn Cemetery in Beaumont. She has a beautiful burial estate there and the attendants will be more than happy to give you that viewing tour. And be sure to visit the Babe Didrikson Zaharias Museum in Beaumont. This edifice also houses the chamber of commerce welcoming center.

Enter side stage: Me. I was four years old when my family moved to Beaumont in 1941. Our new FHA house was located at 1375 Pipkin St. in South Park. Within two years, I had several playmates. A few were David Matthews, Jackie Garretson, Sonny Collier, and Mike Grimes. We were the beginning of the Pipkin Street Gang (kids on that same block).

The Grimes family lived two doors from me. His mother was named Mrs. Grimes and his father was known to this five-year-old as Mr. Grimes. Mrs Grimes would not let Mike participate in our mud wars. She would not let him climb trees and jump from them like the commandos we had begun seeing at the picture shows as WW II began to unfold.

I learned later that Mrs. Grimes’ first name was Lilly and that she was Babe Zaharias’ sister. So that meant that Mike was Babe’s nephew.

I remember seeing the Grimes almost everyday. I saw Babe’s husband, George Zaharias, a few times. He was a huge man thus easy to understand his being a professional wrestler.

Although I never saw Babe, I was proud to know some of her family members. It is a shame that such a great person died so young.

The Associated Press named Babe the Greatest Woman Athlete of the first fifty years of the twentieth century. In 1999, the AP also named her the Greatest Woman Athlete of the twentieth century.

That is a great testimony for someone who lived only 45 years.

God rest her soul.

Winston Hamby


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