Tucked away in a drawer, the brown wallet is showing its age. One side has come apart and the leather has started to fade. Devoid of currency, a half-century after it was last used, it remains priceless to me. It's the wallet my father carried until he died unexpectedly at 41 of a heart attack at our home on May 26, 1965, when I was 9.
I can't remember when my mother gave me the wallet with its contents still intact. In recent years, I realize the wallet serves as a portal to the past, serving as a biography and a chronicle of what he valued. Losing a father as a child creates a void that will never be filled. As I near 60, the wallet provides a connection to Dad, as I followed in his footsteps, and became a husband and father of two children.
In an era before computers and smartphones, his wallet served as a portable storage center for important papers and family keepsakes. They range from his union membership card in the Chemical Workers Association as a lab technician at DuPont to photos of my sister and me, including our latest class pictures from St. Anne's School in Westville.
There is also a notice of classification from the Selective Service dated Oct. 4, 1944, with a rating of "1-C Dis." He had been honorably discharged from the Marines for health reasons related to asthma. Why was he still carrying it? A line on the card spells out the reason: "The law requires you, subject to penalty for violation, to have this notice in your personal possession at all times."
Other papers tell a different story. He kept a clipping from a newspaper that contained just one sentence, but it's long enough to reveal his romantic side. It's an announcement of his wedding to my mom on Oct. 13, 1951, at St. Patrick's Church in Woodbury, a reminder of the importance of his marriage.
Baseball was my dad's favorite sport. It's no surprise, then, that the wallet contains two Phillies schedules for the 1965 season, a sign that he was keeping the faith in his hometown team despite the epic collapse in 1964. One schedule promoted Tastykake; the other was sponsored by Ballantine Beer. The schedules offer a clue to how baseball has changed. The Phillies were scheduled to play seven doubleheaders that year and their games were broadcast on WFIL radio and television (Channel 6).
He took me to my first game at Connie Mack Stadium, where we saw the Phillies defeat the San Francisco Giants, 3-2, on July 13, 1962. We saw six games together in 1964 and the Phillies went 5-1. Dad managed to snag a ball hit into the stands by Gary Kolb of the Milwaukee Braves during a pregame bunting drill on July 13, 1964. On May 7, 1965, we saw our final game together. Even though the Phillies lost, it was a memorable one. Bob Gibson of the St. Louis Cardinals threw a one-hitter in a 2-0 victory. It's still the closest I've come to seeing a no-hitter in person.
The wallet offers clues to what might have been. There is a receipt dated Feb. 28, 1965, for a Shore rental in Ocean City for June 12-19, 1965, secured by a modest deposit of $20. In the wake of Dad's death, my mom opted not to rent the home. He also carried an ad for a three-bedroom home in Beach Haven West, which required "$390 down and $55.70 a month and no settlement or closing costs," suggesting a Shore home could have been in our future.
In February 1965, we took our last vacation as a family and spent a week at the Aztec, promoted as a "luxury resort motel" on the ocean in Miami Beach. The receipt in his wallet shows the motel bill was $306.66. It was a memorable trip and a nice break from the wintry cold. Years later, Mom told me she and my dad had discussed whether to remodel our kitchen or take a trip. In view of his death, I'm glad they opted for the latter. It's a life lesson I carry with me on the value of life experiences over material goods.
Tom Wilk is an Inquirer copy editor and coauthor, with Jim Waltzer, of "Tales of South Jersey: Profiles and Personalities"