By Dick Flavin
Boston Red Sox Poet Laureate
and New York Times Best Selling Author
SAM MELE’S WEDDING
June 15, 1949 was a big day for me, a very big day.
It was Sam Mele’s wedding day.
The Red Sox outfielder, who also played for several other teams during his ten-year career, and would later be American League manager of the year when he led to Minnesota Twins to the pennant in 1965, passed away recently at the age of 95 and his death unlocked a floodgate of memories for me. Sam’s wedding was my first brush with an honest-to-God celebrity.
He was married to Connie Clemens in Our Lady of Good Counsel Church in the Merrymount section of Quincy, Massachusetts. And I was an altar boy.
Why I was chosen for the honor is beyond me. Well, maybe it had something to do with the fact that my mother and father often invited Father Murray over to the house for dinner, and he had absolute control over the altar boys’ schedule. Still, my brother, a year older, cut a finer figure on the altar. Perhaps I was just more needy than my brother. The other altar boy was my friend Dana Gillis from across the street. That’s the same Dana Gillis who a year later, would be the target of the ill-conceived Ellis Kinder Fan Club scam that you might remember from an earlier Musing.
The other altar boys in the parish were not totally left out. Father Murray had thoughtfully scheduled the wedding rehearsal for the Friday evening before the ceremony, right after the monthly altar boys meeting at which we were given the our assignments, so we were all there when the wedding party arrived. Everyone of us was introduced to Sam, who shook our hands and gave each of us an autograph. Connie Clemens, the bride, was a bit of a celebrity herself. She was known as the most beautiful girl in the parish.
The main event, of course, was the wedding itself, which would be about the biggest thing that ever happened at Our Lady’s. There would be some would be some actual Red Sox players in the congregation. From my spot on the altar I’d have a perfect view.
I couldn’t wait.
The ceremony was scheduled for Saturday afternoon and that morning some of the kids on the street (there were a bunch of us) got involved in a pick-up basketball game in the Corbins’ driveway; they had a backboard and hoop attached over the garage. During a scramble for a loose ball my glasses got knocked off and stepped on. The frame was badly mangled and one of the lenses was shattered. I was unhurt, except for the fact that I couldn’t see a damn thing. I was, and am, really near-sighted and to this day I put my glasses on before getting out of bed in the morning and don’t take them off until I’m back under the covers that night. I’m all but helpless without them. (Not that I’m any great shakes with them on.)
But the show must go on– and the wedding too.
So it was that when I marched out onto the altar for the big event everything was just a blur to me. Not only could I not identify which ballplayers were in the congregation, my myopia was such that from my perch on the altar I couldn’t even tell the men from the women.
Presiding at the ceremony was the pastor, Father (later to be a monsignor) Aloysius Finn. He usually left such chores as weddings to Father Murray, but in this case the junior man got bumped and Father Finn took the spotlight for himself. He was a pugnacious bantam of an Irishman (think a bald-headed Jimmy Cagney) and we altar boys were scared to death of him. If an altar boy messed up on his Latin (this was a long, long time ago) during mass he wouldn’t get two steps into the sacristy when it was over before he’d be whacked in the back of the head by Father Finn. Today he’d probably be indicted for doing such a thing, but we all learned our Latin.
He lived until his late nineties and spent his last years at Regina Cleri, a home for retired priests in Boston’s old West End. He’d take brisk walks around town and I’d run into him from time to time. He was sharp as a tack and remembered me well, but he didn’t whack me on the back of the head. Perhaps it was because I didn’t try to speak to him in Latin.
The best man was Sam’s uncle, Tony Cuccinello, who had been a big league player for fifteen years, some of them with the old Boston Braves. Or maybe it was Tony’s brother Al, who had also made it to the majors, with the New York Giants. Anyhow, it was one of the Cuccinellos. I have no memory of the maid of honor, or what team she played for.
It was during the wedding ceremony that I discovered that Sam’s name wasn’t really Sam. It was when he said, “I, Sabbath Anthony Mele, take thee, Constance Clemens, to be my lawfully wedded wife.” Who knew?
Other than the wedding party, I still hadn’t seen a thing, so when it was over Dana and I quickly took off our cassocks and surplices and raced around to the front of the church where the guests would be still milling about. Dana would say to me, “Look, there’s Johnny Pesky!” Me, “Where? Where?” Dana, “Right over there.” I’d squint in the direction he was pointing but as far as I could tell it might as well have been Johnny Appleseed as Johnny Pesky. Joe Cronin was there, and pitcher Joe Dobson came down from New Hampshire. At least that’s what Dana said.
I was an eyewitness to it all, but I never saw a thing.
Except that I did see the bride and groom up on the altar. I was only about three feet away so I got a good close look at them. Sam was visibly nervous, which surprised me. I thought, here’s a guy who has to face Bob Feller’s fastball; what’s he got to be nervous about? Maybe it was because Father Finn was standing within striking distance of him. I do have a clear memory of one thing; the new Mrs. Mele was indeed the most beautiful girl in the parish.