James Douglas Karl
July 17, 1932 – September 1, 2004
My uncle Doug passed away last week. He was 72 years old and had been struggling with heart disease for many years. He died in his home in Connecticut I understand peacefully.
My dad’s brother, I hadn’t talked to or seen Doug in nearly two years. Of course, this makes me sad. I now wish I had one last conversation with him. But who knows? When is a conversation your last? Make everyone count. And when face-to-face, end that conversation with a hug. Who knows if it will be your last. Every second counts.
My fondest memories of Doug were when i was a child growing up in a NYC suburb. Doug with his round red face and warm and steely blue eyes always seemed to be up to something. He’d be plotting some sort of practical joke or warm up with a story that’d put a grin on this kids face.
And he did those things that make an Uncle. Like convincing my mom to let me miss a day of school to spend a day fishing — with my Uncle Doug. Like piling us noisy but eager kids into his car and taking us to baseball games. And more.
Every summer, Doug would take my brother and I to baseball games. A spirited fan of The New York Mets he’d favor trips to Flushing Meadows but occasionally we’d make to Yankee Stadium in the Bronx.
An annual event and perhaps his favorite was Old Timer’s Day at Shea Stadium. Doug would get passes to the Diamond Club — an exclusive bar & grill just below the loge box seats. And after legends like Whitey Ford, Duke Snider, Mickey Mantle, Ted Williams, Joe DiMaggio, Bob Feller, Hank Greenberg, Casey Stengal, Sandy Koufax, Roger Maris, and many more would finish playing a short inning, Doug would whisk us up to the Diamond Club with notebooks in hand and plant us outside the elevator that brought these sports heroes to the Diamond Club from the clubhouse locker rooms.
Barely 10 years old I only knew of these stars from old baseball cards and reading the record books. As the elevator door would open and men dressed in suits or casual clothes would enter the room he’s whisper to us, “that’s Roger Maris”. We’d rush up to the hall of famer and in nervous voices and gleaming smiles ask for an autograph.
As I type this I wonder what ever happened to all those legendary autographs.
The funny thing about patiently waiting for the elevator to open and see the next wave of Old Timer’s empty into the room is that me and my brother would’ve never recognized them without prodding from Doug. And over the years the number of kids that gathered by the elevator grew. We’d all swarm around these legends like moths around a light. Running up to the players waving pencils and paper. All looking for a chance to get one to scribble their name on a pad. And with each autograph we were determined to get another.
So Doug prodded us one time while hanging in the Diamond Club. With a dozen or so kids hanging by the elevator my brother Bob and I ran up to Doug with our pens and paper, “Doug would can we have your autograph?” soon all the other kids were swarming around Doug sticking pens into his face. He’d sign a few autographs then retreat into the bar at the Diamond Club. One of the younger boys asked me. “Who was that?” I looked at him with a huge smile on my face. “That’s Doug Karl.” The boy would say, “really?”
My smile still beaming and trying not to chuckle I’d say, “Yeah. He’s my uncle.”
Doug ate it up. Like my father and my other uncles, he liked to laugh, tell jokes and had a huge sense of humor and as noted a flair for practical jokes. As a young boy trying to my own Christmas shopping for my family and my uncle Doug I was always confused and lost when it came to buying him a gift. And it must have come from a recommendations from my mom or dad but one year I bought him a gift pack of “Old Spice” after shave. Maybe it was the schooner symbol on the bottle or because I had seen my dad use the stuff but that was it. Christmas for Doug: Old Spice.
Over the years, perhaps subconsciously or without knowing I’d buy him Old Spice regularly. He opened my gifts and always smiled and thanked me and his round face would get red and he’d move on to the next gift.
Many years later as I moved from the cute kid into a teenager I’ll never forget one Christmas when Doug showed up and we went through the ceremonial gift exchange. As I peeled the wrapping paper from the Doug’s gift to me I noticed the schooner peeking out from the paper. An “Old Spice” gift set. Puzzled, I smiled and thanked him when he broke his silence and said, “I figured you must like it because you’ve given it to me all these years.” We both laughed. I got the message. I was sure he had a stack of these gifts sets sitting in his closet somewhere. I never new.
I’m going to miss Doug. But I’ll never forget his antics, his sharing and his smile.