ORAL HISTORY: Last Words from David Mitchell
April 21, 2014
(EDITOR’S NOTE: Cape Charles Historical Society has for more than a decade been recording oral histories of the area’s earlier days. A grant from the Virginia Foundation for the Humanities enabled 15 interviews to be transcribed, and the Historical Society has made this one available for readers of the Wave. All the transcriptions may be read at the Cape Charles Museum.)
David Mitchell speaks April 12, 2001
[Audience]: “When you were in the ball club and traveling, did you go on a bus? Did you sleep on the bus?
Oh yes, we had a bus. We always had hotels that we would go to stay in. I had a kind of hairy experience coming out of Upstate New York. We played up in Utica and Ithaca, New York. We were coming down from there and what happened, the bus had broken down in New York and we had to hire a limousine to take the team, there were 18 heads. Coming back, the left front tire blew on this limousine and we were coming down this mountainside. And the driver hollered, “Don’t nobody touch it!” He was afraid someone would grab the wheel and try to steer it. We came to a stop right to a guard rail and nobody got hurt, didn’t even scar the car or anything, but that was something that lived with me for a long time, because if we had gone over . . . . There was a 50 or 75 foot drop down there and I guess all of us could have been killed or get broken bones or something.
We were staying in a hotel in New York on 7th Avenue, I can remember a young lady that had been down here visiting and all she was talking about was this Glass house in Cape Charles. It’s the house right across from where Raymond Spady lives, that was new at that time. Somebody described it to her as the Glass House and so she wanted to see it. So this lady was visiting my friend’s girlfriend and this particular night we were going out and I didn’t have a date, so they asked me if I would mind taking this girl along. I said fine.
After taking her out that night, I took her out the next day and showed her the sites, the farm, the houses and different places. And she enjoyed it so much, that she told me that if I was ever in New York, to please come by and see her. She told me about her boyfriend and everything.
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This was back in 1949, when I went to play ball. So we went up there and I was at 7th Avenue in the hotel, I called her up and let her know I was in the city. I didn’t have any idea I was going to get there that quickly, that was shortly after her visit down here.
I called her to let her know I was in the city, she came by the hotel. We were standing outside out front waiting for the limousine to come pick us up. And I looked up and saw her. And I said, “Well, I know that lady!” One of the fellows said, “You don’t know nobody up here, Mitchell.” I said, “Yes, I do!” And I walked out of the crowd and went up and met her. She came to me and I hugged her and we talked a while. I brought her down to where the fellows were, to introduce them and she actually did talk to them. I walked back towards the corner where she had come and walked her back towards her home. And while I was walking back, the limousine came and loaded up and left! They went over to Brooklyn to play ball that night.
The girl had already told me that they were having a little party and that I could come by. I said, “I can’t. I’ll be playing ball.” Well, she told me to come by after the game’s over. So when I went back and they were loaded up and gone, I got thinking, well, I can’t play ball, I’m going to the party! And I went round there and met her boyfriend, and just enjoyed myself!
The funny thing about it they had a little wine and whiskey and drinking coffee. They kept offering me some. I kept saying I don’t care for anything right now. Well, I don’t drink, never have and I don’t do it today. I said, I don’t care for anything. I didn’t want to say I didn’t drink. So they kept on and I said, I really don’t drink, maybe a beer once in a while. They didn’t have it. So they went out and got a whole case of beer! I got a cup and poured some in there. One fellow was drinking everything he got his hands on. Jose, I’ll never forget the name! When they brought me beer, I would pour it in Jose’s cup! He’d look around and I’d pour it in Jose’s cup! That whole night. I finally got up and left. It was funny. They bought the beer for me, but Jose drank it!
Were you always pitcher?
I was always the pitcher. I played sandlot ball here and I was pitcher here with the local team, The Cape Charles Sliders. We were a pretty good team here. We were beating just about everything that came out. Dr. Sheppard, he was a dentist here in town, he sort of backed the team, getting equipment and so forth. I was working at the dairy and we were going to Norfolk to play. I told him I had to work and I couldn’t go over. He said, “Well, if Mitchell can’t go, there’s no need of going over.” I was supposed to pitch. And so, I told Mr. Gladstone I wanted to go play baseball. He said, “Well, you’ve got a job here now. What means more to you, your job or playing baseball?” I was a little bit angry, but I didn’t say anything, because I knew I had to have a job. So he could tell the mood that I was in, that I wanted to go. So he said, “Well, if that game means that much to you, then you can go and play the ball if you want to go.” So, I left. When he found out I was really going, I think he thought I wouldn’t go when he said it in that way, he said, “Dave, when you get back, check out and make sure everything is all right.” I was thinking by the time I got back it would be late, he should check things himself. I went over and played baseball. We lost the game by one run, but we had a good game. Everyone was surprised that we played as tight as we did because they were supposedly the number one team over there.
Dr. Sheppard spent his last dollar for us. He used to give the fellows money. He did some dental work for me. I didn’t drink, but for a lot of the boys he would get them something to drink when they finished playing ball. He did some dental work for me and wouldn’t take any money. He said, “Well, this is yours. You don’t get anything any other way, so I’ll just give you this.”
Did your twin brother stay in baseball?
He played two years over there. Like I said, I played the one year ’49, that was the year the team broke up. My twin went to Canada and played baseball there for six years. He did stay in baseball longer than I did. No, we were not identical twins.
I had a best friend, John Branch, he and I played baseball together. I’ll never forget him. We worked at the dairy together. Oh yeah, I delivered milk and newspapers in this town, but I even delivered ice! This best friend of mine, we worked at the ice plant, we worked at the dairy. We used to caddy on the golf course and we sang in the choir together. He and I were very tight. And when he died, I said I didn’t think I would ever find anybody that I could feel as close to as I did him, and I found two more guys! I’ll tell you this, and not just because they are sitting here, I’ve got two of the best friends I’ve ever had in my life!
Are you going to tell us how you and your wife met?
I lived on Peach Street and she lived on Washington Avenue. There were a row of houses back there and she lived somewhere near the middle. She could look out her upstairs window down to her back to where my back door was. She used to come out to play with the kids on the street. I used to play with her, just a little girl, as I said, I’m a little bit older than her. Wasn’t anything at an early age. I think the first time I remember anything really going on between her and me, I think she was going to the senior prom and she wanted me to escort her. I think something happened to the escort she had and so she asked me.
So I went to the prom with her and we had a nice night. And from then on I started taking her out. I tried to teach her how to swim. She went away to Bryn Mawr College to work and they used to have a day special for the employed people and she would always invite me up there for that. I would go up and take part.
In 1957, we got married and our pastor that married us used to be the pastor at the church that I belong to now. He left the church and went back to Norfolk to live. His name was St. Pew, his birthday was the 25th of December. We got married on 25th of December and we didn’t want to call him over here on his birthday because it was so special for him. So we went over to get married at his house and the pastor of the church that he was an associate pastor to, heard he was going to perform this marriage. He said why don’t you just take them to the church. It was this brand new church that they were going into. She wanted to be married in a church and it happened. Clarence was my best man.
We had two children and we’ve been married 43 years. And I’m not saying this because she’s sitting here, I had the most wonderful mother-in-law you would ever want to meet. She’s a wonderful lady. She’s 92 years old now and she looks after her mother. If there’s anything I can do for her, she knows I’m there for her. We’ve never had misunderstandings. I have nothing but great love and respect for her.
[Mrs. Mitchell]: There were some girls in high school that didn’t have dates either and I overheard them talking. “Oh, I know who I can get to take me to the prom, I’m going to call Dave Mitchell.” And I was saying, not if I get to him first. I lived right here in Cape Charles, so I could get to him. I made a beeline right for his house and he said he would be my date for the prom. And that was the beginning. He was my secret love, but he didn’t know that.
I didn’t know a thing about this until she told me! See I was always playing with kids. I love kids. As a matter of fact, I was at a group the other night and the kids asked me how many grandchildren I have. I said, “I would give anything in the world if I had a grandchild that called me Grandpop or Granddaddy.” They said we’ll take care of that, we’ll just call you Grandpa Dave! And the 23 of them started me call me Grandpop!
Before I leave I want to sing another piece, if there aren’t any more questions, I’ll do that right now. Sings: “May the Good Lord bless and keep you.”
Something I couldn’t understand was, I worked with the ferries and bridge combined 37 years. When the ferries were running, we got a pass you could take “David Mitchell, car and party.” That’s what the pass read. When the bridge opened up, I could only take my family, people who were living in my house across. Anybody else I took I had to pay like anyone else. When I retired after giving them 37 years of my life, they didn’t give me not one free pass across. The crew of the shift that I worked on took up a little money and bought me 7 1/2 trips across the bridge. But so far as the bridge giving me anything, not one free pass.