The first thing I try to explain to my students about writing narratives is to focus on their most important component, which is the story, not the facts.
As far as I'm concerned, ultimately the facts are nothing. The story, however, is everything.
A homey analogy: The facts are a skeleton, but the story is a living, breathing person in all his glory.
Larry Doyle’s headstone is in St. Bernard’s Cemetery in Saranac Lake.
(Photo — Bob Seidenstein)
Nowhere is this analogy more apparent than in a cemetery. There you'll find facts galore: names, dates, military service, organizations, relatives. They'll give you some idea of what the people were but no idea WHO they were. A perfect example can be found right in My Home Town.
Go into St. Bernard's Cemetery, bear right, up the incline, and take the first left into the semi-circular drive. Follow it to its midpoint, and then head northwest, into the section atop that hill. Within the first 10 yards of that section you'll find Larry Doyle's gravestone.
While his name is pretty much unknown to recent town residents, everyone my age - especially every boy - knew him.
What facts do I know about Larry Doyle?
Well, as a kid I knew he was a famous baseball player during the first quarter of the century and that one of the local kids' baseball leagues was named after him. I also knew he came here to cure from TB and was the Trudeau Sanitarium's last patient. In fact, I remember seeing an article in Life magazine about Trudeau's closing, with a great picture of Larry Doyle leaving the grounds on foot.
As a young adult I knew a little more, but not much. From my time in the Dew Drop Inn, I knew he was one of Dew's regulars: He had "his" stool at the end of the bar and was the perennial guest of honor. I never talked to him personally but observed him - as I did most of the town's adults - from a distance. He impressed me as someone who exemplified an old-time ideal - what we respectfully referred to as "an elderly gentleman."
That was about it for the facts of Larry Doyle's life, as I knew them. But what about his story? A big part of it is carved in stone - literally. It is, of course, his gravestone.
As you can see from the picture, it has his name and dates, separated by a fielder's mitt. Then under the picture of the batter are his position, the dates of his Giants' career, his team captaincy, his MVP and his batting championships. At the top it says, "It's great to be young and a Giant," which was Larry's slogan, first recorded by Damon Runyon in a 1911 interview.
What you can't read is the writing on the plaque at the stone's bottom. It says: "Laughing Larry Doyle, colorful captain of John McGraw's perennial pennant winning New York Giants and the favorite of sports writers Damon Runyon, Ring Lardner and Heywood Broun."
The inscription is not hyperbole - Larry Doyle was one of the finest and highest paid baseball players of his day, the man of whom John McGraw said he "wouldn't trade him for any man playing baseball." He got the nickname Laughing Larry because he had a wonderful disposition.
So there you have some more facts about Larry Doyle and a bit more of his story.
Now, however, it's time for the story behind the story. It's not about Larry Doyle, but about his gravestone, and while it's a much shorter story, it's no less of one.
By the time Larry Doyle died, he'd been out of baseball for over a half-century and long forgotten by the Giants' organization and probably everyone else connected with baseball, except its historians, a few diehard fans and his loyal Saranac Lake entourage. And foremost among that entourage was the most undyingly loyal one of all, the owner of the Dew Drop Inn - Dew Drop Morgan.
Taking it upon himself, Dew Drop contacted the Giants, told them of Larry's passing and lobbied for them to put up a stone that'd truly honor Larry's memory. The result speaks for itself.
The story speaks even louder for Dew Drop Morgan.