Want and madness themselves reigned after the Boston Red Sox won their first World Series in eighty-six years on October 27, 2004. They beat the St. Louis Cardinals in four games and fans essentially rioted across the streets of Boston. It was a sweep. The Red Sox had been down three games to none to their hated Yankees in the series before that final, but they came back, the first team ever to come back from down that many games in a League Championship Series, and by the time they came to play the Cardinals it seemed almost inevitable that they would win, although they hadn’t won in nearly a century.

Three weeks later, the World’s Oldest Man, Fred Hale, died. It was November 20, 2004, less than a year after I went to talk with him. Upon the news of his death, the stories filed in local newspapers and papers around the United States did not focus on his having been raised on a farm, or his having spent his final days in The Nottingham where I’d interviewed him, or his love of honey and penchant for spotting migratory birds.

The news reports focused on the fact that Fred Hale had been a fan of the Boston Red Sox. He’d grown up in Maine. He had been twenty-seven-years old when the Red Sox won their last championship before trading away Babe Ruth and, in the collective memory of a city and a nation, bringing a kind of curse that would make it impossible for them to win a championship again.

Reporters asked Fred Hale who was his favorite player from that Sox team.

He couldn’t say.

They asked him the most memorable moment from that World Series.

He didn’t have one.

Hale claimed not to remember the last World Series that the Red Sox had won more than eighty years earlier. This would make good sense for many reasons: it had been enough years before that it would be unreasonable for him really to remember any plays or players from a baseball team. Collective memory and records might contain that information, but games back then weren’t televised, and any images the World’s Oldest Man had retained from those games would have come from newspaper reports, photographs, at best a radio broadcast. Or better yet an entirely different kind of memory: his imagination.

It would be easy to conjecture that there’s also a deeper truth buried within Fred Hale’s not having a clear memory of the 1918 World Series: the Red Sox had been very good in the years preceding those games. They had Babe Ruth on their team, after all, and though he was mainly a pitcher at the time, he was, after all, the greatest player in the history of the game. The Red Sox’ win that year was just another win in what I’m sure appeared as if they would be wins and wins and wins in the years to come. Our memory in most instances is inductive; in the moment when our team is winning they are winners, and if we live in that moment we are freed if only momentarily from memory’s selective demands and thrust into the moment, and if our brains fly, they fly forward to those moments in the future—how far off can they be?—when that team will again win and win and win and win in some strange eternal present that contains nothing but victory and grandfathers and cardinals and honey.

In interviews, Fred Hale said that what kept him from remembering the 1918 World Series was none of these mealy-mouthed things I’ve listed above.

Fred Hale simply wasn’t much of a Red Sox fan when he was twenty-seven. It was his wife who, until she died in 1979, watched all the games she could and indoctrinated their five kids into the same.

Fred Hale gave his last interview to a reporter at the Syracuse Post-Standard just before the 2004 World Series began, exactly a month to the day before he died and gave way to the new oldest person in the world, a woman who lived somewhere in China. She possesses some entirely different set of memories—personal and collective, some we might even call a variant of luck known as superstition, or an ossified group memory we call tradition.

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