Two Roads Diverged on First Mountain

by Christine Adams Beckett

Yogi Berra is arguably the most famous resident of our fair township.  A former Yankee and baseball legend, he is a fifteen-time All Star, winning the American League MVP three times, in 1951, 54 and 55, playing in no fewer than 14 World Series and holding numerous World Series records, including most games by a catcher (63), hits (71) and times on a winning team (10).  (For more please see: http://www.yogiberra.com/about.html).

Here in Montclair, he is best known as an outstanding citizen with a love for his adopted hometown, founder of the Yogi Berra Museum and Learning Center on the campus of Montclair State University, and a supporter of almost every imaginable civic organization.  He donates his autographed baseballs to charity auctions all over town, he patiently and with good humor poses for photos with fans in Watchung Plaza, and can be found chatting with admirers at a New Jersey Jackals minor league game.

While his civic example is shining, it is his sayings — the Yogi-isms — that get us smiling and, yes, pondering.  Strangely profound in their nonsensical structure, they are perfectly fitting for a Jersey boy who may now be best known as a dispenser of humorous philosophical nuggets without airs or self-consciousness.  These aphorisms may be construed as a malapropism, but upon further consideration, appear to be snippets of truth in a crazy world.   “If the world was perfect, It wouldn’t be,” said Yogi,  reminiscent of a Nietschean paradox.  One must understand the bad aspects of life to appreciate the good ones.  He’s brilliant in his nonsensical statements.  Yogi-isms are, perhaps uncosciously, illuminating.  Billy Crystal remarked “the core of it is the truth.  The core of it is a convoluted image that becomes very pristine when you look at it.”

Edgewood Terrace & Edgewood Rd, Montclair, NJ 07042

Montclair’s Now Famous Fork in the Road

Perhaps Yogi’s most famous quote is his ridiculously perfect, “If you see a fork in the road, take it.”  According to the January 17, 2013 issue of The Montclair Times, Yogi gave these directions to his childhood pal and fellow ball player Joe Garagiola about 30 years ago.  This famous snippet, which has passed into Americana, has been now further immortalized by our own fair town in a street sign.  This week, Township Councilman-at-large Rich McMahon, a Montclair lifer along with his own boyhood pals, Yogi’s sons and fellow Montclair lifers Larry and Dale Berra, honored our hamlet’s quirky claim to fame by designing a street sign transforming the literal fork in the road, the same fork that has been lent to dubs, graduation speeches and quips these last three decades, to a literal fork in an actual road.  The sign marks the divide where Edgewood Terrace meets Edgewood Road on the east face of FIrst Mountain amidst beautiful, but not overly-fussy, homes nestled in the hillside with breathtaking views of the Gotham skyline.  Going to the right will be a shorter trip; turning to the left might lead to a prettier view of that aforementioned skyline.  But either route leads … to Yogi’s house.

Our resourceful Superintendent of Public Works even made the sign himself, in Montclair’s own municipal repair shop.  Rich and his pals Larry and Dale, along with Yogi’s grandchildren, were on hand for the unveiling, but Yogi and his wife Carmen stayed at home, “under the weather.”  Although he appreciates being honored while still happily perched on the ledge of First Mountain, Yogi decided to sit this one out.

“If you don’t know where you are going, you will wind up somewhere else.”

Both quotes are rather reminiscent of Robert Frost, a thematic nod to The Road Not Taken, in a gum snapping kind of way, although the choices Frost presents, one imagines, do not lead to the same destination, or to Yogi’s house.photo

The Road Not Taken

Two roads diverged in a yellow wood,
And sorry I could not travel both
And be one traveler, long I stood
And looked down one as far as I could
To where it bent in the undergrowth;

Then took the other, as just as fair,
And having perhaps the better claim
Because it was grassy and wanted wear,
Though as for that the passing there
Had worn them really about the same,

And both that morning equally lay
In leaves no step had trodden black.
Oh, I marked the first for another day!
Yet knowing how way leads on to way
I doubted if I should ever come back.

I shall be telling this with a sigh
Somewhere ages and ages hence:
Two roads diverged in a wood, and I,
I took the one less traveled by,
And that has made all the difference.

Robert Frost