Mr. Mail delivers Sinatra gossip

Pat Haley - Contributing Columnist

My mother, Ellen Haley, sold licenses for the State of Ohio during the 1950s. In those days, almost every village in Clinton County, along with the City of Wilmington, had their own deputy registrar.

Today, there is one deputy registrar for the entire county. Barb Lieurance operates a consolidated, professional agency in Wilmington equipped with state-of-the-art computers, and an efficient staff.

The Haley family lived in Port William on Walnut Street. We had a large, black, hand-lettered sign in our front yard that announced my mom sold auto, truck and trailer licenses, along with chauffeur licenses for truck drivers who wore the badges on their overalls or hats.

The license plates went on sale statewide on March 1 and auto owners had to have their new plates on their vehicles by midnight March 31. Due to the short timeframe, Mom had a thriving business. She often drew customers from other villages within the county because of short wait times, her rapid typing ability, and her friendly demeanor.

In the 1950s and 1960s, Port William sold licenses that ended in LA, Sabina plates ended in LB, and each village had unique letters assigned to their municipalities. Wilmington ended with KY, KZ and KX, which were numbered from 51 to 999.

Mom had a small room in the rear of the house complete with desk, heater, and several chairs for customers. I used to help her by emptying trash cans, picking up cigarette butts, and taking the empty pop bottles to Sanders Market for refunds. Every penny helped a large, growing family.

It wasn’t unusual for me to have ink smeared hands from picking up the old carbon paper she used for making copies with her Royal typewriter.

Once about every two months a BMV auditor, by the name of Mr. Mail, from Wooster, visited her office. He was one of only a couple of auditors who covered the entire state at that time.

I remember sitting in my mom’s office drinking root beer one afternoon when Mr. Mail walked in. He was a friendly man who went about his work in a businesslike manner. After finishing the audit, he always took time to chat with my mom. He told us about his experiences in the faraway places, at least to me, of Cleveland, Alliance and Steubenville.

On this particular day, Mr. Mail sat back in his chair, took a drink from his frosty mug, and listened to a Frank Sinatra record my mom was playing. He went on to tell my mom he liked Sinatra’s music, but not his lifestyle.

In 1951, Frank Sinatra had left his first wife, Nancy Barbato, a young woman from Hoboken, New Jersey, to marry actress Ava Gardner. This did not sit well with a lot of people in the 1950s.

“My wife, Mary, has a friend who is a hair dresser in Youngstown. Her friend is very upset about Sinatra leaving his wife for ‘that actress’ in Hollywood,” Mr. Mail said, slowly sipping his Hires Root Beer. “She was so angry she wrote a song about the divorce and was going to send it to a songwriter in New York.”

As a young boy, I didn’t know much about those types of things, but I listened intently, as both Mom and Mr. Mail seemed interested in the subject.

They chatted for another 15 minutes or so, then Mr. Mail said goodbye, as he headed out the door and home to Wooster.

I had not thought of Mr. Mail for many years until this week, when I was reading a book by James Kaplan, titled Sinatra: the Chairman, which our son Greg had given me as a gift for Christmas.

Ironically, in the book, Kaplan talked about Sadie Vimmerstedt, a grandmother, housewife, and beautician from Youngstown, Ohio. Sadie sent songwriter Johnny Mercer an idea for the song in 1957, and also gave Mercer the opening line (“I want to be around to pick up the pieces, when somebody breaks your heart”). Sadie said she liked to think that was how Nancy Sinatra felt about her husband, “Frankie boy,” who had left her in order to marry Ava Gardner.

Kaplan went on to say, not knowing exactly where to send her letter, Sadie simply addressed it to “Johnny Mercer, Songwriter, New York, NY.” Mercer received the letter. He finished the song and music, and sent a letter to Sadie advising he would share 50 percent of the royalties and credits with her.

According to Kaplan, the song was published in 1959. Tony Bennett recorded it, and Sadie’s first royalty check was for $50,000. She earned $3,000 annually until her death in 1986.

Ironically, Nancy Sinatra is now 98 years old, and has lived to see Gardner have her heart broken multiple times.

Coincidence? Perhaps. I don’t know if this is the same lady Mr. Mail described to my mom all those years ago, but it’s a nice memory nevertheless.

Old songs, memories and stories, like a river, flow past us. Sometimes they return, and we cherish them, because they may never come our way again.

Pat Haley is a Clinton County Commissioner.

Pat Haley

Contributing Columnist