On July 14 an obituary in the Chicago Tribune read: "Bunker Hill, Ind.—Elva A. Kling Reyburn, an avid Chicago Cubs baseball fan who has waited since 1908 for her favorite team to win the World Series, has died at age 108."
The notice said that Mrs. Reyburn, who was born on July 27, 1880, had been a seamstress for many years and of late had watched her beloved Cubs on TV with the aid of a satellite dish bought for her by her nephew. The obituary did not mention that the Cubs have gone longer without winning a championship than any other team in any continuously running professional league in the history of Planet Earth. That, of course, is common knowledge.
Bunker Hill lies in farm country 160 miles southeast of Wrigley Field and is not on the way to anywhere. As I stand by Elva's grave on this warm, early fall day, I am overwhelmed by the sense of peace and continuity that wafts over the plot like tassel dust from the cornfields surrounding the tiny cemetery.
"Auntie's about as close to home as you can be," says Patricia Kling, 62, the wife of Everett Kling, 65, the nephew who bought Elva Kling Reyburn the satellite dish. Just beyond those rows of corn is the house Elva lived in since she was a child, and right across the road is the Kling residence, where she moved in 1972. She, of course, outlived her two husbands, both farmers. Charles Reyburn died in 1963. Her first husband, Jess E. Cunningham, who lies here beside Elva, was killed 63 years ago, when he was hit by a streetcar. Her parents are close too. Lewis H. Kling, her father, was struck by lightning and
died in 1912, at age 79; her mother, Phoebe, born in 1845, died of natural causes in 1933.
For 152 years this tiny part of Indiana has been the property of the Klings. Quietly, the cycle of toil and rest, of seeding and harvest, goes on here. Dust to dust. Winter to summer. Hope. Baseball.
As far as anyone knows, Elva Kling Reyburn went to only two Cub games in her life, both on the same day, a doubleheader against the Pirates in the 1940s. But she was hooked long before that. Nobody is certain exactly when she contracted her Cub affliction, but her nephew knows that she played "some ball" herself in the 1800s and was something of a "tomboy."
Might she possibly have gone to that miraculous 1908 event itself, the Cubs' last victorious World Series?
The Klings think not. Elva never mentioned it. Anyway, you wouldn't have traveled that far for a baseball game back then.
No matter how few games she may have attended, Elva Kling Reyburn was a devoted fan for as long as anyone can recall. And this is her link to all of us, for deep inside we are all Cub fans, hoping and rooting to grasp something that always eludes our fingertips. 1918.1929.1945.1969. 1984. So close each time. Many good people have come and gone waiting for the Cubs to win the big one. In a way, being a Cub fan is like being alive: At the same time that you realize you have a heart to love with, you find it can be broken by something as silly as a team of young men cavorting on a grass playground in the middle of a big city. This is a discovery that bonds children to their parents, and parents to the past.
Elva Kling Reyburn had a long past, but she lived for the present. "She talked to those players, says her niece Pat, now at her kitchen table. "Of course, they couldn't hear her. But she talked to Andre Dawson, and if he hit a home run, you could hear her holler! And Rick Sutcliffe. I'd hear her yell, 'If you can't do any better than that ...,' and she'd turn the set off."
"She liked this year's team," says Everett. "She liked the youth. She said, 'Maybe that Wilson's going to be a good pitcher.' "
I peer into Elva's bedroom and see her Spartan bed, a calendar for Cubs games and, stuck to a wall, her high school graduation speech from 1895 and a letter from Purdue basketball coach Gene Keady (she loved the Boilermakers, too), and I feel as though I know the woman.
I say goodbye to the Klings and start to drive off, and then I turn down the road toward the graveyard. It's late afternoon and the Cub game will be starting soon on WGN, but I want to take in the serenity of this place one more time.
Elva Kling Reyburn watched until the seventh inning of this year's All-Star Game, told Pat Kling she didn't feel well, and died three hours later. I want to tell Elva now that the Cubs have a chance this year, that Andre has found new spark in those creaky knees. But I'm sure she knows that. She knew it early on. She died when she did because she saw the Cubs were flirting with the impossible, and she knew that if they won it all she would never survive the shock.
Rest in peace, Elva. The game goes on.