Janey Way Memories: The Last Father

Last Friday night, my wife and I attended the Music Circus production of “A Chorus Line.” We loved the show.

One of the most compelling stories in the production was the story of Paul, a young, gay, Puerto Rican dancer trying to earn a part in the chorus line.

During his interview for the part, the choreographer asks Paul to tell his story.

Despite his reluctance to open up about his life, Paul breaks down and tells all.

As a boy, he was different from all the other boys. He didn’t like sports and really didn’t want to rough it up. He wanted to dance.

So, he taught himself to dance by watching Hollywood musicals. By the time he got into high school, his difference from other children caused trouble for him. They teased and bullied him. Eventually, he sought the help of a psychologist who told him he was perfectly normal and urged him to drop out of school and pursue a career in dance. So, he took the psychologist’s advice and left school. But, it wasn’t that easy for the 16-year-old boy from the Bronx find a job as a dancer?

Ultimately, he got a job dancing in drag in a club on the lower east side of New York. His new occupation embarrassed him and he didn’t dare to tell his parents. However, when the manager of the show decided to take it on the road to Chicago, Paul asked his parents to give him a ride to the airport after the evening show. That night his parents surprised him by arriving early to pick him up, and when he walked by them in full costume, gaudy dress and all, they recognized him. This made him feel horrible, but he went on to finish the show.

After the show, he walked out the stage door and discovered his parents talking to the show manager. He saw his dad point a finger at the manager and say: “You take good care of my son.”

At this point in the interview, Paul broke down and said, tearfully, “that was the first time my dad ever called me his son.”

This was a touching moment in the show and it brought back memories of my father. I remember him introducing me to his friends, saying proudly, “this is my son, Marty.”

What made Paul’s story even more meaningful to me is that just two days before seeing “A Chorus Line,” I attended the funeral of one of the Janey Way fathers, Virgil Petrocchi. In fact, he was the last surviving Janey Way father.

His son, Dan, delivered the eulogy. It was a good story about a man who lived a good life, had a good sense of humor, gave sound advice to his children and cared deeply about all the children in the neighborhood. Virgil, like all the Janey Way fathers, played a special role in my life.

These men coached little league, took the boys camping, set off fireworks on the 4th of July, and taught us how to live our lives with honor and dignity.

With Virgil’s passing, all the Janey Way fathers have left us, but we will always remember them in our Janey Way Memories.

marty@valcomnews.com

Janey Way Memories #124: A Chance Encounter

In fall of 1969, I completed my advanced infantry training at Fort Lewis, Washington.
Two weeks later, I boarded a plane headed for Germany, my next duty station. After three days at the 29th Replacement battalion in Frankfurt Germany, I boarded a bus and headed off to join the 510th Ordinance Company in Gunzburg, Bavaria.
When I arrived at the 510th and assumed my duties, fall was ending and winter was approaching. By the first week of November, snow covered the ground. It remained there until April of 1970. This kept us pretty much limited to our base. However, by April, the sun came out and we began to venture into town and explore the countryside.
One Saturday evening, my friends Jack, Walt and I headed into Gunzburg, one kilometer away, to have a night on the town. As we explored the main part of town, we discovered a little wine bar called the Wein Keller (wine cellar). Curious, we went in.
The place had wine for takeout on sale. Or, you could pick out a bottle you liked and drink it in the back. We picked a bottle of Moselle wine called Rosengarten and drank it on the premises. The shop owner told us find a table and be seated.
Minutes later he came in, uncorked the bottle and poured our wine. We picked our glasses up and smelled the wine. The aroma was wonderful. We tasted the wine and agreed it didn’t taste at all like the swill we drank at home. We knew we were on to something. For the rest of the evening, we sipped the wine, ate some snacks and chattered away.
At some point in the evening, a group of three older German men engaged us in conversation. “Where are you from,” they said. We told them that we were American soldiers stationed at Prinz Eugan Kaserne just down the road from Gunzburg. Almost in unison, they thanked us for our service to Germany.
By 11 in the evening, we had finished our bottle of wine and stood up to leave the wine bar, but before we could exit, one of the old German gents asked if we would like to come to his home for a night cap. “Sure,” we said.
So, we followed the men to a nice stone house in a residential neighborhood near the bar. There, we were served more good German wine and a tray of meat and bread. They asked us where we lived in the United States. I said “California,” Jack said, “New Jersey” and Walt said, “Oregon.”
They were particularly interested in hearing about the Golden Gate Bridge and the Pacific Ocean in California and the Statue of Liberty and the Empire State Building in New York City. They didn’t know where Oregon was.
After we finished the wine and meat, our host poured coffee for us and brought out a tray of pasties. We were getting full, but we ate and enjoyed. Finally, our host poured us a glass of Schnaps and we toasted to peace and prosperity. By now, it was 2 a.m.
So, we thanked our host and headed back to the base. Our first evening out had turned out better than we could have imagined. We made some new friends, drank some very good wine and learned a great deal about German hospitality. Now my first night on the town in Gunzburg is yet another culturally-enriching Janey Way memory.

Janey Way Memories #122: Hanging out with my aunts

The Relles/Petta family has always been close-knit. When I was growing up on Janey Way, the family gathered often for holiday dinners, parties and road trips.
So it’s no surprise that after I retired in 2001, I began to meet regularly with my aunts at their Thursday coffee gathering. Back then, my mother, and aunts Alice, Kay and Margaret met regularly at the Muffin’s Etc. on 57th and H streets. That gathering has since moved to La Bou on Howe Avenue.
It is no big deal. We usually just chatter about current affairs, family happenings and stories from the past. The stories these ladies tell crack me up.
For example, my aunt Kay recently told me about my (step) Grandpa Rosario Petta’s migration from Sicily to the USA. He arrived first in New Orleans, Louisiana. There he worked for the railroad, saving money to pay back for his passage here. She tells me that after his first week on the job, he stood in line to sign for his pay. Standing there, he noticed the men signed their pay slip with an X. So when he reached the front of the line, Rosario, a man who read and wrote in three languages, signed his pay slip with an X. The sad truth is that the other men could neither read, nor write, hence the X.
After he finished repaying his passage to the USA, Grandpa Petta moved up the Mississippi River to Chicago Heights, Illinois. Some of our family still lives there. It was there that Grandpa Petta met my grandfather Xeverio Relles and grandmother Elena Sclafani/Relles. He rented a room from the Relles’ and they all became good friends.
Sadly, my grandfather Relles died in the 1920 Spanish flu epidemic that killed over 500,000 people in the USA alone. When that happened, my grandma took her three boys, George, Ross and Martin Relles to Sacramento to be with family. Grandpa Petta followed her to Sacramento.
There, he proposed to her. With three boys to raise, she needed all the help she could get. She accepted his proposal. Soon they managed to acquire a property on 52nd Street and 14th Avenue in an area called Colonial Heights. Grandpa Petta, a farmer, liked this property because it was located above the flood plain.
One day in the 1920s, as they sat in their kitchen drinking coffee, Grandma said to Grandpa, “When I married you, I thought that your had money from the “old country.” He replied to her, “I thought you had money from insurance from your husband’s death.” They both laughed and went on with their challenging lives, raising seven children. Ultimately, five of those children graduated from University, a testament to the Petta’s hard work and working class values.
I won’t see my aunts this Thursday as they will be out of state attending a family wedding. But, on the following Thursday, we will gather as usual to share more stories and reminisce about our Janey Way memories.

Janey Way Memories No. 121: Army Football

I played football in 1962 at Sacramento High. That year I played weak side end for the junior varsity team. I had a good season catching several passes from quarterback Bob Ferguson. I even scored a touchdown in our last game. That gave me the confidence to ask the coach for approval to play football for high school credit in the fall of 1963. He rebuffed me saying, “Let’s see if you make the varsity team.” That disappointed me so much; I didn’t even try out for the team that year. I thought that marked the end of my competitive football career. It didn’t.
In the fall of 1969, I shipped out for a tour of duty with the U.S. Army at the 510th Ordinance Company in Gunzburg, Germany. After arriving at the 510th in the fall, I soon learned that they participated in an army competitive flag football program. Units from all over Germany competed in this program. The 510th team had just finished its football for that year, but next year loomed on the horizon.
When tryouts began during the summer, I participated along with my friends Jack and Walt. Jack had played pitcher on the baseball team at the University of South Carolina.
Walt played linebacker at Laney Junior College in the bay area. Another fellow, Dave Goss, had played on the freshman football team at Penn State. We had the nucleus for a good team. Jack would be our quarterback. Walt would play linebacker and Dave Goss played on the defensive line. I played tight end. Our team bonded together as we practiced hard and looked forward to a successful season.
We won our first game easily and quickly gained confidence. Jack whizzed passes to me and the other receivers, and our running back zigzagged through the line for big running plays. By the end of our 8-game season, we were undefeated. That got us into the playoffs.
We played the first playoff game against a team that won the league title in Augsburg a big army town. We handled them easily, winning 28-7. Next, we went to Munich to play for the Bavarian Section title. There the going got tough, but we won a close game, winning 14-7. I caught the winning touchdown pass.
Now, we were heading off to Stuttgart to play for the Southern German championship. The whole battalion was buzzing with excitement.
We bused up to Stuttgart on Friday evening, staying over at a barracks near the field. I remember arriving at the field that day feeling really nervous. This was it. If, we won this game, we would play in the all-German finals in Frankfurt. It wasn’t to be. We played hard. The game was close. I nearly scored a touchdown, getting inside the ten yard line on one play, but we couldn’t get into the end zone on the ensuing plays. We lost 13-7.
Our spirits were low on the bus ride back home, but our buddies were waiting for us when we arrived. They dragged us over the enlisted man’s club and drank to our success. At formation on Monday morning our commanding officer praised us for representing the battalion honorably. It was a great feeling.
That turned out to be my only Army league football experience. Prior to the next fall, I discharged from the army. However, I would play football again in the State of California league and the Sacramento City League where John Ducray led our team to the city championship. I will never forget my Army league football experience though, yet another hard-hitting Janey Way memory.

Janey Way Memories: Traveling to Spain

JaneyGang
In September of 1969, I completed my military training at Fort Lewis, Washington, and received orders to serve in West Germany. A few weeks later I boarded a charter plane headed for Rhine-Main Air Base in Frankfurt, Germany. A few days later, after processing through the 21st Replacement Battalion, I was on a bus headed for Gunzburg in southern Germany.

By this time, fall was settling in and the weather was changing. In November, the first snow began falling. It remained on the ground until April of 1970. By that time, I had settled in, made friends, and planned a trip for my summer leave. Along with my best friends, Jack and Charlie, I would travel to Spain.

And so it was that one Saturday in June we donned our back packs, got in cab and headed for the train station. There we booked first class tickets to Barcelona. Within an hour, we headed on our way. The train took us to Munich first, where we changed trains. When we stepped onto our assigned car we took note of a placard on the door: Orient Express. Yes, indeed, we were boarding the train made famous by Agatha Christy. Off we went.
The first thing we learned about European train travel is that a ticket does not guarantee you a seat. For the first three hours we stood in the space by the restroom at the end of our car. Eventually, three passengers exited and we claimed their seats.

After a dozen hours or so (no bullet-train here) we landed in Paris and changed trains. Jack had a sandwich at the train station. That proved to be a mistake. With an hour he had full-on food poisoning. In the end though, it worked out for him. While he hung his head over the rail of the train being sick, he met a girl name Pat. She ended up spending the next three days with us.

When we landed in Barcelona, the four of us booked rooms in a Pension, and headed out to explore the city. We had a ball. We visited a modernistic park designed by the famous Spanish architect Gaudi, the Barcelona Zoo, and a famous walkway called Las Ramblas. Later, we shared a wonderful Spanish dinner.

After three days, we traveled to Madrid, the beautiful capital of Spain. There, we toured the famous Prado museum, viewing incredible paintings by the likes of Goya and El Greco. Over the next few days, we explored much of the central city, seeing beautiful buildings, cathedrals, and upscale stores.

However, all good things come to an end. By Friday, we were on our way back to Germany. Thirty hours later we arrived back in Gunzburg completely exhausted, but already planning our next adventure.

During my tour in Germany, I traveled extensively. In fact, I took a European discharge there in 1971. After that, I continued to travel for six additional months. By then, I had visited Austria, Yugoslavia, Italy, Switzerland, France, Belgium, and Spain. The travel bug had definitely bit me.

Since that trip, I have traveled all over the world, setting foot on six continents. Only Antarctica has eluded me. But, my first trip in Europe, back in 1970, is still an unforgettable Janey Way memory.

marty@valcomnews.com

Janey Way Memories: Remembering Catholic Youth Organization Basketball

Last Friday night, I watched my grandson Angelo play in a youth basketball game. It was a blast. Angelo at 4 feet, 10 inches tall was one of the big kids on the court.
The boys played on the main basketball court at San Juan High School—a regulation court with 10-foot baskets. They looked pretty small on the big court, but their enthusiasm and endurance amazed me. When Angelo took a rebound, he drove the ball quickly up court, before passing the ball to an open shooter. Later in the second half, he took a long shot which rolled around the rim and dropped in. That shot gave his team a 2-point lead, which they never relinquished. The final score was 33 to 31.
Watching the boys play brought back memories of my own youth basketball experience in the Catholic Youth Organization (CYO) basketball league. I joined the Saint Mary’s CYO right after graduating from Saint Mary’s School in 1960. Father John Puliz, the pastor of the church, started the club that same year. He felt the teenagers, who attended the church, needed a wholesome outlet for their youthful energy. The activities sponsored by the CYO included dances, trips, and team basketball. I signed up right away for basketball.
We had our first fall practice at Kit Carson Junior High School in East Sacramento. Bob Hocking served as the coach of our team. Coach Hocking had played basketball at Sacramento State College. He had lot of knowledge to share with our inexperienced, young team, which included my friends Dan Petrocchi and Dick Mckechnie. We learned how to play a three, two-zone defense and how to run a 1-3-1 offense. We had already knew the basics of basketball (dribbling, passing and shooting), but did not know how to play as a five-man team. Coach Hocking had his work cut out for him, but over time he molded us into a pretty good team.
In October we started our 10-game season. It was so exciting. Coach Hocking assigned me to the point guard position. My responsibilities included dribbling the ball up court and initiating plays. I had a pretty good set shot, and the coach encouraged me to take it when I had the opening. I remember scoring in double figures during a few of our games. That made me feel like my hero Bob Cousey of the Boston Celtics. Other times I passed the ball to big Dick Mckechnie in the key or to Dan Petrocchi on the wing. Dan had a good jump shot and often scored on those opportunities.
Our team played against teams from Sacred Heart, St. Francis, Immaculate Conception, All Hollows, and Saint Patrick’s churches. All the teams were very competitive, and the games were close—no blow-outs here. In the end, we took second place. Immaculate Conception, with their 6-foot, 8-inch center, won the league.
I have never forgotten my CYO youth basketball experience. In fact, I often see coach Hocking at meetings of the Dante Club of Sacramento. He always says, “How are you doing kiddo? Keep writing those columns.” I am glad the old coach enjoys reading my stories. I certainly have never forgotten all he taught me, another inspirational Janey Way Memory.

martin@valcomnews.com

Janey Way Memories: Meeting New People

After I completed my military training at Fort Lewis, Washington in September of 1969, the army assigned me to duty in West Germany. Soon, I was on a charter plane headed for Europe.
There, I received orders to report to the 510th Ordinance Company in Gunzburg, West Germany. Gunzburg lies in the state of Bavaria in the southern part of Germany, but even there the weather was beginning to turn cold in mid-October. Soon, the snow began to fall and we were pretty much confined to our base during the long, cold winter.
By April though, the sun came out and melted the snow. Then, my new friend Jack and I decided to get out and explore the countryside. We started in the town of Gunzburg. It is a picturesque, old village dating back to Roman times.
We wandered through the cobblestone streets checking out the old cathedral, the theater, the stores, and the restaurants. Eventually, we stumbled upon a neat little tavern called the Lowenbrau Steube. There, we wandered up to the bar and ordered a beer. The 40-something looking bartender poured us each a one-pint glass of good, German beer.
We began talking with the man. His name was Walter. He co-owned the tavern/restaurant with his wife Liz. He poured the drinks and Liz cooked. Soon, Liz came out from the kitchen and introduced herself. She spoke good English, asking us our names and where we came from. Jack was from New Jersey, and I from California. She had lots questions. She asked me about San Francisco and Hollywood. She asked Jack about New York City.
Liz introduced us to her two daughters, Monica, a pretty Fraulein in her mid-20s and Petra, 13, who was still in school. She and Walter had met just after the war. He had fought in the German army and spent time in a British Prisoner of War (POW) Camp. After the war, the British released the captive German soldiers and sent them home. Walter was lucky, as Gunzburg came out of the war relatively unscathed. The farmers there went about their business as they had before the war, indeed, as they had for a thousand years. Walt and Liz met, got married, bought the tavern, and the rest was history.
We would spend many nights at the Lowenbrau Steube during our tours of duty in Germany, drinking good German beer and eating Liz’s fantastic food. We soon met other friendly people. George, the middle aged tippler who drove a fast car and wore traditional Bavarian clothing: a green blazer with a crest emblazoned on the pocket and a felt hat unique to that region. We also met Horst, an office manager at Gunzburg City Hall. Horst and his wife Rosvitha had us over the Christmas Eve dinner that year. We watched the 1970 world cup of soccer there and spent many holiday’s there including Fasching (German Mardi Gras) and New Year’s Eve.
Liz treated us like the sons she never had. She prepared special meals for us that weren’t on the menu.
That chance encounter resulted in lasting friendship with Walter and Liz. Sadly, I never saw them again after leaving Germany in 1971. They are probably long since departed from this world. But, I will never forget the experiences I had in their little tavern: another unforgettable Janey Way memory.

Janey Way Memories: Discovering Soccer

When I completed my military training in September of 1969, the U. S. Army assigned me to do a tour of duty in West Germany. Then, after returning to Janey Way for a brief vacation, I flew on a military charter plane to Frankfurt, Germany and ultimately bused to the small Bavarian town of Gunzburg where I served in the 510th Ordinance Company.
When I arrived there in mid-October, I noticed the weather was noticeably cooler and wetter than California. By mid-November, snow had covered the ground. It would stay there until mid-April. The harshness of the weather really limited what we could do. I wanted to venture out into the country side to see what was there, but we mostly just walked into town to shop and enjoy the restaurants and taverns. Soon, Christmas passed, and ultimately spring arrived, bringing with it warmer, sunnier weather.
By April, the snow finally melted and we began to hike the Germany countryside.
One Saturday afternoon, my friend Jack and I hiked toward Gunzburg, crossing the Danube River, and then turning right toward the southern part of the town. As we walked along the levee on the edge of town, we sighted a park. We noticed quite a few people there and headed over to see what was going on. The park featured an out-of-service swimming pool on one side and a sports field on the other.
We saw a soccer game in progress on the sports field, so we walked over and blended into the crowd. I remembered playing soccer in high school physical education class, but we did not play the way these people played. We stumbled, crashed into each other, missed passes and, well you get the picture, we weren’t very good. These German players looked masterful. They ran down the field like gazelles, dribbling the ball with grace, then kicked long, arching passes into the middle of the field, where a waiting player, leaped and struck the ball with his head toward the open net.
I couldn’t believe my eyes. It was awesome. I instantly developed a whole new appreciation for the game of soccer or as the German’s called it: football. I swore that I would take up the sport when I returned home, and I did.
When I returned home in 1971, I began to look for soccer team to play on. I had no skills, but what the heck, I could learn. I eventually got my opportunity.
A friend of mine, Bill Sontag, played for a team made up of people who coached in the newly formed Sacramento youth soccer program. He knew I played football in high school, so he asked me to play goal keeper on his team. I accepted his offer and began a fifteen year saga playing adult recreational soccer.
I ultimately worked my way out of the net and onto the field to play the positions of right fullback and left winger. Soccer became a way of life for me, occupying 35 Sundays throughout the year and it all goes back to that Saturday afternoon in Gunzburg when I first discovered the sport.
At age 67, my sporting days have long since passed me by, but my thoughts of playing adult competitive soccer with my friend Bill still linger, another unforgettable Janey Way memory.

marty@valcomnews.com

Janey Way Memories: My first Christmas away from home

In September of 1969, I completed my military training at Fort Lewis, Washington, and then the U. S. Army issued me orders to serve in West Germany. In early October, I boarded a charter plane headed for Frankfurt, Germany. After three days in Frankfurt, I received orders to serve at the 510th Ordinance Battalion in the small German town of Gunzburg.
If the truth be told, I arrived in Gunzburg ill-prepared for the German climate. It didn’t help that my army duffel bag, filled with most of my clothing, disappeared en-route. It eventually arrived, months later, but initially, I had minimal gear.
When I arrived on base, my new friend who called himself “Huck”, said, “We need to get you some warm clothes to wear.” So, next morning, we walked the half mile into town and did some shopping. That day, I bought a fur-lined coat, a good pair of boots and a warm hat. Now, I almost looked like a German.
That day, I also ate my first German meal: Wiener schnitzel. Wow! It tasted great. I knew that I was going to like this place.
The town, too, was fantastic. Gunzburg dated back to the Roman Empire. In fact, the Romans built the cobblestone street that went through the center of town. That day, I walked on a 2,000-year-old road.
I quickly settled into the routine of army life. I basically had a Monday through Friday job at our ordinance site, with Saturdays, Sundays and holidays off. It was great.
By mid-November, the first snow fell and it covered the ground until, April. You got used to it, though. I soon began to enjoy it.
Thanksgiving came and went and Christmas approached. I started to feel a little homesick then. However, my first Christmas away from home turned out wonderfully.
Mom sent me a care package in mid-December full of treats. We went out and bought a small tannenbaum (Christmas tree) for our room. We decorated it with ornaments purchased at a store in town. In town, they decorated the streets with red ribbons, greenery and ornaments. I bought small presents, and mailed them home.
Christmas day, I attended services at the beautiful Gothic cathedral in town. That evening, the officers hosted Christmas dinner for the men in the dining hall. They came, in full military dress attire, accompanied by their wives. After a fine turkey dinner with all the trimmings, they distributed small presents to all of us. Christmas away from home wasn’t so bad after all.
I have never forgotten that first Christmas in Germany.

Janey Way Memories: A small neighborhood in a big town

The area of Janey Way covers one city block. It runs left off M Street and dead ends just before it reaches Elvas Avenue. That made it a perfect place to grow up.
Twenty-three houses lined Janey Way when I grew up there. The block also included three empty lots. They made perfect locations for baseball fields, Christmas tree forts, and motocross.
Because the street dead-ended at Elvas Avenue, we played touch football on it, as well as kick-the-can, fly and you’re out and even the hubcap trick. Sometimes we just stood on the street and talked loudly. I don’t think our parents thought much about that behavior, but they never bothered us when we did it.
However, while Janey Way was a small block, it made up one little part of a pretty big town. Back then Sacramento had a population of around 150,000. You didn’t call it a big city, that made people laugh. It was a big town though, with some really great attributes. We had historical landmarks like Sutter’s Fort and Old Town. We also had the California State Fair, the Crocker Art Museum, Capitol Park, Edmunds Field, and the Alhambra Theatre. So, I never felt constrained in Sacramento like some small-town residents might feel.
We also had San Francisco, a big city, just 90 miles away. When I was growing up, my parents often took us there for visits to sites like the Golden Gate Bridge, Fisherman’s Wharf and Golden Gate Park. At the park, we toured the San Francisco Zoo, the De Young Museum, the Japanese Garden and the Aquarium. Mom always brought a picnic lunch which we ate out on the plaza in the park. Our trips to the big city were memorable.
When I recall the time when I grew up on Janey Way, I can’t help but think I had the best of all worlds. I had the intimacy of a small town with much broader boundaries that featured museums, sports stadiums, theaters, four high schools (Sacramento, C.K. McClatchy, Luther Burbank and Hiram Johnson) and two colleges (Sacramento City and Sacramento State).
Having all that helped produce many success stories on Janey Way. Gary Costamagna became the City Fire Chief; Harry Viani, a dentist; Lou Viani, an architect. Most of us graduated from a university.
On the other hand, my son-in-law grew up in Manteca. He tells me that many of his childhood friends still live there despite the fact that it has little to offer in the way of jobs or opportunities.
I am glad I grew up on Janey Way: a small neighborhood in a big town.

martin@valcomnews.com