Earlier this month I shared lunch with a couple of my oldest friends: Dave Jurin, Tom Watson and Luigi Talini.
We drove all the way out to Walnut Grove on the Delta to eat at Guisti’s, a landmark in that area. Dave and I arrived first, so we waited in the bar for the others to show up. Soon, Tom sidled in and the bartender pointed us to a seat in the restaurant. A few minutes later Luigi arrived and joined us at our table. He had come all the way from his home in the Bay Area to join in the festivities.
I have known these guys since the 1950s when we attended St. Mary’s School together, so it didn’t take long for us to start telling old, well-worn stories.
Tom spun out the story of when he and Vince Angel took Candace Doddridge and Colleen Kelly into the crawl space under St. Mary’s church to “steal some kisses.” They used church candles to light their way.
Unfortunately, they were caught in the act by the inquisitive Father Russo who ushered them out into the garden area beside the church where he admonished them for taking lit candles down there saying: “You could have started a fire.” Fortunately, Mother Carmela let the kids off easy for that offense.
After that, Luigi told us how he ultimately got involved with his families nursery business on 56th Street and Folsom Boulevard. After high school, he went to work for the old Cal-Western Life Company on 21st and L streets. Then, after working there for seven years, he walked into the boss’s office one day and quit.
That weekend, he had a talk with his dad saying that he needed to take a job at the nursery. His dad responded, “I don’t want you to work here.” Dad, ultimately gave in though, and let Luigi work at the nursery. The rest is history. Now, Luigi owns and runs the family nursery as well as operating his own landscape company in Walnut Creek. Life has a way of taking turns we don’t expect.
Dave Jurin told us a story with a twist of its own. When he returned from a tour of duty in Viet Nam in the 1960s he tried attending City College. That didn’t work out for him. So, he went into the culinary business. He worked for years first as a cook, then a sous chef at places like the Sterling Hotel and the Del Paso Country Club.
However, when he hit his 40s, he returned to college and ultimately graduated from Sacramento State College with a degree in primary education. He planned to teach, but that career did not pan out for him, so he went to work with the Sacramento County Department of Human Assistance as an eligibility analyst. Life took yet another unexpected turn.
These days our lives have come full circle. Tom and I are retired. Dave is contemplating retirement later this year. Luigi soldiers on, running his business enterprises. Who knows when he will throw in the towel?
Now we are just old friends, telling our stories and sharing some laughs. “There is no friend, like an old friend.”
When I grew up on Janey Way in the 1950s and ‘60s, 40 children called it home. They came in all sizes: short, tall, big and small. One boy in particular stands out in my memory. His name was John.
John had a nearly 100 percent hearing loss, but he managed to forge a place for himself in our gang. He taught himself to read lips early on, so he could speak words that he couldn’t even hear. But, the kids teased him a little though, because of the way he mispronounced some words.
He didn’t let it get him down. Instead, he developed a sense of humor. Remember the old saying, “Make them laugh with you, not at you.” John embraced that idea. He told jokes; he mimicked the other boys. And, sure enough, they began to laugh with him. They even gave him a nickname: Bobaloo. I don’t know where that came from. I think Desi Arnaz used to sing a Cuban song of that name. No matter, John became the Bobaloo of Janey Way.
John did well in grammar school in the David Lubin special needs class. His speech improved, and he demonstrated a real talent for the arts. However, in junior high school and high school he floundered, but he graduated on time.
After high school, the kids of Janey Way went in all different directions; some joined the military, and others went to college or got jobs.
John tried several different occupations. He worked first for our neighbor Rick, in a liquor supply distribution warehouse. After that, he worked with his cousin Ron doing landscaping. Eventually, he took a job with Relles Florist, first delivering flowers, and then doing floral design. He taught himself to make arrangements, funeral sprays and even wedding flowers. He had found his nitch.
John has worked at Relles Florist for more than 30 years. He has become my designated floral designer. When I order flowers for my wife, I always ask that he to do the work. That way, the arrangement is sure to be beautiful.
I think you can tell that John is more than just my friend. In fact, he is my younger brother. These days, John lives in our family home on Janey Way. He takes good care of our family home, and I help take care of him. They don’t call John bobaloo anymore, he is just Johnny. Now, bobaloo is just another inspirational Janey Way memory.
When I returned home from my 2-year tour of duty in the U.S. Army in 1971, I had to literally start my life all over again. All I possessed was the cloths on my back, but fortunately my parents let me take up residence at their home on Janey Way. I knew I had to get some money fast, so I did what all the returning soldiers did back then: I applied for unemployment compensation.
That was easy. I took the bus down town to the unemployment office and stood in line with the other unemployed people. After a while, my name was called and I went to a desk to meet with a claims representative. He helped me fill out my application, and then told me, “You should receive your first check in about two weeks.”
Sure enough, on Friday, two weeks later, my check arrived. It didn’t seem like very much money. I knew I could not live independently on that paltry amount. However, my mom gave me a good suggestion. She said, “go down and apply for a job with the state, Marty. They always need new employees.”
So early next morning, I went down to the State Personnel Board and put in my application for an entry level position: Clerk I. Soon, I received a notice to come and take a test for that position. The test proved easy and I passed with flying colors. By December, I interviewed for a job with the Department of Justice.
The interview went well. The guy heading up the interview panel was Robert Scott. He told me right off that he knew and liked my parents. I got the job.
I began my career with the state of California on Dec. 26, 1971. Little did I know that it would become my life’s work. My goal had been to become a teacher, but circumstances beyond my control ultimately prevented me from obtaining that goal.
Things went well at the DOJ though. I got promoted to Clerk II a year later. I remember receiving the news from a supervisor named Marlene who ran my unit, the Record Analysis and Coding Unit (RAC). She did not like me much for whatever reason, but she was happy to advise me I placed number one on the list.
I soon left RAC and took a swing-shift job in the Folders Unit. That group filed criminal dispositions in a massive warehouse that held almost 5 million criminal records, encased in folders, stacked on shelves just like you find in the library.
We received a stack of about 700 criminal disposition forms every shift and had to file them by the end of the night. I finished early most nights, and then sat around pretending to look busy until the shift ended.
Working swing shift enabled me to return to Sacramento State College and resume my academic pursuits. A few years later, in June of 1975, I graduated from Sac State with a baccalaureate degree in Social Science, and the rest is history. I took a state job as a Research Analyst at the Department of Rehabilitation, where learned how to use a computer. Ultimately that led me to a career in Information Technology. I retired in 2002 as the Chief of the Bureau of Administration at the Stephen P. Teale State Data Center.
My mom’s suggestion to apply for work with the state in 1971 had led me to a career I had never even imagined back then. What did Forrest Gump say? “Life is like a box of candy, you never know what you are going to get.” Now, my return home from the Army in 1971 is just another surprising Janey Way memory.
When I separated from the U.S. Army in Germany during 1971, I opted to stay in Europe to travel. So, together with my buddy, Sergeant Jeff Lucas, I bought a car and headed south. Over the next three months, we traveled to Austria, Yugoslavia and Italy. We toured Salzburg, Vienna, Venice, Florence and Rome.
However, in July, Jeff told me that he had to return home to begin interviewing for teaching jobs in the fall. So, we drove back to Germany and sold our car. Then, Jeff headed home and I boarded a train bound for Barcelona, Spain.
There, I met up with three Australian blokes we had encountered in Italy. They were going to Pamplona, Spain for the running of the bulls, and when they offered a ride, I accepted. Off we went to Pamplona, then to San Sebastian, and ultimately to the party capital of Europe, Tormolinos. We stayed there on the south coast of Spain partying with the European summer tourists for weeks. Then, in September, my money began to run out. I had to return to Germany to get my military hop back to the U.S.A. So, I grabbed my backpack and sleeping bag and headed off.
I took a bus and then a train to the French boarder, then hitch-hiked through France to Belgium, where I met my new friend Guy Muzzi. After staying with Guy about a week, I traveled to Rhine-Main Airbase in Frankfurt Germany where I arranged a military flight back to the states.
I ended up at an Airbase in New Jersey, where I signed my final military document, a form releasing me back to civilian life. At last, I was a free man. From there, I took a bus to Allentown, Pennsylvania to visit my good friend and travel partner, Jeff Lucas.
Unfortunately, Jeff was not at home. However, his kind mother allowed me to stay over and wait for him. That worked out, because Jeff returned home a day later. He was surprised and happy to see his travel buddy. We renewed acquaintances for a few days, then I was off again, this time I headed for Detroit, Michigan. Detroit is right across the river from Windsor, Ontario, where my new girlfriend, Judy Caverzan lived.
I hitched a ride with a trucker, and made it in one day. There, I walked across a bridge to Canada and found Judy’s home. No one answered the door, so I waited on the porch. Soon a car pulled up and Judy jumped out. Like Jeff in Allentown, Judy was flabbergasted to see me. But, I visited her for about a week and we had a great time touring Windsor and Detroit and gallivanting through the Canadian country side. Soon though, I had to get going. Judy offered to buy me a plane ticket home, but I refused. I was on a mission!
So she drove me over to the outskirts of Detroit and dropped me at a rest stop. I put a thumb out again and found a trucker headed for Laramie, Wyoming. We got there in one day, arriving at sunset. That proved a nerve racking experience. I had to spend the night under a freeway over-crossing. It was cold and kind of frightening. The people, who saw me, honked and yelled vulgar insults – this, to a military veteran.
Anyway, the next day, I put my thumb out again and got a ride from yet another trucker. This guy was going to Denver, Colorado. We never made it that far. We came to an interchange in Nebraska that went one way to Denver and the other way to Salt Lake City. I wanted Salt Lake, so I got off right on the freeway: not a good plan. Eventually, a Nebraska state trooper stopped and told me to get off the freeway. So, I hopped a fence and began to walk. Ultimately, I came to a bridge over a stream where I set out my back pack with a sign saying, “California or bust.” Then I waved at all the cars going by. A lot of them went by, but soon a car stopped.
The guy driving the car looked a little strange. He wore a black leather jacket and a cowboy hat. He had hair down to his shoulders and dark sun glasses. Surprisingly, he handed me the keys and said, “You drive.” When I got in his mint green, souped up, Plymouth Roadrunner, he lowered his seat and pulled the cowboy hat over his eyes. I started the car and took off like a rocket.
We arrived at Salt Lake in late afternoon and I pulled off at the edge of town. I disembarked there after thanking the guy for the ride, and took a minute to access my situation. I looked south and saw what looked like an industrial district. I looked north and saw stores, restaurants and motels. I went north. Soon, I found a motel I thought I could afford. So, I went in and booked a room for the night for the reasonable price of $13. Then, I grabbed the key and proceeded to my room which was clean and comfortable. I thought I had died and gone to heaven.
After showering and changing my clothes I went out to get something to eat. I quickly found a café that looked inviting. After my cool reception in Wyoming and Nebraska, I wondered out loud, if they would refuse to serve me. No problem, the young waitress said, “Come on in partner, and sit down right over here.”
I will never forget how good that felt. I still hold the people of Utah in high esteem. Next day, I went back to where I stood the day before, and held out my sign. A few minutes later, a Volkswagen van pulled in to the gas station on the corner and stopped. The driver went into the garage to get a part, and the passenger ran into the adjacent mini-mart. When they came back out, they waved me over. I was in luck; they were going to Chico, California.
Off, we went, through Utah, then Nevada and into California. By night time we had arrived in Chico. There, the driver said he would be visiting his parents in Sacramento the next day, and invited me to spend the night.
Next morning, we drove the two hours to Sacramento and I had him drop me off at MacFarlane’s Candy on Alhambra Blvd. Hopefully, my mom would be working that day. Thankfully, I saw her waiting on a customer as I entered the door.
She said, “Hold on sir, I will be with you in a minute.” Then she did a double-take and ran around the counter to hug me saying, “I can’t believe you’re back.” Later, she called dad who came to pick me up. When we arrived home, my younger brother John was waiting. It was like an old fashioned reunion.
I have never forgotten that day. I turned a page then, and began a new, adult life: yet another inspirational Janey Way memory.
They say you can’t go back, and I believe that is true. My wife Barbara and I recently returned from a 10-day whirlwind trip to Europe.
We spent three days in Budapest, Hungary, and five days in Prague, Czech Republic, We also took a 2-day side trip to Gunzburg, Germany, my U.S. Army duty station more than 40 years ago. Wow, what blast from the past. The side-trip turned into quite an adventure.
We took the train from Prague to Regensburg, Germany, near the Czech border. Unfortunately, our train was late so we missed our connection, causing a one-hour delay. So, we wandered into the station to have a coffee. Unfortunately, we had no euro’s so we asked a waitress where we could find an ATM. She shook her head no. So, we sat out to find a machine. Fortunately, a nice fellow who had been sitting at the counter followed us, and pointed us down stairs. So we went down, acquired some cash, then had coffee. Overall, our experience in the Regensburg train station was not friendly.
Finally our train came, and we headed off to Gunzburg. What a trip. We caught one of those trains that stop frequently. We must have hit 15 stops between Regensburg and Gunzburg. By the time we arrived, night had fallen.
There, we disembarked at the station, and headed into town. Even in the dark, I could see how much Gunzburg had changed. When I lived there in 1969, Gunzburg was a farm town with a train station (Banhof) on one side, farms on the other side and the Markplatz, or central plaza, in the middle. At the end of the Markplatz, stood a hundreds-year-old clock tower with an arch through its middle where cars drove through. The clock tower still stands proudly at the end of the square, but not much else remains, as it was 40 years ago.
The Markplatz has seemingly been re-constructed, turned into an out-door mall, smaller, but not unlike our K Street. Virtually all the businesses that once stood there have been replaced by up-scale shops, even a cell-phone store. None of that existed in 1969. Worse, my old haunt, the Lowenbrau Steube (a sort of bar and grill) has long since disappeared. Even the street it stood on had been replaced by walkways covered with paving stones.
Fortunately, we found our hotel located right on the Markplatz, then walked right up the street to have a wonderful, traditional German dinner with wiener schnitzel, kartofel salad (potato salad), and a hearty German beer.
We left Gunzburg the next day, after taking a picture of me standing in the Markplatz. I doubt that I will ever return there again.
It is true, you can’t go back. Things will never be the same, not even in little Gunzburg, Germany.
In April 1969, I was drafted for service in the U.S. Army. Then, after five months of intensive training, and with my brother Terry already serving in Viet Nam, I received orders to report for duty in West Germany.
After a short leave, I flew out of San Francisco to Fort Dix in New Jersey, and then to Rhine –Main Air Base in Frankfurt, Germany. There, I received my permanent military assignment to the 510th Ordinance Company in Gunzburg, Germany.
I served 19 months in Gunzburg, traveling whenever I could. I remember taking one 10-day leave to Spain with my friend Jack Broadbent. We had a great time. After that, I swore that when my discharge day came in 1971, I would take a European out and continue my travels abroad.
True to my promise, I took my discharge in Europe and set off with my buddy Sergeant Jeff Lucas to see the world.
We traveled to Austria, Yugoslavia and then Italy. However, after about three months, Jeff had to return home for a job interview, so I kept touring by myself.
Eventually I met up with three Australian guys at the Laughing Whale camp ground just west of Barcelona, Spain. They were headed to Pamplona, Spain for the annual running of the bulls. That sounded like an adventure to me so off I went with the Aussies.
We ran with the bulls in Pamplona, and then took our traveling party to Torremolinos on the south west coast of Spain. However, after staying several weeks in Torremolinos, I realized that my financial resources had dwindled to a perilous level. It was time to return home. So, I wished the Aussie boy’s good bye, and headed back toward Germany.
First, I hitchhiked to up the coast to Valencia and caught a bus to Barcelona. Once in Barcelona, I took a train to the Spanish/French border. There, I hitched a ride with a French couple headed home to Strasburg on the French/German border. They spoke German, so we had a nice conversation as we traveled. They were surprised at how well I spoke German. Eventually, they dropped me at a rest stop in Dijon, France. There, I stood with a sign that said, Brussels, Belgium.
Amazingly, a Dutch fellow pulled up almost immediately and offered a ride. He was headed for Holland, but promised to drop me in Brussels, at the Rue Du Dahlia, where my friend Guy Muzzi lived. Then, after an all-day ride, we pulled up to a building in Brussel’s that said: Frere Muzzi Vin Distribution. That was my friends wine business. So I stepped outside of the car, thanked my Dutch friend, and walked up to the entrance to the building. Just then, a workman came out, and I asked him if I could see Guy. He told me to wait, and went back inside. Soon Guy came out, and his jaw dropped. We had met in Torremolinos where he enjoyed my company so much, he told me to stop and see him when I came back through Belgium. He was really happy to see me. He took me across the street to his flat and then returned to his work to shut down for the day.
Later, when he returned, we went out for dinner at a café owned by his friend Claude who took an immediate liking to me. He loved California: the Golden Gate Bridge, Yosemite Falls and Disneyland. We spent a wonderful evening drinking wine, playing cards and talking about my home on Janey Way.
I had made a good start on my journey home. I was in a nice place now with my friend Guy. Rhine Main Air Base in Frankfurt Germany waited – the next big step on my way home to Sacramento.
On September 27, 2014, I attended my 50-year high school reunion.
It turned out to be quite an experience. I saw some friends I had not seen since high school. The night was almost surreal.
We had begun our reunion weekend with a cocktail party the night before. That proved a good starter for a great weekend. One hundred fifty people filled a small room adjacent to the Club 56 Sport Bar.
As soon as I entered, I saw Tony Stratton, a fellow hurdler from the track team. We had lots of good memories to share. Later, I met a girl who I had asked out on a date back then, but she turned me down. She seemed to regret her decision now. How time changes our perspective of things.
Next, I met some of my friends from the junior varsity football team. We recalled how our team came together as the season progressed and how it ended with a great victory in our final game.
Then we talked about our coaches, our teachers, and our great principal at Sacramento High School: Albert Sessarago. We are so proud and thankful we attended this fine school.
The next night, 300 of us attended the reunion dinner/dance at the Dante Club. We literally filled the place up. We had the whole facility to ourselves. As I sat down for dinner, I looked around our table and saw both new and old friends. On my left sat Kathy and Dave Bristol who worked with me on the reunion committee. Across the table, I saw Wayne Alamo who grew up in River Park. We laughed when we recalled all the characters who grew up in that enclave: Tom Watson, Richard Carroll, Vince Angell and others. Back then we all hung out at Paradise Beach on the American River. Those days seem like such a long time ago.
After dinner, we all gathered for a group photo, just like we did for our senior ball. Then the DJ began playing the old songs—our songs. That brought back memories of attending concerts at the Memorial Auditorium. I almost always got in free then because my dad was a Sacramento police officer. We just went around to the back door, and the officers working the event would let us in. We saw the Beach Boys, the Rolling Stones, James Brown and others that way. How could we forget those good old days?
As the evening progressed, I wandered out to the bar for a beverage and just surveyed the whole scene. There, I noticed a couple of guys who were the “big men on campus” back then. They looked a little funny to me now. They strutted the same way they did back then, but now they are bald on top and paunchy in the middle. Time, it seems, is a great equalizer.
As I sat there checking things out, I thought about my best friends from high school, both deceased now: Albert Wilson and Mike Gilson.
I used to drive around with Al in his 1950 Chrysler sedan. We cruised K Street, and ate pizza at Shakey’s Pizza Parlor on 56th and J streets. Those were good times.
I went to St. Mary’s School with Mike Gilson. Our teacher, Mother Carmela, gave him a hard time. He just did not have the patience for school. Later, we swam at the river, played football and basketball at the school, and slept out on warm summer nights. Sadly, he lost his life in Viet Nam.
Now, the good times we had then are just a bittersweet Janey Way memory.
I discharged from the U.S. Army in Europe during April of 1971. After that, I travelled through Austria, Yugoslavia and Italy with my friend Jeff Lucas. Then we had to return to West Germany in July so Jeff could go back to the Pennsylvania to interview for a teaching position.
After arriving back in Germany, we sold our car and I bought a train ticket for Barcelona, Spain. I left Germany the next day, and when I arrived in Barcelona, I went straight to a camp ground called the Laughing Whale. It sat right on a beautiful section of Mediterranean beach and teamed with European travelers.
Once there, I pitched my tent and went right down to the beach. There, nestled on the sand, were three Australian guys I had met in Venice, Italy. They were very happy to recognize a fellow traveler so I sat down next to them and struck up a conversation.
They had been in Barcelona for about a week and were planning to travel up to Pamplona in the north of Spain for famous “running of the bulls.” They asked me if I wanted to come along. I said yes, and two days later, off we went.
We went to Pamplona, ran with the bulls, and partied for about three straight days before heading off for Torremolinos on the southwestern coast of Spain in an area called Costa del Sol (the sun coast).
We arrived there three days later, and took up residence in a camp ground located next to a resort with a high rise hotel, restaurant, bar and massive swimming pool.
We went right down to the hotel to check out the scene. It was crawling with European travelers, mostly young women, there on summer holiday. We had discovered paradise.
We took up a strategic location in the bar, ordered beer, and checked out the action by the pool. I noticed immediately that a group of guys were sitting near the pool, playing guitars and attracting a crowd. So I pulled my harmonicas out of my pocket and went down to join them.
Once there, I blew a few notes and figured out they were playing traditional blues songs in the key of A. Then, I started accompanying them with my harmonica. After finishing an instrumental song, they asked me if I would sing a song. I said yes, and told them to play “Little Red Rooster” in the key of A. It went great. They liked my singing and my harmonica playing, and I hung out with them the rest of the day. I already loved Torremolinos.
I ended the day with an attractive young French girl named Lucianne. Life was good.
I spent several weeks with the Australians in Torremolinos. We went to a bull fight, featuring the famous matador, El Cordoba. We travelled up the coast to Malaga, where we spent an afternoon in a Bodega drinking fortified wine and eating tapas, mostly fresh sea food.
I had a fabulous time there. It was the perfect time and place for a young American man to be in that wonderful sea coast city. Now it’s just another incredible Janey Way memory.
After finishing my two-year tour of duty in the U. S Army, I returned home to Janey Way in October 1971. The old neighborhood seemed really different. Almost all of my friends had moved away. However, my friend Randy Puccetti, who still lived at home, soon came by. He told me that the Janey Way boys had formed a slow-pitch softball team and encouraged me to join.
So, despite the fact I had not played baseball since Little League, I showed up, mitt in hand and prepared to play in the next game. My good friend, Jim Ducray, who coached the team, said I can only play you three innings Mart, we have too many players tonight.
Then he handed me the team jersey, a T-shirt emblazoned front and back with the following: “Downtown Dealer’s Association.” I laughed. This was a veiled reference to the plethora of pot dealers now living in the downtown area. Then, out I ran to my new position: Right field (where the weakest player on the team goes). No problem. I would soon rectify that assignment.
I got off to a bad start though. In the third inning a guy hit a towering pop fly at me. In my rush to catch the ball, I overran it, and the ball trickled off the end of my glove, allowing a run to score. After that, I ran to the dugout where I remained for the rest of the game. So much for good starts. Fortunately, we won the game.
The next game turned out better for me. Our team fielded just enough players that evening, so I got to play the whole game. It proved a tight game with the lead seesawing back and forth. But, by the fifth inning we led 8 to 6, as we ran out to the field.
Randy, our pitcher, fielded a weak grounder for the first out. But then, he got into trouble. He walked one batter, then another, putting men on first and second base. The next hitter popped out. With two outs, Randy walked the next batter. The bases were loaded. A hit would likely empty the bases, erasing our lead. The situation grew tense.
With a right handed batter up, I edged over toward Bill Jones, our center fielder. In high school, he had played on the varsity team at Sacramento High School. Randy threw the next pitch, a ball. Then he proceeded to fill the count at 3 and 2. The next pitch was critical. We were on the tips of our feet. Randy hurled the pitch: a strike. The batter swung, cracking a hard line drive to center field. I broke toward the ball. Bill Jones held his ground preparing to field the ball on one bounce. I kept running. As the ball hurtled toward the ground, I bent down, arm extended, and the ball popped into my mitt. I immediately stood straight up extending my arm to show the ump I had caught the ball, and he yelled, “You’re out.”
I looked back and Jones. His eyes were as big as silver dollars. Then I ran in toward the dugout past the flabbergasted Puccetti. As I passed him, I said, “Come on bud, it’s time for us to hit.”
We won the game, 12 to 4.
Needless to say, I started every game from that day forward at my new position, left field. The team had a good season, finishing in second place. One of the teams with sponsorship and full baseball uniforms won the league.
The Downtown Dealer’s Association never played again after that year; I went on to play soccer, a sport I truly loved. Now my days of playing on that storied team are just another hard hitting Janey Way memory.
One Sunday last month, along with 26 million other Americans, I watched the Federated International Football Association World Cup of soccer championship game on television. The game lived up to its hype. After 120 minutes of hard fought play, my favorite team, from Germany, triumphed 1 to 0.
The game brought back wonderful memories of my time abroad and my own experience on the soccer pitch.
Back to 1969, after completing my U. S. Army training in Fort Lewis, Washington, I received orders to serve a tour of duty in the Republic of West Germany.
Weeks later, I boarded a plane for Frankfurt, Germany. Ultimately, I landed in the small town of Gunzburg in Southern Germany, where I served with 510th Ordinance Company at a German military base called Prinz Eugan Kaserne. There, I had many great experiences. I ate wonderful German food; drank good beer and wine, met many gregarious and friendly people.
However, my most lasting and exhilarating memory of Germany is of soccer. I remember walking along the fringe of Gunzburg one Sunday in spring and stumbling upon a soccer game in progress. The fans cheered wildly for the home team as players moved the ball back and forth on the field with speed and grace.
At one point, one of the home team players kicked the ball 30 yards to the front of the net and another leaped high into the air and headed the ball right into the net. It blew my mind. I asked a German standing next to me. How does he do that? He replied, “We play football from the time we are 5 years old and over time we learn these skills.”
I said to myself, then and there, “I have to play this game.” Thanks to my friend, Bill Sontag, I did learn how to play “the beautiful game.”
When I returned home to the states, I began looking for an opportunity to play soccer, and eventually I found it. One day, I engaged in a conversation with my friend Bill, and he mentioned that he coached youth soccer.
I told him that I wanted to play the game. Bill told me that he was starting a team composed of youth soccer coaches and asked me to join.
Weeks later, I arrived at Glenbrook Park, dressed in shorts and a t-shirt, ready to play. Bill assigned me to play goal keeper. He figured that with my size, 6 feet, one inch, 210 pounds, as well as my experience playing wide receiver in football, I could play that position well. He was right; I fit the position like a glove.
Playing in the net, I saw the whole field of play in front of me. That taught me the strategy of soccer. Learning the skills took lots of time and practice. But, we played 35 games per year, and eventually my skills matched my desire and love of the game.
I played soccer for nearly 15 years. Age ultimately caught up with me and I quit in my mid-40s. Soccer is a game for the young and hearty.
Now, I watch the game on television, and I watch my grandson, Angelo, play it. I yell at him, “pass the ball to Ryan, now run to the open space, shoot.” He rarely listens. He is too busy playing “the beautiful game.”
These days all that is left are my Janey Way memories of Germany, and soccer and my dearly departed friend, Bill Sontag.