Where have YOU been? A 20-year personal retrospective

Of course, no one will remember my first run as a columnist with the Pocket News back in the previous millennium. There may still be some folks in the neighborhood who were old enough to read back then, but anyone that old couldn’t possibly remember my humble musings. Suffice it to say that it is true—I did write a column that appeared in every issue of the Pocket News for a few years back in the 90’s, I had a lot of fun with it, and it won lots of awards.

Okay, that last part isn’t true, but one loyal reader did clip out a column I wrote about a River Village couple whose home had been defaced with graffiti while they were out of town, and she mailed it to Reader’s Digest. They paid me $1,000 for the right to run it in their “Heroes for Today” section, and that’s the story of how I became an “internationally-published” writer.

Lots of water has rushed under the bridge since then, and, in consideration of the fact that I’m asking you to take an interest in the things I have to say in this column in the foreseeable future, I think it’s only fitting that I fill you in on what I’ve been up to since the last time we met here in these pages.

One of the biggest things that happened in my life was that I got the idea to throw a parade here in the Pocket area. Tired of trekking down to my hometown in the Delta every year to enjoy Independence Day the way it was meant to be enjoyed, I decided to organize an annual 4th of July parade here back in 1995. Pulling that off involved more of a struggle than locals might believe. Among the many initial logistical battles I fought was the idea that the parade would take place on one side of the street while the other side was left open to allow the uninterrupted flow of traffic and avoid angering constituents. Luckily, logic prevailed, and Windbridge Drive was completely blocked off, more than 60 floats safely paraded all the way to Garcia Bend Park, and the event was well received by a community so well suited for it.

That inaugural event was, in fact, so well received that I got really chesty the following year and proposed an accompanying full-on aerial fireworks display to be held at the park the night before the parade. This idea was met with immediate and understandable resistance. After all, with so many shake roofs bordering the launch zone, the risk of fire was not unrealistic. Still, I had established a bit of a track record with community events, so I used the momentum generated by the parade to convince the powers that be to grant the permits required, and, voila, another success.

Unfortunately, the event ultimately became too successful for its own good. What started out as a wonderful evening attended strictly by Pocket/Greenhaven residents soon began to burst at the seams with spectators from all over the Sacramento region. Within five or six years of existence, we began to outgrow Garcia Bend Park, really the only facility in our community suitable for such a crowd. My solution was to skip a year. I figured we could cancel the show one year, have all those people who drive in from outlying communities show up to find nothing going on, and reap a thinned out audience the following year once word got out that the event was canceled.

Our representative at City Hall was not inclined to risk disappointing the voters in the community and insisted that the show go on without me, despite my vigorous protest. Two years later, with no steps taken to curtail the encroaching crowd, local residents—along with residents from North, South, East, and West Sacramento and beyond—witnessed the last fireworks show ever held in the Pocket. Fortunately, unlike the aerial fireworks show, the parade lives on to this day, and, every time it comes around, I think of the incredible neighbors I worked with when these events were in their heyday. I know that, by singling out a few of these folks, I run the risk of offending the many folks who gave so freely of their time and effort to make the parade and fireworks show such great successes, but I would certainly be remiss if I were not to mention the names of Vonne Matney, Joanie Johnston, and Diane Chin, all of whom did much of the actual work in bringing my ideas to fruition. You may not know them, but, if you’ve ever enjoyed a parade or a fireworks show in the Pocket, you’re in their debt.

Frequently in my old columns, I used to mention my grandparents, who lived with me at the time. They raised me from the time I was born, and when they reached a certain age, it was time for me to, more or less, return the favor. My grandfather passed away in 2005 after suffering a massive coronary in the middle of the night in our home. It was the kind of exit that didn’t allow me to say a proper goodbye, and that’s a thing that haunts me to this very moment. I think about him every day, honest to God, and I shed a tear for his absence from my life.

My grandma, bless her heart, is still alive. She turned 100 years old in May. A couple of years after my grandfather died, she began to develop dementia, and it’s pretty severe right now, so much so that I was compelled to admit her to a nearby convalescent home so that she can receive 24-hour care. This was probably the most difficult decision I’ve ever had to make, and our home will forever seem empty without her. Dementia is a cruel disease. She is healthy and communicative, but she really has no idea who we are. It would have been such a blessing to be able to enjoy her ample wit and wisdom at this point in her life, but, with about a 10-second-term memory, she is unable to muster much of either.

My little son, Ruben, about whom I also wrote extensively back in the day, is now a senior in college, a living, breathing, monument to the idea that time does, indeed, fly. He is currently the Editor-in-Chief of the school newspaper at the University of the Pacific—a better writer than his old man—and I spend a great deal of time worrying about him moving around the city of Stockton, which, well-deserved or not, seems to be featured prominently on the news every night.

In 2002, Ruben received a little sister for his 10th birthday, one Gabriella Faith Dominguez, the little miracle baby that my wife, Lisa, and I spent so many years longing for but thought we’d never have. Despite being cut from the same cloth and looking very much as though she could be Ruben’s twin, one decade removed, Gabby could not be more different than Ruben in many ways. She possesses a razor-sharp sense of humor, is pointedly opinionated, and ultra competitive. Athletically, she exhibits the killer instinct that Ruben was always too kind to wield in competition. She manages to impose her will on the field while simultaneously being the sweetest, most thoughtful, and, to me, most beautiful, girl I could ever imagine.

The last major difference in my current life that I’ll tell you about is that I began working as a Realtor right about the time that I stopped writing columns for the Pocket News. All I can say about that is that, ever since the big collapse and the ensuing foreclosure crisis in 2006, the banks have completely transformed the way we do business in the industry. It’s an unwritten rule that a Realtor should never speak ill of the market, but, after nearly 20 years in the business, I feel I’ve earned the right to say that I feel as though I’ve gone through the worst period ever in real estate in America and lived to tell about it. 
Now that we’re all caught up, I look forward to returning to telling you stories about our neighbors here in the Pocket/Greenhaven area and sharing observations about life here in our little corner of the world. What happens in, say, Vegas may stay in Vegas, but I think everyone should know about our wonderful community and the people who make it that way.

The Pocket Watch appears in every issue of The Pocket News. Jeff Dominguez can be reached at

Boating with Uncle John Goldie

One Easter Sunday in the early 1960s, our large extended family gathered at my Aunt Alice Goldie’s house for dinner.

Marty Relles

Marty Relles

As we sat around Aunt Alice’s big family room eating ham, scalloped potatoes and salad, my brother Terry and I began a conversation with our uncle John Goldie.

Unlike, most of our aunts and uncles, John was Scottish, not Italian. In fact, he grew up in Glasgow, Scotland and served as an officer in the British Royal Navy during World War II. As we talked, Uncle John shared some of his naval wartime stories with us. We listened intently.

Then he said something which really got our attention: he had just bought a 17-foot boat, and he wanted to take us fishing in it. Wow, that sounded great. Soon, we had obtained permission from our parents and a date was set.

Two weeks later, on a Saturday morning, Uncle John pulled up in front our house, towing his new boat. To say we were excited would be an understatement. We grabbed our jackets and fishing gear, bid our parents farewell and headed out to Uncle John’s waiting Chrysler sedan.

Off we headed in the direction of the Sacramento River, and thirty minutes later we pulled into Miller Park at the west end of Broadway. John circled around the parking area and headed down to the boat ramp.

Launching the boat proved to be quite an experience. First, our uncle circled the car around and began to back down the ramp. About half way down the ramp, the boat trailer began to jackknife. So, he stopped the car and pulled forward up the ramp to straighten the trailer up. Then he began backing the car up again and again the boat trailer jackknifed.

This time, Uncle John had Terry get out of the car to give him directions as he backed the boat up. That proved to be less than a good idea. Terry had a long-standing reputation as a curmudgeon. Laughing like a hyena, he provided little assistance in launching the boat.

Eventually, however, Uncle John got the trailer far enough down the ramp to launch the boat and off we went in the direction of Garcia Bend, where we would fish for striped bass. Uncle John proved to be an able boat man, and when we arrived at our destination, he dropped anchor, put a shrimp on each of our hooks and we began a long day of fishing.

Of course, we caught no fish, but had a great time. At noon, we ate a big lunch Uncle John had prepared for us, drank soda pop and listened to Uncle John’s naval stories and the story of how he landed in the U.S. after the war.

The day skittered away and eventually, we had to pull anchor and head home. When we got back to Miller Park, we had a much easier time loading the boat onto the trailer than we had experienced while unloading it. By 5 p.m., and fully exhausted, we returned home, full of stories about out great fishing trip.

Sleep came easily that night.

It has been over fifty years since the day Terry and I went boating with Uncle John Goldie. We never did it a second time. Sadly, Uncle John passed away over ten years ago. But, the story of our fishing trip with him remains as yet another wonderful Janey Way memory.

Marty’s book, Janey Way Memories, is now in print. Come to his book signing on Thursday, April, 5, from 7 p.m. to 9:00 p.m. at the Dante Club, located at 2330 Fair Oaks Boulevard in Sacramento.

Rosie and Mom

In 1952, my family moved into a three bedroom, one bathroom house on Janey Way.

Marty Relles

Marty Relles

With three young children and another child on the way, my dad felt like we needed a “bigger” house. Our family fit right into this neighborhood, as it was filled with other young families. Not only did my brothers and I meet lots of new friends, but my parents also met a whole group of great neighbors.

The Thomsen’s who lived across the street, the Costamagna’s next to them and the Puccetti’s and Viani’s down the street all welcomed Mom and Dad to the neighborhood. Phyllis Thomsen, Leda Costamagna and Pat Puccetti all pitched in to help Mom who was pregnant with my brother John at that time.

However, soon after we moved onto Janey Way, another family moved in down the street who would become Mom and Dad’s closest friends: Bernie Hart, his wife Rose and their infant son, Tom.

Like my dad, Bernie worked as a patrolman for the Sacramento Police Department. He met Dad there and probably moved to Janey Way because of the things he heard about our neighborhood.

Soon after the Harts moved in, Mom became fast friends with Rose who everyone affectionately called Rosie. It would prove to be a lifelong friendship.

It’s hard to figure what made these two young women such good friends. Their backgrounds could not have been more different. Rosie hailed from the back woods of West Virginia and mom grew up on the seacoast in Santa Cruz, California. Rose had a wry wit and told racy jokes and tall stories. Mom took things seriously. I am sure she made a good “straight man” for Rosie.

Every morning, back then, Rose left her home early, got into her mint green Cadillac sedan and drove up to our house. When Mom saw her coming, she always put a fresh pot of coffee on the stove to brew, then let Rosie in the kitchen door. Then they sat down at our big round maple dining table to drink coffee, smoke cigarettes and talk for the entire morning.

I remember even today the great stories Rose told about her childhood in West Virginia. She could really spin a yarn. Mom too, had wonderful stories about growing up with five brothers in Santa Cruz. When they weren’t telling stories, they chatted about the goings-on in our neighborhood. It seems like they spent an entire lifetime sitting at that table talking.

Right around noon, Rosie gathered up her young son Tom and drove off the grocery store to buy something to cook for dinner. Mom often took my little brother John and went with her. I remember them driving off in Rose’s big caddy while my brother Terry and I played in our front yard. It seems so long ago now.

Rosie passed away several years back. In 2009, my mom followed her. I guess she missed Rosie and wanted to join her.

There is an interesting twist to this story. My brother John lives now in our family’s home on Janey Way. Rosie’s son Tom inherited her house and has recently remodeled it. Later this month, he and his wife Diana will move into the home where his mom lived for her entire adult life. Both John and Tom look forward to being Janey Way neighbors again.

I bet that Rosie and Mom are looking down from the heavens and smiling.

Fishing with Dad and Uncle Ross

One day in the late spring of 1961, my dad came home from work and told me, “This weekend, you and I are going fishing with Uncle Ross.”

Marty Relles

Marty Relles

Sure enough, Friday evening about 5:30 p.m., Uncle Ross drove up in his station wagon with my Cousin Jim. Dad loaded two fishing poles, some tackle, two sleeping bags, a grocery bag full of food , and coats and clothing for us into the car. Then off we went on our fishing trip.

We drove out Folsom Boulevard toward Placerville. Back then, no freeways had been built so we drove out Folsom Boulevard to Folsom. Eventually that road ran into State Highway 50.

When we reached Placerville, we turned north on Highway 49 in the direction of Georgetown, an old gold rush village.

Just before we reached Georgetown, we turned east on a dirt road and drove about five miles to a place where we stopped and made camp.

The thing I remember most about that ride was the dust. It billowed up and covered Uncle Ross’ car.

What a mess.

But who cared, we were going to camp out under the stars. Wow!

After we unloaded the gear, we began to erect the tents. This dates back before the days of REI, so the tents we had came from Army Surplus. We set up one tent for Dad and Uncle Ross and one for Jim and me. Then we unrolled our sleeping bags inside the tents.

While we did this, Uncle Ross built a fire and cooked dinner: hot dogs and canned beans. I tell you this, hot dogs and beans never tasted so good. For dessert, we had Hostess Cup Cakes. As we watched the sun set, we drank coffee with lots of milk and sugar in it.

When the sun came down and dark settled in, we beheld the magic of the entire Milky Way spreading across the night sky. I remember the majesty of that to this day. However, soon we tired, closed our tent flap and fell into a deep sleep.

When morning came, Jim and I awoke to the sound of Uncle Ross cooking breakfast. He started the fire, then made coffee, then cooked bacon and eggs. The smell of the cooking bacon proved intoxicating, and soon we all dressed and joined Uncle Ross around the fire.

After breakfast, we gathered our gear and headed down to the Rubicon River in search of trout.

Since this was my first fishing trip, I took in all the sights. We trekked over huge granite outcroppings, went around large fir trees, and crossed gurgling streams filled with water so clean, you could scoop up a hand full and drink right from the stream.

Eventually we arrived at the river where Dad and Ross went upstream and Jim and I went downstream.

Try as we might, Jim and I caught no fish. We saw some big ones, but they ignored our bait. In the end, we headed back upstream to find Dad and Uncle Ross.

When we found them, they proudly held up two trout each: nice looking fish, all about twelve inches long. Jim and I were happy somebody caught something. After admiring the catch, we all headed back up toward the camp site.

As always, the walk back out always seems a lot harder the walk in. But we made it back without an injury, or a whimper. Soon we had the car loaded and headed home with our bounty.

We stopped in Placerville on the way home to eat lunch. We had burgers and fries. Keep in mind, this was long before people worried much about cholesterol and the food tasted great. After filling our bellies, off we went to Sacramento.

I remember this trip as if it were yesterday. The clean air, the pure water, the simple food cooked outdoors all added up to a wonderful time with my father, my uncle and my cousin. Even today, Jim and I often think back and recall this special Janey Way memory.

Life lessons in business: Marty becomes a newspaper boy

In the summer of 1961, I decided to seek a job to earn some money.

Marty Relles

Marty Relles

At 14 years of age, a little extra money comes in handy. Unfortunately, at the time, the only jobs available to children under 16 years old were paper routes.

Both the Sacramento Union and the Sacramento Bee provided such opportunities. However, since Bee carriers delivered their papers in the afternoon, not in the early morning, I set my sights on a Bee route.

Because of their afternoon delivery schedule, the Bee routes were hard to come by, so I had a strategy for getting a route.

My good friend Gary Costamagna had the route that ran through our neighborhood, so I began by helping him with his deliveries. I folded papers with him every afternoon, and delivered his route when he went on vacation. This way, I hoped to get noticed by Mr. J. T. Ens, the district manager for all of the routes in East Sacramento.

Eventually, my strategy worked out as Mr. Ens hired me to take over a small route of 65 customers located on 51st and 52nd streets between J Street and Folsom Blvd.

Great, finally I had a route.

It allowed me to earn about $35 per month, but it took me a long way away from the neighborhood: six blocks each way, every day…including the climb over the hill at 56th Street with a full load of papers hanging on my front handlebars.

Back then the Bee printed a full-sized paper, so this proved quite a trek, but off I went every day over to my route and back. Soon, the money came pouring in.

Managing a Bee route involved three activities:

1. Delivering the paper daily, including Sunday;

2. Collecting the monthly fee for the paper from my customers; and

3. Trying to solicit new subscribers.

That is where J.T Ens came into the picture.

He held a Bee carrier meeting monthly at East Portal Park. There, he stood on the back of his big white Ford pickup truck and tried to drum up the boys enthusiasm for bringing in new subscribers. We earned a hamburger ticket (good for a hamburger, fries and Coke) just for attending the meeting, but we had to listen carefully as J.T. urged us to get new subscribers and try to win the Bee’s latest contests with prizes like trips to Santa Cruz and even Disneyland.

Sadly, I never won anything in these contests for a couple of reasons.

First, even though my route had only 65 customers, it included nearly every home in the neighborhood I delivered. Only 10 or so houses on my route didn’t take the Bee and they had no desire to take it, so to get new subscriptions I had to go on to other carriers routes.

No way, I would do that.

Second, I had minimal skills as a salesman. So when I went to a house to solicit a subscription, they just said “No.”

In the end, even though I attended almost every monthly sales meeting, I garnered few new customers for my route. Consequently, J. T. Ens never gave me a better route.

Eventually, I reached my 16th birthday and then went to work for my uncle Ross at Relles Florist. There, working weekends, I earned about $60 a month.

All things considered, I learned much from my Bee experience. I learned how to be a small business man.

I also learned the basic tenets of all business: Work hard. Satisfy your customers. Do a good job.

Those lessons have stood me well in life. Now, my experience as a Bee deliveryman is just another positive Janey Way memory.

The Death of Bernie Hart

Early one Saturday morning in 1961, I woke up to the sound of sirens screeching down Janey Way.

Marty Relles

Marty Relles

Startled, I sat straight up and then walked up the hallway to the front door. I opened the door and looked out.

There, up the street, in front of the Hart’s house, I saw a fire truck, an ambulance and a police car.

This did not look good, so I went right back to my parent’s bedroom and woke up my mom to tell her what had happened.

She dressed immediately and walked down the street.

Minutes later she returned and said, “It’s Bernie Hart. He had a heart attack. It doesn’t look good.”

It wasn’t good.

Later that day, we found out that Bernie had passed away, right there in the hallway of his own home.

Shockwaves reverberated across Janey Way. What would Rose Hart and her two children, Tom age seven and Suzie, age two, do?

I remember attending the funeral and seeing young Tom, in a grey suit, and little Suzie in a dark dress standing next to their grieving mom.

I was so sad. I truly wondered what was in store for them.

But, surprisingly, Rose and her young family did move on from this terrible tragedy.

Bernie, a wise man, had provided sufficient insurance to pay off the family house and tide them over until Rosie found work.

And, she did find work.

It seemed Dr. Max Sudoff, a respected Sacramento ear, nose and throat specialist was looking for a receptionist at this time, and Rose fit the bill. He hired her, and this began a work relationship which lasted until Dr. Sudoff retired in his late 70s.

With the help of the Janey Way family, Rose’s children did well too.

Little Suzie took up dance and performed regularly in Sacramento events including the popular “Best of Broadway” series. Young Tom graduated from Sacramento High School and earned his bachelor’s degree in political science from UCLA. Today ,he is a deputy director at the California Redevelopment Agency.

Rosie continued to live amongst her friends on Janey Way until she passed away some years back. She never remarried, saying, “I will never meet another man as good as Bernie.”

Now, the story of the death of Bernie Hart is yet another inspirational Janey Way Memory.

How the Summer of ’64 changed Janey Way

Marty Relles
Marty Relles
I graduated from Sacramento High School on June 11, 1964. Life’s possibilities seemed limitless. I enrolled for two summer classes at Sacramento City College the next week. My adult life had begun in earnest. Then something happened that summer which changed my life and the lives of all the Janey Way gang forever.

On Aug. 2, 1964, three North Vietnamese torpedo boats engaged the destroyer USS Maddox in the Gulf of Tonkin off the coast of Vietnam. The Maddox sustained some moderate damage. The story made the network news that night. Two days later another attack supposedly occurred on the same ship. Then, the next day, Aug. 7, the U.S. Congress passed the Gulf of Tonkin Resolution which authorized the President to do whatever necessary to assist the government of South Vietnam. This didn’t seem like such a big deal to us.

Little did we know.

That fall, my friend Mike Gilson joined the U.S. Marines and went off to train at Camp Pendleton in Southern California. After eight months of training, Mike came home on leave at the beginning of summer, 1965. He swam with us at the river, went to movies and generally had a great time. After his leave, Mike shipped out for Vietnam.

We would never see Mike again.

He lost his life in a fire fight in February of the next year. When that happened, we grieved and also realized how serious the war in Vietnam was. More Janey Way kids would soon follow Mike into battle.

Jim Ducray volunteered for the Army in late 1966. He trained at Fort Ord and then received his orders for Vietnam. As he prepared to leave, his older brother Bill told him, “when you get there, tell them you can type.”

Of course, Jim couldn’t type, but when he arrived in Vietnam, he set out in search of the administrative company. He found an officer there and asked if they needed a typist. Fortunately, the officer said they did, and Jim got reassigned from his infantry unit to the typing pool.  Jim did most of his Vietnam service behind the lines and returned home unscathed.

Dick Kinzel wasn’t as lucky. He was drafted in 1967 and soon followed Jim over to Vietnam. Dick served in an artillery battery which supported the infantrymen on maneuvers in the field.  He lived through the infamous Tet Offensive of 1968 when the North Vietnamese Army and the Viet Cong attacked U.S. bases throughout South Vietnam. It was a horrible battle and many U.S. lives were lost.

Dick told me, “It got so bad, we lowered our cannons to ground level and fired them directly at oncoming Vietnamese attackers. I was lucky to survive.”

Some of his buddies were not so lucky. Fortunately, Dick returned home in 1968.

That year my brother Terry volunteered for the U.S. Army, and soon after our neighbor Roger Thomsen received his draft notice.

Terry trained as a military policeman and shipped out to serve in Saigon.

Roger was not so lucky. He trained as an infantryman and when he reached Vietnam in mid-1969, shipped directly out to the field. Three months later he sustained serious wounds in a fire fight.

When Terry heard of Roger’s condition, he visited Roger at the hospital. There, he arranged for Roger to call his parents back home and the whole neighborhood breathed a sigh of relief. The Army soon sent Roger home to recuperate, ending his assignment to Vietnam.

Meanwhile, I received my draft notice, in April of 1969. As I was training at Fort Lewis, Washington, my brother shipped out for Vietnam. So when I finished my training, in accordance with U.S. military policy, the Army could not station me in the same combat zone with my brother.

Consequently, I received my orders to serve in West Germany along with the 80,000 other U.S. soldiers serving there. I spent the rest of my two-year army career as a member of the 510th Ordinance Battalion in Southern Germany. There I learned how to destroy my ordinance base, using C-4 plastic explosive and detonating cord in the event of a Russian attack on our base. Fortunately, that never happened. I returned home to the U.S. in the fall of 1971.

When I returned home, Sacramento seemed a much different place. Its borders stretched out to Rancho Cordova on the east, to near Elk Grove on the south and toward Roseville on the north.

Janey Way had changed too. Most of the kids of my generation had moved out of the neighborhood. I would soon follow. By this time, the war in Vietnam was winding down. Others like Denis and John Tomassetti would get the call, but they too soon returned home uninjured.

The war had changed us all.

We had to grow up quickly. We had all served our county honorably. After all was said and done, we had lost a dear friend, others sustained life-changing injuries, both physical and mental, and on Janey Way life would never be the same again.