Tuesday, November 21, 2006

The Summer Place, in Clayton

Another bleak winter in Tucson! Blue skies, no clouds, temps in the 80's. Ho hum! Need a little rain... Well, we'll be back in NY in 2007, ready to enjoy river views and sittin' on the deck in the cool breeze. Real grass too! Can't wait.

Monday, February 13, 2006

Laziness, and the lack of drive - writer's block?

After discovering that I have a raging case of rheumatoid arthritis (I never do anything that isn't dramatic, anymore) I just spent the last 5 and 1/2 months recuperating from a torn achilles tendon. This has been my excuse for not writing or posting any more of my narrative about growing up by The River. Finally, the decision to start on a treatment program for the RA (as it is called by those who treat it and suffer from it) paid off a couple of months back, and I can use a keyboard again.

OK, so its and excuse for writers block. But I'm back now, and ready to bore anyone who might venture here to see what the latest is. A quick look at the comments section tells me that it is a small number indeed. Oh well, at least some are reading it. I get something out of writing it. There's also the interest in other people's blogs as well. Some are quite entertaining and informative. Hope this stuff is not to boring for all of you experienced bloggers out there, but like the TV and the radio, there's always tht "off" button.


Chapter 4: Fire

Firebug is a term that has been around for a long time. I was first aware of it as a child. Fire has had a strong effect on me, since I grew up behind the firehouse, mostly positive. Fire has had many faces, almost all dating back to Clayton. Let’s start with the firehouse.

My Grandma used to read me a story about Freddie the Fireman. It was a book with moveable parts, including a fire truck that wiggled left and right on a pivot, as though it was bouncing along the street, and a hook and ladder truck. There was a fire dog, a Dalmatian, and all kinds of fire apparatus, including a tall tower where they dried the fire hose. The Clayton fire hall had such a tower, on a smaller scale, and I seem to remember hoses hanging in it. I don’t really know for sure, because it is gone now. The firemen were loud and boisterous men, who would take the time to talk to youngsters like me. I don’t really remember any of them in particular, because we moved a distance away when I was about 4, and it was too far away to visit. What I do remember is the old fire engine that made a lot of noise, and was polished a bright shiny candy apple red. It had the word “Calumet” painted on it in fancy gold letters, though I could not read them at the time. Years later, I would see it again and again in parades. I often wonder what has happened to it since. There was a competition between fire departments, and there still is, to see who could lay out a hose fastest, and other things they now call “firemantics.” Those contests always seemed to me, as a youngster, to be a contest to see who had the loudest, most powerful truck. The trucks were special, seemed to have been cut down from normal size, or maybe they were specially built that way. At some point in my life it became clear that the firemen were there to protect us, and not at all to be feared. To this day, my favorite section of a parade is the fire department. All the members in uniform, the shiny engine with its diesel rumbling, big tires rolling along, and people waving from the platforms meant to hold firemen (or, today, women), were magic to me and still are. I never really wanted to be a fireman, because I knew that my lungs were never going to be strong enough for the smoke involved. That and the fact that I was really afraid of fire!

I think all children go through a stage where the attraction of fire is dangerous for them and those around them. Part of my adult life was spent as an insurance adjuster, and I had my share of tragic fire claims where a child “accidentally” burned down the family home while playing with a lighter or matches. I think it can go either way. Freddie the Fireman was also a TV show in the 50’s, with a real person playing Freddie and telling children to be careful with fire. It is a known fact that children who are fascinated with fire sometimes grow up to be firefighters, some of whom become “firebugs.” The desire to become a hero, the need for recognition and rarely, the need to set fires drives some of these. I think most are driven by the feeling that they are doing good for the community in which they live. I admire people who can go into a burning building to save it or the people inside, putting their lives on the line for us every day they go to work. I could not do it.

When we lived in the house down the street from the school, I awoke one night to a flickering orange glow against the drawn shades. The fire siren was wailing, and I had been having a very bad dream. I must have cried out, because my mother came into the room and comforted me. It seemed that the house next door was on fire. The house, which had seemed so far away, now seemed too near, and the heat could be felt if one stood near the window on that side. Fire trucks arrived, and the fire, which seemed to be alive and dancing inside the windows of the house, was put out. I was unable to sleep, each time I drowsed going into a terrible dream about fire. Our house was, in the dream, much closer to the fire, and in danger of burning.

It wasn’t, of course, but the dream was persistent. I have no idea how long it went on, but there were other things making it difficult for me to forget it. One summer night we saw someone walking around the outside of the house that had burned, muttering, with a can of liquid. They were pouring the liquid, probably kerosene, on the house. The back part of the house was a burned out shell. It did not burn that night, for some reason. My parents reported this to the fire department or the police, and some men came to our house on a “stakeout” and lay out in the yard at night waiting for the “firebug” to try again. After several days, it happened again, and the person was dealt with in some way I did not understand at that age. Since I never researched the situation, I still don’t know exactly what happened. All I know is that the nightmares went on for a while. On some level, I must have worried that our own house would be “torched.”

In the next few years, the front of the house was home to a small store, a residence again, and then an empty shell. Briefly, it was home to a black workman who was employed by the contractor constructing an addition to the school. It was the 50’s, and he could find no one in town to house him. I knew little of this, only that he was turned away, and ended up living there. We used to talk to him every now and then when we passed by. He seemed a polite man, and pleasant to talk to. Eventually, the little shanty was torn down or moved, and the empty house foundation, weed choked and blackened, was all that remained. I used to walk to school through the lot behind the house, and could never pass it without remembering “the Fire Bug.”

That period of time contained another fire incident. An older, playmate and I were in the garage behind their house and found some matches. I don’t remember much about the reasons for it, but Phil and I decided to stuff some grass in a coffee can and make a stove. We set a match to it, and watched it burn. Somehow, the can tipped over and suddenly the dry grass around the “stove” was seething with tiny flames. We tried to stomp them out, but the wind drove the fire toward the high grass and dead weeds in the lot next door, the lot next to my house and the lot next to the firebug’s house.

I don’t know who called the fire department, but the next thing I clearly recall was being inside the house, with Phil’s mother giving us cookies. She must have called my Mother, as Mom arrived some time later, very upset because she hadn’t been able to find me, and the fire had been so intense. She was not angry with me, though I’m sure she knew how the fire started. She was very calm after the relief she must have felt in finding me. When I got home I expected Dad to be there, but he wasn’t. When he did come home, the anticipation of being punished was much worse than being punished. He probably knew that, and merely gave me the same treatment I often gave our children: the dreaded lecture. Our children have told me that they dreaded my lectures more than anything else! While Dad was likely to spank me for extremely bad behavior, the lecture was most likely. He didn’t need to say much. He took me outside and pointed out the burned area. The fire had burned over nearly the entire field and much closer to the house than I felt comfortable with. We had a nice green lawn, and the fire burned right up to it, and also very close to the garage of the house on the next block. My grandmother’s rhubarb patch was not affected, nor was the sweet pea vine along the back fence, or my Mother’s garden. But it was a big fire, to me. Dad explained about how things could have been worse, and that many small animals and birds were probably now homeless. From that point on, I was very careful with fire. Not that I quit playing with it. But I had learned that fire had very bad consequences, and I never again played with matches or any kind of fire near anything that might catch fire and spread; and never in the house. Somehow, the experience taught me a healthy respect for fire, but Dad also pointed out the good things a fire could do.

When I was older, I was put in charge of trash burning; a weekly chore akin to putting out the garbage. You can’t do that in many places now because of anti pollution laws. It’s the same with leaves. One of the rewards for the arm wrenching, back twisting job of raking leaves is, when you’re finished, setting fire to the leaf pile in the side yard (carefully placed so as not to be a hazard) and standing back to watch the pungent smoke and tiny flames leap and roll out of the fire. On the days which were too windy for raking leaves (they blew back at you) it was also too windy to burn them. When the time came for clean air conservation and big leaf bags, the task of leaf removal became much harder.

When I was about 15 years old, Charles Emory’s beautiful red granite Calumet Castle, built in 1893, burned rather spectacularly. Mom, Dad and I had taken Dad’s pride and joy, an 18 foot Lyman Islander Inboard (we could afford a boat by then) for a bass fishing trip on the Canadian side of Wolfe Island, the largest of the Thousand Islands. We caught several good sized large mouth bass, some perch, and a small pike. Mom also caught an eel, and we cut the line, but that is another story! At about sunset we started back after eating a cold supper of sandwiches. It was beginning to get dusky as we rounded the north end of Wolfe Island and headed home, and the sky looked strange downriver. As it got darker, a large area of the sky actually glowed.

When we cleared the last of the islands separating us from a direct view of the center of the river opposite Clayton, we saw flames reaching hundreds of feet in the air over Calumet Castle. It was on fire! As we got closer, we could see many small boats and some larger boats upriver from the end of the island, near what was once called Governor’s island. There was no way any attempt could be made to fight the fire. It burned into the night and the next day. When it was out, nothing but the steel and granite was left. The mystical red castle was gone, now just a blackened pile of granite. It took a long time, however, to erase all traces of it. A demolition contractor finally brought down the walls by blasting them with dynamite charges, which we watched from the riverfront park.

Today the water tower still stands, and the place where the castle stood is a beautiful green lawn with a flower garden in it. The sheltered harbor holds a marina “boatel” operation. I miss seeing it still. If you look at the little memorial tower in the center of town by the waterfront, you can see the color of the stones used in the castle. I was fortunate enough to have been on a tour of Calumet and some of its mysteries courtesy of my brother, Jim, years before it burned. It had run down considerably, and was in a sad state even then.

One day in my senior year (1959-60) at CCS, Dad and I were clearing brush in our back yard near the property line fence. We were nearly finished when I saw a large black column of smoke to the Northeast. When I pointed it out, Dad said that it was probably on Round Island. At that time you could see the river from our back yard, but now the area below is quite overgrown, so I doubt you can anymore. We moved over to the corner of the lot, and I climbed an apple tree to get a better view. Still, all I could see was the smoke. We went to the car and drove down to Steele’s point to find out if we could see better from there. The fire was on the north side of the island, near the head, so we could not directly see what was burning. We went home, and later found that a large home had burned to the ground: not surprising in view of its age and the dryness of the wood it was constructed with. Of course we didn’t find that out the way one would today. There was no “breaking news” to see on WWNY or any other TV station, so we did not get the news immediately. Some days later we went out in the boat and rode past the site of the fire. To me it was and is a tragedy to have lost such a fine old house. Not, I suppose the equivalent of losing the magnificent Hotel Frontenac, but still tragic. I was, in my life before retirement, in the insurance business, with six years as a claims adjuster. I discovered that no fire, no matter how small, is less than tragic to those who experience it. Money can not replace the photos one lost, or the one of a kind wood sculpture your son made in his college art class. Nor can it completely erase the memory of the building that once was

Many years after the fires of my youth I became an Assistant Scoutmaster. One of the functions of Scouting is teaching responsibility and self reliance, particularly with tools and around one of our most awesome and dangerous tools: fire. As a leader I learned that boys will play with fire, and can be taught to respect and use it properly. It became a matter of pride to teach proper fire skills and campfire etiquette. Unchecked, boys will build four foot high campfires to cook a small pot of soup and a hamburger!

One cold overnight in my first year as ASM of Troop 11, Peter, our troop’s Scoutmaster, took the younger boys who needed hiking merit badge work out for a walk in the woods. I was left with some bored older boys to work on fire building skills for an up-coming Camporee event. They weren’t interested. Each had brought a spare time activity of his own choosing, such as a deck of cards or a chess board, and felt that now was the time to get out of the wind and into their tents. Since it was a bright sunny day, though cold, it seemed that fires were an excellent idea. I set up some twine, tied between vertical posts about three feet apart. One string was tied at a foot above ground level, the next about two feet above that. The older boys watched, occasionally making derisive remarks and stating that they knew all about building fires anyway. I gathered the remaining, younger boys in a circle and explained the rules of this common Scouting skills game: gather the kindling and wood, lay the fire no taller than the first line, and burn through the second line. Whoever did that first would win a candy bar for each boy in the patrol.

Again, the older boys scoffed at the game, but soon saw that they were being left out of an activity they had been invited to join! It wasn’t the candy bar that got to them; it was the opportunity to prove that they were better than those Tenderfoot Scouts at whatever they might do. Soon they were out gathering wood, helping the younger boys pick the right kindling, the right kind of wood to catch quickly and burn hot enough to cut the string. I even heard one explain that “you don’t use the same kind of wood to cook, Timmy, because it doesn’t make good coals;” something I’m sure he learned from Peter or me. The first patrol to burn through their string got the candy bars, but the others asked me for more string, and even though the candy bars were gone, they all re-set the fire contest and tried again, several times. The following week, the camporee saw Troop 11 win the string burn contest.

As time went on, those boys, who thought teaching younger kids how to build a fire was something I should do, learned that doing the teaching themselves was fun! Did I teach them this? No, I didn’t: the Scouting method did. But I learned something in the process, too: teaching someone else what you know is less rewarding than having them find out the same thing by themselves under your guidance.

As a result, I remained in Scouting, working in this way whenever possible, for nearly 25 years. Some of my best memories derive from Boy Scouting, an activity which I started as a lowly Tenderfoot Scout in Clayton, NY. Many of those memories involve starting a campfire and working with it. It's funny how it now looks like a circle to me. Most of my adult vocation was also wrapped around fire. I was, primarily, a fire adjuster for the Insurance Company of North America. I became a career fire insurance agent (among other insurance forms) with Perry and Swartwood, in Elmira, NY. I taught a business course to Elmira College students, a good portion of which revolved around the NY State Standard Fire Insurance form. Fire has literally paid my way through life.

Chapter 5: Scouts Honor: Boy Scouting, Newspapers and Howdy Doody

Chapter 5
Scouts Honor: Boy Scouting, Newspapers and Howdy Doody

Clayton is, compared to Syracuse and Elmira, a very small town. We only had two Scout troops: the troop at the Catholic School and the troop at the Methodist Church. Since we belonged to the Methodist church, my brothers were protestant scouts. I’m not sure that’s how everyone saw it, but it seemed that way at the time. I don’t recall having much to do with scouts until my brothers took up the cause of raising money for the troop by collecting cans, bottles and newspapers. These we took to the scoutmaster’s garage in an REO Speedwagon (the real thing, not the band), sometimes with me sitting on top of the load to hold it down. This lasted for what seemed to me a long time, and then we didn’t do it anymore, probably due to the end of the post WWII shortage of nearly everything. It revived somewhat during the Korean “Police Action” (another term for war) and we took it up again. By then I was a Cub Scout, and my brother Dick was the Scout.

When Jack and Jim were Scouts, they often had “patrol meetings” at our house, during which my presence was tolerated if I kept my mouth shut and stayed out of the way. All of this was very mysterious to me, and I loved participating in the paper drives, except of course when it got boring or too cold and I wanted to go home. My brother Dick, who was four years older than I, became a Scout when he was 11. I got to be a Cub Scout, but don’t remember much about Cub Scouting, except that Dick was our “Den Chief” and we did some kind of crafty thing a lot. My brother Jim tells of a winter overnight at Camp Portaferry in the Adirondacks when Dick went along as a companion. Jim made breakfast over the fire, and Dick wouldn’t eat it, which was unusual for Dick, as he did not have the eating disorder that controlled much of my early years. Dick went on to become an Eagle Scout, so he must have enjoyed the experience, breakfast notwithstanding.

Some of my earliest memories of television come from my brother Dick’s Boy Scouting years. After we put the newspapers in the Scoutmaster’s garage, we were invited inside for Kool Aid or hot cocoa, and allowed to watch the Howdy Doody Show. Buffalo Bob, Clarabelle the Clown, and Princess Summer-Fall-Winter-Spring all talked to these puppets named Howdy and Mr. Bluster. I thought I was in heaven. I wanted to be there in the “Peanut Gallery” to see the show live, but it was not to be. The closest I ever got was that little rounded gray screen in the living room of a house on State Street, Clayton, New York.

We also went racing turtle hunting in the spring, over in the swamp near French Creek, just about where Carol and I now live in the summer. It is strange and wonderful to sit on our deck at the present day French Creek Marina and look out over the area where my brothers and I once caught turtles to race. We painted numbers on their backs and took them to the race downtown, where there was a prize for the first turtle across the line. I have no idea what the prize was, because when I say we, I mean they. I was just along for the ride. We used to see lots of snakes too, and that was probably where I learned not to be afraid of them. My brothers, to their credit, never tried to scare me with snakes.

I had friends, later on, who taught me the cruel skill of the “snake whip.” If you grasped a snake just right, by the tail, and cracked it like a whip, its head would snap, breaking its neck and killing it. Once was enough for me. I was squeamish about such things, and did not like killing animals. We had some playmates who thought it was neat to put firecrackers inside a turtle’s shell and set them off. Of course, the turtle did not think it was so much fun...

Capture the flag was a great game for children. It is best played at dusk, when you can sneak up on someone’s home base and steal their flag, running and hiding in the dark, passing the flag to someone else to take to your home base before you are caught with the flag in your hand. Complex military strategies were mapped out by the opposing patrol teams, and a good time was had by all. Unless, of course, you happened to have a bully on the opposite side that enjoyed pushing you face down in the smelly swamp mud. We played the game over by French Creek, near the swamp, and out behind CCS, near the swamp, in the area now occupied by a gravel walking/running track. There were lots of places to hide, and the game was best when the sides were evenly matched. It was here, in the dusky period before total darkness, that I learned my most memorable lessons about being the principal’s son. I also soon learned to hide well!

When I actually became a Boy Scout at age 11, I had some handicaps. As an adult Scoutmaster I found that those handicaps were not all that uncommon. For instance, I found that many boys were shy. Many had home and or family problems that preyed on them. Many had to live up to big brothers’ reputations in Scouting. I even knew several, one in particular, with asthma and seriously skinny arms and legs! Of course, at that age, everyone thinks that their handicaps are worse than anyone else’s, and often are not even aware that other boys may have the same, similar or worse. Self-consciousness is not the same thing as self awareness.

When I graduated from high school at CCS, I was the original 98 pound weakling. At 5’7” I weighed around 105, soaking wet. You can thus imagine what my physique was like at 11. At Camp

Chapter 6: Sports, or How to Avoid Getting Hurt

Have you ever played Horse[1]? It is a challenge game of basketball with two or more players challenging each other scored by goals (baskets) made from specific points on the floor, or with specific types of shots, such as a free throw or hook shot. Positions can be combined with types (a hook shot from a point just below the basket, or farther out) as the game progresses.

Horse is a game devoid of crowds, high speed movement that can result in sudden hard body contact, and surprise passes that connect with your eyewear. Horse is a game skinny boys can excel at, given enough practice and the strength to sink baskets. It is much more attractive than basketball to four eyed people with astigmatism and an inability to accurately see objects moving rapidly in their peripheral vision. Oh, and young girls, too.

At 5’7” and 98 pounds, I learned to play horse with friends (yes, sometimes even girls); but school gym rules required that all boys play basketball now and then, no matter your preference or abilities. We won’t mention dodge ball, which has been done to death in prose and the movies. Basketball is a serious game when played right. Even the talented get hurt sometimes. The untalented are most likely to avoid getting hurt where possible, but the opposing team can usually spot the kid with the thick glasses. Particularly if that kid tries to mix it up with the big guys. Such arrogant and out of place behavior usually gets rewarded with a hard pass to the face. Sometimes it’s even one (unintentionally) from your own team. When you can’t see the ball coming, it matters little who threw it, or the intent. Some time is usually spent retrieving the frames (the glass may even remain attached to them) from the court floor and the game goes on. Most often it went on without yours truly, who was probably going to spend some time in the boy’s locker room with a wet towel to his head, nose or eye; then going in search of some adhesive tape to link left to right side or pad the center in the absence of a nose piece.

Most players with the above history deal with their inadequacies by becoming water boy, team mascot or manager. I was lucky enough to be interested in photography, so I shot pictures of the team scoring baskets. You could take pictures of the football, basketball and wrestling team, and be tolerated as a minor nuisance. Later I was able to hook up with the yearbook committee, ably and patiently advised by Mr. Muggleton, and got to take real pictures of the teams for candid yearbook shots. Sometimes I used the school camera, sometimes a Speed Graphic loaned to me by Mr. Williams and sometimes Mr. Muggleton’s personal cameral. I never used my Kodak Brownie box camera for anything serious. You can’t take action photos with one, and it has almost no depth of field. That makes things in the foreground fuzzy when you focus on anything far away, as it had a fixed lens. Also, anything that moves is guaranteed to be out of focus, so sports shots were out. Any “good” pictures taken by that Brownie were either accidents or posed photos, or dramatic shots such as the aftermath of the Consaul Haul coal dock fire, which I no longer have!

Clayton had a wonderful history of good basketball, football and baseball teams. My brother Jack was a member of one championship team in 1947 or ’48. My brother Dick was on the baseball team in the 50’s. Jim, Jack and Dick all played some sport, much to my later embarrassment when comparisons were made. I tried baseball, but couldn’t get past the hay fever induced by the long grass surrounding the playing field. It’s hard enough to learn to catch a line drive when visually handicapped; darn near impossible when your eyes and nose run and blurred vision is an added factor. Grounders were a challenge too. I enjoyed watching the games, though.

Dick tried to teach me to play, unsuccessfully, but he did succeed in teaching me how to catch a ball thrown at me with the force of a very good high school pitcher. When he was 17 and I was 12 or 13, he started my education in the field across the street, next door to what we always thought of as “the Graves House” on Graves St. Dad had bought me a baseball glove signed by the great outfielder and manager Alvin Dark. I still had it until the flood of 1972 in Elmira, NY made it an unrecognizable glob of leather held together by green mold .

Dick took me to the extreme end of the field (at least 75 feet) and hurled the ball at my knees. Of course the first one hit my knees, because I had no idea that it would arrive that fast, and less of an idea how to stop it. When I stopped howling in pain, Dick patiently explained that I needed to put the glove in front of the ball, not my knees. He then went back toward the street and did it again. And again, and again until I got the ball to bounce off the glove instead of my legs or arms. Not to be discouraged (you have to have known Dick: he did not discourage easily, did I forget to say we kept at it until it was too dark to see the ball?) he took me out there again and again after school (and never early, as he had baseball practice early) until I finally got it right.

Anyone who has experienced a Clayton spring knows that it can get fairly cold in April in the afternoon when daylight wanes. When I finally mastered the simple task of getting the ball into the pocket of the glove (“Remember, you need to oil that pocket and keep pounding it with your left fist to maintain it!”) we began the serious training. I would get into a crouch and Dick would throw the ball at my face as hard as he could. About the cold part: how warm does it have to be before a ball hitting 1/32 of an inch of oiled leather at about 60 mph stops leaving your hand paralyzed? From personal experience I can tell you that the air temperature needs to be above 65 degrees. I leave the rest of this experience up to your imagination....

After I got over being mad and hurt, it has to be said that though Dick never did succeed in making a baseball player out of me, he did create a boy very proud of his brother, and very good at catching baseballs. I couldn’t get out on the field and run, but until my arm and shoulder gave out at about age 40, you could rifle a ball at me from 40 or 100 feet away and I’d catch it, no matter how high, low or possessed of “action” it was; and I would get it back to you from center field. Fly balls, grounders, line drives; you name it, Dick threw it or batted it and I caught it. I taught our son the same way, (hopefully with less pain) and in his second year of little league he surprised many a batter who thought he had a home run over the right field fence. He would watch the ball and track it right into his glove, sometimes leaping into the air at the last minute to do so. In high school he chose the swim team instead of baseball, and excelled at it. His sister could catch and throw a ball like a boy, but also went out for swimming and ended up as a lifeguard in high school.

All this fits my theory (and it is just a theory, of course) that children should never be “babied”, but taught how to respond to a challenge that will not hurt them but toughen them. Until a child has failed repeatedly, he or she can never understand success. One has to learn to accept failure, and go on to succeed before he or she can become both a good winner and a good loser. My brother never made me feel like a failure because I couldn’t play ball. As much as he “rode” me as a boy for being afraid of things, weak, and “a little crybaby” he always made sure I knew he loved me, as I loved him. He could pick on me, but typically, it was a bad idea for anyone else to!

I never did learn to love sports the way my Dad and brothers did, but I have many more fond memories of it and their attempts to get me interested than harsh ones. To this day I can watch a baseball, football or basketball game and know what is going on, and tune it out or watch it with enthusiasm, knowing that success in sports, any kind of success, helps build confidence and self image. I am disappointed that money has become the center of such great sports, and more. I have seen the look in the eyes of children who revere ball players, and want to emulate them.

My son gave me a baseball to take to an athletic fund raising dinner when he was in high school and working as a life guard. He planned to make the dinner, but could not get there for the autograph session. I stood in line for the ball player whose signature he wanted most (I will not name him here, as he has enough troubles of his own) for an hour and 15 minutes. He took my son’s much autographed ball, turned it over several times and said “Phil Necro. He wasn’t so hot. I could hit him any day all day.” He scrawled his name on the ball and tossed it back to me. I caught it, knowing that if I told Kevin his hero’s response, it would reduce his admiration of this particular ball player. I knew that he respected Phil Necro, and cherished the signature he had waited in line for at a previous year’s banquet. Necro, unlike this braggart, never had his name attached to a scandal. At least he signed the ball, when many of his fellow athletes were refusing to sign autographs even if paid to.

In the 40’s and 50’s, the Clayton High Pirates were respected (and maybe revered) teams. We had coaches who instilled and demanded respect, sportsmanship and pride. Coach Allen, Coach Croyle, Mr. Black, Mr. Netto and Mr. Guardino produced teams with spirit, sportsmanship and pride aplenty, win or lose. They brought out loyal fans to watch interscholastic contests between Clayton and surrounding towns. The Pirates are gone since the 1000 Islands Central School District was formed, but not forgotten. My father was a great believer in sports and sportsmanship. He coached teams in his early years, but none at Clayton. I fear he and many of the Clayton Coaches would be disappointed in many of today’s professional athletes, with their dissolute life styles and disdain of fans. Many even refuse to sign autographs, or ask to get paid for signing sessions.

When Carol and I pass the old school (which is now named after Harry Guardino, the teacher, and coach of football and wrestling when I went to CCS High) that is now middle school, I remember baseball and football games, and flashes of scenes played out on the field and off. I remember Freddy coming at me over the line, and me out cold suddenly on the ground with his hair in my glasses frame. I remember as well watching and photographing basketball games and wrestling matches coached and played out in the gym, which still smells of old sweat and gym sealer, and the excitement of pre game pep rallies held in that gym. I don’t go in there much anymore, as it isn’t the same gym somehow. No hanging climbing rope, no hanging rings, different bleachers, and one knows contests between greats are no longer held here. It’s just a gym now, with a nice stage. A good gym, but somehow it seems smaller.

[1] Horse: The players will decide among themselves who will go first. The game starts when the first player takes a shot from anywhere in the court. If he sinks it, the next player must make the same type of shot from the exact same spot. If he makes it, the next player tries, and so on. If the second player makes the shot, then the first player tries a different shot. If he doesn't make the shot, the player gets an H. When the first player misses a shot, the second player has the chance to make a shot that must be copied. The coveted first shot will be traded between players as they miss shots. The player that spells out H-O-R-S-E first, loses the game