I started and finished my initial foray into organized football while in the sixth grade. Hated it. Unfortunately for me by the time I was going into the 8th grade the schools new football coach was my next door neighbor and he told me that at my size I will be playing football that season. I checked in a 5’11” and 135 pounds and could catch a football. I guessed my dreaded sixth grade experience was doomed to repeat itself. Having not previously played with this team there were few friends among them. This is how it went.
After some slight stretching exercises we lined up for punt returns. The running backs would receive a punt from our coach and the linemen (me) were to race up and tackle them. I stayed toward the end of the line and watched passively. I thought of nothing…like most of my adolescence. All of a sudden I was at the head of the line and the running back I was to face was as big as me. Boom went the punt and I raced down and nailed the runner…put him on his back because that is what I saw the other kids do. Quite a shock for me and the other big kid. That was the beginning of an undefeated season, a championship and 10 receiving touchdown for me. The other big kid was the star of the team…who knew…he went on to run over and through seven league teams and score 700 times. At least that is how I remember it…really wasn’t paying much attention.
I lived across from Engine Company #54. It was a majestic building that still operates to this day. A fascinating place for a little kid who ran every time the engine roared out of the house on a fire call..It got so that I could understand the bell system that alerted the fire men, as they were called at that time. “Fire” I would announce and race out the door to follow the engine. I would run as far as I could until it flew out of sight. Then I would wait and wait and wait until my friends from 54 would return. I made sure all who left also returned and inquisitive as I was asked a million questions when they did. My buddies were Mr. Yates (his daughter and I were classmates) and Mr. Shinkel (we called him ShinkelBells) and Ronnie Knoor (he was hanging around my oldest sister…didn’t like that). Their Boss was Captain George Arendt. Scary dude with an angular nose to go with his long and lanky stature (his son Bobby was a neighbor and friend). I was afraid of George Arendt because he was always the boss at the station where I could be found most days and at his home, where I hung out when I was not at the station house.
Nothing out of the ordinary happened there as my part of town was pretty
sleepy. We joked, Yates, ShinkelBells and go-away Ronnie Knoor and I that there was no need to spend a 12 hour shift at the station, they all could be home in the ‘hood and be there for a fire in a minute. A fire a month was big news. Occasionally there would be a fire in the Hollow. That is where the black families lived. I wasn’t permitted to go there because it wasn’t safe. That seemed odd since a lot of the kids I played Little League Baseball with lived there and they were great friends and better athletes. I guess it was OK if their houses burned down.
I wish I could write about a tragic fire that wiped out a families dreams and that one of my Fire fighter buddies caught a baby being tossed from an second floor window as the flames licked the curtains, but I can’t. Things like that never, ever happened at old 54.
…I just think about