And away we go!
This photo was taken on the banks of the Erie Canal, probably, given the Yankees cap and t-shirt, in 1976, the year of my Yankees infatuation. I am wearing grey flannel baseball pants, salvaged from one of my dad's old uniforms. The shoes? Buddy's, the only athletic footwear manufactured in Poland, and proudly sold at G.C. Murphy's on Webster (also home of Big Murph Jeans. Big Murphs were at the bottom of the jeans totem. Cool kids wore Levis; Nerds wore Wranglers; Little kids wore Toughskins from one of those mall stores. Weird kids wore Big Murphs. I was a Big Murph man.) Notice there is no actual sport being played here, which sums up my athletic career.
Uncle Pete. When he was a teenager, Pete turned the attic of his parent's home into a bedroom/Fortress of Solitude. There were no walls; the room was shaped like a giant triangle, the roof's underside forming an enormous, sloping ceiling. Peter had plastered those sloping ceilings with hundreds of beautiful, full-color photos, pulled from the pages of SPORT magazine and Sports Illustrated. I discovered the room years later. It was like laying eyes on King Tut's Tomb, or Shangri-La. Everything I know about decorating, I learned from Uncle Peter...
Thad, in a classic three-point stance. Taken in the back yard of the white house on Sweeney.
Me, in my three-point stance. This is 1971. I wear the uniform of the Swiston's Beef & Keg Broncos, proud member of The Tonawandas Football Clinic. That's the Erie Canal in the background. I hated playing football, suffering through two years on the Broncos squad. My first year, one of the coaches, a beefy guy who claimed collegiate football experience, got into my face and screamed, "McMURRAY! YEW RUN LIKE A WOUNDED WATER BUFFALO!" This was, I realize in retrospect, designed to Motive Me, so that I might achieve Excellence. At the time, it just made me want to curl up and eat a dozen Boston creme doughnuts (which I did, on more than one occasion. This led to the inevitable Struggle to Make Playing Weight, humiliating Saturday mornings in the TFC trainer's office, stripped to my stirrups and athletic girdle, stepping on a medical scale while half a dozen men with whistles around their necks peered at the slowly bobbing weight indicator. And every week, Coach would pull the men over to a corner of the room, and say something like, "Look, fellas, it ain't like he's gonna actually play," and they'd turn to me, all pink and soft and stooped in my humiliation, and soberly nod their heads in agreement. Football for me was just the thing you endured in order to get a free hot chocolate from the concession stand when it was over. My last year of organized football, 1972, was better. Coach Marciello was a sweet, kind man, whose art major daughter stenciled impossibly cool charging broncos on our helmets, just like the ones on the Calgary Stampeders helmets. She even used a metallic paint, so headgear sparkled in the sun. True, our team colors were maroon and yellow, and for some reason the helmets turned out pink, but they were cool nonetheless. At least once a week, Coach Marciello would pull me out of the agony of scrimmage or calisthenics or blocking drills, hand me a five dollar bill, and say, "Son, how about you go over to the corner store and buy me a carton of Marlboros?" This was New York in the Seventies: nobody at the corner store thought twice about selling a carton of smokes to an eleven-year-old. They probably would have thrown in a six pack of Genny Cream Ale if I had asked them.)
Ah, the Opening Day Parade! A moment of hope, pride, excitement. It's kind of thrilling, marching down the middle of the street, people on the sidewalks clapping and cheering for you. The top photos are Thad's TFC parade (note that somehow, Mitch, in plainclothes, has insinuated himself into the team. That Mitch, he is a gadfly!) The lower photo shows Thad in a North Tonawanda National Little League parade. There were three divisions in the NTNLL: The majors, for 12 year olds; the minors, for 10 and 11 year olds; and Pee-Wees, for 8 and 9 year olds. Thad is on the Elms, which was the Pee-Wee affiliate of the Oaks, which was the farm team for the Major's Dodgers. All of the Majors teams were named after actual major league baseball clubs. All of the Minors teams -- Oaks, Mounties, Raniers, Solons and a bunch I can't remember -- were named after old Pacific Coast League clubs. The Pee Wee teams were evidently named after a night of heavy drinking. Elms and Oaks, OK, that sort of makes sense. But I played my Pee Wee games for the Fins. The Fins? We weren't named after a fish; we were named after a piece of a fish.
Baseball in the ol' backyard. Home plate was the stump of a dead apple tree. There is a lot to see here: you have the beautiful pear tree (North Tonawanda was once the home to massive pear orchards), and further back, the wild cherry tree whose sour fruit was so prized by Gand-Pa. The brown house belonged to The Bee Man, so called because he kept several hives, selling the honey to the neighbors. This must be mid to late summer, because the Bee Man's corn is thriving. Thad and Mitch are wielding mini-bats, no doubt souvenirs from our trip to Cooperstown. I will reserve comment on Thad's wild and crazy guy pants.
Thad, on a bike, probably in the Spring of 1973. It's a Schwinn. Note the training wheels.
Todd, probably 1978 or 1979. He was in the Majors!
The TFC field. I am guessing that this is 1979 or 1980. Cold, muddy, wet: perfect football weather. And who's on the bench, enjoying a refreshing drink from the players' water bottle? The ubiquitous Mitch, of course!
Mitch, enjoying the family pool, circa 1975. A few years down the line, Mitch probably did some swimming in the Canal, something I was too afraid to try. Leeches...
A strange quartet of photos. Note the football photos: I am fully outfitted in helmet, jersey, and football pants. I may not be the best player -- OK, I am far from the best player -- but my uniform is always meticulous. As for the junior NRA photo, I have no explanation. Clearly, it's Christmas. Despite the Daniel Boone shirt, this is no old timey weapon: it has a scope! What was I planning? What fevered plot percolated in my tiny brain? Thank goodness there were no clock towers in North Tonawanda. And what was the "Special Report" on the teevee? We will never know... The last photo disturbs me. It's Sixth Avenue, probably in Spring 1964. I am wearing a chinstrapped helmet. Why? Did I sustain a childhood brain injury? Was polo an important part of my forgotten past? Even then, in my illiterate toddlerhood, did my parents know, instinctively and intuitively, that I, um, Liked To Wear Uniforms? Again, it is a mystery.
We close with three photos of Thad: