Our minds were linked to an Avatar as we rode on a Banshee through Pandora, and were entertained by a little mermaid and lobster, under the sea. We soared over the Alps, the Great wall of China, and the Eiffel Tower. A hitch-hiking ghost followed us home and Dame Judy Dench time-traveled with us through the past 4000 years. All this and much, much more happened in just six days.
My wife and I are back from a glorious 5-week Florida vacation, and a full week was spent at all four Disney parks. We’ve been Disney freaks since the late 70’s when we spent three days there on our Honeymoon, and have returned numerous times over the years with our two kids and now, as retired empty-nesters.
We did Animal Kingdom, The Magic Kingdom, Hollywood Studios, and my favorite, EPCOT Center twice. At EPCOT they were doing the annual Food and Wine festival, so we ate our way around the international showcase sampling everything from, escargot, lobster rolls, beef rouladen and Crème Brule, not to mention some fine wines and specialty drinks.
Some things have changed since our last visit five years ago, but most of it remained familiar. Several new attractions have been added, and the process for getting into them on a timely basis has been updated. You can now plan your entire visit online, months before you go. They have fast passes, which allow you an hour window to skip the long lines. This worked out great for us.
The crowds at the parks can be over-whelming if you don’t know how to manage your time. Especially in the Magic Kingdom, where all the little Disneyites go. For example, when people start to line up for the parade, you head for the most popular attractions. At night in the Magic Kingdom, there is an extravaganza in front of Sleeping Beauty’s Castle, which causes a huge shoulder-to shoulder mass of humanity to gather on “Main Street”.
This is when my wife and I head for Tomorrowland, and ride the “People Mover” several times or rest our weary feet in a comfy theatre chair and allow the hokey animatronics of the “Carousel of Progress” to take us through the past 100 years.
Don’t get me wrong. The parades and shows are top notch, and done only as Disney can do them. So, if you are so inclined, just grab one of these;
And take in the Magic.
Hopefully, you have read the first three legs of my retirement trip related over my last several posts. I am going to continue with that journey, but not until after the holidays. With Thanksgiving Day almost upon us, I have prepared a short story for you that I hope you will enjoy. It is fiction, based on fact, and the characters are real.
But first, how about some holiday cheer:
Why did the Turkey cross the road?
It was Thanksgiving Day, and he wanted people to think he was a chicken.
A lady was picking through the frozen turkeys at the market looking for one big enough to feed her large family. She asked a stock boy, “Do these turkeys get any bigger?”
“No ma’am. They’re dead.”
Why do pilgrims’ pants always fall down?
Because they wear their belt buckles in their hats.
Okay, I am once again, sorry for those. Hopefully my story will bail me out. Enjoy, and have a wonderful Thanksgiving Day.
It was a perfect football day, 40 degrees and sunny with just a slight breeze out of the north. We knew nothing about the two teams going at it on the gridiron, and couldn’t care less. Just being there together was enough.
“My team never won on Thanksgiving Day.” I said to my dad. “Even when you and Bernie coached the green hornets, we were 15-0, but couldn’t get that final win on turkey day.” My dad just shrugged his shoulders and as always tried to turn it into a life lesson about building character or making me stronger. Even then, on the 30th anniversary of my last game, as we stood on the sidelines watching the 10 through 12-year-old kids play their last game of the season, he was still the coach.
The Neighborhood Boys Club had been a part of my heritage for as long as I can remember. It existed at Paul Revere Park on the north side of Chicago since the 1940’s, and was a haven where young boys matured into young men through teamwork and fair play. It was a unique organization sponsored solely by donations from its supporters and Alumni.
It all started for me at age 7. The old clubhouse was a brown wooden building about the size of a small barn. It was basically two large rooms. As you walked up the steps through the double doors you entered a large area with two ping pong tables and benches around the perimeter. There were several tables setup for playing checkers, cards and board games that you could check out at the equipment cage.
The back room was broken up into a storage area, a meeting room, a bathroom and a small office where the club director did everything from raising money for sports equipment, scheduling games, organizing the choir and keeping the old blue school bus operational
The membership grew rapidly, so in 1958 they tore down the old clubhouse and replaced it with a much larger, sleek, one story structure. Most of the cost of the new clubhouse was covered by the owner of Victor Adding Machine Corporation. Mr. Bueller was a very wealthy, generous man, and the original founder of the Neighborhood Boys Club. His company stood adjacent to Paul Revere Park.
My older brother, Bill, had become a club member two years before me at age 8, so I would tag along with him and my dad sometimes to watch his team play until I was old enough to join. Sports were played year-round. Football started in fall and went through Thanksgiving. We played basketball in the field house through the winter months, softball in spring and finally baseball was played all summer.
The teams were created by sectioning off the surrounding neighborhoods. About every four-square blocks housed enough boys to make up a team. There was no shortage of kids during the post WWII baby-boomer era. Usually, one or two parents volunteered to coach and would hold team practices and monthly meetings at the clubhouse.
The five teams in my neighborhood were all named after insects. We had the dragonflies, wasps, tarantulas, bumble bees and my team, the green hornets. We were team center 4. The teams in the other 3 team centers were named after birds, mammals and reptiles.
I was elected captain of the green hornets and my best friend, Pauli was co-captain. We were clearly the two best players on the team. No brag, just fact. Pauli’s dad, Bernie and my dad took turns coaching. My dad also platooned as a coach for my brother’s team.
We Green Hornets won most of our games in all sports. Pauli and I lead our team to victory after victory. The Bumblebees were our fiercest rival. We usually finished first or second season after season, but never lost a game in basketball. That was our best sport.
Pauli and I lived on the same block, just two houses away from each other. We attended St. Benedict’s grammar school and loved to play basketball in the schoolyard. I was a year older than Pauli and, of course a grade ahead in school. I was also a bit taller and stronger, but our age and size difference never got in the way of our friendship.
As I stood there with dad on the sidelines, the memory of my final game haunted me. Every team played its last game of the season on Thanksgiving Day. There were three fields setup in the park, so they could get all the games in and everyone could still get home for their feast. We had the early game at 8 AM.
We had dominated all season and were undefeated, and were playing the Bumblebees, who also had a perfect season going. This was for the championship and my very last game because I would turn 13 years old in March and would have to leave the club because it was only for 8 to 12-year old’s. I really wanted this win.
There was a weight limit for running backs, so the smaller kids wouldn’t get hurt trying to tackle the bigger kids. Everyone over 110 pounds was a “heavy” and all the other players were called “lights”. The lights had to be tackled, but if a heavy ran with the ball he only had to be tagged with two hands below the waste, so they created the “heavy back rule”.
It worked like this; before the ball was snapped the quarterback would yell “heavy back” and a light would shift up into the line as a heavy would drop back into the backfield allowing the heavy to be a running back who would only have to be tagged instead of tackled. He could also play quarterback to throw passes or hand the ball off.
Pauli and I were the best passers, but were heavy weights so we shifted back from our split end position for pass plays. We had 13 plays in our playbook. Plays 1 through 11 were running plays. Play number 12 was a pass from me to Pauli and play number 13 was a pass from Pauli to me. We were also the best receivers on the team. At practice the day before our game, Bernie and dad put in a new play. Play 14.
Thanksgiving Day 1962 was a cold gray day. It had sleeted the night before and was in the mid 30’s at game time. The field had little grass left on it due to a long season of numerous games and was basically frozen dirt. The sidelines were filled with family and friends dressed in overcoats and parkas. They served free hot cocoa, coffee and donuts in the clubhouse throughout the day for the brave fans.
We won the coin toss and chose to kickoff. We had a good kicker (me), so due to the slippery field we felt we could put them in a hole right off the bat. It probably would have worked if I had not slipped when I planted my left foot. I barely tipped the ball as it bounded off the tee into the hands of one of the Bumblebees. They started at the 50-yard line. There quarterback had a great arm and was also a heavy back, so they used the heavy back shift quite often because the running game was ineffective.
The entire first have was a defensive battle for field position. There were a lot of 3 play stops followed by a weak punt. Neither team scored that half. Those of us who had cleats couldn’t get a foothold on the rock hard uneven surface. Some of the linemen wore snow boots that allowed them to hold their ground a little better, but the running backs could not get any traction.
During halftime coach Bernie decided to scrap the running game completely and had us concentrate on passing. Our first play of the second half was a disaster. We called play 13, pass from Pauli to me. The center shot the ball clear over Pauli’s head and he slipped and fell while trying to retrieve it. The Bumblebees middle linebacker came flying through our line and picked the ball up and ran it in for a touchdown. They failed to convert the extra point, but we were now losing 6-0.
Again, and again we tried to advance the ball on offense, but never got past there 20-yard line. With about five minutes left in the game we finally caught a defensive break. I was able to rush their center on a pass play and cause a fumble. We recovered the ball on their 18-yard line, and finally had a shot to win this thing.
It was time for play 14. This was a brand-new play devised by my dad. The play was a master of deception. Coach Bernie quickly sent in two substitution players, but we sent three players out, hoping the other team wouldn’t notice. The third player did not leave the field, but stood just inside the sideline facing the crowd, so he appeared to be off the field. That third player was Pauli.
We quickly lined up and called heavy back and I shifted into the backfield as the quarterback. When the ball was snapped, Pauli shot up the sideline toward the end zone and I hit him with a perfect spiral as he crossed the goal line. It was awesome. The Bumblebees never knew what hit them.
The score was tied 6-6 with no time left. All we had to do was score the extra point. We never kicked for the extra point because we couldn’t get the timing down and our center sucked at long snaps. The plan was to call heavy back and I would fake a pass and run around the end for the score.
I got a good snap from the center and as I dropped back to fake the pass the ball slipped out of my hand and fell to the ground. Like I said earlier, we never won on Thanksgiving Day. We shared the Championship with a 6-6 tie.
The game my dad and I were watching ended, so we went into the clubhouse to warm up with a donut and cup of coffee. I was amazed at how unchanged it was. Tables were setup in the main room with platters of donuts, just as it was 30 years ago, and servers came around with coffee and hot cocoa. Dad and I sat for a short while and reminisced a bit as we sipped or coffee. It felt good to be there, and feel the warmth of the comfortable surroundings.
As we got up to head for home I felt a tap on my shoulder.
“Is this seat taken?” said a voice behind me.
It was Pauli. I didn’t recognize him at first. We lost touch years ago when I was a sophomore in high school and my family moved to the west side of town. I was speechless at first.
“Pauli? Are you kidding me?” I said excitedly.
“Yep. It’s me.” He said.
I jumped up and shook his hand firmly and patted him on the back. The last I had heard he had moved away south somewhere in Texas and his parents lived in Arkansas.
“How have you been and how are your mom and, Coach Bernie doing?” I said.
“I’m doing great.” Said Pauli
“Me too. I’m doing great too.” Said a voice from next to my dad.
It was Coach Bernie. My dad almost snapped his neck as he turned to see his old friend. They were in town visiting relatives for the holiday, and had decided to come by to see how things were going at the old clubhouse. I was amazed at how much we had changed, but remained the same through the years.
Dad and I sat back down as we all had some more coffee and talked about the time we spent together way back when. Pauli and I cursed our bad luck of never winning on Thanksgiving Day, and of course, Coach Bernie and dad patted us on our backs and reminded us about that character building crap once again.
Green Hornets, circa 1960 with Coach Bernie. I’m the one who didn’t know it was team picture day and wore my practice sweatshirt..