Part VI….We’re still on Cushman Ave………
In the spring of 1963, my Junior year at Stadium, JFK came to town, so they closed all the schools, with the idea that students from all over town were to go to a big rally at Tacoma’s Ben Cheney Stadium (home of the Tacoma Giants, an affiliate of the SF Giants, and a very nice little ball park). Ben Cheney, incidentally, was some sort of pioneer lumber man, which means a very big deal in that part of the country. A large group of us decided to go to the beach, instead of the rally, so we spent the day at a State park (possibly Dash Point State Park), over on Puget Sound, and missed our only opportunity to be able to say that we had seen JFK. Then, on November 22, 1963, I happened to be home sick. I was listening to my radio in my room, down in the basement, when they announced that JFK had been shot. So, I got up, went to the living room and turned on the TV there. Naturally, I spent pretty much all of the rest of that day in front of the TV, getting the live reports, as events unfolded. I remember that the next night there was to be a party, maybe even at my house (in the basement), and all we did was sit around and feel sorry for ourselves, trying to come to grips with what had happened to us.
I recall one night that Cassius Clay (known at that time as “The Louisville Lip”) defeated somebody important, before he met Sonny Liston (that didn’t happen until Feb. 25, 1964). We were at someone’s home for another party, and all the guys were crowded into whatever room had the TV, watching that fight. Cassius Clay, who you all might know better as Muhammad Ali, was truly awesome to watch. And, the fact that he was such a brash, over confident, loud mouth was part of his charm – especially when he so easily demonstrated that he could do more than just talk. A weird thing about this recollection is that I have carried this image in my mind for all these years that the fight that we watched that night was the one where he took the title away from Sonny Liston, but that doesn’t add up, as the title fight took place on a Tuesday evening, and we only had our parties on Fridays or Saturdays. So much for one’s memories.
I have to say that we did party a lot (my friends and I). We also went to a lot of ‘sock hops’ usually in our own high school gym, and most often held after a home basketball game. Most guys in my class did not dance, except for slow songs. But, I was willing to dance to the fast songs, so I was usually busy at parties and the high school dances. Besides that, I had a group of guys with whom I played poker on a regular basis, either in my basement, or at the home of one or more of the others. Nothing big, and I usually had to borrow from someone to get into a game, but we really enjoyed it. It was also a big deal to try to attend all of our football and basketball home games, and even those of our prime rivals, when they weren’t too far away. Our big rivals were Lincoln High and Wilson High. I think a new high school opened while I was at Stadium, Mt. Tahoma. Another important rivalry was Bellarmine High School, the city’s Catholic Boys’ high school. They usually had a good team, and we all knew some kids over there, ‘cause some of them had gone to Junior High with us.
I also remember what I think was the single most exciting basketball game I have ever seen, in which the final score was something like 7-8. This was, I believe an away game for us, against the hated Lincoln High School. This was obviously in the days before the shot clock, when defense was still an important part of the game, and when ‘freezing’ the ball was a legal and proper offensive tactic. This involved passing with great skill, from player to player, spread out over their end of the floor, keeping the ball away from the opponent, thus ‘freezing’ it. Again, obviously, this tactic was employed by both teams on this occasion. Regarding our main rivals, I no longer recall what their mascot was (we were the Tigers; Gold and Blue), but according to their current web site they are now the ‘Abes,’ and quite frankly, that just sounds too lame for that time and place.
The minor league (AAA) baseball team that played its home games at Ben Cheney Stadium was the Tacoma Giants. I got to see more than one of their games, and they were very special to see. The father of one of my friends, Gary Grenley, had box seats for his business, and whenever it wasn’t being used, Gary and I, and other friends of Gary’s would be allowed to go to the games. We would take a huge paper bag full of peanuts in the shell, sit right up close, and watch players (just to name a few) like Jesus and Matty Alou, Jose Pagan (my personal favorite, whose name is misspelled in the old stats I was able to find online), Jose Cardenal, Dick LeMay, Julio Navorro, Bob Perry, Manny Mota, Dick Phillips, Gaylord Perry, Dusty Rhodes (by this time, he was a former major leaguer, hero of the 1954 World Series, where he hit very well as a pinch-hitter; he was kind of like our own hometown Babe Ruth), Moose Stubing, Willie McCovey, and a great pitcher, Juan Marichal. There were others, of course. This was, after all, a minor league team, and most of these guys either made it to the bigs, or had already been there. Oh, well, we’re moving (literally, and again)……………..
That’s Dusty Rhodes, coming home after hitting a grand-slam in his first ever World Series game, 1954.
Just when I thought things were going just fine, my old man went from bad to worse. I never knew any details, but late in my senior year, he ended up in the Western State Mental Hospital’s alcoholic ward. I have long suspected that this was deliberate on his part for two reasons. He was indeed an alcoholic, but he never was serious about fighting it, so right there – even then – I had to wonder. He was in trouble yet again with debt I believe, and had undoubtedly lost yet another job. With him in the nut house, obviously, there was no way to pay the mortgage, or anything else.
While the old man was in Steilacoom (an old fort by that name had been turned into Western State Mental Hospital), I wanted to attend one of many parties one evening, and the car was in the garage, but wouldn’t start. Mike had come home from the Army by this time (actually, I think he most likely ponied up some coin so that the folks could buy that house, in the first place), and was living at home, while working at the Tacoma Public Library (yes, he was instrumental in my having secured a part-time, after school job at the library). Mike was the proud owner of a 1952 monster of a Chrysler. I’m talking tank-sized, four doors, and a great big in-line six cylinder engine. His car was running just fine, but he had a previous engagement, likely a date. There was a light rain falling. The sun had just set. Now, he should have known better (after all, he was a U. S. Army Veteran, right? And, he was over 21 by this time, too!), but neither one of us was thinking very well that evening. We somehow hooked up his front bumper to the rear bumper of dad’s 1956 Chevrolet (Bel Air, four door, but with that really wonderful 256 cu. inch V-8, for which Chevy received a lot of recognition). We had to pull the Chevy backwards, up out of the garage, because (at least in my recollection) there was a bit of an incline from the street down to the garage.
Well, we got the Chevy up onto the street, and pointed along the street, heading north. For you younger people who don’t know these things, let me tell you that the windshield wipers on 1950’s cars were not powered by an electrical motor, but by a vacuum motor, that only could work when the engine was running, and able to create a vacuum. In other words, in case you need more explanation, if the motor wasn’t running, there was no way to move the wiper blades, so as to keep the windshield clear in the rain. Did I mention that there was a light rain falling? And, to make matters worse, did I also mention that the sun had just set? So, no wipers, and no headlights, right? This is not reason enough, so let me also point out that the Chevy in question had an automatic transmission. We did not have jumper cables, but we figured that we could get that sucker going on compression, which for an automatic transmission requires a minimum speed of 30-35 miles per hour, pushing or towing. We didn’t have the necessary chains or rope for towing, so we elected to get this thing running by Mike pushing it with his monster Chrysler.
I would have to freely admit that the primary responsibility for what happened next would be mine, since I proposed to be behind the wheel of the ‘lead vehicle,’ as it were. We started off, and got up to a pretty good speed, within about 50-60 feet of our starting point, when I realized too quickly to do anything about it, that I couldn’t see two feet in front of my face. It was raining, and it was dark! That’s when the Chevy slammed into the rear – smack dab in the middle, too – of a neighbor’s parked car. And, he was one pissed off neighbor, too. I don’t think I made it to the party that night.
I hate to leave you hangin’, but hey, this is enough space for one Part…..we’ll see what happened to those intrepid young men when next we meet, in Part VII……..