Wayne County Wanderings: We Are the Stories We Tell
My journey began last Friday in The Wayne Independent parking lot.
It was just past five p.m. when I sashayed out the front door, jitterbugged to the car and jumped in.
There was a big smile on my face as I cranked the ignition, rolled down the windows and turned up the tunes … Sirius Channel 8 … Eighties music!
I eased out onto Church Street, singing along far too loudly with Patty Smyth, no doubt drawing stares from my fellow travelers.
“Shooting at the walls of heartache. Bang! Bang! I am the warrior. Yes I am the warrior and victory is mine!”
Journey to the Past
My little Friday concert continued while cruising out of town.
I beeped at a bemused Gina Lenz as she walked up the stairs to her studio, then waved to friends already camped out on the Wayne Hotel porch, getting an early start on the weekend.
While stopped at the crosswalk in front of the hospital, Scandal yielded the Sirius stage to John Mellencamp.
“A little ditty 'bout Jack and Diane, two American kids growin' up in the heartland. Jackie's gonna be a football star...”
By the time I'd passed through Seelyville, my voice was already cracked. So, I took off my Mets hat, flung it in the backseat, felt the wind in my face and just enjoyed the music.
Queen accompanied me past Keen Lake, followed by Blondie in Waymart then Asia as I ascended Farview Mountain.
My destination? Glad you asked. I was heading for Cooper's Seafood House in Scranton. The occasion? Well, it wasn't my birthday so there was no paper crown or festive lobster bib in my immediate future.
No, the reason for my trip was simple and nostalgic: a reunion of sorts with my former Scranton/Wilke Barre Eagles teammates.
For those of you too young to remember, the Eagles were the flagship semipro football franchise in the country for the better part of two decades.
I was fortunate enough to play during the team's most successful years, a period in which we dominated the Empire Football League and won three national championships.
Our coaching staff read like a “Who's Who” of NEPA legends: Charles “Chick” Rader, Allen “Butch” Keller, Stanley “Stosh” Kucharski, John “Yosh” Whitelavich,” and Dave Baker.
And the players? Well, let's just say I had the good fortune to stand in a huddle alongside numerous Hall of Famers … from tailback Frank Yanik to quarterback John Kennedy and wide receiver Mark Lloyd.
These coaches and teammates played major roles in my life for about seven years, before a string of concussions forced me to hang up my helmet.
From Watertown to Glens Falls, Ottawa to Montreal, Springfield to Marlboro, we shared experiences that will last a lifetime.
And now, on a sunny Friday afternoon, I was on my way from the Maple City to the Electric City to renew those friendships.
John Kennedy has become something of a legend in the years following his own retirement from football.
He was on the cutting edge of this whole “craft beer movement” right from its inception. In fact, there's a plaque in his honor hanging on the wall at Cooper's, documenting the fact that he has tasted and rated more than 1,000 different beers from all over the world. He is, in a word, a connoisseur.
So, it was a no-brainer that we'd meet at Cooper's, gather around a specially-reserved table in the back corner of the Ship Bar, and tell our tales.
Which brings me to the very best aspect of any such gathering … be it a family, class or workplace reunion:
The stories are what matter. The stories are the living, breathing expression of our friendship. They are what draw us all together in the first place and link us to one another forever.
There was a time not so long ago when I'd bring my kids with me to such gatherings. And, at first, they loved it. They enjoyed seeing their dear old Dad so animated among his football friends.
As they got older, though, teenagers replaced children and their tolerance for our old “war stories” waned.
“Dad, we've heard these stories a million times,” they'd say, rolling their eyes and checking their phones.
It made me sad, but I guess that's as it should be.
After all, they had begun making their own memories and laying the groundwork for reunions of their own.
And so, I settled into my chair at Cooper's with a beer and a steaming plate of pierogies. I smiled as the late arrivals exhanged handshakes and hugs.
It was barely six o'clock, but the Ship Bar was already packed. The room was swirling with activity.
Waitresses maneuvered expertly among the tables. Music pulsed from the stereo system. Glasses clinked. Patrons chatted happily with staff, while the owner made his way from group-to-group, working the room like a pro.
Meanwhile, at the Scranton Eagles table in the back corner, stories had already begun … heads nodding, smiles all around.
“Hey, do you remember that time up in Albany?”
It Defines Us
The older I get … the more I live, read and reflect ... the more I'm convinced of one thing.
We humans are the sum of our memories and the stories we tell each other.
Since time immemorial we've sat around the campfire telling tales of the day's hunt … of absent friends, dearly departed family members or the ancestors.
The ability to connect with one another through stories is what makes us human. We see ourselves reflected in such tales and relate them to our own lives. It cements the bonds between us and transcends all sorts of barriers.
My teammates are older and younger than me. Most are bigger than me, but some are smaller. They have different ethnic backgrounds and boast different skin colors.
None of that matters, though, when we step on the field or gather round the proverbial campfire at the end of the day. We are human beings, each of us, and we share all sorts of commonalities … not the least of which are the stories we tell.
“Oh my God! Do you remember that game up in Schenectady?”
More laughter, slapping of hands on backs and clinking of mugs. Lloyd begins telling his story the way only Lloyd can.
We laugh at his facial expressions and gestures, following along as he recounts another one we've all heard a million times.
As if on cue, one last '80s song begins playing in the background.
The clamor of the weekend crowd is all but drowning it out, but I can hear and it's the perfect backdrop for a night like this one...
“Now I think I'm going down to the well tonight,
And I'm going to drink till I get my fill.
And I hope when I get old I don't sit around thinking about it,
But I probably will.
Yeah, just sitting back trying to recapture
A little of the glory of...
Well, time slips away
And leaves you with nothing mister but,
Boring stories of Glory Days.”