Along Twin Ponds Road

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Fall memories

By Ray Willis

Here in Aiken, S.C., I can tell the season is about to change, and that fall is in the air.
The leaves are beginning to exhibit those majestic reddish colors, and some are even dropping to the ground.
My wife has been reminding me often that she can detect the change of the season.
For her that has been quite easy lately as she hasn’t been getting around much and seems to be more tuned in to subtle changes around her.
I can’t help but think back to this time in early September when I would return to school and once again be around my friends and classmates. This was always so wonderful for me.
At Southington (Connecticut) High School we had been on double sessions for years. We were too overcrowded with students, and the town didn’t have the money to build another high school.
My class was the first to graduate in a new portion of the high school that housed an auditorium, but a new high-school building was still on the planning boards.
As a freshman and sophomore attending classes in the afternoon, I couldn’t wait for the time I could attend school in the mornings.
I don’t know why I desired morning classes. It just meant that I would have to get up even earlier than my usual 5 a.m. to deliver the Hartford Courant newspapers before having breakfast and shoving off to classes.
School dismissed at 2:30 p.m., and then it was off to football practice.
For the life of me, I don’t know why I looked forward to the three years of drudgery that football practices afforded me.
All I did was take a pounding all during practice from the much larger team members.
I was much too light at 130 pounds to be on the first string or starting team.
My good friend, Jack Fontanella, and I used to take a beating as running backs.
Jack was slightly bigger than me but was not as fast or adept at attempting to run through our very large defensive line as they needed practice at tackling that week’s opposing team’s
running backs..
Even worse were the days guys like Jack and me had to tackle our own
first-string backs.
There was just no way we could tackle backs like Jimmy Gura at about 220 pounds or Alan Stevens, our fullback, also more than 200 pounds, without help from another team member.
It was sheer torture. Those two guys came running at you like Mack trucks and trampled over you whenever you stepped up to tackle one of them.
Coach Lozoski was good to guys like Jack and me, however. He always allowed us to get into enough games on Saturdays for a few minutes in order that we could qualify to make our varsity
Whenever I reflect back on those three years of torture while practicing and scrimmaging at football practices I think I must have been nuts.
I guess it was part of my wanting to belong and have some identity or fame while attending high school.
Fortunately, I had plenty of friends and enjoyed my days at good old Southington High.
Jack and I were both members of the track team and accomplished much more than we had on the football team.
My friend was a good pole vaulter and was able to win or place in a few track meets.
Jack and I met up with one another at our 50th class reunion in 2009. I’m so glad we did as Jack passed away a couple of years later.
I ran the 440-yard dash and had placed in several races and even won a first place against Cheshire High during my junior year.
I had also been part of a mile relay team that broke a state record for that event one year.
Those were such busy days for me while attending high school. I can’t remember how or when I was able to study.
My sister brought that up not too long ago. She couldn’t figure out when and how I was able to study with such a busy schedule and our house was so small.
All I do remember was trying to grab a quiet place somewhere in our busy and active home whenever possible and doing my best to study.
My brothers Don and Ken and sister, Claire, must have been delivering the afternoon papers because of my commitment to football and track practices right after the morning session of high school was dismissed.
Thursdays were a real killer, but yet, somehow wonderful.
After I left track or football practice on Thursdays I ran over to the Southington News, which was only about fives minutes away from the high school.
I had a job there I thoroughly enjoyed. I also was paid about $2.75 and hour, which was unheard of in those days for a teenager.
I used to wrap up newspapers for shipment to servicemen around the world and people residing out of town or state, who subscribed to the Southington News, a very popular local newspaper.
While working there I became friends with several reporters and people in the newspaper business. That was so important to me, and I loved being friends with young adults.
During my junior and senior years a new pizza shop had opened in town. The Southington Pizza House was about five minutes up the road from the Southington News.
After school was dismissed in the afternoon, if we rushed right up to the pizza joint, once in awhile we were able to squeeze a couple of games of playing the pinball machine in the back before our sports practice.
It was an old machines with the flippers and one had to be careful not to “tilt” it or game would be over.
When I was finished with my job at the newspaper, late on Thursday evenings, I would stop into Pizza House and pick up a meatball grinder before I continued my long walk home.
The grinders tasted great, and my father used to be waiting for me.
Those long walks home from school, sports practice and the Southington News on Thursday evenings were a great time for me.
It was one of those rare times when my father and I seemed to bond.
God bless you.
Ray Willis is the author of Staying Afloat. He has been writing essays like this one for over 15 years in newspapers in five states. He may be reached at coot5864@hotmail.com.