I’m a sucker for milestones, and this column is one. When I was looking for something to fill the void in my life when I retired from teaching back in 2012, I begged my way onto the pages of The Palladium-Times twice a month. I never imagined that I would still be writing eight years, and 200 columns later. But, this is number 200.
It seems silly to reminisce over a column about reminiscing (that phrase makes sense if you read it slowly), but in composing these writings, I have renewed old acquaintances and made lots of new ones along the way. So, it seems fitting to reflect on some of these connections, and to thank everyone who has taken the time to talk to me about our Oswego.
I always told my high school journalism students that legwork was the key to being a good writer. “Don’t sit at your keyboard Googling stuff,” I’d bark, “get out and talk to people.” And that has been the best part of writing these columns. Here are just a few memorable conversations I’ve enjoyed
• After some prodding, Dan Jackson brought me into the time capsule at East Second and Utica Streets that is Fred’s News, and it was like opening a time capsule.
• Paul Lear and I stood in the shadow of the old weather tower outside Fort Ontario that served as a beacon to locals and boaters. We both hoped it will be restored someday.
• On a summer morning, a former student of mine, Travis Quonce, who was the property manager at Sylvan Glen Apartments, took me through the unit I grew up in, Building F/Apartment 4, and I certainly wasn’t prepared for the emotional experience that it turned out to be.
• I marveled at World War II Navy signalman Fred Wilber as he told stories of his service, including a brief encounter with then-Admiral John McCain Sr.
• Cole Smith, manager of the Oswego Theater, let me peek behind the curtain one morning as we marked the 75th anniversary of our tremendous art-deco movie house.
• I met Jeep Dewey at Dunkin’ Donuts one day, about a half-mile from what was once Sheldon’s Beach to talk about his time, some 50 years ago, as a lifeguard supervisor there.
• My former colleague at OHS, Helen Jermyn, filled me in about some Oswego softball history I knew nothing about — the 1950s era O’Keefe’s Ale women’s softballers — sort of Oswego’s version of “A League of Their Own.”
• Fran Wallace invited me into his den for a great trip down memory lane about mailmen of the bygone era.
• In the Zappala family’s kitchen, Sam Zappala Sr. discussed, with pride, his decades and secrets as one of Oswego County’s most successful muck farmers.
• Dick Freeman, who probably knows more about the Steam Station than anyone, shared stories as we discussed the disassembling of the stacks — Huey, Dewey, Louie, and Frank.
• Dave Mott loved reminiscing about the time when Johnny Carson mentioned the outdoor bar that Dave and his friends created in a snowbank on West Fifth Street during the Blizzard of ‘78.
• I visited County Clerk Mike Backus as he shared the background of specialty license plates issued by the clerk’s office like the one on my grandmother’s car back in the ‘60s, then he issued me one such plate as our interview wrapped up.
• There were group gatherings that folks were kind enough to allow me to sit in on. The old Carson’s News Gang met a few years back for a mini-reunion and I couldn’t record their memories fast enough. I also crashed Bill Cahill Sr.’s 85th birthday party with family members and former employees of “the fish market.” And some of the “old guard” of Oswego High School teachers regaled me with stories of the “split session days” of the 1960s.
• Others supplied invaluable materials that were key to researching topics. Shawn Mahoney loaned me a treasure trove of records of the old Fortnightly Club that his grandfather had given him, and longtime friend Mark Murray showed me his souvenir program from the Empire Bowl, a college football bowl game played here, in 1973.
• The Losurdo family, Dick, Cathy, and Jen, relived the good times they had as members and officers of the D.A. Lodge.
• Lots of people, including Burt Fairchild and my classmate Tom Chwalek, shared information about the phenomenon of garage bands of their teen years.
• I connected with guys from my old neighborhood who, as teenagers were known simply as “The Boathouse Bums.”
• Some of those “Bums” and a bunch of Oswego guys in their late 60s talked openly and honestly about their fears and options as they remembered watching the infamous televised draft lottery for the Vietnam War in 1969.
• I had coffee one morning with one of my New York Mets heroes, Jon Matlack, when he lived in Oswego for a time. I can tell you I was starstruck taking to a guy whose locker in the Mets’ clubhouse was next to Willie Mays’s.
The list goes on and on. If you’ve read, you’ve recalled places of Oswego’s past with me. everything from Lupe’s Sport Shop to the old Seneca Street dump; from “The Rec” Building at Fort Ontario to Mud Road; from the Candy Works to Green’s Department Store. Events from bygone days such as sorority premiers and Punt, Pass, & Kick competitions, and common occurrences like school banking day and hitchhiking have all brought nostalgic smiles to our faces.
Though the tone of this column seems like a farewell, it’s not. Neither the column nor I are going anywhere. As long as I keep remembering things, I’ll keep writing. This was just a way to mark the 200th column milestone and thank everyone from our Oswego who helps me out, simply because, as one reader told me, “It’s fun to remember.”
Mike McCrobie is a retired Oswego High School English/Journalism teacher. His column appears here every-other Wednesday. His two books, “We’re from Oswego” and “Our Oswego,” are currently available at The River’s End Bookstore and at amazon.com. Reach him at email@example.com or at firstname.lastname@example.org