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Thanksgiving Blessing

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  Thanksgiving: food, family, football and maybe a Ballantine Ale or two make it the best holiday on the calendar. In Malden we have the annual Malden versus Medford football game and the “Night Before Thanksgiving Tradition” originated, I believe, in Malden at the old Highland Cafe in the late 1970s by the Class of 1975 (a group of friends that needed very little reason to get together and drink beer). Insert smiley face. Father Time has a way of making many of us appreciate the holiday even more. As we travel through this crazy life of ours together and as we recognize our transience, we tend to take less for granted. To savor the moment and enjoy – just enjoy.

  DPW Director Bobby Knox spoke eloquently on this same subject recently via Facebook: “Another Thanksgiving over and a lot of loved ones have passed through the years as the table gets smaller each year. I reflect to the early days when I was young and went to my grandmother’s house on Whitman Street and had the best Thanksgivings (my favorite holiday) with family, friends, and Malden football. I would love to roll back the clock to walk through the door after Malden beat Medford and have Turkey Day with my grandparents/parents and extended family one last time. Thank you for everyone that made yesterday another memory for my family. Enjoy your family because the days don’t last forever.”

  Here is MHS Class of 1977 Dave O’Brien relating his football/Thanksgiving Day experience as only Obie can:

  “We tend to focus on, and recall more often, the endings of our experiences. Journeys find their meaning in the outcome. It’s called The Grand Finale for a reason.

  “Perhaps unsurprisingly, it turns out that seniors who lose more than half of their games but win the Thanksgiving Game often report higher levels of satisfaction with their final season in particular and better memories of their entire boyhood football experience in general than seniors who win more than half of their games but lose the Thanksgiving Game.

  “Endings are more eventful. But beginnings are where we start.

  “Before I even hear of Pop Warner, I play one-on-one tackle with Anthony Pasquale on the lawn of the haunted house on Auburn Street. He is younger, but bigger. He moves to Medford.

  “1970. I am eleven. And I’m a troubled kid. My brother Danny has died that summer after getting hit by a car. I don’t cry at the memorial service. Not even when they play Bridge Over Troubled Water. But stay tuned.

  “Coach Marsinelli makes me a captain of Malden’s first C-Squad. We lose every game and have fun doing it. I am thrown out of four games for fighting. But Mars gets me. And he doesn’t give up on me. And he goes to bat for me when a referee tries to ban me from playing.

  “At the banquet he gives me a trophy and tells everyone I play the game the way it is meant to be played.

  “1971. I move up to A-Squad and start at left guard. I don’t wash my practice uniform. I mean, ever. I have to leave it on the back porch. It turns from white to brown and smells like a Roosevelt Park puddle. I am one with my environment. I block for Stanasek and Russell and Jesi and Langston and Roach. I find out what it feels like to win the G.B.L.

  “1972. Thirteen years old and a captain of the A-Squad. This year, I wash my uniform and we don’t win the G.B.L. We come close. But we lose to Chelsea in the final game. Billy Swanson, who will choose not to play organized football after this season, is our best player on offense and defense.

  “1973. Ninth grade, now. Beebe. Gene Revelas is the fullback, and I am tailback. We give each other concussions every Tuesday at one-on-one head-slamming drills. I see stars explode in the sky above and feel an electric shock go through exactly one side of my body. We surprise everyone by losing our first two games. But we finish the season 5-2.

  “1974. My first year at Malden High. I can’t imagine any team, ever, having three better varsity captains than Jack and Jeff and Bunza. Our sophomore team goes undefeated. Shawn and I are on the varsity kickoff team. And this feels like a privilege because Malden wins the G.B.L.

  “1975. A junior in high school. I have my best season. And my favorite season. I’m starting at left guard. My best friend, Louis Femino, is right guard. Malden wins another G.B.L. I could have climbed to the top of the gas tank next to the field and yelled, ‘Look at me, Ma. I’m on top of the world.’

  “But that world of ours keeps on turning. And there is a reason why Greek tragedies are timeless. The season of 1976 rolls around. Senior year. Along with Louie and Richard Angelo, I’m a team captain. Much is expected of us. Lou Racca tells me that he wants an undefeated season. ‘And no ties.’

  “They have me starting both ways. I’m a 160-pound nose tackle. I beat everyone on the bench press. But I have the legs of a distance runner. I’m an improper fraction. Designed for wrestling.

  “I get off to a pretty good start. In our first game against Melrose, I get slugged. But I have matured. (Or so I believe at the time.) I don’t punch back. I wave bye-bye to the kicked-out-of-the-game Melrose player. We take the fifteen yards and win the game on a double pass.

  “The season goes on. I wear down. There is inner-turmoil and what I think is called ‘adolescent angst.’ I’m seventeen and a mess. I have issues. And that all sounds like excuses.

  “But, whatever. I am not getting the job done on defense and it is hurting the team and I know it and it frustrates me and I take those frustrations out on Mathew because he is the biggest kid on the team and I don’t have that size and maybe we should have two-platooned and blah, blah, blah.

  “The Thanksgiving Day Game arrives. We are at Pearl Street on a perfect-weather day in front of six thousand people. I come out of the huddle for the first play of the game, and there, waiting for me, lined up at defensive tackle, is Anthony Pasquale.

  “Malden is behind but we have the ball at the end of the game on what feels like the final drive. Malden fumbles. Medford recovers. And then something strange happens. A Medford player, who hadn’t yet been in the game, comes in for just one play. And when the play is over, he walks up to me and punches me in the helmet. Might as well have been a flea. But the old me resurfaces. And, without thinking, I punch him back. We are both kicked out. I have fallen for the oldest trick in the book.

  “And if it was a designed set-up, it’s still my fault. I had to play my part for it to work.

  “I walk to the sideline and sit on the bench. It’s sinking in. I’m done. It’s over and I’m out. I can’t undo it. Time’s arrow is unforgiving. I’m stunned. I feel empty.

  “Medford wins.

  “I walk down the hall of the clubhouse into the Medford locker room. Bennie Talbot thinks I am going there to fight. He follows me to back me up. But I just shake Anthony’s hand and say, ‘good game.’

  “And then I’m back in the Malden room. With the kids I grew up with. Where there are so many memories. And there, it all catches up to me. My whole life to that point gathers like a storm cloud.

  “Now cue the tears.

  “Quiet on the set. And…action.

  “Coach Finn’s voice, addressing the team: It’s over. Go on with life.

  “And that’s a wrap. And it’s how my seven-year football journey ends.

  “By way of a riddle and a plot twist and a slightly bizarre epilogue, at the end-of-season banquet, Coach Cullen gives me a trophy for…wait for it…Unsung Hero of the Medford Game.

  “I never did figure that out. But that’s okay. Not all mysteries need to be solved.

  “Happy Thanksgiving, everybody.”

  As Peter Falk’s iconic TV character “Columbo” would say, “Just one more thing, sir” – thinking of old friend Steve Bouley on the anniversary of his passing four years ago. I was privileged to spend quality time with ‘Bouls’ at one of his favorite haunts, the IACC on Pearl St., as he battled his illness. Steve felt comfortable there with old friends, fellow postal workers and a ‘Fireball’ or two. Fighting his disease, facing life as bravely as any person I have ever known – courageous when most of us would have folded. An inspiration. My heart goes out to his wife Jackie and to their two children, Jesse and Jacqueline, during this holiday season. Bouls, always on our mind.

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