Courage at Twilight: Champions

Mom and Dad and I had just paid our respective income taxes, and the need to be frugal was on our minds and in our conversation.  “You know what?  That reminds me….”  And Dad began his story.  It was 1947, and the world heavyweight champion, Joe Louis, defended his title against contender Jersey Joe Walcott.  Sonny (Dad, age 11) pedaled the bicycle, with little brother Wiggy (Bill) on board, some 40-odd city blocks, in the cold December air, to their grandpa William T Greene’s little shack: no plumbing, no running water, no furnace, no bathroom, no stove or oven.  The place boasted only a hand pump and an outhouse and a wood stove, which served both as heater and cook stove.  And he had a vacuum tube radio on which the threesome listened to the 1947 world heavyweight championship boxing match.  Sonny and Wiggy tallied the score as the announcers called out the blows.  Mom broke into the story here: she (age 8) and her family had gathered around their diminutive black-and-white television, watching the same fight.  Sonny counted the blows.  Mom’s family kept score, too.  Jersey Joe knocked Louis down twice, and had more points, according to Sonny, listening to the radio, and according to grandpa Wally, watching the television, and they felt confident Jersey Joe Walcott would be the new world champion.  But in the end the judges called the fight for the incumbent Joe Louis, and the commentators rationalized that only a decisive win could unseat a world champion like Joe Louis.  The morning after the fight, Sonny snagged an enormous brook trout from Mill Creek.  “Now that’s more like it,” Grandpa Greene cheered.  “Let’s cook him up for breakfast.  Get some sticks and let’s light the fire.”  Grandpa William T Greene, at 80, liked his grandsons, and was happy for their company—and the boys loved him.  He told Sonny once that he was afraid of dying.  He would not know where to go, or what to do.  He would not belong.  But later he explained to the boys that the spirit of his long-dead sister had appeared to him, standing at the foot of his bed.  “You don’t need to worry, William,” she reassured.  “When you die, I will be there waiting for you.  I know where you need to go, and I will take you there.”  He would join her in 1956 after 89 years on this earth.  And Sonny would miss his champion grandpa.

(Pictured above and below: William T Greene.)

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