Tag Archives: The Polish Falcons

The Greatest.


The beauty of Dad’s storied history was all in the mystery. None of us could connect so much as a finger to any of it. The people, we never knew; the places, we’d never been. And, the experiences, well, nobody else could touch.

He talked often of his life as a young ward in the state of Massachusetts, living so briefly in the foster home of Mrs. Bracchi somewhere near Boston. While there, he’d be challenged to fight her big, redheaded sons. The winner would get a hot meal; the loser, a nickel – or, maybe it was the other way around. All Dad knew was, being the runt of a lost litter, he had to muster up some chops in short order.

And, this, apparently, led to some training in boxing.

He’d said he was, what, a welter weight? Only five foot three and a half, without shoes, he had to rely on quickness and agility, and we knew him to have these in abundance. Like a bird on a wire, his would be the very first head to turn at a sound or a sudden move in any room. And, when he’d raise his hand to anyone in defense, his tongue would curl under and get bitten down by his teeth. That’s how we’d know he was serious.

As father to myself and two brothers, he’d listen to the fights on the radio or watch them on the Tv in his barbershop. After Mum died, he’d view them alone, at the house, until well past his 90th birthday. And, while he enjoyed every fight he could find, his all time favorite, the best boxer he’d ever seen, was Cassius Clay. By the time the rest of the world caught on, they called him Muhammad Ali.

Dad, having the charm of a whole cast of clowns all wrapped up in one wiry little body, was captivated by Ali. He loved the quickness, and the moves, and reveled in the sassy, self confident challenge that always burst from Ali’s belly as soon as the mouth guard found its way out. He’d hoot with joy every time the man said anything.

But, Dad’s time stopping moment would come heading south on Ash Street, right before dusk, driving the Catalina home from just another day at the shop making long hair short. Always sharp of eye, he’d noticed a figure emerging from a parked car and looked twice, recognizing both the head and the cut. There, standing on the sidewalk right across from the Polish Falcons, was Muhammad Ali himself.

Ali had been brought in, for a charity event, perhaps to speak at the Sportsmen’s Club or be the special guest at an athletic awards ceremony. Those in attendance select VIP, the rest of our small city would gain its collective satisfaction just knowing the Great One was in town.

But, not Dad. He swerved the car to the curb, jumped out, scrambled for his wallet, selected a tiny, faded scrap of paper, fumbled into his pocket protector for a pen and, unabashedly, bounded right toward his hero.

I don’t remember what was said. Neither, as time passed, would Dad. He’d only known that Ali was gracious and kind, and signed his autograph to that little scrap of paper.

What I do remember was the moment when Dad tore through the back door, rushing the kitchen in exclaiming triumph: ” You’ll NEVAH believe it! I cayun’t hahdly, myself! LOOK! Look what I have, hea-uh!” He was trembling.

After Dad died, his little zippered pouch that carried only his precious things remained in the drawer in my bedroom. In it, he’d kept a handful of silver dollars, a couple rings, and his flat, smooth tan leather wallet. I haven’t looked in that wallet, but I’d bet a shave and a haircut that Muhammad Ali’s autograph is still there. After all, the Greatest, they know their own.





© Ruth Ann Scanzillo   6/5/16    All rights, in whole, part, participle, and letter, those of the author, whose story it is, and whose name appears above this line. Thank you for your respect.







The Scent of Nickel.

The freight train is moving east across 15th.

Its warning horn blends with the breeze in the newly leafing trees, and a scent wafts through that spins me into the deep past.

We are in the late 1960’s. I am a child. It is Dad’s day off from the barbershop, where he works cutting hair; Mum is outside, on her knees, putting in the red geraniums along the walkway leading to the front porch.

The black DeSoto is parked by the telephone pole. I scramble in, and Dad takes me with him down Parade Street, windows wide open. We stop at the tracks at 15th, to wait for the train. I look across at the feed store, and inhale deeply the mixture of grain, soil and soot. The sound of the train, the smell, the look. I watch each car fly by. When the caboose disappears, the sun brightens ahead of us through the windshield. We cross the tracks, and move on.

Coasting further down to 5th, we turn right one block to get to the shop. He’s whistling.

Unlocking the front storm door, Dad lets me scamper in ahead. The old cigar ashes fill the air. He flicks on the black and white cabinet Tv, gathers his broom and dustpan, and begins to sweep the floor of cut hair residue. I sit on the bouncy vinyl chair cushion and run my hands along the smoothe, tubular, nickel plated arm rests. I look at the tall pedestal ash trays, filled with grey mounds the size of cremated remains.

Worn magazines are piled on the small tables, Sports Illustrated, Mechanics Illustrated, men’s magazines, the pages all slippery, the pictures all black and angular and strange. I look for the pretty girl in the bathing suit.

The faces on the Tv are talking. Their voices have a buzz in them, not like people sound in real life. I watch my father sweep the floor, swinging my legs over the side of the puffy vinyl chair.

He’s all done. Walking past me into the back room, he gathers all the soiled towels to take home for Mum to wash. I run back quickly to use the rusty toilet. I smell the must, and stare around at the manly grunge.

We head back up Wallace, then over to Ash. We pass Peterman’s Market, the old Russian church. We turn right at Ash, and head up the slight hill under the overpass. The train is long gone, but we can still smell it. Dad toots his car horn under the pass, and the sound is loud and grande. We both laugh. The sun is still bright as we pass the Polish Falcons and then the corner store.

Soon, we are home. Mum looks up and smiles as we pull in the drive. Dad gets out of the car and walks up to her, jingling the change in his pants pocket.

There will be rigatonis for supper.


The freight continues its trek east toward the New York State line, moaning its horn the whole way. And, I inhale again, reaching from down in the pockets of my lungs for that last remnant of the scent of nickel.







.© Ruth Ann Scanzillo

5/12/15  All rights reserved. Thank you for the daytrip.