Life has been one hellova good ride ...

... we Scouts went AWOL, to Times Square on VE night ...

from Don Norris

Strange things about my life:

In 1945, I applied, as an advanced Boy Scout for a summer job at Camp Tamerack, in New Jersey. I received a notice from a council officer -- a man I didn't care for -- that I had been accepted as a dishwasher.  He and I had words that summer, and I was fired. I went on to become an Eagle Scout, earned a bachelor's degree, become a platoon commander in the Marine Corps, and  have a happy, productive life in Melrose.

That was the summer that Germany surrendered (World War II), and we dropped two atomic bombs on Japan. When "V-E Day" was proclaimed, I and a bunch of senior Scouts at Tamerack "left our posts" (so to speak), hitch-hiked across New Jersey to Newark, grabbed a jammed subway to Times Square and joined the millions of celebrants there. We were all in Scout uniforms, 14 years old, and really got a lesson in kissing from the hundreds of beautiful women we encountered.

Speaking of motorcycles ...

My brother, then a private in the army, resurrected a 1931 Harley Davidson that year, and while Dad was at work, Mom was off playing bridge with the ladies, and brother Doug was at some army camp, I taught myself how to ride a motorcycle. I have been riding and racing bikes ever since, and spent 11 years writing for "Trail Rider" and "Cyclesport" magazines. Really good times.

At eight years old, in Valdosta, Georgia, my Uncle Carl showed me the .32 automatic pistol he carried. In fact, he urged me to shoot it -- and my father agreed. But the thought of the recoil, the horrendously loud noise the pistol made, made me cringe and run. Then, back in Jersey, in 1944, an Army colonel -- a friend of my father's -- retired and gave me his .45 revolver. A buddy found a load of ammo, and I taught myself how to fire a handgun.

Busted -- almost!

On numerous occasions, when me and my Scout buddies hitch-hiked across New Jersey to our troop Scout camp, I practiced with my very own .45. As far as I know, that .45 revolver was never used to kill anything -- man nor beast. But I shot lots of trees.

In 1945 I was riding Douglas's Harley around the neighborhood when suddenly old Jeff, the local police officer, stepped off the curb and waved me down. I thought, stopping for the policeman would mean the end of my riding, so I turned up the throttle, turned left, and scooted back to our house. Old Jeff knew where I lived, but he never knocked on our door. In fact, it was a month later, as I was walking to school, that I ran into him again.

"Hey, young man," he said, "there's some under-age kid riding a motorcycle around the neighborhood. If you see him, tell him he's violating the law, and not to do that again."

"Yes, sir," I replied, and continued on to school.

All about concussions ...

My first concussion was in grammar school. We kids were playing in the basement of Brookdale School, when, running, I was tripped. I went head-first into the brick wall, and got my first serious concussion. Then, as a sophomore at Bloomfield High, I got my second concussion, this time while practicing with the JayVee football team -- our helmets were made of leather.

Then our family moved to Melrose in 1947, and I got really bad concussion tackling a superhero from Lynn Classical -- Harry Agganis. And finally, in trying out for football at Tufts University, I got the granddaddy of all concussions, and subsequently told myself it was time to stop playing football.

I did NOT encourage my son to go out for that sport. He ran track, as I remember.

Anything's safer than football ...

At age 28, I discovered the game called volleyball. It was pretty much grabass ball until some guy from Lithuania showed up at the gym and told us we should learn the rules -- which he taught us. The outcome was that we formed a competitive team of Melrose players, joined the North Suburban YMCA in Woburn (Melrose's gym was too small), and became part of the new New England Volleyball Association.

It was a good league -- Cambridge, North Suburban, Quincy, Lynn, Nashua, Worcester, Gloucester -- and the sport grew like mad, for both men's and women's team -- even co-ed games. Soon teams sprouted up in Connecticut, Rhode Island, even one team from Maine, and all over the Boston area. It was called the "Yankee Volleyball League" which eventually became part of the USVBA.

Not only did I play a lot of ball, every week, two or three matches -- I got no more concussions! There was no hard body-contact, no serious injuries other than sprained ankles. There was no body-contact with the opposition, and most times, winners and losers left the court feeling really good. Eventually I became a referee and got fifty bucks for a match; today we pay each of the two refs at high school games, $150 for an evening's work. The good point is, however, that volleyball, a non-contact sport -- is now being played at high school levels -- mostly for female leagues, but the boys have a few teams also. Like St. John's Prep in Danvers ...

As for the motorcyles, at age 82 I'm still riding. My favorite machine is the BMW, but it got too heavy for me to lift when I fell over, so I switched to a smaller, lighter Japanese machine. Top speed is 60, but the bike is basically a woods machine -- where I can still go as fast as a trail will allow. Now, with heart-failure evident, I can still ride, for (I discover) riding a trailbike takes practically no energy at all. Just twist the throttle and you're flying through the air. Now THAT'S exciting.

If I'm careful and stay away from contact sports, I'll have a few more years left -- to enjoy that dirtbike. Oh, yes -- no more over-the-handlebars ever again.

Don with his oldest, Nan.

December 6, 2013

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