I guess I met my buddy Danny on the blacktop basketball courts of St. Nicholas Church in Struthers. We were in junior high in the late 60's. He went to a St. Nick's School and I was across the street at Fifth Street Elementary. He obviously, was Catholic and I was raised a Baptist. He had strong Irish roots, I had a Heinz 57 variety heritage of English, French, and German. By high school years, my older sisters had "left the Nest" and I was the only child at home. Danny's family consisted of six kids. Four boys and two girls. Despite all this, Danny and I became very good friends and shared many an adventure together.
To me, Danny's house was a place of fascination. It was like Grand Central Station at all hours of the day and night, especially in the summer time with everyone out of school. Dan's father was disabled and confined to a wheelchair. He was a very pleasant guy who was always happy to see you and was a permanent fixture at the kitchen table. You never knocked on Danny's door. You just walked right into the kitchen and his dad was there to greet you.
Dan had two older siblings, a brother four years older and a sister two years older. All of Dan's friends thought his sister was Hot. A brunette version of Susan Dey or Peggy Lipton from The Mod Squad. She was very friendly with us which of course, drove all the hormones just wild in all us teenage boys. Her group of girlfriends were just as pretty and we just loved them all coming by to see her. None of our group of boys was bold enough to ask an older girl out, but we certainly discussed the possibilities.
As our group of six or seven got our driver's licenses, the fun really began. Of course, wheels meant freedom and we practically lived in our cars from the time we were sixteen until we settled down after high school. Cruising the local fast food restaurants is a rite of passage for all American teenagers, isn't it? Dan and I spent a lot of hours in a car going to all the Hot Spots in the Youngstown area. I remember every one's fascination with seeing the Market Street Robot, as it was called. From Youngstown State University on Wick Avenue, if you looked south towards downtown, the street lights on the Market Street Bridge looked like the outline of a body and the head of the robot was the huge lighted Amoco Gasoline sign. Anyone new to cruising with us was asked if they ever saw the robot. If they answered no, we felt obligated to show it to them.
We befriended some girls from rival Cardinal Mooney High School. A group of about a dozen of us "hung out" together for the better part of two years. Many late Summer nights were spent at The Penn-Ohio Truck Stop enjoying mass quantities of French Fries and Root Beer. I do believe Danny hooked up with one of the red-headed sisters that frequented our group. I was never that lucky. We spent many evenings at The Sky High Drive-In Theatre watching the latest horror movie. Several of us would often hide in the trunk to sneak in if we were broke. We took the girls to Locust Grove Lake, a swimming hole in New Springfield. We had a lot of fun there, especially going down their huge slide. You were guaranteed a "Wedgie" each trip down the slide.
Growing up in The Youngstown Area, fights were common and you never knew when a confrontation would take place. Dan and I should have known when we accompanied our buddy, Greg to a function at New Springfield Local High School. Greg was dating a Cheer Leader from there and the local boys didn't like the idea of anyone cutting in on their turf. Once outside, someone started a fight with Greg and then all Hell broke loose! Three of us against probably twenty of them. Fists were flying and we each managed to handle anyone that came at us. None of us had a scratch! We were lucky to escape unscathed. Legends were born that night. For months afterwards, kids from both schools talked about the Big Fight where some Struthers boys put a whippin' on those Farm Boys from New Springfield. Needless to say, we never went back for an encore performance.
During our high school days, Dan and I worked in landscaping, preparing new yards for seeding or for sod. Often very long hours of back breaking work. We had blisters on top of blisters. We would ride in the back of a dump truck to a sod farm and fill it up with rolls of sod that weighed 70-80 pounds, ride to the job site and unload all of it into place in the yard. A large yard would take two sun up to sun down days to finish and we looked like Coal miners by the time we got done. The black silt filled every nook and cranny on your body. Danny began doing a lot of work in concrete construction and excavation, learning a lot along the way.
Not long after graduation in 1973, Danny headed to California to work in construction. He did really well for himself and started his own company. We talked on the phone pretty often and as many times as I told him I would come out to visit sometime, something always seemed to get in the way. He came back to Ohio several times for weddings, funerals, and reunions. It always felt great to reconnect and I miss our friendship. We all have had friends in our lives that have had that special bond. Danny was one of those guys. Always somebody I could count on.