Goodbye, Mr. Galston.......
James Galston, Jr. passed away on December 5th at the age of 85--"Mr. Galston" to yours truly. He was amazingly similar to my Dad--who died in 2011: both born in 1927, both graduates of Ansonia High School, both having served in the Navy. They also shared many other things in common--one of which was having worked in sweatshops for the majority of their lives. Yeah, you know the type--just flat-out TOUGH: the hard-working, non-filter-cigarette-smoking kinda guys who wouldn't puff on a filtered one even if you offered them a $20 bill along with it. The two had known each other during their high school days, but had lost touch as time went on; ironically (and unknowingly), my family would move next door to the Galston family in 1971. I soon befriended "Mr. G's" only son, James III (Jimmy), who was my age; we shared an immense love of sports--both as followers AND participants. Yes, the Galstons were the perfect neighbors for one lucky Lazzari family.
Mr. Galston--nicknamed "Red"--had been a star football player (lineman) for Ansonia in the 1940's. So it's easy to understand why he'd always have that special gleam in his eye anytime he'd see Jimmy and I throwing the pigskin around in the backyard on snowy days. He'd even help the two of us shovel the driveway during the winter so we could shoot baskets at the hoop that he had constructed over his garage door. Yeah, the guy truly loved sports. He was a Yankee fan and Jimmy was a Dodger fan; I'll never forget their friendly father/son banter when N.Y. and L.A. played each other three times in the World Series between '77 and '81. And Mr. G. loved watching the UCONN women's basketball team over the past couple of decades. Yeah, I can only surmise that he was impressed with their work ethic, commitment to excellence, and dedication--all qualities that he possessed HIMSELF. What can I say? He was the ultimate "regular guy", but allow me to expand on that a bit: he was one HELLUVA regular guy.
He became like a second father to me as I spent so much time at his residence during my formative years. I remember him always being so welcoming after I'd make the short walk through the wooded area to the back door of the Galston home. "Hey, Robert!", he'd regularly call out in his normal, raspy voice. And he'd always--I mean ALWAYS--follow that up with, "How's your Mom and Dad?" Yes, he was a very cordial, thoughtful man. And Mr. G. calling me "Robert" has always stuck with me over the years; it was more of an affectionate gesture than anything formal. He was a genuine, kind man, too, who valued family above everything; heck, he made ME feel like family anytime I was at his home--whether it be offering a soda, a pat on the back, or simply uttering words of encouragement. Quite simply, the man CARED. And I always valued how the man kept his "even keel" persona whenever I was around him; it's something I try to emulate even to this day.
"Red" Galston was filled with pride, too--in fact, a TON. I'll never forget how immaculate he kept his yard: the green grass, the sculpted hedges, the clean-swept sidewalk--he was always doing outside chores even AFTER a day in the sweatshop. And his early-70's Plymouth Satellite Sebring? I don't remember the car EVER being dirty--even in the middle of winter. He truly valued all the possessions he had worked so very hard for; I know his son Jimmy will be forever indebted to his Dad for passing along that type of appreciation/dedication. Yeah, I can definitely say that a young kid named "Bobby" learned a lot from the man, too.
Another specific memory of Mr. G.? He had the LOUDEST whistle I've ever heard. No, not the manual type that referees use; I'm talkin' the natural type formed by simply using one's finger and mouth. To this day, I envy the wailing whistle of one Mr. Galston; man, I tried--but could never duplicate it. And he used it for a specific purpose, too: calling for his son when it was dinner time. Jimmy and I could be playing a street football game a BLOCK away, but when we'd hear that high-pitched sound from afar, Jimmy knew he had less than five minutes to get to the dinner table. And I don't remember "young Jim" ever being late, either. I guess Jimmy and I didn't want to disappoint our Dads back in those days; in fact--even though they're both gone now--I can assure you that we STILL don't.
I attended Mr. Galston's memorial service recently. As I parked my car at the funeral home on a dreary, rainy day, Jimmy happened to be in the lot by himself--perhaps taking an emotional break. We immediately embraced--two grown men undoubtedly thinking about the better days of a blessed childhood so long ago; yeah, it was difficult to hold back tears. We then went inside to a very small, private gathering of family, relatives, and close friends. The service mirrored the man's life in general: simple, but with GREAT impact. At one point during the emotional farewell, the Reverend Enock Yatri performed "Amazing Grace" on a fife while asking those in attendance to reflect upon certain memories of "Red." Fighting back more tears, my mind started racing: the welcomed hellos, "Hey, Robert!", his guttural laugh, the comforting words, the WHISTLE--yes, the moment was eerie due to the sudden clarity of it all. I also remembered the "old school" mentality the man possessed--just like my Dad. In fact, while offering condolences to his widow, Helen, prior to the service ("Mrs. G." to yours truly), she told me about one of her husband's final hospital stays. "Bob," she told me, "you'll appreciate this. After one of his medical tests came out negative a few weeks ago--and he could walk OK--the first thing he said to me was, 'Helen, when can I get the HELL outta here?' " Yes, that was Mr. Galston; no doubt, he had better things to do than lay in a hospital bed--such as trimming hedges, watching a game, or perhaps being another "second Dad" to some lucky individual.
Ironically, Ansonia High played for a state football championship the day of James Galston Jr.'s memorial service; I had told head coach Tom Brockett earlier that week that the team would be playing with the proverbial "12th man" that day. And yes, AHS would proceed to roll to yet another state title--with one "Red" Galston surely smiling down upon them. In a touching tribute, Shawn Venson--one of Ansonia's assistant coaches and a close friend of the Galston family--personally delivered a Class S Championship medallion to Mrs. G. that evening. Yeah, heavy stuff, my friends. For now, I'll just do some smiling of my own--remembering a wonderful man who has made ME a better man. My condolences to the entire Galston family following the loss of a true gentleman and mentor; may it comfort you in knowing that he's in good company now. Thanks for all you've done, Mr. G., and may you rest in peace. You'll surely be missed.