THE O'HARA NAME
James John Ehrich, who became known as Jim O’Hara, entered the world on December 23, 1925.
His birth place was St. Paul, Minnesota. Destined to earn a Ph.D. in Street Smarts from the St. Paul campus of the School of Hard Knocks, he fell in love with the city’s people and places. Among the people were St. Paul’s many sweet scientists, such as his brother John, whom Jim grew up watching at their places of business, which more than on occasion included the streets.
His mother’s name was Margaret O’Hara. Born in St. Paul in 1890, she was the daughter of Mary and Joseph O’Hara, Irish Catholic immigrants. They also had a son, John, born in 1892. Dedicated to each other and hardworking, Mary and Joseph were living the American Dream with their own general store at Seven Corners in downtown St. Paul. But when Mary took ill and died, Joseph quit.
Grief-stricken, he couldn’t go on.
She died Friday March 9, 1894, at 10:00 a.m. at home above the store. (Missal of her son John, the inside back cover (to which he pasted his mother’s obituary).)
On Sunday afternoon following the funeral Mass at the Cathedral (then located on the corner of St. Peter and 6th Streets in downtown St. Paul) and the burial service, Joseph directed his two youngsters to go with their Aunt Marge Cummings. Margaret and John never saw their father again.
The cause of Mary O'Hara's death isn't known, but her husband is believed to have returned to County Mayo, Ireland to live out the rest of his days. How could he live without his children? You'd think he'd care for them, but perhaps in his own way he did.
Mary was only 29 when she passed. Margaret O’Hara, age 4, was raised by Aunt Marge. John O’Hara, age 2, was legally adopted by Ellen and Thomas Hoban and became their only child, John Hoban. (Missal of John Hoban, the inside back cover (to which he pasted the notice of his adoption).)
Jim’s mother was born into and grew up among the boxing Irish. In the year she was born, 1890, Irish-Americans held five of the world titles out of then seven weight divisions. (Jack Cavanaugh, Tunney: Boxing’s Brainiest Champ and His Upset of the Great Jack Dempsey, Chapter 1 (Ballantine Books 2007), Kindle Edition.) Her folks were from Ireland’s County Mayo, as were the parents of Mike and Tommy Gibbons. The Gibbons brothers were born in St. Paul about the same time as she: Mike, 1887; Tommy, 1891. Both are members of the International Boxing Hall of Fame. A middleweight, Mike was inducted in 1992; a light-heavyweight, Tommy was inducted in 1993.
The Gibbons brothers are ranked number three on the list of Boxing’s Best Brother Combinations, a list Steve Farhood put together. (Bert Randolph Sugar and Teddy Atlas, The Ultimate Book of Boxing Lists 78 (Running Press 2010).) World-class boxer Jack Gibbons, Mike’s son, was born in St. Paul in 1912.
Arguably the greatest Irish athlete of all time is Gene Tunney. His folks also were from County Mayo. Born in New York City in 1897, Tunney is ranked number 13 on the Bert Sugar list of the top 100 fighters of all time. Mike Gibbons is ranked number 92 out of the top 100. (Bert Randolph Sugar, Boxing’s Greatest Fighters 29 and 314 (The Lyons Press 2006).)
Mike Gibbons is ranked number five on the list of the top defensive fighters of all time, a list Bert Sugar put together, while Tunney is ranked number eight on the same list. (Bert Randolph Sugar and Teddy Atlas, supra, at 162.)
Jim’s father’s name was Ehrich, Herman Ehrich, pronounced in the family “Eric.” Born in Iowa in 1881, Herman is believed to be the son of German immigrants.
“I’m half Irish and half smart,” said Jim.
A close friend of the owners of Schmidt Brewery in St. Paul, Herman had at one time run a team of horses delivering product for the company. When Jim later asked his father why he never became an owner of the company like his German buddies, his father replied, “The sauce,” by which he meant alcohol.
Jim’s quip about being half Irish and half smart was his spin on Billy Conn’s famous line, which Conn delivered after his 1941 loss to Joe Louis: “What’s the sense of being Irish if you can’t be dumb?” Conn had the heavyweight champion of the world beat on points after 12 rounds. All Conn had to do was stay away from Louis but instead he got cocky and started trading punches with the champ. Louis won by KO. (Randy Roberts, Joe Louis: Hard Times Man, Chapter 7 (Yale University Press 2010), Kindle Edition.) Conn’s remark has to be, and is, on the list of the best post-fight lines. (Bert Randolph Sugar and Teddy Atlas, supra, at 205.)
Neither Gaelic nor German was passed down in the family. But Jim was known to say “Bist du verruckt?” That’s German for “Are you crazy?”
He developed a big heart from a big family. The arranged marriage of his parents circa 1907 produced 12 children – seven boys and five girls. His parents named their daughters: Mary, Ruth, Ann, Lorraine and Joan; and their sons: Edward, William, John, Robert, Michael, James and Richard. Jim was the 10th of the 12 children and the sixth of the seven boys.
At some point before Jim was born and perhaps during his earliest years his parents owned a farm near the north end of Rice Street in St. Paul. From the farm come the stories of Jim’s father military pressing a small horse and, on another occasion, knocking out a horse with a single punch.
Eventually their home on the farm was lost to fire. The family then began an odyssey of moves within the city’s rough inner-city neighborhoods, including public housing near the south end of Rice Street.
During some of the Great Depression Jim and his brothers Mike and Dick resided in an orphanage where Jim was required to become right-handed. Known as St. Joe’s and run by Benedictine nuns, the orphanage had a south Minneapolis location as well as a St. Paul location.
Six years of age, Jim arrived at St. Joe’s in south Minneapolis in February 1932 and remained there until March 1933. Jim called his father "Pa," and years later he forgave his Pa for never coming to visit, what with 12 children and Jim’s mother in St. Paul’s Anchor Hospital with tuberculosis and the difficulty of finding work during the Great Depression.
The good Sisters of St. Benedict did their best at St. Joe’s, but life was hard there as it was all over. Don Boxmeyer, writing for the St. Paul Pioneer Press, wrote in 1994:
More than 3,500 children would live at “St. Joe’s” [in St. Paul] in an era when the orphanage was the only refuge for children from bad, broken or no homes.
Many non-Catholic children lived there over a period of years and many children who were not even orphans. There were children whose mothers were sick with TB, with cancer, and whose fathers could not care for them.
Everyone’s birthday was celebrated on the same day, and there’d be a cupcake on each dinner plate along with one nickel.
[In St. Paul] the boys’ dormitory was in the attic, or the fifth floor, in a space that was bleak and barren. During thunderstorms, the sisters would get the boys out of bed and have them kneel in a circle around a lighted candle to pray the Rosary, which was an unforgettable experience, some children recalled. And the sisters, ever frugal, would keep the wax that dripped from the candles, melt it, and the children would use it to wax the floors.
The sister orphanage in south Minneapolis operated much the same way….
When the [Minneapolis] orphanage’s chickens were laying, the kids each got one Sunday morning egg, hard-boiled. But usually the morning meal was “mush,” Pat [Marcogliese] recalls. “The nuns would lick you if you didn’t eat the mush, but I couldn’t eat it and wouldn’t eat it, so I got licked. Finally, they got tired of licking me and let me alone. I was a terrible kid, just awful, and I deserved every single licking I got.”
The routine was much the same in St. Paul, Paul [Gonzalez] says. Oatmeal (into which was mixed cod liver oil) for breakfast all year long, and maybe once or twice a year the kids got an egg.
(Don Boxmeyer, Bless Our Home/St. Joseph’s Orphanage, Run by Benedictine Nuns For More Than 100 Years, Finally Closed Its Doors In The 1960s. But Those Who Grew Up There Remember It well, St. Paul Pioneer Press, July 16, 1994, Express Section, page 1D.)
Jim didn’t like to talk about the dark days in his life, but he did mention they each got an orange on Christmas morning.
He and his siblings returned home as soon as their mother’s health allowed. For two years she was in St. Paul’s Anchor Hospital with TB. During this period Joanie, the youngest child, was taken in by big sister Ruth.
Jim’s mother’s brother, John Hoban (O’Hara by birth), served in World War I and thereafter had a good job in St. Paul with American Linen. By the time he retired, he held the office of Credit Manager. He and Jim both had a gift with numbers. See Round 12, entitled Education.
Uncle John and his wife, Ethel, gave their nephew Jim special treatment. In March 1933, when Jim was seven, they took him into their home, reducing the length of his stay in the orphanage. The only known photo of him as a child is in the backyard of the Hoban house where he is seen having fun with his cousin Tom, age six, in the summer of 1933.
Uncle John and Aunt Ethel also were generous with financial support to Jim’s mother. As part of the big family, Uncle John and Aunt Ethel were part of why Jim developed a big heart.
While his sister had 12 children, Hoban had one child, Tom, and he was about Jim’s age. In 1942-1943 when Tom was a junior in high school, he caught up with Jim once a week for boxing lessons. Uncle John had initially set up the lessons with Jim, wanting Tom to learn the art of self-defense. Jim was then an amateur boxer training each weekday in the famous (if modest) Mike Gibbons Rose Room Gym in the basement of the Hamm Building in downtown St. Paul. He arranged for the use of the ring whenever his cousin Tom came over from West St. Paul.
At age 16 Jim had moved out and was supporting himself. He made it a point to bring his mother whatever he could, such as hams and turkeys, including some from the generosity of his pal Bert Sandberg, whose family was in better shape financially.
About this time Jim was playing baseball with his buddies when he experienced pain in his feet. It was found to be the gout, a form of arthritis. It wasn’t altogether a shock because from an early age his older sister Ruth suffered with rheumatoid arthritis, which eventually crippled her.
From the gout attacks Jim didn’t get the opportunity to serve his country in World War II. He was embarrassed to be rejected from the United States Army and classified 4‑F. If there was shame in being poor, wearing civilian clothes when everyone else was in uniform only added to the Irish chip on his shoulder. The gout interfered with his boxing from time to time, with the pain adding to his toughness.
Rocky Graziano was born in New York City in 1922, three years before Jim. Dishonorably discharged from the army for going AWOL one too many times, Graziano was spending time during the war with Norma, his future wife, when his civilian clothes attracted attention:
While walking in Greenwich Village, three sailors baited Rocky, saying he was 4-F. They called him a “fairy” and added that he dressed like a girl.
Rocky instructed Norma to “Wait right here, honey.” He whirled and dropped two of the sailors with body shots while the third ran away. Norma worried that Rocky had taken liberties as a professional fighter, until he explained to her that is exactly why he didn’t hit them in the head.
(Dave Newhouse, Before Boxing Lost Its Punch, Round 2 (ebooks 2012).) Graziano is ranked number 98 on the Bert Sugar list of the top 100 fighters of all time. (Bert Randolph Sugar, supra, at 336.)
Stomach cancer took Jim’s mother in 1945 when he was 19. In June 1945, in what may have been his second recorded professional fight, Jim was knocked out in the first round as a welcome to the pro ranks. He boxed under the name Jimmy O’Hara, following the lead of his older brother and mentor Johnny O’Hara.
From being forced by the good nuns in the orphanage to become right-handed, to living on his own at 16, to gout attacks, the 4-F stigma, his mother’s death and now the life of a boxer, nothing was easy. From challenges including unspeakable loss and alcoholism, he was to have a lifelong compassion for the weaknesses and sufferings of others.
If he was ever tempted to think of himself as tough, he remembered those who'd gone off to war. While he was enjoying three square meals in St. Paul, tougher Americans like First Lieutenant Louis Zamperini of Torrance, California were being severely beaten and starved in Japan. A member of the 1936 U.S. Olympic team, Zamperini had run a 4:12 mile on the sand of Oahu the morning of the day his plane went down over the Pacific. (Laura Hillenbrand, Unbroken: A World War II Story of Survival, Resilience and Redemption, Chapter 11 (Random House 2010), Kindle Edition.)
A source of pride for Jim was his brother Bobby Ehrich who served in the U.S. Marine Corps. A driver of one of the landing crafts at the Battle of Iwo Jima, Bobby did his part in the eventual U.S. victory in the Pacific. There’s a photograph of him and some buddies in the Pacific holding up a captured Japanese flag. Bobby had a full head of hair in the photo, but from all the things he survived he returned home practically bald.
When Jim married in 1948, he changed his name legally from Ehrich to O’Hara with his father’s blessing. While he had two family names, he answered to many other names throughout his life, including Seamus, Irish, James J, Handsome Jim, Jumbo Jim, and Jumbo.
At 6-foot-1, he had a big frame with a large torso. His professional boxing weight was 200 pounds. Later in life he gained weight, maybe topping off at 250. He was solid. You’d never call him fat. In the 1970s he was dubbed “Jumbo Jim O’Hara” by Don Riley, sports columnist for the St. Paul Pioneer Press, after the Boeing 747 Jumbo Jet became popular. The name Jumbo stuck among Jim’s children and their friends.
To those who confided in him he was known as Jimmy Never Tell, as he himself put it.
Strong as they come, Herman Ehrich, Jim’s father, lived and worked to age 96. No nursing home for him, he was always able to care for himself. He kept his mind sharp with baseball stats and from listening to sports broadcasts on the radio. At the time of his death in 1977 his apartment was above the St. Paul Barber School (on the corner of University Avenue and Rice Street in St. Paul), where he made pocket money each day sweeping up hair. Without teeth for decades, he enjoyed raw hamburger. Whether or not it’s true that tough guys eat raw meat, Herr Ehrich was tough.
With a population of over three hundred thousand in 1950, when Jim was in his prime, St. Paul is the last city in the East before you hit the Mississippi River. Full of character, its streets are a UPS driver’s nightmare, at least before the days of GPS. You won’t find a grid-numbering system applied to the streets of this town in East-Central Minnesota.
Back in the day a GPS would have been nice, but growing up in St. Paul you naturally learned how to get around, using roadways named Ford, Snelling, St. Clair, Lexington, Selby, Dale, Maryland, White Bear, Shepard, and Warner, among others.
Downtown St. Paul is built along the banks of the Mississippi. Summit Avenue mansions look out over downtown, indeed to Jim’s grandparents’ building on Seven Corners, and then on to the river.
They say F. Scott Fitzgerald, born in St. Paul in 1896, lived on Summit Avenue and had in his mind’s eye a great estate near the intersection of Mississippi Boulevard and St. Clair Avenue when we wrote The Great Gatsby. Fitzgerald attended St. Paul Academy from 1908 to 1911 before leaving for East coast schools.
The majestic St. Paul Cathedral and the State Capitol, a smaller version of the U.S. Capitol, also look out over downtown and the Mississippi.
Commercial activity has long been aplenty, with the likes of 3M which investor Lucius Ordway moved to St. Paul from Duluth in 1910. (The birthplace of singer-songwriter Bob Dylan, Duluth also is one of Minnesota’s largest cities.)
St. Paul’s Ecolab began in 1923 as Economics Laboratory. In 1853 St. Paul Companies was founded as the St. Paul Fire and Marine Insurance Co., and as of 2003 it’s known as St. Paul Travelers.
With German, Irish, French, Scandinavian, Polish, Italian and Mexican immigrants, Gentiles and Jews, and their descendants everywhere when Jim was a boy, St. Paul couldn’t help but capture his heart and imagination. The Irish were the cops and the politicians as well as the boxers, which is why his brother John used the O’Hara name in the ring and he followed suit. See Round 6, entitled The Boxer.
Jim grew up amidst police corruption and criminals finding sanctuary in St. Paul under O’Connor’s Law, a decades’ old system of bribes and payoffs. Paying for protection as they went to and fro, the criminals were open and notorious. John Dillinger, Machine Gun Kelly, Baby Face Nelson, Ma Barker and her sons, including Doc Barker, were known to frequent St. Paul, including its many illegal saloons and gambling establishments.
When alcohol was illegal (1920-1933) they say O’Connor’s Law became a conspiracy among St. Paul’s German breweries and St. Paul’s Irish cops and politicians. As a German-Irish street kid, Jim witnessed his share of corruption. His brother John was a professional fighter during these formative years for Jim (1929-1934), and he observed you need to pick your battles, sidestep certain people, and always show respect to those in authority.
O’Connor’s Law welcomed criminals to St. Paul as long as they committed no violent crimes or robberies within city limits. Named after John J. O’Connor, the St. Paul Police Chief who began the rule long before Jim was born, this system continued until it was closed down for good by wiretaps of police headquarters in 1935. Of the many in law enforcement and politics who helped put an end to the corruption, one was Boxing Hall of Famer Tommy Gibbons himself.
Fearless of what lay ahead of him, Gibbons ran for office and was elected sheriff of Ramsey County in 1934. St. Paul is part of Ramsey County.
As mentioned, one of the bad guys was Doc Barker, who never knew a jail he couldn’t break out of — until he met Sheriff Gibbons. The sheriff was holding Barker pending the Feds taking custody of him when Barker asked for his own bathtub in his cell. Gibbons denied the request but not before asking why a bathtub. In an interview in 1959, he explained:
The strange request aroused my curiosity so I visited Barker. As I approached his cell I noticed Doc going through a strenuous session of calisthenics which Bob [the guard, Mike Gibbon’s son] explained to me was a regular routine several times daily. Asked why he should be provided with a bathtub, a privilege denied all prisoners, Barker replied:
"I’m keeping in tiptop shape, Sheriff, and you know after working up a good sweat, a fellow needs a bath. I know I’m going to be sent to Alcatraz and I know I’ll have to be in top condition to swim the bay from the Rock to Frisco after I make my escape. If you are a betting man, Sheriff, lay a few bucks on my making good."
Needless to say, I didn’t furnish Barker’s cell with a bathtub, but he did break out of Alcatraz only to be shot to death in the water as he started to swim the bay.
(George A. Barton, Tommy Gibbons, Part III, The Ring, December 1959, 18, 19 and 57.)
Hot and humid in the summer and fall, St. Paul has a unique range of temperatures. Back in the day boxers trained in the heat and humidity without air conditioning. In the fall of 1953, notably, Jim’s effort paid off with a unanimous decision over slugger Don Jasper in Duluth with the thermometer at 100 degrees f. ringside. See Round 7, entitled Boxing Record. Imagine the temperature in the roped square.
Freezing cold in the winter, St. Paul answers the low temperatures after the holidays with a Winter Carnival, which warms you with its annual parade and treasure hunt among other activities. Jim’s kids grew up participating in the Winter Carnival Parade, riding in the horse-drawn carriage owned by his customer the JR Ranch of Hudson, Wisconsin. See Round 13, entitled The Businessman.
Winter can be long in St. Paul. There can be snow still on the ground on the 17th of March, St. Paddy’s Day. In 1967 Jim was a member of the booster group that launched the annual St. Patrick’s Day Parade. His participation was only natural. With the O’Hara name and people skills ordinarily reserved for kissers of the Blarney Stone, he hung out at the saloon belonging to Bob Gallivan, the visionary for the event.
Gallivan’s Bar & Restaurant, located on Wabasha Street in downtown St. Paul, was one of the venues where Jim came to know many lawyers and judges and politicians. The location was near both the Court House/City Hall and the St. Paul Pioneer Press Building.
With a smaller city feel, St. Paul’s part of a large metropolitan area. You can’t describe St. Paul fully without mentioning Minneapolis, the city of lakes, which would be contiguous if the river didn’t divide the two cities. Minneapolis is immediately West across the Mississippi. One of many bridges between the cities is the Ford Bridge, officially the Intercity Bridge, which takes you high above the river to Minnehaha Park. There you can see and hear Minnehaha Falls and follow the trails to the Mississippi where you can fish for smallmouth bass and walleye.
If Minneapolis is the city of lakes, you might say St. Paul is the contender in the world of sports. Before turning to St. Paul’s athletes, Minneapolis of course can hold its own. Indeed you can thank Minneapolis for the name “Golden Gloves,” which originated in the 1920s with Minneapolis's Nick Kahler of hockey fame.
Inducted into the U.S. Hockey Hall of Fame in 1980, Kahler needed money back in the 1920s to fund a hockey team. He recognized that amateur boxing tournaments would be the ticket. He named them Diamond Belt tournaments. At that time a boxing program couldn’t get far in Minneapolis without the blessing of its adopted son Jimmy Potts, who’d fought nearly 100 pro matches in his day not to mention pro wrestling. Jimmy along with his brother Billy became the proprietors of the famous Potts Gym downtown at the intersection of Hennepin Avenue and 6th Street.
Upon meeting the Grand Old Man of the Ring, as Jimmy Potts was known, Kahler noticed Potts had tiny gold boxing gloves attached to his watchband. Kahler was able to borrow those tiny gloves and had inexpensive replicas made to give out as awards at his fundraising tournaments. Later he met sportswriter Arch Ward of Chicago who asked Kahler’s permission to use the tiny gloves as a symbol for Ward’s amateur tournament in Chicago. He said to Kahler, “Nick, you got to let me use these as a symbol of our tournament. We’ll call it Golden Gloves.” They say the author Paul Gallico came up with the same name for his amateur tournament in New York about the same time. (Les Sellnow, They Came to Fight: The Story of Upper Midwest Golden Gloves 9-11 (Bang Printing 2013).)
Back to St. Paul, there’s no question boxing put St. Paul on the map. You have undefeated Charley Kemmick crowned welterweight champion of America in 1891; Johnny Ertle, bantamweight world champion, 1915; Mike O’Dowd, middleweight world champion, 1917; Lee Savold crowned world heavyweight champion by the British Boxing Board in 1950; Mike Evgen, light-welterweight world champion, 1992; and Will Grigsby, light-flyweight world champion, 1998.
Minnesota’s most famous boxers are St. Paul’s brother combinations Mike and Tommy Gibbons from their work in the 1910s and 1920s and Del and Glen Flanagan from the 1940s and 1950s.
Then you have heavyweight contender Billy Miske in the 1910s and 1920s; light-heavyweight contender Jimmy Delaney in the 1920s; light-heavyweight contender Jack Gibbons (Mike’s son) in the 1930s; middleweight contender Jock Malone in the 1920s and 1930s; light-middleweight contender Gary Holmgren in the 1970s and 1980s; and light-middleweight contender Brian Brunette in the 1980s.
These legends and others are highlighted throughout Jim’s story, particularly Round 6, entitled The Boxer; Round 8, entitled Honors & Awards; and Round 14, entitled The Storyteller.
St. Paulites famously hit baseballs, too. Big league Hall of Famers Dave Winfield and Paul Molitor developed their skills growing up in St. Paul in the 1960s and 1970s. Winfield got his start at Oxford playground with no-nonsense Bill Peterson coaching and Molitor at both Linwood and Oxford playgrounds with various coaches, including Dennis Denning and Wally Westcott as well as Peterson. Peterson also later coached Molitor’s high school team. If you rarely saw Molitor in person after he graduated to the pros, you’d be hard pressed to name a more likable grade-school-and-high-school classmate.
Each decade every city produces its great, multi-sport athletes. In the 1970s in St. Paul there were others you thought stood out as much as Molitor if not Winfield, and not just the ones who became big names like Jack Morris. They were names of raw athleticism like:
Steve Winfield, known for his play in baseball, older brother to Dave Winfield;
Sean Flood, football;
Mike Maki, football and baseball;
Tom Eha, football and hockey;
Mike Gartland, football;
Jake Mauer, baseball, father of Minnesota Twins’ star Joe Mauer;
Jerry Boland, football and baseball;
Jim Edwards, football;
Bill Faricy, football and swimming. Faricy also could pack a punch;
Frank Flaherty, football;
Layne Hendel, football and hockey;
Scott Huna, football and hockey;
Tom Kelly, football;
Joe Lentsch; baseball;
Joe Maki, football, basketball, and baseball;
Mark McDonough, baseball;
Dave Dillon, basketball and baseball;
Tim Ducharme, football;
Pat McCall, football, hockey, and baseball;
Jerry McGraw, basketball and baseball;
Paul Olson, football, hockey, and baseball;
Tom Cross, football; and
Steve Janaszak, hockey.
You saw these athletes and many others like them on the field or arena or in the paper. They were great. Jerry Boland and Joe Lentsch, for example, were right up there with Paul Molitor. You also were liable to run into one or more of them each time you visited Steichen’s Sporting Goods on University Avenue near Dale Street.
In the 1970s it was no big deal for your high school to field four teams of football players — the C and B squads as well as the junior varsity and varsity. The opposing school’s varsity team sure looked huge when you were on C squad.
St. Paul’s cold winters bred football players who could body tackle. Consider Paul Molitor’s grade school, St. Luke’s. Located at Summit Avenue and Lexington Parkway, this church and school may have changed their name to St. Thomas More but they will always be St. Luke’s to the boys who learned to tackle on their asphalt playgrounds.
In the 1960s and 1970s you kept warm in the winter, at recess and at lunch, playing the tackling game of Pump. Here all the boys lined up on the Portland Avenue side of the parking lot that served as the northwest playground. One kid left the line and positioned himself in the middle of the lot. When he yelled “Pump!” you did everything you could to run to the alley on the other side of the lot while the kid in the middle tackled as many runners as he could. Now there were at least two in the middle yelling “Pump!” and soon there were at least four and so on until the last runner was gang tackled. There weren’t any pads, except your stocking cap and winter jacket. You wore your winter boots as you ran from Portland Avenue to the alley and back and forth, evading tacklers. Hand gear of choice were choppers, leather mittens with wool liners said to be popular with lumberjacks.
Another St. Luke’s contest that served to keep you warm in the winter was fighting for position against outside walls. Here you and a dozen or so other boys lined up along a wall close to the corner of an adjoining wall. The boy at the corner was first in line, and the boy farthest from the corner was last. You then pressed hard against the spot where the guy ahead of you and the wall met. Using elbows and shoulders and your head but no hands, you removed the guy in front of you while fending off getting removed by the guy behind you. The goal was to get to or maintain position at the adjoining wall that made a right angle with the main wall. The winner was the fellow who couldn’t be moved from the corner.
You know Jim and all dads approved of these physical contests back in the day.
If St. Paul’s many ball fields are underused today, they were once packed with rough-and-tumble kids playing all kinds of games, especially football, outdoor hockey, and baseball. Shoveling the snow over the boards of the outdoor rinks gave way in the 1970s to nine ice arenas, owned and operated by Ramsey County, which includes St. Paul.
You can hear birds everywhere in St. Paul. They can wake you just before first light in the months your bedroom window is open. When you’re playing catch it’s not unusual to mistake a bird for the ball.
You can watch eagles flying over the Mississippi. You’ll see a stray deer on occasion, raccoons are around at night, and gray squirrels and rabbits are common, as were salamanders in the wetlands along the train tracks in the 1960s.
Together St. Paul and Minneapolis are known as the Twin Cities, a major metropolitan area with millions of souls. Interstate 94 makes the Twin Cities close to Wisconsin, into which Jim’s business interests extended.
Gratitude sums up what Jim felt about St. Paul and its diverse people. They prepared him for life, and so he always strove to give back. See Round 15, entitled Unselfish Purpose.
Copyright 2012-2015 by Steven T. O’Hara. All rights reserved.