Roller Coaster Weekend

I should be overjoyed; my beloved Steelers won yesterday and will be playing for the AFC championship next week. One more victory and they’ll be playing in the Super Bowl again.

Unfortunately, on Saturday I received word that one of my high school classmates recently passed away. Jim Mazurek was a good friend… and I’ve owed him a visit for several years. That’s a debt I’ll not be able to repay during this lifetime.

Jim and I met at Langley High School in Pittsburgh. Our homes were several miles apart, so until we both had our driver’s licenses, our friendship was confined to school activities.

Graduation Day 1962

Graduation Day 1962

We had many mutual friends. One, in particular, reminds me of what a wild and crazy guy Maz was. Stanley Swartz was one of the first in our class to get his driver’s license. His father let him drive a rather large station wagon, and we usually managed to get him to drive us home after school.

Stanley lived within blocks of me, so he’d usually drop Maz and a couple of other guys off before heading toward our homes.

The route between the school and Windgap – the area where Maz lived – included a long hill with a couple of turns. As many foolish teenagers are wont to do, anyone driving down that hill was challenged to put the transmission in neutral and let gravity do its thing. The test of the driver’s ‘manhood’ was based on how long he could avoid hitting the brake pedal.

Stanley usually did pretty well, but one day Maz decided to add a degree of difficulty to the feat. He found a pair of vice-grips on the floor of the back seat and promptly clamped them to Stanley’s ear lobe. Everyone but Stanley thought it was hilarious. I’m not sure which made him angrier – the pain or the need to hit the brakes before he was ready to slow down.

After graduation, Jim Mazurek was off to Penn State and I went off to Edinboro. Whenever we were home, we’d get together to play basketball or go bowling, or something. Then, during the summer following our freshman year, he decided to join the Army. He and Steve Kozak had signed up for the ‘buddy’ plan. I think they were together for a day or two before the Army decided their paths needed to go in different directions.

At some point I got word that Jim was sent to Vietnam. After that, I heard nothing. Eventually, I came to believe that Jim Mazurek had given his life for his country. Little did I know!

At our twenty-fifth class reunion, I was chatting with an old classmate when I noticed Maz walking into the room. That may have been the first time I ever hugged a man other than my father. I was elated that he was alive. I insisted he fill me in on what he’d been doing for the last twenty something years.

His story: he served a tour of duty in Vietnam and was sent to a base in the Carolinas to await his discharge. Shortly after arriving back in the states, he and a buddy (who had fought in Vietnam with him) went out to get a beer. Jim was informed by the bartender that his friend could not be served in the ‘whites only’ establishment.

Jim got so angry at the injustice that he signed up for another tour of duty in Vietnam.

When he finally returned to the U.S., his parents had moved to Maryland and he decided to head out west. He wound up in Las Vegas and opened a garage that specialized in repairing Mazdas.

About a year or so after the reunion I had a business trip to Los Angeles. I stopped in Vegas on the way back to Georgia and spent a few days with Jim and his wife, Yvonne.

A year or so later, he repaid the visit. In a couple of more years, he and Yvonne came to see us again. That’s why I’ve owed him a visit!

If I’m not mistaken, Jim is the twenty-seventh member of our class who has passed away. I’m still having trouble accepting the fact that he’s gone. I keep hoping that I’ll get an email from him quoting Mark Twain who once said, “The reports of my death have been greatly exaggerated.”

Once more I’m reminded that life is a terminal illness. More importantly, I’m reminded that I shouldn’t put things off figuring I have lots of time.

I know I’ve included a Billy Dean song in a previous post, but his “Only Here for a Little While” is as apropos now as ever.

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