DAD WAS *MORE* THAN A CONTENDER – Garry Armstrong

A friend emailed me info about a popular boxer who just improved on his very impressive record. I had to admit knowing nothing about the prizefighter. I’m a self-proclaimed baseball maven but know nothing about professional boxing these days.   I’m not a fan.

I don’t get my jollies watching two people bashing out each other’s brains. This is no ethical line in the sand.  I enjoy football but never have fantasized about tossing a final second ‘hail mary’ pass to win the Superbowl for the home town team. I flinch when I see the guys grinding each other into the dirt just to pick up a few yards.


My Dad wouldn’t agree with me. He was the boxing maven in our family. We used to watch the old Friday Night Gillette boxing matches. It was our one Father-Son bonding event.

We used to watch the likes of Kid Gavilan, Chico Vejar, Sugar Ray Robinson, Henry Armstrong (no relation), Rocky Graziano,  Rocky Marciano, Jake LaMotta, Floyd Patterson, Jersey Joe Walcott,  Ezzard Charles, Ingmar Johansson, and the young Cassius Clay – Muhammad Ali.

Joe Louis was Dad’s hero.  Unfortunately, I only remember seeing Louis in the declining years of his memorable career.  Dad used to describe listening to his fights on the radio when “The Brown Bomber” was in his prime.

My father is on the left and Marvin Hagler is on the right.

I remember seeing Louis’ pictures in the homes of many Black families.  He was more than a boxer, more than the heavyweight champion of the world. He was a folk hero and legend to people of color.  Louis was a sport and cultural icon before Jackie Robinson. My Dad could recite, chapter and verse, round by round, of many of Joe Louis’ fights.

As a young boy, I looked at pictures of my Dad in his boxing prime.  I was always awed. Dad was  6-feet plus a few inches. A tall, matinee-idol handsome man. This isn’t fog of memory sentiment.  My Dad never lost those strikingly good looks – even in the autumn of his years.  My girlfriends visited, they would stare at my father with jaw-dropping admiration, then glance at me with a, “What happened to YOU?”  look. It always deflated my ego.

When we had visitors, it was like living with Sidney Poitier, Harry Belafonte, or Denzel Washington as my Dad.  All three of the Armstrong boys addressed our parents as “Mommy and Daddy” even when we were adults, well into our professional lives.  It may seem bit old-fashioned now but it felt normal for the 50-year-old Garry Armstrong, noted TV News Reporter to talk about his “Mommy and Daddy”.  My friends always smiled with appreciation,  maybe a little envy.

I am drifting here.  Typical Garry.  William Armstrong, Sr, the pride of Antigua and World War 2. Decorated Army Veteran  ( The EAME Service Medal, The WWII Victory Medal and the American Service Medal),  did a lot of amateur boxing during the war where he saw lots of active duty and action, including the Battle of the Bulge, Normandy, Vineland, and Central Europe.

I don’t recall Dad’s boxing record.  He said it was recreational.   An avocation. Something to do between combat.  I suspect it was Dad’s way of getting respect during a period when our Armed Services were still segregated.  When asked, he begrudgingly said boxing was relaxing for him and his opponents were usually friends or Army peers.  As I write,  I don’t remember if Dad ever fought a White opponent.  I never thought to ask that question as a kid.

Dad taught his 3 sons some basics about self-defense but never made it a big deal. He never tried to force boxing on us.  I’m not sure he shared our passion for baseball.

Dad showed rare outward passion when “nice guy” Floyd Patterson suffered boxing defeats.  He always thought Patterson should’ve been a little tougher but the one-time heavyweight champ had a very sensitive outward demeanor that rankled some old school boxing fans.

Rocky Marciano’s undefeated career record was always appreciated by my Dad.  I wanted to say my Dad commented “Good stuff for a White Guy” but, no, my Father wasn’t given to such acerbic comments.  Leave it to his oldest son with a slightly bent sense of humor.

During my Boston TV News career, I met Marvin Hagler, the pride of Brockton, Ma. and a champion pugilist. We struck up a friendship beyond reporter-prizefighter when I talked about my Dad and his love of boxing.

I managed to score a painting that showed Mavin Hagler and “Bill” Armstrong, head to head, in a boxing match.  An artist friend did the painting and Hagler was kind enough to add a personal sentiment to ” a fellow boxer” for my Dad.  It was an emotional TKO for me.

When I presented the painting to my Dad, he gave me the biggest smile he’d ever shown me in my life. I felt a deep tug in my heart and barely held back the tears. My Father really LIKED the gift.  It’s hard for me to explain how important that was for me.

Me and my father at our wedding.

Years later, after my parents had passed and we were on the verge of putting the family house up for sale,  my two brothers and I were deciding who would get what. It surprised me when they said I should get most of Dad’s boxing stuff.  I didn’t expect it because my two brothers were closer to Mommy and Daddy in their final years while I was busy with my career in Boston.  I didn’t forget them but my visits were fewer.  Yes, I felt a little guilty because I was so focused on my job.

When I started going through Dad’s stuff, a flood of memories came back. All those Friday evenings watching boxing matches.  Dad’s expert take on the state of professional boxing (he didn’t like where it was going).  Dad’s own recollections when he sifted through his equipment.  The gloves, the shoes, the pictures.  I could see my Father reaching into his own past when he was the boxer, master of his own moments in the ring, and maybe a magic moment in Madison Square Garden — standing beside his boxing heroes.

Top of the World,  Dad!   You made it!

REGRETS, I’VE HAD A FEW – Rich Paschall

But Then Again, Why Mention?

by Rich Paschall

We all have regrets, that’s for sure.  You can not lead a life without them.  You may regret that first stumble and fall, if you remember it at all.  You may regret dropping that toy.  You may regret letting go of that balloon.  You may regret throwing food on the floor.  You may also regret spilling the milk, but why cry over that?

As you grow, I guess there are plenty of things to regret.  How about the day you did not do your homework?  How about the time you got caught with your hand in the cookie jar, literally or figuratively?  How about the time you were grounded for not doing _________ (fill in the blank).

School years can be filled with regrets.  Many of them will actually have to do with getting caught, rather than what you did.  Of course, if you fell off old man Jones’ garage and broke your arm, you will probably regret that.  If you picked on someone smaller and got your butt kicked, you probably regret that too.

When you could not work up the nerve to ask Sally or Janie or Billy to the prom, you may regret it years later.  This especially stings if you find out the person you wished to ask, liked you too and was hoping you would ask him or her out.  There are a lot of friendships, especially at the high school level, that may have developed into something, if only you had the courage to move forward.

This is especially tough for gay boys and girls who feel they may be the only gay ones in their class and are afraid to approach anyone on this topic.  Recently, I learned a high school classmate was gay so I went back to look at his yearbook picture.  I wanted to see if he was the person I remembered.  He was smart and handsome and someone I would not have thought I could approach.

Adult life may be filled with a series of sorrows over decisions made.  Should you have gone to college?  If you went, did you pick the right school?  The right major?  It is easy to spend time at the fraternity parties and local bars.  Will you later wonder if studying harder would have made a difference in later life?

There was a good friend of mine through elementary and high school who also went on to the same University with me.  We took many of the same classes, not all.  We frequently studied together.  Sometimes, OK many times, our studies started with a trip to a deep dish pizza place where we would order pizza and pitchers of beer.  Since deep dish pizza took a long time to make, we might get 30 to 40 minutes of studying in before the pizza arrived.  After that, it was just pizza and beer.  I guess I do not regret this one too much.

After college I cultivated many groups of friends.  A lot of these friendships revolved around local bars to watch sports and drink beer.  In later years it might involve karaoke too.  We loved our nights out, at least we thought we did.  As I look back on those years, I am not sure I remember who came along or what occasions we enjoyed most.  They were just nights out, killing time.

Then, of course, it would be easy to regret all the money we spent at these various places.  Some nights, we poured money over the bar just as fast as they poured drinks into our glasses.  Buying drinks for others, especially if they did not have a lot of cash, seemed like a great idea.  They probably do not remember me, just as much as I do not remember them.

My mother spent a lot of time in the local lounges, one in particular in my lifetime.  The time spent took up more than 50 years of her life and all of her spare money.  At these places, I am convinced she felt she made a number of deep friendships.  It was important to get to these places on Friday or Saturday night to see her “friends.”  When she had a stroke at 73, a couple came to see her once or sent a card.  After the first few weeks, we never saw any of these people again over the next 16 years.  I did wonder if she regretted any of the time spent at the Lounge.  In her case, I just don’t know.

dead leaves

If you married the wrong person, you may have deep regrets. If you married several wrong people, I guess it could be a lot of regrets. Friendships and marriages are sometimes chosen in haste. They need to be corrected rather than regretted.

The thing about regrets? There’s nothing to be gained from them. You should learn from mistakes, but regrets aren’t worth anything. You can’t get back time lost. You can’t get back money spent.  You can’t undo painful history. There’s nothing to be gained from dwelling on mistakes. Take the lesson. Move forward. Skip the regrets.

Don’t look at yesterday when today offers you the opportunity to look forward. You can’t change what happened. Maybe you don’t really want to. Everything you’ve done — good and bad — is part of you.

Regrets, I’ve had a few
But then again, too few to mention
I did what I had to do
And saw it through without exemption
I planned each charted course
Each careful step along the byway
And more, much more than this
I did it my way.

DRIFTING ALONG WITH THE TUMBLING TUMBLEWEED – Marilyn Armstrong

I am retired which is, by definition, adrift. This is a good thing and the real reason we retire. After a life of deadlines and commuting, some drifting seems like a good idea. So here I am. Just drifting along with the tumbling tumbleweed … with memories of those great cowboy movies of childhood.

Hi Roy! Hi Trigger! Hey, Bullet! Hope y’all are doing well. I miss you. All of you. You were the good guys. We trusted you. Where are you now, when we need you?

Meanwhile, I’ll just be drifting. Considering one thing and another, I might also be asleep.

YESTERDAY WHEN MY WORLD WAS YOUNG – Garry Armstrong

No, I didn’t pick the wrong day to give up sniffing glue!

If you write, professionally or just for fun, you’ll probably understand.  I’m trying to set down the words that have been conga dancing in my brain as I just showered and shaved. I probably shouldn’t have shaved because my fingers kept poking my brain in rhythmic harmony.

It’s the end of a truly bad week for Marilyn and me. We’re sharing a bug that includes migraine headaches, queasy stomachs and bodies lurching from one room to another.

Our Vineyard house

It’s the capper to a week where Marilyn has been battling the insurance company to pay for repairs to our house battered by the spate of recent storms and very vulnerable to the next storm on the horizon.  You’ll be shocked to hear that the Insurance Company is stonewalling us, oblivious to damage documented by one of their investigators and tone-deaf to our meager social security and pensions that cannot pay for the repairs.

As we assess the latest debate by the Democratic Presidential wannabees and aren’t as excited about a viable candidate to oppose the guy now squatting in the White House, we are staring at each other, two seventy-something wunderkinds, wondering how quickly we slid from the top of our game to “seniors.”

What happened to the world of youth, energy, and expectations?

Back deck Vineyard house. Did a lot of drinking back there. Eating. And reading. It used to have a huge rope hammock.

My bathroom conga line of memories, with bongoes banging on my brains, was back in the ’70s and ’80s. I was living in Boston, in my prime as a TV reporter with earnings that promised to rise with no end in sight. Life was a  pulsating 24-hour trip that kept recycling.

Work and play blended seamlessly. Everyone was young with boundless energy. I slept little, worked hard, and played harder. I paid little attention to health or finances. My pockets were always full.

I had a tendency to forget life wasn’t like that for most other people.

Those days of wine and roses were most obvious during my Martha’s Vineyard summers. There were more than 20 magical summers with other media friends who shared a house. We had the kind of life you thought only existed in F. Scott Fitzgerald novels.

The wine never stopped flowing. My box of unpaid credit card bills, growing in volume, sat ignored as I plied myself with more of that feel-good liquid.

Best of all, the summer Sundays. I was usually up with the roosters. A tall bloody Mary and the Sunday papers to peruse slowly. The sports section came first. Baseball box scores studied with the scrutiny of a lifetime fan whose life revolved around the fate of the Boston Red Sox.

Looking down on the Sound

The Bloody Mary intake accelerated as I looked at the stats of Yaz, Rice, Lynn, Pudge, Dewey, and the other Fenway bats.  I would always need to strengthen the drinks to pace myself — absorbing the gaudy numbers of the sons of Teddy Ballgame.

The numbers were always robust during the New England summers when home runs battered the old cathedral of baseball. The bloody Marys now had me dreaming that this would be the year the Sox would finally defeat those damn Yankees.

I gave little attention to the Sox pitching which was wise. Even with the alcoholic bliss. I thought that fall we’d hold the lead and not succumb to the chill of autumn and the Yankees’ superior pitching. I always ignored the suggestion of friends to eat a little something to balance out the alcohol which had been replaced by Cape Codders. Then, as sunset crept across the Vineyard, moving on to a sturdy rum with just a dash of coke.

All was blissful as someone started the barbecue in the backyard which faced Nantucket Sound.

We rarely talked about work. Our TV jobs were in another world where the less fortunate continued to toil while we played. As twilight faded into warm evenings, we would sit on the back porch, staring at Nantucket Sound. There was a mutual agreement: “We were living the dream.”

Vineyard art

I gave little thought to my future. Life was now. In the moment. If you worked in TV news, there was always a collective fear someone would call, demanding we leave our reverie and cover some breaking news – murder, fire, weather, or another politician’s dirty laundry uncovered.

We often ignored the phone. That was the world before computers and cell phones made it impossible to hide. Now and then, we did ponder a future. Maybe a communal home on the Vineyard for our lives in retirement.  Those idle thoughts were lost in the pungent haze that floated above the back porch. In my mind, I could see a vague future. Lots of free time, good health, and no money worries.

I figured I’d always look the way I seemed to look for so many years. No worries. I’d always be “the kid.” I smiled to myself. Another rum with a hint of coke and I was ready for dreams about a world I figured would always be good to us.

Things promised to get only better when Marilyn came back into my life, solidifying our relationship that began in college when LBJ was president. Marriage began a new chapter in my life. Little did I envision how the future would change life’s trajectory.

All the things I’d ignored awaited us. I had a lot of maturing to do as reality began to check-in. There would be the termination of a job I thought would go on forever. The joys and nightmares of homeownership in a misty mid-region valley. A plethora of health issues that almost took Marilyn’s life.

A wakeup call for me about my own health issues, finding recovery and the backbone to be a dependable spouse. Facing survival in a world I never thought I’d see.

POSTSCRIPT: I finally put a cork in the bottle on December 7th, 2004. I’ll always be grateful to Marilyn and my family for the support, patience, and encouragement as life seemed to be going down the drain for me.

Now, I celebrate those olden days with raspberry lime rickey and lemonade mixed with ginger ale. All current problems notwithstanding, I’m a lucky guy. And I’ve still got a working liver!

SORRY. IT’S MISSING – Marilyn Armstrong

In an endless attempt to clean up and store all the extra stuff in life, the final polish is to put it away permanently by finding a place for it which will be forever safe.


In the course of organizing my pictures, I lost this one. I have no idea how. I must have deleted it, but I didn’t do it on purpose.

Maybe while I was setting up a new computer and transferring files, this one fell between the chairs? Or got lost in some device, like maybe an ancient hard drive that no longer works. Or on an old DVD or floppy disk. Regardless, it is gone. I really liked it.

Path in the woods – A picture of a picture because I can’t find the original!

I have this picture because once upon a time, I printed this on canvas. I gave the picture away, but before I gave it away, I took a picture of the picture.

I lose things.

It’s not new. I have always had a habit of putting important items – papers, jewelry, lenses, cameras — in a safe place. Because, for some inexplicable reason, I have decided wherever it was, wasn’t safe enough. The problem is, wherever it previously was will be the place I remember it being. I will not remember the new, safer place I put it. If, indeed I put it anywhere and didn’t just put it down, go do something else, and forget about it completely.

The new, improved place to which I moved it is guaranteed to be a place I will never remember. It’s also possible I move things in my sleep. Yes, I sleepwalk. I know this because other people have seen me sleepwalking. Also, there are other things that only make sense if I did them in my sleep. No rational (or waking) explanation is possible.

The jewelry I found in the bottom of Garry’s underwear drawer? I’m pretty sure he didn’t put my necklace there. In any conscious state of mind, I would never put anything there, other than his underwear. Or, for that matter, the bundle of jewelry I discovered in the piano bench. Why would anyone put their jewelry in the piano bench? Even me?

The worst losses are accidental. I have something important in my hand. I need to do something else, so I put down. Temporarily. Life moves on. I meant to go back and deal with it, but I have a 15-second short-term memory, so if I put it down and don’t deal with it immediately, it could be in another universe.

The ONLY way I find this stuff is by retracing my steps. What rooms was I in? Could I have left it in Garry’s bathroom? My bathroom? Did I shove it in my camera bag? Which pants or jacket was I wearing? Have I washed it yet?

Occasionally, this results in finding the missing item. Mostly, it doesn’t, probably because the retracing was imperfect. And I forget about pockets. How many were there are and how much stuff you can shove into them.

Lost stuff can appear years later while I am hunting down something else that has gone missing. It can be a thrilling discovery … or it’s a duplicate of important papers I’ve already replaced.

A couple of friends of mine recently became widows. One of them strongly recommended I put our papers in order. Things like the deed to the house which I actually found by accident, so I know where it is. Garry doesn’t know where it is, but if I told him, he’d forget anyhow. Fifteen seconds isn’t nearly enough time. We have our birth certificates and our passports which will do in a pinch. I don’t have to worry about dealing with our fortune since there is none. In fact, it turns out all we will need — either of us — will be our birth certificates, social security cards, and a few passwords.

One sheet of paper in a manila envelope. I don’t even have to worry about the money needed to bury one or both of us because there is no burial money. Presumably, we WILL get buried, one way or the other. I think they have to do something with our corpses. Garry and I discussed this, then realized, “Why worry?” Garry is too old to buy life insurance (I think 75 is the cutoff) and I’m too sickly. For any price.

So we agreed to stop worrying about it. I figure the state has to do something with our bodies. I don’t think it’s legal to just leave us lying around and rotting. It might make an interesting TV show, though. Just a season or two. We could call it “What Should We Do With Mom?”

Too bad we aren’t allowed to be buried on our own property. We’ve more than enough room and our earth would be happy to have us. Meanwhile, I’m searching for that missing picture. Not all the time, but every time I’m in one of my storage drives. It may turn up, someday. Or not.

I’m pretty sure Garry has our birth certificates and passports. So we’re good to go, so to speak.

NOT QUITE THIRTY – Marilyn Armstrong

We are about to celebrate our 29th  wedding anniversary. As I ponder the upcoming 29th — a year short of the big 3-0 — I hear distant bells.

I remember the wedding. The thrill of ultimate victory, the agony of getting there. How, by the time I got to the altar, I was a nervous wreck, but Garry was cool as the proverbial cucumber and looked dashing in his tuxedo.

After it was clearly established that we were definitely, unquestionably, without any doubt, getting married, it came down to details. Dates. Rings. Caterers. Bakers. Flowers. Music. Photography. Videography. And (trumpets) a ceremony.

I had been married twice before — okay, three times because I’d been married in a registry office in London, then the whole Jewish medieval ceremony in Jerusalem. Having been there and done that. I wanted to elope or maximum, go to city hall, have the mayor marry us. He would have. We knew the guy and still do.

We could have been married at City Hall, I’d toss a bouquet, someone would throw some confetti, and voilà. Married. After that, we and our actual friends could all go out for Chinese.

Garry wanted a Real Wedding.

He was 48 years old. Never married. This would be his one and only wedding and by golly, he was going to Do It Right.

“I want a real wedding. In the church in which I grew up. In New York,” says Garry. “And I want my old pastor to officiate.”

“Pastor G. is retired … like fifteen years ago.”

“I’m sure we can work it out.” When he said we, I thought he meant he and I would do this thing together. Because where I come from, that’s what “we” means. I was delusional.

“Why can’t we just do something in Boston? New York is 250 miles away. You haven’t lived there in 30 years. Everyone you know except your parents live in Boston or some other part of the country.”

Garry’s face was set and stony. He wanted a hometown wedding in the church he attended as a child. With the Pastor who ran the church when he was a kid. Who was very retired.

Did I mention my husband is stubborn? He is very stubborn.

“This is going to be a lot of work. It’s hard to plan a wedding long distance,” I point out. “And I have a full-time job. in case you’ve forgotten.” Garry is unfazed.

“We can,” he repeats, “Work it out.” There was that we again.

“Fine,” I eventually agree. “We’ll have a wedding. In New York. At your church.”

There were caterers to hire. Music to be arranged. A bagpiper (don’t ask). Battles over the guest list. A cake to be designed. The cake was my favorite part. It went like this. Having settled on a vanilla cake with lemon filling, we needed to decide on decorations.

“Do you want the bride and groom in white or black?”

“Can we have one of each?” No, we could not. In 1990, they do not have a mixed couple cake topper. I offered to take a marker and paint the groom black, but inexplicably, Garry found this objectionable. I suggested they take two sets and cut them in half, but it was deemed too complicated. In the end, I opted for wedding bells, the DMZ of wedding cake toppers.

So, Garry got his wedding. It was (for him) as simple as simple could be. Marilyn arranged the wedding. Garry showed up in a tux.

You see? We worked it out.

P.S. I eventually learned that “we’ll work it out” always meant “you’ll take care of it for me.” That included moving, packing, unpacking, cooking, arranging vacations, airline tickets, mortgages, and car loans. For Garry, it meant “show up nicely dressed and smile.”

MAO, A CAT – Marilyn Armstrong

Jeff and I got Mao as an 8-week-old kitten in the fall of 1965. We had just gotten married the month before, and of course, we had to have a cat right away. Why a Siamese? I don’t know. Karma maybe?

From the very first day, Mao was Master of All He Surveyed. Although I have had many cats through the years, Mao was the first and by far the most utterly unique.

Mao – our cat – Photo (from print) by Ben Taylor — and THANK YOU!

He was very smart for a cat. For instance, when we were out-of-town, we would have someone “house-sit” for us. No matter who that person was, and no matter how much Mao ordinarily liked them, while we were away, Mao would attack him or her (or them) virtually continuously during our absence. He would hide behind the bushes and attack legs as they tried to open the front door. He would wait around the corner and then pounce. He would launch himself from atop the bookcase, landing on a victim’s head, sometimes causing serious damage.

The moment we returned, Mao ceased his attacks and commenced purring. He figured, I believe, that he needed to drive out the interlopers so that we could return. Since we always DID return, his belief was consistently reinforced!

Mao protected us from bed goblins. If you were on Mao’s “family member” list, he would stop by your bedroom every night. You had to lift the covers so he could walk to the foot of the bed and back up. No goblins tonight? Good, I will go now, and he did.

Mao was the only cat I’ve ever known that perpetrated acts of vengeance hours or days after your perceived offense. If, for example, you shooed him off the table during dinner time, he would wait until you were sitting on the potty with your pants around your ankles and could not chase him. Then he would casually bite your shins. Tail held high, he would stroll away.

Mao patrolled the perimeter of the grounds like any good watch cat should. Every day of his life, he performed it, almost as if it were a ceremony. During his closing weeks with us, he began to patrol in the company of a younger feline, Mr. Manx. As if passing the torch to the next generation, he taught Mr. Manx to walk the perimeter, and inspect the beds, which Mr. Manx then did for the rest of his life.

In October 1978, Mao, who had been diagnosed with cancer some months before, disappeared. We never found his body, though we were sure he had gone off to die. For the last couple of weeks before his departure, we had noticed that he felt different. Where his muscles had been hard, they were now soft. He slept most of the day and moved slowly.

It is many years and lifetimes later. Jeff has passed. I live far from that place where Jeff and I and Mao and all the other fur-people lived. But I remember him. We all remember Mao, the most special cat.

Mao, I am sure you were there for Jeff when he came to the Bridge. I’m sure you will be there for me, too. You and all my other furry friends who I loved will be there together.

But you were and will always be, utterly unique and entirely unforgettable.