Several years ago, I received an email from a girl I went to high school and college. When we were in Asbury Park High School, Sharon was adorable and very popular. She was a cheerleader and member of the most popular girl’s club – one of the movers and shaker groups of elite girls. I was always fond of her, but she wasn’t my type as a girl to date. Just being friends was good enough for me. By the way, Sharon was an above-average athlete too.
While at Murray State Sharon started dating one of the guys on the football team. Vic was from one of our neighboring towns. In high school, Vic was a star football, basketball, and baseball player. At Murray Vic played football. They made the perfect couple and dated heavily all through college.
After college Sharon and Vic married; as destiny would have it, Vic became a high school football coach and eventually became his high school alma mater’s leader. Sharon became known as the coach’s wife and his greatest supporter. I suppose she was very much like Knute Rockne’s wife. Sharon became a mother to all the players.
Over time Vic became the third-winningest high school coach of all time in the state of NJ. That was quite an accomplishment because football is huge in the state. Life was good for both of them, and all of their dreams were coming true. They grew a family and received tremendous recognition for their achievements. One would consider their life together to be the material for a Hallmark movie.
Then it happened, Vic became ill with cancer and passed away. Just a horrible and devastating turn of events. His death shocked the city of Manasquan, NJ, and everybody went into mourning, and rightfully so. Vic was a true son of Manasquan. He was the local hero.
Sharon, her family, and many friends created a scholarship fund in Vic’s name. It was called the Long Blue Line, and I am proud to say Sharon contacted me to contribute. I was honored, and I thanked her for permitting me to participate. Sharon told me she would be in touch with details. You see, at Murray State, Vic and I had become chums.
Several weeks went by, and I was contacted by one of the guys from college. Jim lived down the hall from me in Swan Hall. Jim and I were not very friendly, although we did have many mutual friends. He was part of a group of guys I knew from school when I lived in Long Branch, NJ. Back in those days, Long Branch had an extensive Italian community that did not mix well with Jewish kids, and they carried the feeling with them on into college. I knew most of them and played ball with some. Nevertheless, behind the scenes, some outgrew the ethnic bullshit. Vic became buddies with some of the guys, and so did Sharon.
After I heard from Sharon, I was contacted by Jim regarding the charity. I almost didn’t remember him after all the years, but when I did, I was shocked. He told me Sharon had asked him to follow up with her on my donation. Some things never change. He approached it as the smart ass he always was and made a smart ass remark to me about the size of the contribution I would make. I responded by asking, “how much are you giving?” I caught him flatfooted, and he had no answer. I continued by saying if he couldn’t make a healthy contribution, I would be glad to include him as part of mine, which would be of good size. He was speechless. Jim continued by presenting me with all the details. End of discussion.
At our fiftieth high school class reunion, I presented a check to Sharon with my donation honoring Vic’s memory and our friendship. Sharon was taken back and became emotional. I never miss the opportunity to participate in the cause, and I always express my gratitude for being included.
I must have stricken a note in Jimmy because ever since our discussion I have been included in his string of email friends from college. Most of the names I know very well and many of them were mutual friends. Some were not very cordial in the old days. Today I feel as if I finally made the grade. The important thing is that a new attitude has been expressed by some in the group and me. A lot of old water has gone under the bridge along with some very strange resentments and it all occurred changed because of Sharon and Vic’s tragedy. Sharon and Jim are the glue that binds us all together today.
Over the years, I have regularly received e-mails from Jim and once in a while from some of the others as well. Jim vacations every year in Naples, Fla, and passes Hilton Head Island going and coming. He always lets me know when he is passing by on I-95. I often offer free lodging for the night. One day I expect him to accept my invitation. The inn is always open.
About a month ago Jim called out of the blue to let me know about the deteriorating health of some in the group. One guy had cancer, another had a stroke, another had a prostate problem, and so on. In the course of our troubling chat, he mentioned a mutual college friend, Vinnie Nappo. I hadn’t heard about Vinnie in all these years since college and he wasn’t on the list of e-mails. Why I don’t know.
It turns out that Jimmy organizes a breakfast group every two or three weeks of old Murray State guys from the shore area and Vinnie is one of them.
THIS IS CRAZY. JUST AS I COMPLETED THE PREVIOUS SENTENCE, MY PHONE RANG, AND IT WAS VINNIE NAPPO. MY GOD.
To begin with, Vinny came from Atlantic Highlands, NJ. He was one of the most excellent guys I have ever known. A handsome guy, to say the least, as well as being a fabulous athlete. One day I was down in the dumps. It was about a week after spring football, and I was beaten to a pulp. Not only was I a physical wreck, but I had just been acrimoniously tossed from the team, and my older brother was getting married in Philadelphia, and I had no money or means to go to the wedding. The combination was debilitating. I was telling Vinnie all my woes when he told me not to worry. He had things under control.
It seems his dad had worked for the NY Central Rail Road, and as such, Vinnie had a pass that would give him free travel. He lent the card to me and wished me luck on my journey. The trip was a real adventure, but I can tell you, had it not been for Vinnie’s rescue, I don’t know what I would have done. I have told the story of Vinny and the railroad pass many, many times as an example of friendship and trust. To many, it may seem like not such a big deal, but to me, it was a true expression of generosity, confidence, and friendship.
While talking with Jim, he told me all about the story. I always speak about the train pass. He also told Vinnie about my success as a businessman. He went on to say that Vinnie remembered the rail pass and kiddingly said he wanted restitution for rail fare. Jim’s birthday was coming up in a few days, so I told Jim to check his mail. I’d send him a surprise.
The next day I sent Jim a birthday card accompanied by a gift card along with the message to have breakfast on Vinnie’s money along with the guys. I also added I wish I could be there.
This morning I received the above picture of Jimmy with some of the guys at the breakfast table. It’s funny how life works. A couple of these guys I haven’t seen in about sixty years: truthfully, at first glance, they don’t look much like they did in college, but as I stared, I could superimpose my mind’s picture of each of them when we were young men. How great are today’s experiences and the call from Vinnie? Is this entire experience a message of some kind or an omen? I am a pleased man today, and I finally had my opportunity to thank Vinnie Nappo for his kindness that has meant so much to me through the years.
Old friends are best friends.