Saturday, April 14, 2012

Football and Sandcastles

It was a late Saturday morning in the summer of 1971. The sun was shining; the weather was warm and pleasant. This could only mean one thing - the Vagnoni families were headed west on highway C to the “cottage” located on the shore of scenic Camp Lake, Wisconsin. Because of our heritage, the “cottage” was more commonly referred to as La Casa Da Lago, which roughly translated is “the house on the lake”. Whichever name you used, it was a popular gathering place.

The headcount would typically be twenty. The only time the number fluctuated was when one of us kids could talk the folks into letting us bring a friend along. Or if any members of the Curi, Allegretto, Maccari, Ficcadenti, Ventura or Pulera families happened to pay a visit. You get the picture; there were usually a considerable number of people of Italian descent visiting western Kenosha County on weekends during the summer.

This particular weekend was no different. Everyone arrived before noon and us kids knew the routine – we had to perform hard labor before we could even think about having fun.

Hard labor meant picking up sticks. Now picking up sticks doesn’t seem too terribly taxing. That is until you consider the lawn at the bottom of the hill was at least 40 yards wide. Plus, there were dozens of enormous trees on the property with all but a couple of them at the top of that massive hill.

Oh, did I mention that the hill was extremely steep? If my memory serves me correct, it was at about a 45° angle. By the time we finished picking up all of the sticks we were walking like goats.

In case you were wondering what our folks were doing while us kids were slaving away, they too were busy. Our mothers were inside cooking, washing dishes or sewing. I’m not really sure. I do know that our fathers were mowing the lawn – on a riding mower. They didn’t trust us on it yet, which was probably wise on their part.

Eventually we finished picking up all of the sticks and the lawn was pristine. After the lawn mower was put away it was time to play. Out came the Duke.

The Duke was an orangish football that had a small bulge the size of a golf ball on one side. We jokingly referred to it as the pregnant football. We didn’t mind, it was a football and playing with it was better than picking up sticks.

When the dads decided to play with us, it wasn’t a regular game. Normally Dad and Uncle Dave would stand at one end of the long yard while Uncle Joe and Uncle John would be down at the other.

They would take turns lofting passes to my brother Mike and I, and our cousins John Dean, Mark and Danny. We would run endless pass routes up and down the field. Sometimes even my sister Teri would join in, but usually it was just all of the male cousins.

Except for my little brother Joey, he didn’t like sports.

While we ran back and forth catching passes from our dads, Joey was content to sit on the small beach making sandcastles with his Tonka trucks. He was having fun and perfectly happy.

Everything was fine until cousin Danny decided to “break off his route” and spoil one of Joey’s sand creations.

With a maniacal little laugh, Danny suddenly veered from the lawn, onto the sand and gave Joey’s sandcastle a quick kick. As Danny ran back unto the grass, still laughing, Joey could only let out an astonished, “Hey!”

The rest of us roared with laughter. Looking back we probably shouldn’t have, because it only encouraged Danny to continue his mischievous reign of destruction on Joey’s sandcastles.

At least two more times Danny would run off the field and give Joey’s latest sandcastle a swift kick, destroying them. Being only 9 years old, Joey hadn’t become proficient in cursing like a longshoreman. Yet. That would come next year. But you could see his anger and frustration building.

Danny must have sensed this, because he finally refrained from tormenting his cousin. It looked like everything was fine again.
Danny was content catching passes from the dads and this allowed Joey to build his sandcastles in peace. Yes, everything was back to normal.

So it seemed.

Out of nowhere, Joey yelled out, “Hey Danny, aren’t you gonna kick over my sandcastles anymore?” The curious request brought an evil grin to Danny’s face; he didn’t need to be asked twice.

Like a blur, he sprinted over to the beach, pulled his foot back and gave the large sandcastle a mighty kick. BAM!!! Sand flew everywhere.

Danny then let loose with an anguished shriek that could be heard on the other side of Camp Lake.

You see, Joey had discreetly hidden a large brick in his sandcastle and the tip of Danny’s foot hit it flush. His cloth tennis shoe provided very little cushion.

As Danny rolled in the sand in agony, a smug grin spread across Joey’s face. Being young and sadistic, the rest of us howled with laughter. Hey, it wasn’t our foot.

It was determined that Danny’s foot was fine; nothing was broken. He even managed to hobble up and down the field and catch a few more passes. However, he didn’t go near Joey’s sandcastles the rest of the afternoon.

Until next time…from the booth.

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