Thursday, February 2, 2017

The Passing of the Great "Sazz"--Gary Czyzynski

I found out yesterday, from Jane Ely Williams, that Gary Czyzynski died a couple years ago (July 23, 2014) on his ranch near Sheridan, Wyoming. As I understand it, Gary went out to do some chores on his ranch and never came back. At some point his wife went out looking for him, and found Gary dehydrated and close to death. Gary died soon after that, either at home or in the hospital. [Jane Williams has recently told me that I have the story of Gary's death wrong. I'll try to get the facts right and then I'll correct this blog post.]

I located an obituary for Gary. Click this link: Gary Czyzynski obituary. The obit has a photo of him. The only photo I would have of Gary is from our 1966 St. Joe's yearbook, when he was about 17-18 years old. Like most things of my childhood and growing up years, there are absolutely no photos. Back then we just lived our lives; we didn't live them at a distance via social media or photography.

Gary went to St. William's grade school with me and St. Joseph's High School. He was from a very Polish family and lived in my neighborhood. Gary lived on Drakefield Avenue, maybe 1/4 mile from me. I remember he had a sister, Gayle. And I remember his mother and father. I was once told that his Dad worked on a crane at a junkyard and was from a gigantic family--maybe 20 children. Now Gary was an exaggerator and a mythologizer, a lot like me. So whether this "20 children" number is exactly true, I don't know. Let's say Gary's Dad was from a large family. Also, I remember Gary's Mom very well, very fondly.

Gary was energetic and fun. And he was a pretty good athlete, especially at football. He and I were ferocious competitors, almost always on opposing teams. This was a kind of informal sandlot football, played at Upson School or Mudville (Willow Playground). Occasionally we would play at other places--I remember a particularly bloody game at Memorial Park in Euclid. Gary and I would both play running back and he would end up tackling me and I would end up tackling him. It was a tough, bruising game--and we loved it. For a couple years Gary and I played Muny Football for the Northeast Warriors. We'd practice at Humphrey Field, across from Euclid Beach, and play our games throughout Cleveland.

There was a kind of loose gang around Gary that involved Jay Neidermeyer, Jim Allsip, and about 10 other guys off and on (Jim Turner,  Pat Quinn, Wayne Starkey, Tim Homan, Dale Kovatch, many others). For a while we would hang out in front of Upson Delicatessen or "Uncle Willy's" little grocery store, next to Upson Drugs. Nobody remembers the real name of that store or the proprietor, but Gary, who was a fun mythologizer and storyteller, called him "Uncle Willy." I have a vague memory of Gary or another one of the guys stealing a bottle of Boone's Farm Wine from Uncle Willy's store--and drinking it in Jim Turner's garage on Shoreview Avenue. A little time in Purgatory for that I guess.

I remember driving to St. Joe's with Gary between 1964-66 in his old bomb of a car. One time, in bitter cold weather, Gary's car lost a wheel (or the axle broke in half) on the way to school. I remember another time Gary was driving like a maniac on the Freeway, Route 2 in Euclid. He was going about a hundred miles an hour. I was in the back seat--and terrified. I started choking Gary, demanding that he slow down. Not a great idea, but it worked. I also remember Gary eating a hamburger on a Friday at the McDonald's on Lake Shore Boulevard, across from Villa Angela Academy. I was absolutely shocked that he as a Catholic was eating meat on a Friday! I thought Gary had committed a mortal sin--ha ha.

Gary Czyzynski was full of life and fun. He was a great competitor, a great football player. I didn't see him much after high school, but I thought of him often. The world will miss the Great "Sazz."

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