Tuesday, March 12, 2013

Jack Johnson and Me

Disclaimer, here: I hate boxing. The only boxer I ever really liked was Mohammed Ali, and my respect and admiration had little to do with his boxing prowess. OK, I rode down an elevator in New York with him, once, but that's not it. To those of us of a certain age, and gender, Mohammed Ali was--is--a hero of iconic status, for reasons that need a separate post.

And George Foreman turned out to be cool with his grill-hawking and everything. He's so cute. And he named all seven of his kids George--even the girls.

But then there's Jack Johnson, whose Fight of the Century in Reno, NV, on July 4, 1910, altered my life, when he beat Jim Jeffries and cemented his claim to the World Heavyweight Boxing Championship. It's newsiness now, because of (yet another) movement afoot to pardon Johnson for a 1912 violation of the Mann Act, widely seen as racist because the women involved were white.

The fight was held in Reno, NV, pretty much my hometown, the place where I grew up, was married in and where my three children were born. Rootsiness. The Fight had been scheduled for San Francisco, but the governor of California nixed the event for political reasons, and it had to be moved. Nevada was an eager taker.

Reno, at the time, was a backwater's backwater. Gambling was not allowed, though it happened. The crowds flowing into town were so overwhelming that the railroad parked rail cars and charged rent for overnight guests. Jim Jeffries was termed "The Great White Hope" by none other than Jack London, something of a literary hero for me.

My father's family lived in Lakeview, OR at the time, and my grandfather, a teamster (because he drove a team, not because he was in a public employee's union) headed out for The Fight. It had to have been huge for him.

It was a seminal event because Grandpa neglected to return home. For years, as far as I know. My father told a brief story of being workless and homeless in, I think, Sacramento, when his father appeared from the shadows and bought him a steak dinner. This would have been in the early 1920's. But he (my father) would not elaborate.

How might my personal history have changed if my grandfather, who died decades before I was born, would have come home from The Fight and taken care of his family? Of course, there's no answer to this question.

But there's fun in thinking about what might have been, the memories that might have been created, the stories that might have been told.

No comments:

Post a Comment