BY DON SORCHYCH | DECEMBER 11, 2013
It seems the older you get the more visions of ‘way back when’ encroach on our senses. The older we get the less our short term memory invades our mind.
Such is the case of Billy Rettko, a boy I grew up with. We were born about a week apart in 1931. He was born in the Catholic hospital in Spring Valley, Illinois, while I was born at home with the assistance of a midwife in Depue, Illinois. The reason for the different birth methods was my dad was a laborer and Bill’s dad was what we normally called a Big Shot in the New Jersey Zinc Company where they both worked. Billy’s dad, also named Bill, was nicknamed Barium Bill since he supervised the Barium Plant which is a part of the zinc refining process. That position caused him a disturbingly horrible death when Billy was still in high school.
When I was about in sixth grade my parents moved two houses away from the Rettkos and at that age we played war, cowboys and Indians and such. We put a backboard on a tree and shot hoops and played ball in the road.
While I was pretty footloose then, spending time alone hiking the forested hills nearby, Billy was forced to go to church and Catechism regularly and he didn’t like it. He was especially angered when piano practice or church caused him to miss the games we played. He was proud when he came up with the idea that if he told the priest during confession that he lied, it covered a multitude of sins but he had to do only a few Rosaries.
Later in life when my oldest daughter Dawn had children I often told them stories about Billy. When I came to visit, they would say, “Tell more Billy Rettko stories, Papa,” and I would proceed: "OK, you kids, don’t try these things at home." I was not nice to Billy but I couldn’t resist playing jokes on him and sometimes it was our own Tom Sawyer/Huckleberry Finn life.
We walked to school every day together, a distance of a couple of miles. Billy was somewhat unconscious of his surroundings and there was a plethora of sandspurs along the sidewalks. I would lag behind, grab a stalk of sandspurs and whack them on his butt. When he sat down in the assembly hall he would leap up with a scream. He never seemed to catch on although I did it many times.
We started smoking by finding cigarette butts here and there, but then we began to buy Marvels for five cents a pack. We were under Billy’s front porch, which was enclosed with lattice work, smoking when Barium Bill came home and saw smoke billowing out. He called the volunteer fire department, they discovered us and Billy was grounded for weeks.
While hiking one day, we sat down to rest by a Gooseberry bush. Gooseberries are cylindrical and light green and somewhat tart. He said what are these things? I said, take a handful and try them. After he ate a handful I asked how they were and he said, “Sour.” I said, “Oh my God, they aren’t ripe yet so they are poisonous.” Billy took off running toward home and I followed but couldn’t keep up because I was laughing so hard. When I got there Billy and his mother were coming out the door. She said, “I’m taking Billy to the doctor, he has been poisoned.” I told her what happened and she said, “You have to stop doing things like this to my son.” She was such a sweet and long suffering lady.
Our neighbors, the Hennesseys, for some reason or other, lit papers on fire in a gallon can. Billy picked up the can, and of course it was hot so he dropped it and raced screaming to his house. He came out later with salve all over his hands covered with white socks. At least I didn’t coax him to do it.
We had a girl buddy too, named Jane Ellen Hasse. One day we saw her sitting on a blanket with a neighbor boy; they were playing with dolls. It was almost the end of growing season but there were a few almost rotten tomatoes in our garden. We each got an arm full of them and began to lob them downhill to where they were playing. Jane Ellen began screaming and her dad came out the kitchen door just in time to get a rotten tomato in the face. He chased us all over the hillside but even though we were laughing with every step he couldn’t catch the daring duo.
Although there are many stories involving our escapades in puberty they don’t fit in a community newspaper.
But one last story. We went to a local movie and someone called a Mexican a crow. Although it wasn’t me or Billy, I was greeted with a barrage of blows from Lupe and I hit him a few times. When I got home with a black eye and bloody nose my Dad asked what happened. He was satisfied I had fought back so he went to the home of the perp and when his father came out he barely had time to say “Hi, Rudy” when Dad decked him. Even though Billy stood and watched our fight and did nothing, Lupe was our quarterback and two years older than us. Billy played left tackle and I played linebacker on defense so when we scrimmaged we jointly nearly tore him in two. Thanks for the help, Billy!
After attending a class reunion a few years ago, I asked about Billy and called him. It is no surprise he was lukewarm but said he lived on Lake Havasu, summered in Iowa and would have lunch when he came through Phoenix. It never happened. His obituary spelled out a his career. Star football player at LPO College, two years in the Marine Corps, scholarship football at the University of New Mexico, a principal in several locations and a superintendent of schools. A life full of fame and accomplishment. R.I.P! Billy, you sure have earned it.