An old friend, Greg Schwartz, passed away recently. Far too soon.
Most people who knew him regard Schwartzie, as I called him, to be one of the better basketball players in the history of Hoosac Valley High School. And he was, for sure. Someone reminded me he was the last male from Hoosac Valley to play Division I basketball. He played at Colgate.
I knew him long before that. In fact, before I knew Schwartzie as a great basketball player, he was my lab partner during my sophomore year at Hoosac.
This was key. I was not a lab guy. And let's face it, this wasn't exactly the Manhattan Project we were working on.
No, it was your basic sophomore high school science stuff. To be honest, I don't remember exactly what we did in lab in those days. I've tried to think about it, but the only lab project I can recall is the dissection of a frog, and I seem to remember that might have been later in my scholastic science career.
Anyway, I basically stepped back and let Schwartzie do it all. And then we both got good grades, because he knew what he was doing. Even since then, I understood the concept of delegation of duties.
He was never annoyed with that arrangement. He realized I was pretty feeble when it came to the sciences. Although I was a very good cheerleader.
"Aw man, Schwartzie, that was perfect," I would say after we grew crystals or caused some other obscure chemical reaction. "You know your stuff!"
And he did.
Later, I discovered he was a really good basketball player. In fact, Greg was a pretty talented guy. In addition to knowing science and basketball, he was a really good drummer. He was actually in a band in high school, the name of which escapes me.
In fact, truth be told, he inspired me to take guitar lessons and form my own band. The name of that band also escapes me.
He was good in most anything actually. Our senior year, we needed a backup goalie on the soccer team and a couple of us convinced him to play. He had never touched a soccer ball but he did a heck of a job.
(He was also named "best looking" in our class. I disagreed. I thought I was probably cuter, but I wasn't as tall. Also, I had really long hair in those days, and I think the more conservative members of my class may have looked with disapproval on this.)
But he was never overbearing about it. In fact, he encouraged me to take guitar lessons and we would often drive to Pittsfield or North Adams in the summers to play pickup basketball games against the big bad Drury or PHS lads.
I mentioned that self-effacing trait while explaining to a friend about Schwartzie, and she said, "No wonder. A Jewish kid growing up in all-Catholic Adams? Phew!"
Wow, I thought. I had never even considered that. In fact, while I certainly knew Greg was Jewish, I am sure I never thought much of it, other than the fact that he didn't have to go to Christian doctrine classes on Saturday mornings.
In fact, said Derek, patting himself on the back, I dated both Risa and Ellen Katz in high school, two cousins in my class who were also Jewish. And very lovely. So I had no complaints.
But my friend's comment got me to thinking. That is kind of the essence of growing up in a small town in the Berkshires in the 1960s. I don't know if any of my Jewish friends had to deal with any ethnic slurs. I certainly never heard anything. And I never heard any of my friends or teammates making any.
I didn't see my lab buddy much after high school. I guess I took for granted that he would be around at least as long as I. But I'll miss him. Rest in peace, partner.
Derek Gentile is an Eagle staff writer. He can be reached at firstname.lastname@example.org or (413) 496-6251.