Colin Flaherty, a journalist for the ages

“We thought this would last forever.”

Colin Flaherty was speaking about our lives as young boys growing up in working-class Wilmington, Delaware in the sixties and early seventies.

We were members of a club, some would call it a street gang, called The Yard, named for the Catholic schoolyard that anchored the neighborhood. There were hundreds of kids in the area and they all had Irish names.

The cultural glue that gave us our identity was not crime or untoward activities. It was baseball and basketball; it was popular music – Rock, Soul, and top 40 radio from the 50,000-watt blowtorches in Philly, WFIL, and WIBG. Our heroes were disc jockeys like Jerry Blavat and Hy Lit.  Baseball stars Dick Allen and Johnny Callison were giants in our world.

Yes, there was underage drinking. But with Irish kids, this pastime was not a crime, it was more like a sport.

The homes in Wilmington’s Ninth Ward were solid, two- and three-story brick homes with massive front porches. We played made-up games with made-up names -- Stick Ball, Wall Ball, Wire Ball. Anything that could be hit with a thrown or batted ball, could score points. We were poor kids, but we were rich in so many ways.

On summer nights we would congregate at a nearby railroad bridge to polish off a sixpack and practice singing a cappella. A favorite tune was “People Get Ready.” It was a black protest song with a distinct gospel flair. Although we didn’t sound half bad at times, The Impressions were never really threatened by us.

Recently on a visit to the old bridge, I found a vintage can of Ballantine Ale in some tall grass. I remember thinking that I may have been the person that discarded that empty where it now lies.

Boys grow up and seek their fortunes. The Marine Corps called me and I answered. After a few later odd jobs, I spent 25 years as an air traffic controller. Colin Flaherty spent 35 years in San Diego, honing his considerable journalism skills. We would reunite later on a local radio program.

I was smoking a cigar and talking with Colin Flaherty on his back porch when he made the remark about the old days. I knew he was dying and he knew it, too. It struck me that of all the famous people he has known and could talk to at any time, he was content to talk to me about the old neighborhood. I never felt more honored in my life.

Congratulations to Colin Flaherty on a successful life and a reputation for the truth. His credibility can never be questioned. This motto appears on the seal of his high school alma mater:

 Tenui Nec Dimittam: I have taken hold and will never let go.

 Willie Shields is a radio host, a paralegal, and author of Exit 13A – A Control Tower Diary. A “once and always” US Marine and a former air traffic controller, Mr. Shields resides in Wilmington, Delaware. He responds to email: WSHIELDS1775@VERIZON.NET , Twitter @WILLIEONRADIO

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