Column: Tracing back his love of history

I’ve been trying to figure out why I’ve been on this “All in the Family” kick lately. You know “All in the Family,” the popular sitcom from the 1970s starring the fictional character Archie Bunker.

I always liked that show, but I enjoy it more now as an adult watching the old reruns on TV. Sure, the program has stood the test of time and still is as funny as ever, even if I know most of the lines by heart. But, one of the reasons I think I’m drawn to it, believe it or not, is it makes me nostalgic for the 1970s.

The 1970s!

I have to say the ’70s wasn’t the greatest decade. There was the energy crisis, economic downturns, job layoffs, strikes, Watergate.

Not exactly the sort of stuff to get nostalgic about. But I’ve come to realize the 1970s were the wonder years for me, the years when I discovered my love for history, newspapers and the printed word.

I was born in 1963, but can’t say I took too much away from the 1960s. I do recall a hot July day in 1969, sitting in my parents’ air-conditioned bedroom in front of a black-and-white TV, watching Neil Armstrong walk on the moon. Even then as a 6-year-old I understood it was something special. Another 1960s memory around that time was watching a TV news report about hippies rioting, fighting and setting fires. I asked my mother who those people were and was told they were teenagers. “I’m never going to be a teenager,” I told her.

But my teenage years arrived in the 1970s. For most of that decade my family lived in Oceanside. I recall Oceanside had three of those old-fashioned candy stores, the sort you don’t really see any more, all within walking distance of each other. As kids, my buddies and I would stop in one of them on the way to or from playing ball and buy a candy bar for a quarter or something like that. Those old candy stores were something. Once you walked in, the first thing you smelled were egg creams. My visual sense was attracted to the large newsstand with racks and racks of newspapers and magazines of all sorts. Being obsessed with sports, I thumbed through the various sports magazines.

My interest in sports got me to read newspapers. We had Newsday delivered to our house, and I perused the sports pages to follow the activities of my favorite teams and players.

It was a special occasion when my grandmother on my father’s side came to visit us with her longtime boyfriend, who we called Uncle John. That meant fun backyard barbecues and stories. I can trace my love for history to Uncle John, who had an extraordinary personal history himself. Uncle John fought in World War II (for Germany) and in the Korean War (for the United States). He was also a Golden Gloves boxer.

The family history is a bit blurry, but my understanding is that my grandmother, my father, his sister and Uncle John emigrated from Augsburg, Germany, to the United States in 1947. My grandmother’s husband had been killed years earlier by the Soviets, apparently.

It wasn’t easy to get stories out of Uncle John, but when he talked, I listened. Many, many years later, when I was an adult, he told me how he was a sniper during World War II and would go behind Soviet lines to pick off the enemy. He said it was like a game for him back then. “I was a crazy kid,” he said.

I loved hearing stories like that as a youngster and looked forward to their visits. But it was even better when we visited them in the Bronx. For one thing, they treated my three siblings and I like royalty. But I also watched Yankees games and other sporting events on TV with Uncle John, who liked to read. It was through him, really, that I was introduced to the New York Daily News, with its large black headlines and Bill Gallo sports cartoons.

Soon enough I was hooked on newspapers. It amazed me how a story from a West Coast game late Friday night would appear in the paper the following day in nice neat columns, with photos. How in the world did they do that?

That’s the wonder that remains with me to this day. A newspaper truly is a daily (or weekly) miracle.

Taking note of the recent news that the Daily News had been bought by publisher Tronc for $1 (or 25 cents less than what a single copy goes for on the newsstand), I asked a colleague if there was anything positive that could come out of this development. His response: “It means print is dying.”

Those words seared through my heart. I love print. As amazing as Newsday’s pages look on the iPad (and they do look amazing with the sharp, colorful photos and graphics), I still prefer to buy a print copy that I can hold in my hands.

Stories on websites bring immediacy, but there is still nothing like seeing a story you wrote neatly laid out on a printed page. For me, that wonder still lives on.

The author is the sports editor of the Riverhead News-Review and The Suffolk Times. He can be reached at [email protected].