If my column appears in the newspaper, I can usually expect a call from a man I’ve respected for years.
His son and I have been friends since kindergarten in an age where it’s rare one even sees those with whom he was raised, much less retains a lifelong friendship.
Galveston is one of those places where this rare and beautiful phenomenon still exists.
Here, you are not only known for who you are, but also who your parents were unto extended family. The geographical area of the island in which one lived garners equal importance and recollection.
The gentleman was calling because my recent column had mentioned his lifelong and now sorely missed friend, George Mitchell.
“I saw you mentioned George Mitchell recently, and wanted thank you,” he began. I am always in awe of someone of his age, of hearing living history. My mother, who is of similar life span often helps me to remember things I had forgotten regarding our old neighborhood, of people and times long past.
He reminded me of his and Mitchell’s youth here; attending college and serving in the military. Each time we speak, I try to recall my own set of Mitchell stories, hoping it was one that he had not heard. I remind him that my dad was friends with Mr. Mitchell’s older brother Johnny, and we both agreed that George was the more studious and disciplined of the three brothers. We both laughed when remembering Christy Mitchell’s automobile parked on esplanades around town.
This time, I reminded him of yet another priceless Galveston soul, Caesar Galli, another close friend of Mr. Mitchell’s now also in the hands of God.
“Did you hear the time Caesar and Mr. Mitchell stole olive oil from Cantini & Cantini grocery and poured it on the tracks so the streetcar couldn’t climb to the Seawall?” Amid laughter, he told me he had not.
Apparently, as the motorman cursed them while the streetcar wheels spun, a mounted policeman appeared and had chased the two boys through alleys and backyards but was unable to catch them.
I had heard this story from Mr. Galli himself at one of the Saturday luncheons I was honored to attend with the “old school” of Galveston’s legendary gentlemen who used to gather. Caesar had called Mr. Mitchell “Georgie” and I will never forget witnessing the affection Mitchell had for him, I told my friend on the phone.
“We called him ‘Greek’ at Ball High,” he said.
The other line grew silent for a bit, then I was told the maiden name of Mr. Galli’s wife, and on what street her family had resided.
“Mr. Novelli, there is no way guys like me can ever adequately thank guys like you,” I said.
One of the greatest treasures we gain in growing older is remembering yesterday with more clarity than the current hour. Perhaps if we who are not of this age of wisdom would reflect more on yesterday, tomorrow would always hold challenge and promise.
John Dundee lives in Galveston.