August 16 – Happy Birthday Bobby Greco

bobgrecoThere certainly are and were a lot of “Greco’s” in Amsterdam and I personally know or knew many of them. One of my all-time favorite Greco’s is today’s Amsterdam Birthday Celebrant, Robert “Bobby” Greco. He’s the son of Frank and Jennie Greco, the husband and wife team that used to run Greco’s Market on Division Street in Amsterdam, located right behind the old Guy Park Avenue School. Bobby was born the same year as me on August 16. Though he went to West Spring  and then McNulty Schools and I went to Guy Park, during the summers his parents would have both him and his older brother Frank come with them to the store each day and both would hang around the Guy Park Avenue playground from early July till school started back up again in September. That’s where I met him and during the course of our childhood and teen-aged years he became one of my very best friends. Here are the ten things I’d like to share about my dear buddy Bobby.

1) Bobby and his older brother Frank were the first kids I knew to own and ride the classic “Sting Ray” style bicycle that was introduced in the mid sixties.

2) Bobby was a great basketball player. Though he wasn’t blessed with height he was without a doubt one of the great two-handed set shooters of all time. In fact, during our CYO basketball days playing for St. Michael’s parish team, I bet Bobby hit ninety percent of his foul shots. Which brings me to one of the funny stories of my childhood. Bobby had a nifty little basketball court in the backyard of his West Main Street house and we would have epic games there every day. Our mutual good buddy Dave Malkowich, an outstanding basketball player in his day would be one of the regular participants in those always competitive contests. Dave, who could leap like a kangaroo used to tease Bobby by telling him that his two handed set shot was out-of-date and too easy to defend, which used to drive Greco nuts. So one night he challenged Dave to try and block his set-shot. Malkowich proceeded to block about twenty-five straight, but persistent Bobby just kept shooting and insisting the two-handed set shot would never die.

3) My friend had the longest home slot car racetrack for miniature electric slot cars in the entire city. The Greco’s lived in the upstairs flat of their home on West Main Street. Like most of the homes in our neighborhood, it was four rooms deep and two rooms wide. Bobby’s slot car track ran through the middle of the front, living and dining rooms of the apartment. That meant every time anyone entered or left the apartment, went into the kitchen, the bathroom, or to bed, they had to step over the two main thirty foot long straightaways of Bobby’s slot car track configuration plus at least two and sometimes as many as five bodies of kids who happened to be racing cars or spectating at the time. If I had ever attempted to put such a track in my own house, my Mom would have thrown it in the back yard, but not Mr. & Mrs. Greco, who had to be two of the kindest most patient parents I’ve ever met. Here’s another example of that.

4) Bobby played the drums when he was a kid and since his slot track took up the entire apartment, the only place he could fit his entire set of drums was on their enclosed front porch. Now Bobby was no Ringo Starr. He played those drums about as well as I played my trumpet which meant not very, so whenever he was in the mood to beat on them, you could hear the ruckus from Pine Street to Caroline in Amsterdam’s West End. As soon as he started you’d see neighbors who had been sitting on their front porches rush inside and slam their doors and windows shut. (Note: Bobby’s son Robb. also played the drums at the same time my daughter was playing Oboe in the high school bands and orchestra’s. Robb was a terrific percussionist which just goes to prove that when it comes to musical ability, sometimes the apple does fall quite a bit aways from the tree.)

5) When Bobby got his driver’s license in 1970 he would often drive his father’s 1960 Chevy Belair two-tone red & white station wagon to school. One day it was stolen from the Wilbur Lynch High School parking lot and a panicked Bobby called the Amsterdam police. At the time it was stolen, the aging vehicle had been parked in between someone’s 1969 Malibu SS and a souped up Pontiac GTO. When the cop came to investigate Bobby gave him a description of his dad’s car and kept asking him “Who in their right mind would steal a car out of a school parking lot in the middle of the day?” The cop just stared at the two classic rides sitting on either side of the spot where Bobby’s old Belair had been and responded “I think we’re looking for a blind man.”

6) Bobby graduated from Lynch High with me in 1972, got his bachelors from Albany State University and started working at GE. He then transferred over to Knolls Atomic Power Lab, where he remained for over 30 years, just recently retiring. If you asked him what his job entailed at the highly secretive installation he’d explain that if he told you then he’d have to kill you.

7) Bobby married the love of his life, Amsterdam native Sue Dygon and they raised three wonderful kids who have in turn given them a half-dozen beautiful grandchildren who Bobby absolutely cherishes.

8) Any community would be fortunate to have a guy like Bobby Greco as a citizen and neighbor. The guy has always had a heart of gold. He and Sue were tireless volunteers for their beloved St. Michael’s Church. He still serves as a Eucharistic Minister, bringing communion to all of the area institutions serving the elderly. It was Bobby who for many years organized the Harlem Wizards basketball team’s visit to Amsterdam. In addition to playing an exciting game for the entire community, members of the team would visit each district school and speak out against drugs and bullying. And he was an indispensable part of many Light Up the Sky Christmas light display set-ups every winter for years.

9) The kid who loved racing those tiny electric slot cars grew up to become a huge fan of NASCAR and stock car racing. He still goes to Fonda Speedway most Saturday nights during racing season and for many years Bobby headed the pit crew for his cousin Gary Greco’s racing team. Though he refuses to fly in an airplane, a few years ago Bobby went out and bought himself a Harley, which he now enjoys taking for cruises in the surrounding countryside.

10) It truly is an honor for me to say I’ve been a friend of Bobby Greco’s for over fifty years now. Though I don’t get to see him as often today I so enjoy each time I do. He played an integral role in some of the happiest moments of my younger days. Happy Birthday “Cheech” and may you be blessed with many, many more.

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