I wanted to kill Frank Guinta.
It was fall 1974 on the football field at Ceres High School. A few Manteca teens were asked to play for the Ceres Chargers, a full contact youth football team, and since Manteca did not have any teams back then, why not? Frank was one of the coaches. He and Stan Jackson, father of Keith Jackson, drove us to Ceres several times a week to practice and play. During practice on one hot evening I was hit in the place that makes males instantly sing soprano. While I withered in pain on the ground, a very large Frank towered over me and loudly told the team that “Tilton shouldn’t be hurting; he has BB balls.” The team laughed, but I got up and wanted to kill Frank and any opposing player in front of me. From that day on, no one ever overpowered me on the football field, thanks to Frank.
Frank never let me forget that day. It was also the day that he and I formed a special unspoken mentor/mentee relationship.
There were many days that I would just hang at Frank’s only gas station back then – Frank’s Exxon on the corner of Main and North in Manteca. Back then, Frank would ask me to wash his prized cars. He loved his white Mercury Cougar. He would pay with free sodas…the ice cold bottled ones from the dispenser. Frank was notorious for leaving the keys in his car. Often I would get into his Chevy and just drive it in circles around the station. I was 13. If my parents only knew… One day I drove a bit too close to the edge of the building and heard a strange sound. Yep. I scratched his car in a bad way. Frank eventually saw the damage and was very, very angry. He started asking people around the gas station who was responsible for damaging his car. I didn’t tell him. I didn’t want to let him down. I carried that guilt with me for several decades until I confessed my sin to him last February at a social in his honor. What did Frank say? “I knew it all along, Tilton.” What?! I carried that guilt for that long?!
He was my baseball coach when I was 14 and 15 while playing for Tradeway Chevrolet in summer Babe Ruth league. It was during my second season that Frank and I had our only disagreement. One evening I had to choose between playing in Leroy Darling’s Lincoln Elementary School band concert or going to baseball practice. I chose the concert. The game the next night found me on the bench for missing practice. I was ticked and demanded a trade to a different team. Frank refused to buckle. The league commissioner refused to accommodate. Eventually my father confronted Frank regarding his decision and nearly came to blows at Frank’s residence. After things cooled off and no one admitting any wrong-doing, I went back to the team and eventually was voted to the all-star team, coached by Frank. (Years later my older brother Ron would often rib Frank that our father was in the parking lot waiting to settle the decades old dispute…)
While I was living near Portland, Oregon, Frank was inducted into the Manteca Hall of Fame a few years ago and Jacque Brophy, one of my mentors and good friends, attended the ceremony and shared back to me that Frank, in his acceptance speech, mentioned me. I was immediately honored until she shared that Frank told the aforementioned baseball practice story, but Frank added his own twist. Instead of the band concert, Frank said I went to get my “hair styled!” What?! (I wanted to kill Frank Guinta, Part II.)
Frank was eventually my boss, too. He hired several of us who grew up playing for him in the 1970s and 1980s. Frank, by then, had four gas stations and mini-marts and a restaurant. Frank gave me a job in 1984 at the gas station that used to be on Lathrop Road and Highway 99. Graveyard. Alone. Nine-hour shifts. No lunch break. With Frank, one had to earn their keep. I eventually became the manager of that store until I returned to school to finish my degree.
Life gets in the way and we find ourselves at times distancing ourselves from the people who truly left a mark on us. It was that way with Frank and me. We went decades without seeing each other. Not by design, but by life. He made a huge impact on me.
Without teaching me, but by action, he taught me the concept of “paying it forward.”
Without teaching me, but by action, he taught me to give everyone a chance…even a second chance.
Without teaching me, but by action, he taught me to be generous.
And, without teaching me, but by action, he taught me to love unconditionally.
I am sure that when I see Frank, again, he will remind me of my “BB balls.”