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Gambling Dad


Posted: June 15, 2014 2:00 a.m.
Updated: June 15, 2014 2:00 a.m.

He was not large in stature, my Dad. He was the eleventh of twelve children, born in Pittsburgh, Pennsylvania in 1907. His name was Francis Joseph Sahr. He skipped through his academic years only attending six of elementary school and two of commercial. At seventeen, he was foreman of the Pittsburgh Press mailroom. This was to set his future career in the newspaper business. Frank's parents came from Germany, the Saar Valley region. Their last name was Saar but my grandmother thought there were too many "a's" in the name so she took out one and replaced it with an "h" when coming through Ellis Island in the 1800s. From then on they were known as "Sahr.

Frank loved to gamble. It was either the Number's or cards. Later he took an interest in horse racing. When I was about nine or ten he had a poker game in our apartment every Friday night. The players arrived by the fire escape which entered into my parents bedroom where the game was held. In the far corner was a round table covered with textured green oil cloth and a hanging light over it.. My Dad wore a cap with a green celluloid beak and he had a long pole to pull in his share of each pot

The players looked like they had stepped out of a Damon Runyon play. There was Gertie who could close his mouth with three lit cigarettes in it and not get burnt - he would always entertain me at least once each evening with this trick. Brannigan stayed late and often slept on our couch for the night. They all seemed to wear vertical striped shirts, suspenders and a garter on their upper arms.

Before there was a full table they would sit me down, give me nickels and we would play poker or twenty-one. They seemed to get great pleasure teaching me the games and I think, letting me win. Years later I played poker with some boys in high school and had to give them car fare home. I learned well.

Later I found out from a cousin that the police chief was relieved when we moved to California. My mother's family was prominent in town. My grandfather and two of his partners had founded it - Aspinwall - just across the river from Pittsburgh. The police chief was embarrassed and did not know how he could diplomatically break up the game.

After arriving in Los Angeles, Frank went to work for the Hollywood Racing Form. That was all it took, a bookie he became. He hid his books on a leaf under our kitchen table. It became my job to *dope out the horses that were running at each track in the country every day.

I looked them up in a magazine that reported their racing record. It lists each horse's track performance - age, weight, jockey, and saddle weight It is important to know how they run on a muddy track among other facts. The horses of the day are listed in the Racing Form and that was at my Dad's fingertips.

Frank was a newspaperman by trade and eventually owned the largest mailing house in Southern California. He retired in the early 50s and turned to fishing and bowling. He never gambled again except for a friendly game with friends and that soon stopped. It was better to be on the opposite side of the table from the suckers.

Life Lessons:

Do not sit down at a game of chance with anyone who you do not know.

Do not keep playing if you are in a losing streak thinking you will win it back. LEAVE.

The Pro's are way ahead of you.


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