By Gregg Hoffmann Special to Published Mar 02, 2007 at 5:05 AM

On our way to Arizona in February, my wife and I stopped in New Braunfels, Texas, primarily to get information about some great antique stores we had heard about in nearby Gruene.

As we walked through the door of the local Chamber of Commerce, I immediately saw what looked like a familiar face. “Are you Jerry Taff?,” I asked of the man who looked an awful like the former Channel 12 anchorman.

“Yes, I am. You look familiar too,” the man, who indeed was Taff, replied. Within moments, we were recounting times we had either worked together or appeared together at events when both of us worked in Milwaukee media.

My favorite was a benefit auction in Waukesha County, where Jerry, yours truly and TMJ radio celebrity Jonathon Green had appeared. I remembered Jerry wore a double-breasted jacket, I wore my typical tweed sports coat and Green showed up in a leather jacket on a Harley.

I remember telling the crowd, “There’s a TV man (pointing to Jerry). Here’s a newspaper guy (pointing to myself), and there goes a radio guy (pointing to Green who had already auctioned off his item and was heading out the door).”

Taff, a.k.a. Gerald E. Teaff, retired to Texas, where he works part-time for the Chamber to keep himself busy. Jerry also lists himself on his card as, “Loquacious Raconteur, Voracious Epicure, Efficacious Sinecure, Intrepid Somnambulist, Inveterate Corvetteist, Ineffable Linguist.

We both recounted our Milwaukee days with a great deal of affection. Jerry still is in touch with many people back “home”, although he admitted the TV market has changed so much his contacts are dwindling.

Jerry did say he didn’t care if he ever saw another snowflake. We shared that sentiment, although Westby, where we now live 10 months a year, was in the process of getting 29 inches of snow, almost as we spoke.

It was one of those fun “small world” experiences, which you could tell all involved got a kick out of. It also led me to recall two others that are my all-time favorites.

Flagstaff “neighbors”

Flash back to 1971. This writer was then 22 and just out of college. Two friends from high school, Rich and Bob Molini, and I had always promised we would travel after finishing college and before getting into the work world.

So, the young men headed west in August of that year, and did not return until November. It was one of those late 60s, early 70s things to do. We lived on the cheap, sleeping in tents and our car along the way. Hundreds of young people were on the road those days, in Volkswagen busses and other vehicles.

In Flagstaff, Ariz., one morning, Rich suddenly was scratching on my tent, at a very early hour. “Hoffmann, you have to come to the laundromat with me. There are people you have to meet,” he said.

I crawled out of my sleeping blanket, put on some pants and stumbled with Rich to the laundromat of the campground. “This had better be good,” I remember telling Rich, since it was around 6:30 a.m.

It was indeed good. Waiting near a washer was a middle-aged woman, who identified herself as the former neighbor of my parents in Paddock Lake. She and her husband had lived down the street from Ma and Pa, during the years I had lived in Madison. I had never met them, but they had befriended my folks.

The couple was living in the campground until a home was completed in Flagstaff. The husband had been transferred to that area and had left Paddock Lake.

What were the chances of people with those ties ending up in the same campground, in Flagstaff, Arizona, at the same time, not to mention washing their clothes at an un-Godly time of the morning?

That’s my second favorite “small world story.” Here’s my first.

A battlefield in France

This story is not mine, but one periodically recounted by one of my first editors, who we shall call just George. He was a tough bird, an old school editor who could take you to task in rather colorful language for a typo. But, when he told this story, he became imminently human.

George had been a paratrooper in World War II. One night, during a multi-unit operation in France, his chute became entangled in a tree when he came down among enemy lines.

As he struggled to free it, another trooper from a different unit came up to help him. The two young men -- in their early 20s -- looked at each other, and as George used to put it, “flashed back to Reedsburg, Wisconsin.”

George had a good friend, let’s call him Bill, until they were about 13. Bill then moved away. The boys corresponded for a while, but as happens they eventually lost touch.

Until this specific night, in the dark on this battlefield in France, they had not seen each other for almost a decade. But, they recognized each other as if they had just spent yesterday together.

The troopers had been instructed not to talk during the operation, for fear of alerting the enemy. George just mouthed, “Are you Bill?’ The other man nodded yes. The two old friends hugged and then rushed into the night on their individual assignments -- never to see each other again.

By the time George finished that story, tears were usually trickling down his cheek. We used to try to get him to tell the story after he had chewed us out particularly hard in a given day. I get chills when I tell, or even write about it. And, I don’t tell the story nearly as well as George did.

I have many other “small world” stories, but these three are my favorites. If you have some, post them using the talkback feature below.

Gregg Hoffmann Special to
Gregg Hoffmann is a veteran journalist, author and publisher of Midwest Diamond Report and Old School Collectibles Web sites. Hoffmann, a retired senior lecturer in journalism at UWM, writes The State Sports Buzz and Beyond Milwaukee on a monthly basis for OMC.