CHARLESTON, W.Va. -- At 88, Victor Asseff's still fertile mind brims with colorful anecdotes that define his life.
He talks in vivid detail about parents who emigrated from Syria, his exploits on the Charleston High School football team, the restaurant and poolroom he owned on Elizabeth Street, his contributions as a teacher and counselor and his rise through the Masonic ranks.
Known as "Duke" in high school, he still has the football awarded to him in 1942 after Charleston High School whipped cross-town rival Stonewall Jackson 26-6. Autographs on the ball include such familiar names as Stanley Preiser, Warne Stark and Leon McCoy.
A belated post-war college student, he loves telling how he excelled in college despite his father's admonition that he was too old to learn.
He lives in the house his father built in 1953 on a vacant hillside called Bona Vista Drive. He drives his father's car, circa 1970.
So many stories. So little space. He could, as they say, write a book.
"My parents came from a town in Syria like Charleston and St. Albans, outside of Damascus. They came over in 1919 with one child. The Sayres and Ammars from the same hometown were here, so they came to Charleston.
"Poppa at first was a peddler. He put his stuff in two or three suitcases and would go out in the country to a house and open up his suitcases, and people would buy clothing and jewelry and whatever.
"Then on State Street -- Lee Street now -- he had a clothing store. Later, on the corner where Fruth is now, he had a confectionary, Alex's Place. He sold cigars and candy and pop. The year that beer came out, boy, it hit the boom!
"At Christmas, right outside the store, we sold oranges, grapefruits, grapes and English walnuts. The whole family worked there.
"The horse and buggy would bring ice and they would put ice on the beer and pop coolers. They sold lots of cigarettes. They had Wings for 10 cents a pack, Lucky Strikes, Chesterfields, Piedmonts, Raleighs. They had Bugler, the kind you rolled.
"I started playing sports in junior high at Thomas Jefferson. Then I went to Charleston High and played football and ran track. I ran the 100, 220 and 440, did the shot put and threw the javelin.
"In 1940, '41 and '42, I played football at CHS. They called me 'Duke,' because I dressed real well and I was sharp. I even put 'Duke' on my Social Security card.
"The coaches were Lyle Rich and Mendy Carp. The '42 game against Stonewall, I got the football because I was the best player. I recovered a fumble and ran it almost for a touchdown and made a lot of tackles and blocked real good. The score was 26 to 6.
"All games were at Laidley Field. They would have 20,000 to 25,000 people and everybody had reserved seat tickets. The Stonewall game was a big one, the east and the west fighting each other. They had bonfires and celebrated down on Capitol Street.
"We always played Catholic the first game. Stonewall, Charleston, Huntington and Parkersburg were the big games. All the other schools were what I called second-hand teams, just scrimmages for us. We played Kingsport, Tenn., and Ashland, Ky., and a team in Ohio. If we lost one or two games, we had a bad season.
"We were awarded sweaters with the letter on them. My last year, they quit giving sweaters and started only giving letters. We liked the sweaters better. I still have mine.
"Now players have all these pads and face gears. We didn't have all that. There was a lot of bleeding. I don't know how many times my nose was bleeding, and my mouth. But a little alcohol dried it right up.
"I was chosen for the North-South Game but didn't get to play because I was going into the Air Force as a cadet. I went as far as Texas and Momma says, 'Victor, you get out flying, you want me to die?' Fighter planes in the war were going down all over the place. She said, 'If you get into the war, there are French mothers, Italian mothers, Greek mothers, mothers of all the boys in the war. I don't want them to kill you, and you shouldn't be killing them.'