We lived in France when I was a baby. My Dad was in the Army. Dad had an old green army trunk down cellar where he kept his dog tags. I liked to put them on when I played war with my friends. There were pictures of him in the Army goofing around with his army buddies. They had a mock hanging and they all made goofy faces. Wed compare our fathers ranks. Dad was a specialist, fourth class. Id never heard of that. What rank was it? Peter Moschettis father was a sergeant in World War II. I found out later that a specialist was the same rank as a private but I didnt tell anyone.
My grandparents and my Aunt Susan met Mom and me in New York City when we came back from France on a big boat. They hadnt seen me since I was a baby and they wanted to see how smart Id become. I was the first grandchild of the family. We had a long ride home from where the boat landed. I sat in the back seat and found an interesting metal thing. I asked what it was and Mommy said, Ashtray. I liked it a lot and flipped it up and down and up and down and up and down all the way from New York to Hartford. I wondered who these people were driving with Mommy and smiling at me a lot. As I flipped the ashtray up and down, I liked to say its name, Ashtray." My grandfather still grimaced when he recalled me saying Ashtray and flipping it up and down the whole way home from New York to Hartford.
Mom showed me how to plant carrots. We dug up a piece of lawn on the side the house. We found rocks that we lined up on the edge of the dirt. We made little ditches with our fingers to put the seeds in. The seeds came in a packet with a picture of great, big, orange and green carrots on the front. We covered up the seeds and waited for them to grow. Each day I went by the side of the house to water them and see how they were. It was hard to tell the carrots from the weeds but Mom showed me how. They grew taller and taller and I wanted to pick them but Mom told me to wait until they were bigger. One day I went to water them and most of them were gone. I cried because I missed them and wanted to eat them. Mom said some rabbits wanted to eat some dinner too. It still wasnt fair. I was the one who planted them and watered them every day. One day Mom said they were ready so I dug my hands into the dirt and pulled them out. And they were crooked! I thought they would be straight and clean like the ones from the store. Mom explained that the soil was rocky and the carrots grew around the rocks. That was better but I still wanted them to grow straight. I was excited when Mom cooked them up and they tasted so good - much better than the straight ones from the store.
We had the corner lot in Green Valley. Our back yard was the biggest around.
At the edges of the great green plain was a big fence with barbed wire on the
top. On the other side were train tracks where the big trains went by. Sometimes
I saw grown-ups walking on tracks and wondered about them. Were they poor hoboes
without a home? What if they got run over by the train? Sometimes I went up
to the fence and waved at them.
The trains made a big noise when they went by. I could feel the hot smelly wind against my face. I could feel them through my feet. As each car went by, the wheels made a noise - ca-chug - ca-chug. They were much bigger than me but I was safe behind the fence. I could hear them for a long time even after they were gone. I couldn't see the people inside but wondered who they were and where they were going. The freight trains were so big I couldn't see the front or the back when they went by but I could see the middle of the train curving around the bend. My favorite car was the caboose on the end of the long freight trains. I waited and waited for it to come by.
The people trains always went by fast. I liked the freight trains that went by slow. Sometimes theyd stop for a while so I could look at each car better. I wondered if the engine car broke or if someone got run over. Each car was different and had different letters on it. I wondered what was inside each one.
One time I was down at the play ground on the merry-go-round. It was a red wooden circle but worn down to gray where we used to jump on. Steel bars came up from the outside to the center. Wed each grab a pole and push, push, push and then jump on and get a ride. Next to the outside our running wore down a bumpy dirt path. That day we had more kids than we ever had so we tried to make it go faster than ever before. I couldnt keep up and my leg got caught under it. It hurt very badly and I couldnt get my leg out. Dad came and got me out and carried me home. He gave me a hot bath. I went to bed and my leg was OK.
Milkweeds grew in the fields around our house. I could grab them through the fence. I liked to get the seed pods and take them apart and look inside. Inside were silky strings you could take off one by one. Id toss them into the wind and hope theyd grow some new ones. One sunny summer day I took one apart. There were many little black bugs living inside. I threw it down and ran home. I was more careful after that.
Judy lived in the other side of the house. Mom liked to go over and talk to
her. They were always drinking coffee. She had red hair just like Mom. Her voice
was soft. She liked to ask me how I was doing and what kind of trouble I was
getting into today. I wasnt too clear on what they talked about all the
time but I liked to go and look around their house. One time I went down to
the basement where it was dark and dirty. A big black furnace lived down there.
They had it hard over at Judys. Their Dad had to sleep all day and work at night. Mom said I had to be quiet over there if Tom was sleeping. I couldn't imagine sleeping all day. When do you have breakfast?
One day the lady that lived in the orange and red house next door let me go
with her to pick up her husband. Like many other Dads in our neighborhood, he
worked near the airport on jet engines. As we got close to the factory, I saw
many airplanes landing and taking off. We went to get him inside the airplane
engine factory. It was the biggest and tallest room I had ever seen. There were
pieces of engines all over the place. On the way home, we went to a parking
lot where you could see the planes landing and taking off really close. I asked
him questions about the airplanes and their engines. When we saw a plane, I
asked him if he had built that one.
The Cunninghams lived across the street from us. Steven Cunningham was my age and size except he had blond hair. We both had lots of freckles. Steven didnt seem too happy. He only lived with his mother. His father didnt live with him anymore. He was known as a bad kid who got into trouble. Dad didnt want me to play with him but everyone in the neighborhood went down to the playground. It was hard not too.
Dad liked to take me and my sister Colleen up to bed every night. It wasn't so bad that way. Hed tease us and say, "Who going to first tonight?" Wed have to fight it out. Then hed grab one of us, hold us tight, and take us up the stairs. It felt good to be in Dad's arms. Every night he would say, "Ugh, you're getting so heavy. Soon I won't be able to carry you anymore." But we knew he would. Then I would kneel by my bed and say my prayer. Now I lay me down to sleep.
I pray the Lord my soul to keep.
To the Father, Son, and Holy Ghost.
Amen. I didn't know what this meant but Dad liked us to say it every night so we did.
We moved to a big, new, white house when I was four. One day we went by to take
a look. It didnt look much like a house to me but Dad said they were still
building it. Dad said that it wasnt far from our old house and we could
still go down to the play ground. But I liked our big back yard where we were.
But Dad was right and we still got to go the playground.
The living room in the new house had a big window and tan curtains. The TV was on a stand in the living room. One day Mom was upset and crying. The news was on when cartoons where supposed to be on. They showed the President being killed. Dad came home and he got mad. I thought it was sad and cried like Mom. When they had the funeral on, I felt bad for the kids. They werent much different from me.
One time I got really sick with the mumps. Mom let me sleep in her bed and that's where I was sick for a few days. Their bed was gigantic compared to mine. Everyone would come in and see how I was doing. They put a machine in the room, a vaporizer they called it, that was supposed to make me breathe better. It gave off steam that smelled like Vicks menthol cough drops. One night I was looking up at the ceiling and skeletons started to appear. They came - different ones - one after the other. Each one had on different pieces of brightly colored clothes. Some wore coats and others just a scarf. They keep coming around and around like they were on a merry-go-round. When I tried to scream, I couldn't make any noise. Mom came in and hugged me and told me I had a bad dream. I was afraid of the dark after that so Dad got me a night light that he plugged in next to my bed.
Some nights I couldn't sleep so Id lie there and listen to things and play in bed. Id go down the other side of the bed and see how it was. I liked it when Mom gave us new sheets. They smelled good and felt crisp and new against my body. One time when I was exploring, I got pinned and stuck down where my feet where supposed to be. I was afraid that Id smother and never get out. The more I tried to get out, the more stuck I got. I screamed for help and Dad came and got me out. He said, "John, everything is all right now. Sleep on the top side of the bed, OK?" I told Dad that I would after that and I did.
One night I tried putting my pillow near the night light to see if I could see the light through the pillow. The next thing I knew there was a terrible smell and smoke. I ran down the stairs and went into Mom and Dad's room which was dark. They came up and took the pillow outside and put it out. For a long time, the awful burnt pillow smell stayed in my room. The next day the pillow outside in the trash reminded me that Id done something wrong. I was glad when the trash men came and took it away.
Every day of the week, a different Mom drove us to kindergarten. I was in the
front classroom and sat towards the back. The Sisters had a wooden stick you
got spanked with if you were really bad. It had the words "Board of Education"
written on it. Eddy Malley got it a lot. I never did get it but I came close
It was snack time on a rainy day and we got our Ritz crackers and milk in a paper cup. The paper cup had space in the bottom. I thought it would be a good idea to see if the crackers would fit in the space. And they did. The cup stacked right up on my Ritz crackers. I thought I was being very smart and wanted to show the Sister. She got mad and told me never to do it again and slapped me on the wrist. I didn't get the "Board of Education" but I was a little more careful with the nuns after that.
It is in the kitchen of the new house. Mommy stands by the sink smoking a cigarette.
I can see the smoke and dust in the light streaming in behind Mommy. She is
standing there but is far away. She seems unhappy and sad. Sometimes she is
mad and yelling at my sister and me. I want a hug and to hear that she loves
me. I look up at her standing there in the kitchen smoking a cigarette. Her
curly red hair frames a blank face. She is wearing green slacks.
She didnt like being a Mom like all the mothers on the street seemed too. She went back to school as soon as she could - American International College in Springfield. She wasnt around as much and was busy with her homework. Id wonder why she wasnt happy and why she didn't want to stay home with us like the rest of the Moms.
Gram had a clothesline went from the house to the bean tree. I liked to collect
the long beans that fell from the bean tree and take them apart. They were the
biggest beans I ever saw. Mom said you couldn't eat them like regular beans.
Grandpa invited me over in the fall to help him rake leaves for a quarter. At
first, I just helped him to scoop them into bags but later on I did most of
the work. It was fun to be outside and rake the leaves into big piles. After
I got a big pile onto an old drop cloth that used to be a bed spread, I liked
to jump into them. Id look up into the sky and smell the leaves and the
earth. Grandpa didnt like that too much though. Hed rather Id
just scoop them into the big garbage bags.
Grandpa used to work at his mother and father store in Millerton, New York when he was a kid. They had a soda fountain and sold penny candy. Once in a great while, hed show me his coin collection. He'd bring them out from his secret hiding place. He was always saying that they would be worth good money someday. One year, he gave me some coins and a coin book he bought from a store. A few years later, he gave me a really special gift. They were ten Indian head pennies from 1900 to 1910. He told me to keep them in a really safe place and not to sell them for anything.
Grandpa always got free stuff from the Suburban Propane Gas company where
he worked. Everything was always yellow and red. Sometimes, wed get pencils
and office things from him for Christmas as little gifts. One year I got a ruler
from him. But it was sure a funny ruler. It had a crack in the middle and no
numbers on it. A couple of years later, I gave it back to him as a present.
After he opened it, I explained how I couldnt use it too well and that
maybe he could use it better. Everyone laughed and he showed me how you open
it and use it to open letters. I got teased me about that every year after that
at Christmas time.
At holidays, we ate around a big table with fancy silverware and special plates. Uncle Stephen, Aunt Susan and Aunt Margaret were there. I used to eat a whole drumstick from the turkey and still finish my plate. Gram was proud of me. Gram had a glass clock with gold edges in the dining room. Inside, it rotated around and around in a circle and you could see its insides. After dinner, Grandpa would take a picture of us. Every year the same thing happened. Grandpa would fuss around with the camera. It was mounted on a tripod and has a flash bulb attached to it with a big reflector. And we all stood there waiting for him to get ready. Finally, hed say "Ready" and hed run as fast as he could (which wasnt very fast) to where we all were standing. And wed all stand there waiting and smiling as much as we could. Wed hear the shutter click but the flash didnt go off. Then Grandpa would frown, grumble under his breath, go back and fiddle with it some more and try again. Wed all laugh and tease him about it. Wed be ready and smiling the second time and the flash would go off. Afterwards the men went downstairs to watch football and drink beer and the woman did the dishes and talked. Grandpa would lie down right there on the living room floor after eating and fall asleep. His stomach made a mound on his body when he lay down. One year we bought him a big pillow that he could use on the floor.
Uncle Steven's room was upstairs. One time at Christmas, he told me he saw Santa Claus out his window on the garage roof. I said I saw Santa at my house too! Everyone laughed very hard. I guess they knew I was making it up but I didn't know how they found out. One year Gram put the tree downstairs and it was a small fake one. I wanted a real one and said it looked terrible. I guess everyone agreed because that was the last year we had a fake tree. Grampa kept stuff he didnt use anymore downstairs, neatly filed way. One time, Grampa showed me his old violin and banjo. I asked him why he didn't play it anymore and he said he was too old. He told me he used to be in a band and thats how he met Gram. I wished hed play it for me but he never did. I snooped around the basement while all the grown-ups talked upstairs.
In second grade, I had a really old nun for a teacher. We learned how to multiply. It was hard so I found some patterns in the numbers so I wouldnt have to remember so hard. For the nines, one number goes up and the other one goes down. One gray, rainy day, the sister was playing the piano during recess. We were supposed to sing along but most of the boys didn't. Eddy Malley was playing with some marbles in class. One got away and rolled right under the sister when she was playing and singing. Boy I thought he was done for but she didn't see it and kept right on playing. We weren't too sure how well the old Sister could see anyway.
Sometimes in the summer wed go to Otis Lake where Gram and Grampa had
a cabin. The sign said Otis and then later changed to another town. We would
have to go way passed Otis on the highway and then go back. I always asked Mom
and Dad about this but they just said it was the only way to get there. It seemed
unfair. I could always tell when we were getting there when the roads turned
to dirt and it started to smell like the woods. Finally wed get there.
The cabin looked like ones I had made with Lincoln Logs. Inside there were lawn chairs instead of regular chairs. We used to eat summer food - hamburgers and hot dogs. I liked to go off by myself and look around. Behind the house was a utility line where all the trees were cut. You could walk back there and find red salamanders just lying on the ground. I liked to pick up rocks and see what kind of things I could find underneath. I used to find slugs, ants, snakes, and salamanders. The ants went crazy when you picked up their home. I was always a little scared before I picked up the rock in case there was a poison snake underneath. But there was never anything more than a garter snake or brown snake.
We could only go to the lake with Mom and Dad. It took forever to walk there. The horse flies pestered us the whole way and wouldnt give up even if you ran. Id hang around with the grown-ups for a while and then go down to the frog place. There was an area behind some trees with water about two feet deep all around. The bottom was muddy and there were many lily pads and water grass all around. There I could find hundreds of frogs and tadpoles to look at and try to catch. Id catch some in my pail and let them go before I went back. They seemed happy to get back with their friends. It was a lot more fun in the frog place then lying around on a blanket. But Gram never understood why Id want to play in the mud when there was a clean, sandy beach right there.
Wed go to Gram and Grampa's house at the ocean too. It was much farther
than Otis. The sign outside said Teacher's Pet because Gram was a teacher and
it was her favorite place to be. In the living room, there was a painting of
the ocean under the water. In it were all the fish that they had down there:
lobsters, crabs, flat fish, and regular fish. The front entrance room had an
old television and some green vinyl chairs shaped like circles. You could get
lost in those things. In the main living room, the fish painting stood above
an old couch. Then there was an eating area with a table painted blue. Past
that was the kitchen. Gram had an old-fashioned washing machine down there that
you had to use by hand. Also downstairs was Gram and Grampa's bedroom where
we weren't supposed to play. Up some old, creaky, brown wooden stairs were two
bedrooms where we stayed.
In the front yard were some huge rocks. I liked to climb on them and see how everything looked. There was a stone frog there Id play with and move around. The grass was thinner there and rocks were scattered around the lawn. In the fall, I could jump from the rocks into the leaves Grampa raked. In the back were dark woods with trails to other places. I wondered where they led.
Every day it didn't rain, wed walk down to the beach. There were many other cottages on the way. When I saw the tennis courts, I knew we were almost there. Right then, I could smell the ocean smell. Wed turn the corner and there it was.
We'd walk by the boat place before we got to the beach. When it was low tide, you could see the bottom and it smelled bad like dead fish and motor oil. We never had a boat but I always wanted to go on one. None of Gram's friends had boats either. They liked to sit on the beach under their umbrellas, play bridge, and talk. There was an ice cream truck always parked at the beach. Once a day, Dad would take Colleen and I to get ice cream. I liked the fancy chocolate coconut bar that we could get when we were at the beach. It was gone by the time we got back to our blanket. There was a covered boardwalk where you could walk and save your feet from getting too hot. That's where the older kids used to stay with their radios and bikinis. You could get a good look at the boat place if you stood on the boardwalk bench. I always would see what kind of fish I could spot. One time late in the summer the mackerel ran. You could see big schools of them all over. They were at the beach, in the boat place, everywhere. If you got close to them, theyd dart away all at once.
Little Beach was more interesting. There were fewer people and more places to play. There was a rocky beach where I would go and look for crabs and fish. Mostly the grown-ups liked Big Beach where there was less seaweed, fewer rocks, fewer crabs, and more people.
There was only one small store at Point A Woods. You cut through some little blacktop paths to get to it. They had a selection of comics, candy, and ice cream even better that Gourlies. Sometimes they sent me and Colleen down to get the paper and they gave us some extra money. It took some time to decide what to buy.
On Friday nights, there was a movie on the beach. Wed dig a big hole in the sand and put a blanket on it and watch the movies under the stars and listen to the waves come in. You could make out their white tops in the moon light. Wed watch the Three Stooges, Bugs Bunny, and movies like Godzilla Versus Tokyo. Wed look for shooting stars as the movie played. Anything seemed possible.
One year I started to notice a girl named Jen who stayed at the beach all summer. She lived behind the woods of my Grandparents place. I used to go through the trails of the woods and look at their house. Across the street from their house was a big cemetery I was afraid of. There were rumors of ghosts living there. Id make believe I had somewhere to go and walk by her blanket as many times as I could without being detected. Jen had short blond hair, a big smile, and the most beautiful white two piece bikini Id ever seen. She even needed the top. I was afraid to say anything to her. One night, I saw her at the movies and got up enough courage to go up and talk to her. She was with another boy who I hoped was her brother. I asked her if she wanted to watch the movie with me but the boy she was with made fun of me and teased me for having a crush on her. I wanted to run away and hide forever. She didnt want to watch the movie with me but she told the boy that I was nice and that he should stop teasing me.
By this time we could swim out to the raft without Dad being with us. The raft was way out in the bay of big beach. It attached to a thick rope that ran to the boardwalk. The other side attached to a rock island that was farther out. If you got tired, you could hang onto the rope and pull yourself along. If a lot of kids did that, the rope would sink and you had to swim again. It was fun to swim out and be so far from Mom and Dad lying on the beach. When we went late in the summer, the jellyfish came out. There were hundreds and thousands of these small, clear, slimy creatures. Out on the raft wed catch them and throw them at other boys or stick them in the girls bathing suits who might scream if you were lucky.
Past the end of big beach was a trail that went through the woods. It came out to another rocky beach where people would walk. Not many people stayed there all day though. Sometimes Id see the remains of last nights bonfire. I wondering if older kids had been drinking, kissing, and things like that. Maybe Jen and her boyfriend had been there last night. I wish it could have been me. If you wanted to explore you could also get there by climbing along the ocean rocks. There were small and big rocks all covered with seaweed and barnacles. You could see all kinds of animals there like crabs and small fish. When the tide went out, the seaweed and barnacles would dry up and I wondered how they survived being out of the water like that.
Colleen, Dad, and I would pile into the blue Chevy station wagon to go skating
at the town pond. Wed bundle up in our winter jackets, hats, and mittens
per order of Mom. Wed throw our skates into the way back. I had a pair
of beat up brown hockey skates like Dads. Like most girls, Colleen had
white figure skates. The pond would have to be safe before you could go skating.
This was determined by the men from the town drilling a hole in the ice and
seeing how deep it was. We liked to talk over just how thick safe was. I said
that one foot deep was enough. I liked to look at the ice and try and figure
out how deep it was. I'd wonder if it was safe.
It was hard to tell how thick the ice was after everyone skated on it and scuffed it up. There were long cracks you could follow all over the pond. Id was scared when Id hear the cracks shift and creak as they adjusted to the weight of all the skaters. But you could stop skating and try and have a look and see how deep the ice was if thats what you wanted to do.
The second way that you knew the pond was safe was that Mr. Moschetti didnt fall into it with the town plow. Each year after it snowed, hed drive a little Jeep with a plow around the pond getting all the snow off for us. Every few years, the plow would fall through the ice with Mr. Moschetti in it. Wed talk about how scary it was and how he got out. He must look up and find the light and swim towards the hole. How did he get out of the Jeep? He must not lock the doors. I wonder if the Jeep goes to the bottom before he jumps out. I bet he takes his coat and shoes off so he can swim easier. You could drown with all that weight. What if you got stuck away from the hole and couldnt find it and you were trapped against the ice? I bet he fell in near the channel. Thats the weakest part. I wonder if theyll get the Jeep out in the summer? The next day in the Enfield Press, there would be a picture of the hole in the ice where the Jeep fell in. Mr. Moschetti lived on our street so we were all celebrities.
Wed drive downtown and pull into the town pond parking lot. Dad parked the blue Chevy wagon with the three speed shifter on the column against old telephone poles that were laying down and serving as a barrier so you wouldnt drive into the pond. Then wed get our skates on. This was long and difficult. There were so many holes to lace up and Dad said they had to be tight so you could skate right. But sometimes Dad would do them too tight and my feet would go to sleep.
Wed put on the mittens that Mom knit us. Each one had a string on it that wed tie to our huge winter jackets so they we wouldnt lose them. Wed still lose them. Older people like Dad got to wear gloves. Wed put on our hockey caps. Dad always wore one too and it had a big ball on the end. Hed skate around gracefully and smile. The big ball on the hat bopped up and down. Hed show off and skate backwards too. I saw older boys and girls skating together hand in hand and wonder why theyd want to do that. Some people skated with a cigarette in their hand. Dad skated around and then skated back to us to see how we were doing. Sometimes there would be some wooden saw horses around the spot where the Jeep went in. I liked to go and look at the hole where Mr. Moschetti almost got killed.
One winter when it was really cold, you could skate down the channel. I imagined that I was in the Netherlands and that I skated to school, to home, and to my friends houses; the whole town was connected by canals. The channel was blocked off after a certain point but you could go pretty far.
My toes and fingers would freeze after a while and wed try and get Dad to take us home. Wed pile back into the Chevy wagon again, take off our skates, and drive home. It was so wonderful to get those tight skates off and get into our big soft boots. When we got home, Dad made us some hot chocolate by heating up some milk and putting some chocolate syrup in it. The syrup came from a dark brown can in the refrigerator with aluminum foil on the top. My sister Colleen and I would try drinking the chocolate syrup from the can if we were really hungry and Mom and Dad weren't around. There were some other things you could eat if you were really hungry.
Bakers chocolate didnt taste very good. Im sure Mom got that kind on purpose so she could actually do some baking and make brownies. When I got older, I could reach the freezer and get to the chocolate chips. They were semi-sweet so they only tasted semi-good. I was careful not to take too many at one time so Mom wouldnt notice and yell at you when she went to make brownies. You had to be careful not to eat too many sweet red cherries in the little glass jar stored on the side of the refrigerator. But I could only eat six or seven without feeling a little queasy.
When I was a little older, Id go play hockey with the other boys on the
street after school. Wed walk down past the high school to the farmers
pond. A huge willow tree draped over the pond. The willow branches sometimes
fell and froze into the top of the ice. That made for a surprise when you skated
over them. There were red tobacco barns in the fields past the pond. Each year
the graduating class would paint the roof with something about their class like
73 IS THE BEST EVER. We were never quite sure if it was okay to
be there. Id worry that the old farmer guy would come kick us out. Maybe
he had a shotgun with a load of salt in it to scare us off. In the summer, wed
go fish there but never catch very much. There were stories of a big huge six
foot carp that could pull your fishing pole right out of your hands and three
feet wide snapping turtles who would seem like slow moving stones if you caught
them and who would bite your hand off if they got close to you. We never went
swimming in the pond.
The Griggly boys were the best hockey players and they went on to play in leagues at skating rinks where you could skate inside but had to play late at night. Their father Wendell was Czechoslovakian and I think that had something to do with it with them being so good at hockey. Wendell always had a big smile and a good joke for us kids.
I was small and got pounded a lot in hockey and football. In football I liked to be an end because I could run fast but I couldn't catch too well so I was put on the front line where Id get hammered by bigger kids. Peter Moschetti always was either quarterback or end. He later went on to be the high school football star at Enfield High.
One year there was a freak storm that covered all the trees, wires, houses,
with a thick layer of ice. I went out after the storm by myself to look around.
It was snowing and I looked up into the sky to watch the snow and catch some
snowflakes on my tongue. They told us in school that no two snowflakes were
alike and I liked to think about that. I wasnt so sure how they knew though.
Had they checked every one with every other one? That day the power was out
and it was quiet and peaceful. No one else was out yet except for me.
I went over to the McGuires house and looked around the empty lot next to their house. The trees and wires were all bent over under the heavy load. I went into a big huge sewer pipe left over from construction and lay there looking outside at the snow. I imagined that I had been in a war with the Germans and was wounded. I was lying there dying with no one to help me. Finally a beautiful blond nurse came in and found me lying there moaning, groaning, and dying. She came and lay next to me and warmed me up. She fixed me up. I was well again, very warm, and thankful for being rescued.
Grampa and Grandmas old house was good to visit because I had aunts and
uncles that still lived there and they still had some fun in them. Caroline
Caronna was Italian like my grandparents and lived on Hillside Avenue next to
the old house. Her father ran Caronnas liquor store that was right next
to the little parking lot for skating at the town pond. Caroline was in my class
at Saint Josephs. She had long dark hair, dark skin, and a large prominent
nose. There were other kids on the street too like Steven Cardoni. The Cardonis
were a family of tall and skinny giants. Mr. and Mrs. Cardoni were both over
six feet and his older sisters were kind but also really tall and a little scary.
Steven was a good friend though. Steve, Billy OBrian, and I would get
together and talk things over. We were the brains in school and we had to stick
Caroline Caronnas grandmother was the oldest person around. Every day she went to Latin Mass and youd see her every Sunday right there in the front row. She didnt know much English and was a real mystery to us. She wore black handkerchiefs over her wiry, gray hair. Her gnarled hands were always working a rosary. She was very small and short and her back was stooped over. It didnt seem like much fun to me, going to church every day and saying the rosary all the time. I couldnt imagine actually wanting to go to Church every day when you didnt even have too?
Later my grandparents moved to a nearby street with no kids on it. All my aunts
and uncles had moved out by then so the house was boring. All the interesting
stuff like my uncles model airplanes were carefully packed away and Grandpa
didnt like us messing around with them.
All the streets in our neighborhood were parallel and sloped down to the Connecticut River. They started on Enfield Street (which had really big houses, rich people, and a cemetery) and ran down to the railroad tracks next to the river. They were divided in half by Pearl Street. On the other side of the tracks were woods, paths, and the river where we could go after we had reached a certain age and get into trouble.
There were many vacant lots in the neighborhood where houses hadnt been built yet. They had all different kinds of trees in them. Weeping willows were my favorite. They were huge and had long, skinny, flexible branches that made great swords, whips, and noise makers. I liked Sumac trees because they were easy to climb. They werent too sturdy though. If you went too high or had two kids climb them, the tree would bend over and crack and be useless for climbing. Many lots near the tracks were vacant back then and wed play in them for hours. Wed climb trees, build tree forts, build hay forts along a small four foot high fence, bother ants, catch snakes, look under rocks, catch lightning bugs in jars, dig holes, and make irrigation projects when it rained. Now there are houses on these lots that look like all the other houses on the street.
Sometimes the men would leave big dirt piles in the vacant lots after theyd built a new house. There was a giant one next to Wayne Russells. Wed play king of the mountain on it and throw each other off and get very dirty. I never did like to take a bath at night before bed. One time when playing king of the mountain I tried to see just how dirty I could get. You could tell by the size of the ring you left around the tub. I set the record that day. Even Mom said so.
Wayne had a pool table and record player in his basement so we boys would go over there. He had race cars too. It was real exciting when a new Beatles or Monkees 45 came out. Youd have to try and get someones older brother or sister to play it for you or play it when they werent around. One night in the summer our parents let us sleep under the stars at Waynes. Wed lie there and count the falling stars. I think some of the counts were a little exaggerated. I know mine were. Well, it was hard to say you didnt see it too if someone else spotted one. Wed worry about older kids hassling us if they were cutting through Waynes yard especially Tommy and Eddy Carter. You could never tell what they might do. We had heard some stories. When we woke in the morning our sleeping bags were covered with dew.
At the end of the fields lay the train tracks - one pair for each direction
- that ran from Springfield to New Haven. On the other side of these tracks
were more fields filled with grass, trees, and bushes. Well worn, light colored,
sandy paths ran through the fields. There were openings where you could climb
down the twenty foot high cliff worn through the rocks by the river. Then you
came to the shores of the Connecticut River
You had to be thirteen or fourteen to go on the tracks and down the river. One day before supper I was down the fields. I wasnt old enough to go on the tracks yet. On the tracks that night were the Carter brothers - Tommy and Eddy - from the yellow house across the street.
Every house on Gordon Avenue had two parents living in it and at least three children. Everyone went to Saint Patrick's church on Sunday whether they wanted to or not - all except the Carters. Their mother had moved out of the house - a first for our street. She had funny-looking blond hair in a big high hairdo, wore lots of brightly colored make-up, and had long fingernails. Their Dad was a thin and wiry man with a voice that buzzed. He seemed very nervous and always had a pipe in his mouth. They were allegedly Protestant although no one saw them go to Church on Sundays. We figured that Church was optional for Protestants and we were envious of this religion where you could skip Church if you weren't up for it. They didn't go to Saint Joseph's either and they had the reputation of being the meanest and most dangerous kids on the street if not the whole neighborhood.
None of the parents wanted their kids playing with the Carter brothers. Tommy was the oldest. He had dark hair and a hard, cold, thin face. Tommy was cruel looking and no one would be surprised if he was found torturing animals or worse. Eddy had blond hair, a round face, a missing tooth, and a great big smile. He loved to talk and lie and he could talk you into doing all kinds of things you knew you shouldn't be doing.
This night right before supper Tommy and Eddy were along the railroad tracks winging rocks around. The tracks were full of these one inch long, hard, gray rocks all the same size and shape. Since I wasnt old enough to go on the tracks, I decided to spy on Tommy and Eddy.
I was hiding and crawling along the bushes and sneaking behind trees while Tommy and Eddy were winging rocks out towards the river. I imagined that I was an important spy in World War II for America and I was there to track and report back on the activity of these evil enemy agents. I must have made too much noise because Tommy and Eddy got wind of my spying activities and didnt seem to like it one bit judging by the names they were calling me.
I stayed longer than I should have because I thought I had America on my side. I figured that if I got hurt I could be taken care of by a beautiful nurse who would make me well again in ways I didnt have all the details about yet. They came closer to where I was hiding behind a thinly covered bush. They started winging rocks at me and CONK! One thrown by Tommy hit me smack on top of the head.
That put a quick end to my spying mission; I ran up to my house bleeding and crying. It really hurt and when I put my hand up there I could feel the wet blood in my hair. I told my Mom and Dad that Id been playing peacefully in the fields when Tommy Carter hit me in the head with a rock for no good reason.
I never saw my father so mad. His opinion of Tommy Carter was not too high even before this incident. He got red in the face and the veins in his forehead and neck were sticking out. The muscles in his arms and shoulders got big and hard like I had never seem them before. His voice thundered out that he was going to teach Tommy Carter to pick on someone his own size that I guess meant my father although it turned out my father was a lot bigger and stronger than Tommy Carter. I never heard that voice before and it seemed ready to lash out at anything including a young boy who had maybe been doing something he was supposed to be doing and hadnt told the exact truth.
I was more afraid of my father's temper and what he was going to do at that point than the wound on my head. I couldn't understand why he'd want to go beat up Tommy Carter if he didn't want Tommy to beat me up. But I knew that I couldn't tell him this. So I kept quiet and my mother took me to the hospital where I got my head shaved where the rock landed and where I got ten stitches. I was embarrassed about getting hit on the head with a rock because I stayed there too long after I could have run away and as far as I knew no one else had ever gotten hit on the head with rock by Tommy Carter or anyone else for that matter.
I don't think my father ever taught Tommy Carter a lesson but he did go over after he calmed down and talked to Mr. Carter. I don't think their talk made much difference seeing how Tommy and Eddy kept on causing trouble anyway I was worried that they would beat me up for telling on them but they left me alone for a while.
I wondered for a long time about how they taught us at school about loving your enemies and turning the other cheek but how grown-ups didn't seem to follow their own advice. I thought about the families we watched with Dad on Sunday nights on Walt Disney. Bad stuff would happen but the family would talk to their kids and everyone loved each other in the end.
The Jacavitchs lived on the very last house on Gordon Avenue. They started
building at Pearl Street and went down to the train tracks and the river. So
they had the newest house on the street. It was the only house on the street
with aluminum siding (which was white), a two car garage, and a breezeway. Billy
was a year older than me and Jimmy was a year younger. We liked to play whiffle
ball along the side of their house next to the fields. Billy especially liked
it because he was good at it. He was bigger than me, strong, and good looking.
Mr. Jacavitch even built him a little pitchers mound. Billy later went
on to be a star pitcher in little league. Next to the whiffle ball field was
a three foot high wire fence. On the other side were the fields next to the
railroad tracks. At the end of the summer, the grass turned to hay. Wed
find boards and make hay forts using the fence as one side and slope down a
roof onto the whiffle ball field. We make a floor of hay. Inside it was dark
and cozy and a good place to hide out when we played war or to talk about our
Sometimes big kids lit fires in the grass fields and the fire engines would come down to the bottom of the street and put them out. Once we saw Tommy and Eddy Carter light one next to their house. Mr. Jacavitch was really mad. When I was older and could go down to the river, wed light fires too. Sometimes wed run and sometimes wed put them out ourselves. One time we lit a big one near the river and we used our jackets to put it out. The firemen came and we walked up and told them we found it and put it out. Actually Timothy Griggly told them because I was afraid and ready to blurt out the whole thing. My plaid fall jacket smelled of smoke pretty bad and I had to make up a story to tell my mother when I got home and hung up my jacket.
We would hang up our jackets on hooks at the top of the cellar stairs. One time we went up to visits the Fixes, some friends of Mom and Dads in Vermont. They had a really old farm house in the middle of the woods. I remember that we had to drive down many bumpy dirt roads to get there. At night, I liked to walk outside and look at the stars. I had never seen so many stars before. I wondered if there were other people living out there on those stars. There was a big rope swing in front of the house and woods to go walking and exploring in. We came back one day in the early spring and stopped for pizza in Brattleboro, Vermont. I had on my new winter coat that Mom had just got for me. I didnt want to wear it because it wasnt spring yet and I didnt like the one she bought me either. We had a big fight over it. I left it in the pizza place by mistake and didnt realize it until we got home. I was really afraid Mom would be really mad at me for leaving it there so I didnt say anything. I worried all summer and early fall about what would happen when fall came and I needed my winter coat. I played dumb when winter came around and said I had left it on the hook the year before.
I liked to stay over the Jacavitchs for dinner, especially if they had spaghetti. My mother and grandmother couldnt understand why I liked Mrs. Jacavitchs spaghetti sauce so much. She made it out of Campbells tomato soup. Our family was Italian and we made it from scratch. I also liked the stuffed cabbage and the guwompkees she made. Sometimes I got to sleep over too. In the summer, they let us sleep on the breezeway. We would go out into the fields and catch fireflies and put them in jars with holes punched in the top. Then wed bring them in and watch them and read Archie comic books with our flashlights until we fell asleep. Billy and Jimmy had two sisters who were teenagers. I thought one of them liked me. They other one didnt like kids. Wed go and look around their rooms. They had things like bras, dresses, make-up, and Motown records.
Martin Bukowskis father worked at Milton Bradley in Springfield. His father
always brought Martin toys that he could test out. It seemed like Martin always
had the latest bike. He was always smiling and joking around and he had curly
brown hair and had many freckles like me. His Dad was a really big man who was
always smoking a pipe. Youd smell it as soon as you went into his house.
I liked to go visit Martins house on Orchard Hill - the next street over.
Sometimes all of us from Gordon Avenue would go over and play with the kids
from Orchard Hill where Martin, Debbie Carrigan, and Eddy and Ellen Malley lived.
It was called Orchard Hill because there were some old apple trees in the fields
on the upper part of the street. Martin had a big yard on the side of his house
with a fence on both sides. It was perfect for playing Red Rover and dodge ball.
We had the biggest games ever there when the kids from both Gordon Avenue and
Orchard Hill got together.
There were woods in back of Martins house that ran along the tracks and ran to Green Valley where we used to live. Right behind Martins house was a huge old tree that still had the remains of an old tree fort in it. The tree was as thick as a car. I was sad when Martin and his family moved down south. One time he came back for a visit and I couldnt wait to see him. We were up on Enfield Street at his cousins and Martin said we should visit a haunted house his cousin knew about. So we went into this old house that no one lived in anymore. I was afraid the police would come and get us and that we would get into trouble. Inside Martin told me about what it was like in his new town. He told me about having sex with girls and smoking marijuana and he seemed disappointed that I hadnt done any of that in Enfield yet. I couldnt tell how much of what he said was true but he had changed. He talked differently and wanted to break into houses.
Near the old deserted house was the old cemetery on Enfield Street. Wed go up there sometimes and look around. If we were really bored, wed go at night and look at the oldest tombstones of the founders of Enfield. They were dark black, chipped, and had funny letters and pictures of skulls on them. In back were these little stone buildings where whole families were buried in drawers inside the building. Wed stay as long as we could before we got the creeps.
My parents friends, the Radkas, lived all the way in Buffalo, New York.
I liked to go up and see them but we had to drive eight hours to get there.
Eight hours with my sister and me in the back seat. We played license plates
games but eventually we just ran out of things to do and the only thing left
to do was to fight. Mom would pack some food and we would eat in the car. I
liked to lay down in the back of the station wagon, curl up in my yellow blanket,
put my ear against the floor, and listen to the sound of the car and the road.
Sometimes it would put me to sleep. Id wonder if I was the really the
only person on the earth and the others were fakes set up for me. Or sometimes
I wondered if the world ended past where I could see and was set up like scenery
in a play as we drove by.
One time on the way to the Radkas, we were driving along and I heard a crash and heard Dad cursing. He had hit a beagle that was on the highway. A man in another car followed us and tried to get Dad to pull over. He and Mom had a fight over it and finally Dad pulled over. The guy told Dad he should have stopped and reported it. I remembered seeing the dog in the road and seeing it go down and bounce along the highway after we hit it. Dad and Mom were angry. Colleen and I were upset about the dog being killed. I lay back down and listened to the road and the car noises.
The Radkas had a big house in the country. Their back yard was so big Mr. Radka needed a tractor to mow the lawn. You could walk down to Lake Erie. A man on the way to the lake was building his own sailboat in his yard. Lake Erie was so big you couldnt see the other side. I wondered about all the big dead fish on the shore and the bad smell. Mr. Radka said the lake was very polluted from the iron works on the lake. It was sad to see the dead fish and the signs that said No Swimming. One time, Mark, Roger, and I took the long way back and got lost in some swamps. I thought that we might never get out. It was fun except that my shoes got wet and muddy. The Radkas had an old aunt there who couldnt get out of her wheelchair. They had to have a special bathroom for her. I wondered how she went. At night Mark, Roger, and I would all sleep on the floor in our sleeping bags.
One summer we went with the Radkas to Cape Cod and rented a house together. Mark and I found many horseshoe crabs. It was really fun and all the parents seemed happy to be together, even Mom and Dad. When we were driving home we crossed the bridge to the Cape and I felt really sad when I though about how fun it was. I hid my face in my pillow and didnt let anyone see me. That was the last time we went on vacation with the Radkas.
My Aunt Margaret lived in Boston for a while after she went to Dental Hygienist school. One time, Mom and Dad let Colleen and I spend the whole day with her. She lived in an apartment with other roommates and they were all nurses like Margaret with white uniforms, nice shoes, and big smiles. They had the longest hallway I had ever seen that went all the way through the whole apartment. We drove around in her red MG with the top down and went to the zoo.
One day at school they separated the boys and the girls and took the boys to
the gymnasium for a movie. No one understood the film but it had something to
do with sex. When I got to be fourteen, Mom handed me a book about sex to read.
She had other books on sex in her bookshelf that I used to read when no one
was around. They had better pictures and explanations than the one she gave
me. I hit a gold mine one time when we visited a friend of Moms in Springfield.
They left me alone and I found a copy of Everything Youve Always Wanted
To Know About Sex But Were Afraid To Ask. I still had a lot of questions
after reading it.
At the Enfield Teen Center theyd have bands and dances for the teenage kids who I thought were scary and dangerous. Something different was going on with them. Even my father was growing his hair longer. My mother was the first mother to have a job and they started singing folk masses in Church. My mother and father taught CYO to the older kids for the church in our cellar. Im not sure what they talked about but it seemed really interesting to me. One time, they were talking to the older kids about sex. Colleen and I hid at the top of the cellar stairs and tried to see what we could find out.
We used to pretend we were the Beatles. I always wanted to be John because that
was my name and he was my favorite. I didnt always get my way though and
sometimes I had to be Ringo. Mrs. Moschetti took a movie of us one time when
four of us were being the Beatles. We dressed up and everything.
The Moschettis had the biggest house on the street and always had the most toys. Later, they got a huge pool made of wood stained red that took up most of their backyard. Sometimes when it was hot out Id go over and see if Peter and John wanted to play hoping Mrs. Moschetti would ask me if I wanted to go swimming. Their old aunt Yeya would always be sitting at the kitchen table. I wondered if she ever moved. She was short and wide, and had an ancient face. She'd say to me in a thick Italian accent, Look, its Essies boy. Hey, Jonny, how you doing? If you answered her, shed look confused and go back to reading her Italian newspaper.
The Moschettis had a very dark basement with some old brown couches on both sides of the room where Peter and John Moschetti and I would watch TV. I liked to watch the shows with wild animals from Africa on them. Wed pretend we were different animals and wrestle with each other on the couch. I liked to be a cheetah because he was fast and I could run fast. Mr. Moschetti had a bar down there with all kinds of dusty bottles with foul smelling stuff in them and many different kinds of glasses. In the part of the basement that was not done, they had a waist high freezer where we could sometimes find ice cream.
The best part of the year was when they changed the clocks so it was light out after supper. You knew school was going to be over soon and you could go out and play after supper. Wed all gather at the telephone pole between our house and Ricky VanNostrands and try to get something going. The best game was hide and go seek. Wed choose someone to be it and start the game. Whoever was it would close their eyes and count to one hundred. The Moschettis and VanNostrands had huge, big, green bushes all planted close together as a kind of fence for their backyards. You could go between those bushes and not be seen. One time I hid way up the street in some bushes and no one found me so I finally came out after a while. If you got caught, you had to help find everyone else. After a while the kids that were found would call out Olly, olly, ump free and you came back to the telephone pole and started again. When it started to get dark, it was even harder to find people. Then wed all start hearing our mothers and fathers start calling out the front doors for us to come in, take a bath, and go to bed.
We didnt use the our front door except to get the mail. One time I was
bored and looking for something to do. I found some old boards down the fields
and brought them up. I thought it would be a good idea to make a diving board
right there on the front steps and try jumping off. So put a board on the steps
and put some rocks on the board to hold the board down and tried it. Well, there
was a rusty nail on the board and when I stepped on the board it flipped over
and that nail went right into the top of my left foot.
A lot of kids step on dirty nails and get them in the bottom of their foot but I was unique in getting it up top. It was hard to explain to the doctor about how it happened but he cleaned it out and gave me a shot.
In second grade, we had our first communion and it was a big deal for the nuns,
my parents, and especially my grandparents. We had to line up by height and
so youd have to go up with the girl that was lined up with you. Michael
Novak was always the shortest every year and he had to go first. I lined up
second with Geraldine Brigada. I didnt really understand girls too well
but she seemed nice enough. I got teased because everyone said she had a crush
on me. One time, she invited me over to her house to play and I went. Geraldine
lived downtown right across from Saint Patricks. They had the second floor
of an old white house. Her house was fun because her Dad was a TV repairman
and he showed me the insides of all these old TV's he was fixing. The tubes
glowed yellow-brown after they warmed up and made a buzzing sound. They smelled
old and musty. Geraldine and I tried to have fun together but mostly she had
dolls and stuff I thought was boring. But she did have a pussy willow bush in
Geraldine cut me off a branch and Mom and I put it a glass when I got home. We later planted it in the front yard where I wanted it. Every year it grew bigger and bigger. It was hard to believe it came from one little branch given to me in second grade by Geraldine Brigada who had a crush on me.
The electric meter was at the front of the house next to the garage. It had numbers on it that went at different speeds - the ones in black on the right were the fastest. It was enclosed in a glass bowl that looked like something you should put fishes in. Inside was a wheel that spun around that showed how much electricity was being used. I liked to use it to see how fast I could run around the house. I would check the number, run around the house as fast as I could, and then check the number again. Then Id catch my breath and try again. It was kind of hard to use it as a gauge for my running speed though because itd go at a different speed all the time. I showed my sister Colleen once and she didnt believe that it had to do with how much electricity was being used. So we went inside the house and turned on all the lights and everything else we could think off. And sure enough the wheel was really moving and the black digits were really rolling. Mom wasnt too happy when she found all the lights and appliances on.
When the thunderstorms came in the hot summers, we couldn't go out until the
thunder stopped. I couldn't wait to get outside and feel the warm water against
my feet. I could tell how strong the storm was by the strength of the streams
going down each side of the street. The waters rippled in crosshatched patterns
all the way to the bottom of the street where it ran into the grass. Wed
save all our popsicle sticks for moments like this and race them down the street.
Sometimes theyd get hung up on rocks or go off onto the drier part of
the street. The water was very warm and brown, not cold and clear like it was
for lesser rain storms. Giant earthworms would come out of the ground. Some
would get stuck in puddles and drown and turn white and pale.
Near the bottom of the street was a field with small weeds that looked like little trees. Id make dams to save people and the animals from the great flood. Sometimes youd have to build canals so that the water flowed where you wanted it to flow. Even then, it would sometimes break through and drown everyone and wreck the town.
At the bottom of the street, the water poured into the weeds and formed a large puddle. Id walk through it and the water would come up to my knees. I'd wonder what kind of animals and bugs and rocks I might be stepping on. But Id go through with bare feet feeling the cool sand between my toes. Right before the puddle, the streams dumped sand onto the blacktop of our street. It would form patterns that looked like the pictures of the Mississippi delta I saw in the encyclopedia. I remember being fourteen and suddenly getting hay fever when I would go down to the bottom of the street into the fields I had played in all my life.
I had an old brown record player in my room. It could play 78s, 45s,
or 33s. You could stack up a whole bunch of records on top of each other
although sometimes two would come down at once. I liked to try different speeds
even if they were the wrong ones - especially for Alvin and the Chipmunks. Id
listen to Burl Ives and Ranger Andy sing old folk songs like Home On The
Range. Ranger Andys record had a purple and black cover with some
trees on it. He was on television in Hartford and you could watch him after school.
I never got to go to the real show but some kids at school went for their birthdays.
The cover was so beaten up that the record would fall out when you picked it up
so Mom taped it with masking tape. The sleeve had been lost long ago. One of my
other favorites was The Sorcerers Apprentice from Walt Disney.
The jacket had a book inside it with pictures for each part of the story. Id
follow along as the record played. It was a scary story; all the brooms come alive
and chase Mickey Mouse.
My bed had a piece of gray metal that ran along the edges so that the bottom mattress wouldnt fall out. I had the same blanket ever since I could remember. It was yellow with green stripes and it was decorated with flowers. The smooth satiny part where it was nice to put your face was starting to fall off. One day I put my records between that piece of metal and the mattress. They fit in there really well. I forgot them and decided to jump up and down on my bed because I put a good song on the record player. I sure regretted doing that when I heard many of my records - especially the 45s - shatter and fall onto the floor. I was more careful after that and decided I should keep them in an old, beat-up, tan box with hinges and a handle on top that Mom had given me. It was too small for 33s though so I kept those in the bottom part of my bright red dresser.
The red dresser was divided into two parts. On the right were drawers where I kept valuable stuff like baseball cards, radios and walkie talkies I had taken apart but never been able to get back together, old coins Grandpa had given me, my chess pieces, and my money that I tried to hide from my sister Colleen. On the right hand side was a place to hang up my pants, shirts, and ties that I had to wear to school every day. I also hung up my church clothes that I had to wear on Sundays. Mom would make sure I hung up my pants so that they wouldnt get wrinkled. I stored my records behind the clothes that were hanging up.
I also had a wooden dresser with three big drawers in it where I would keep all the clothes that needed folding. Each drawer had two brass handles. After you closed the drawer, theyd bounce off the brass plate for a while making a nice sound. The top drawer was for underwear and socks. In the middle were shirts and sweaters, and in the bottom were jeans and pants you could play in and didnt have to hang up. Mom did the laundry and left our clothes at the bottom of the stairs. She always yelled at us to take our clothes up. It seemed like I always had something better to do though. I forgot so she would always yell up the stairs to take up our clothes instead of coming up and asking us to take them up. She did it to my father too yelling downstairs in his to take out the trash or bring something up. We all spend a lot of time in hiding. Colleen and I upstairs and Dad downstairs.
In my room, I had a cage with Jerry the Gerbil in it. Jerry was my pal. He had
a squeaky wheel he liked to run in over and over again - especially at night when
I was trying to sleep. Jerry also liked it if you put a cardboard tube from toilet
paper into his cage. He would run through it and eventually chew it up and make
his bed out of it. Jerry was forever hoarding his food away. I would take him
out and try and hold him sometimes but he didnt seem to like it too much
so Id have to just watch him. You had to be careful though they didnt
get away when you let them out. My sister Colleen lost one of her hamsters that
way. We all thought he escaped into the eaves off our rooms but we never did find
that hamster. Id wonder where he could be and what happened to him.
One day I looked in the cage and Jerry was just lying there stiffly. I touched him and he didnt move at all. I found Mom and asked her about it and she said he was dead. I couldnt believe Jerry had died and that I could never play with him again. I started crying and asking Mom why over and over again. Mom and Dad said I should put him in a bag and take a shovel down to the fields and bury him in the ground. Mom and Dad didnt want to go down so I went by myself. I was crying hard and afraid that the other kids would see me crying. I said good bye to Jerry and buried him. It just didnt seem fair that he wouldnt be around anymore. I wanted to be held by Mom and Dad and told it was OK. They seemed upset that I was so upset and told me it was only a pet and that I could get another one. I didnt get another gerbil after that.
I named Jerry after my uncle Jerry. Uncle Jerry is my fathers brother and he looks like my Dad. He is taller though and has darker hair unlike my fathers gray hair. Jerry talked funny like they do up in Boston but was always smiling, making jokes, and teasing you. He was fun to be around. His wifes name was Gerry so we called them Jerry and Gerry. I wasnt sure if my gerbil was a boy gerbil or a girl gerbil at first so I named it Jerry. Jerry was a cop just like my Uncle Michael. They both lived in Brookline where my father had grown up.
I could always tell we were getting near my Uncles house because we got close to the big antenna towers. I liked to look at them and see how they were shaped differently and Id wonder which ones were for television and which ones were for radio. No one I asked seemed to know. Id look at the little ladder going up the tower and wonder about what it would be like to climb up there. After we went by the towers, wed get off the highway. I knew wed be really close when I would see a tall, weathered, wooden fence that ran right along one side of the road. Soon wed be out of the car and be there.
One time, I was eating tomato soup with Uncle Jerry. He liked to put Oyster crackers in his and he gave me some. Oyster crackers were fun because you could put a lot of them in and dunk them under the soup and then bite them in half. Uncle Jerry saw me playing with my Oyster crackers and started talking about how they were ships in the war and he started to bombard some of mine with his spoon. So I attacked his bowl too and sunk some of his. Theyd come back to the surface after a while though. I always asked Mom to get Oyster crackers after that but we never did. We always had the square Saltines at home - the kind without any salt on them.
My aunt Brenda and my Uncle Bobby also lived near Boston. For a while they lived in a three story house where each family had one floor and you had to ring a buzzer - the right one - and climb stairs to get to their house. As you went in the door, youd see a huge old black stove that used to use coal. Brenda said it didnt work anymore but that her and my Dads mother used to use something like it to cook dinner for the whole family. Brenda and her sister Jane used to like to sit around a big card table and do crossword puzzles with zillions of pieces in them. Theyd let us help but I never could find too many of the right pieces. Jane would always tease us, or my father, or Brenda and shed frown at us all before breaking out into a big laugh.
They left Colleen and me alone there once. First we went out the back porch. There were only some thin wooden boards separating us from the pavement three stories below. It was fall and the trees shed hundreds of their helicopter seeds right there on the porch. I liked to drop them off the porch and follow their long journey to the pavement below. Colleen and I found some big wooden matches - the kind you can strike on anything to get going. We carefully tried some of them out on the windowsill in the room we were staying in. We put the box of matches back but the grown-ups smelled the smoke from the matches when they got back. We got into trouble over that especially since it wasnt even our own house they said we almost burned down. It didnt seem to matter that we were careful and that we told them over and over that we werent actually trying to burn down the house.
My parents had one set of friends I really liked. They were fun, showed us neat
things, and even let us fool around with some of their stuff. Dick was a photographer
for the Enfield Press and he had a darkroom in his house. Hed show me
how pictures got developed. Everything looked really different under the little
red light that he had. One time we went over to their little white house on
Enfield Street. They let us stay up way past our bedtimes and we got to watch
the Adams Family while the grown-ups talked and drank wine. I was sad when they
moved to a town called Barnstable on Cape Cod but we got to visit them in the
summer. Their house attached to a garage and in between the garage and the house
was a little room with a big window. It had electricity in and everything. They
let Colleen and I sleep out there on some cots and sleeping bags. We set up
our own little house out there. Nearby was a hammock where you could lay down
and fall asleep or try and flip your sister off if she was on it.
Dick and Barbara had two Siamese cats. One was really friendly but one would never come out of hiding so you could see her. One year my brother Timothy, who was three years old, put his hand up on the stove. Boy, did he ever cry and cry and cry. After he came home from the hospital, they gave him some whiskey so hed go to sleep. Sometimes Dick and Barbara took us out to old cranberry bogs in their blue VW beetle. Wed find old gray cranberry boxes which Dick would take and wed also take some home. We picked bayberries. When we got home, Barbara would let us melt down the bayberries and wax and make our own candles. They smelled really good while you made them. Dick sometimes took us to the dunes where we would look for old boats and Indian heads. Dick told us all kinds of stories about everything and he made jokes all the time. One time, he took us to see a huge rock. It was the biggest boulder I had ever seen. Dick told us about how it came from glaciers in the ice age. The same day we went to a big tower made of rock that we climbed. We could see the ocean and the Cape. Dick knew all about the tower, who made it and why it was there. I always wondered how he knew about all these great places to go and see and. It didnt seem like other grown-ups were interesting in things they way Dick was.
The den was a scary place. Thats where Colleen and I were sent when we
were bad. We might get sent there just to sit for a while. We would sit quietly
and wonder if we would be hit. We might get the wooden spoon which Mom or Dad
would hit us on the back of the hand with. If we were really bad, we would get
Dads belt on the rear end. That really smarted. Id rather go first
and get it over with. Dads face would turn red and his muscles would look
even bigger that usual. Hed ask us why we were making Mom so mad. Mom
used to say to us, You kids are going to drive me into the mental institution.
There was a big brown couch in there that had a bed inside it. Sometimes Aunts and Uncles would come over and they would sleep there. If Colleen or I were really sick, we might get to sleep downstairs next to Mom and Dads room. The encyclopedia was also in the den. I liked to take out different ones and open up any page to see what I could learn. I liked reading about all the different kinds of stuff in there like different animals and countries. There was a huge dictionary there that was so big it came in two parts. It was called Websters Unabridged. That means that they didnt leave anything out. You could tell that too by reading it. I liked to look up new words and try then out. Mom thought I was really smart. I liked to look up good words that I could use with my sister when we were fighting. So I would call her licentious and things like that and she would get really upset because she didnt know what it meant. Id tell her to look it up in the dictionary.
Mom kept an old brown sewing machine in the den. The cover was brown but the sewing machine itself was black with a big shiny silver wheel on one end. Mom would make curtains and bedspreads with it and sometimes clothes from patterns. She would hem my pants and sew buttons that had fallen off onto shirts and jackets. When Mom went back to school, she used the sewing machine less and she put in a corner. Then her school stuff started to appear - books and a big typewriter that sat on a flimsy gray metal table. Eventually Moms stuff took over the room and Dad stayed downstairs more.
Dad had his closet in the den. I liked to look in it and see what I could find. On the floor were all his shiny black shoes for work. And there was a wooden shoe box for polishing shoes. I could use it too to polish my own shoes. Inside were metal cans with shoe polish in them and a cloth to spread the polish on. Dad had different kinds of cloths and brushes to use later after they dried to make your shoes really shiny. There were all different kinds of shoe laces in there too so you could replace a pair if the broke. It always looked funny on your sneakers if you had one new white set and one old dirty set. You might have to run through a dirt pile to even them up. He had all kinds of ties and belts there too hanging up. His ties werent like the clip-on ones we had at Saint Josephs. He could tie them in a knot all by himself. His suits and jackets and trousers were all hung there for work. Mom always told Dad he should wear some different ties and shirts. Hed just give her a frown and a dirty look and ignore her. So she or my Grandparents would give him some new ones for Christmas that would hang there all year. We didnt really use the den for much though. Just for storing some books, getting punished, Aunts, and Dads clothes.
Wed wait for Dad to come home from work at five-thirty after Mr. Rogers was on. Sometimes hed be in a bad mood and Mom and Dad would be fighting right away. Some days were really bad and theyd keep going until late at night. Id lie in my bed tucked under my yellow blanket and red and black bedspread and look up at the ceiling. It was painted in circles. The white circles lined up in rows. The ceiling was flat on top but sloped down after a while to the sides. Right before the ceiling started to slope down, the circles stopped and there was plain white paint there. Then the rows of painted started again until the ceiling met the wall and there was another strip of plain white paint. The wallpaper in my room was black and white stripes going up and down from the ceiling to the floor. It reminded me of jail bars. Id look and watch the ceiling but I could hear their voices even though their door was closed. Id wonder what was happening. Were they going to get divorced? Would Dad hit Mom? Were they fighting over me? Maybe they didnt want me anymore. Was I bad?
Dad would go to his closet in the den first thing and Id follow him and watch him take off his shoes and coat and tie. Colleen and I would say to him when he walked in the door, Dad, did you get a raise today? We knew everyone was happy when Dad got a raise. One time Mom told us not to say it because Dad was working hard and couldnt always get a raise. A few weeks later he got a raise and we didnt get a chance to ask him about it.
There was a priest in Enfield that my parents were friendly with. His name was Father Tom Geckler. He liked for people to call him Tom. He was young, funny, and friendly - not like a priest was supposed to be. My parents helped him with CYO for teenagers and Dad would help at Mass. Father Geckler started folk masses at Saint Patrick's that I liked better that regular mass although I cant say I liked the folk masses real lot either. Mom especially seemed to like him. One day we found out that Father Geckler was going to work in Hartford in the inner city. I found Mommy crying later than night in her room. I couldnt figure out what was happening.
At first, our basement wasnt finished. It was just stairs with flimsy
wooden handrails and gray cement walls and floors. One day I went to look around
and I found myself slipping at the top of the stairs. I fell down as if I was
in slow motion and I wasnt able to do anything. I hit my head pretty good;
Mom and Dad said it was a good thing it was so hard. Later, men came to work
on the basement. It was finished with white ceiling tiles, green paneling, and
a red carpet on one half. It made a room where my father liked to go to watch
TV, work on crossword puzzles, smoke cigarettes, and work on restoring furniture.
It was humid down there in the summer so they bought a dehumidifier to take
the water out of the air. I liked to empty it into the washing machine but Mom
would yell at me for spilling it. It wasnt designed too well. When it
filled up, it shut itself off but the water was in a very large, black, plastic
tray all the way up to the top. Near Dads chair was a chill chaser that
blew hot air. When I was really cold, Id turn it all the way up and put
my shirt over it and get the warm air up right up my shirt.
I liked to see what the other kids had in their basements. Ricky VanNostrands was one of the best. His Dad worked at the airplane engine factory as a machinist. Downstairs he had all kinds of machines like saws, and lathes, and sanders. Everything was really clean and neat. He had big shelves of nails, nuts, and bolts - all carefully marked and labeled in baby food jars. If we needed some nails to build a fort, Rickys basement was usually the best bet. Their basement was not done with carpeting and paneling like ours. The walls were still concrete. Rickys father had a chest of guns that were locked up down there but you could look at them through the glass. Rickys Dad was the first one to take us down the river to fish and he showed us how before we knew what to do. When the river got low in the summer, wed put on some really old clothes and go lure hunting. The river was a hot spot for shad fishing so wed start about a mile down from the dam and walk up river. Wed pick up all kinds of hooks, weights, and lures just sitting there on rocks or in crevices or all knotted up in fish line. You had to have a knife to get some of the stuff out. This saved us a great deal of money. We each had a big blue Maxwell House Coffee can of fishing stuff we used when we went fishing. Sometimes wed even find expensive lures you could use for bass. Otherwise, you had to buy them or rip them off from Woolworths.
There were all kinds of ledges and channels in the river that you could only see when the water was low and you could walk almost all the way across. The ledges were made of shale that covered the river bottom. In the middle of the river was the channel. No one had ever seen the bottom of the channel even in the driest summer. When lure hunting, Id sometimes come upon a huge three or four foot carp that was lumbering nearby. Id jump about three feet after stirring one of them up.
Id go fishing just about every day. Id start in early spring after the ice chunks stopped floating by. In early spring the river was very high; sometimes there was almost no beach, just a thin strip of sand next to the cliffs. The suckers started to run first. They are ugly fish with great big round mouths that you could catch with worms. Soon more bottom fish started to appear: catfish, carp, and eels. Then the alewives started to run. The river would be full of them and wed catch them in nets along the dam or hook them with a fishing pole and hook and weight. I wasnt sure if this was really fishing or not and sometimes Mr. Van Nostrand would try and discourage us from hooking. There was every kind of fish in that river but I liked most to go bass fishing with a lure they called a rapella that looked like a small minnow. Youd have to know the river to do well at bass fishing. Id cast my lure really close to the bushes because thats where the bass fed. And if you cast into a bush or trees, you might lose your expensive lure. I learned all the places where the bass and the other kinds of fish were. Id fish a whole mile stretch of the river, going down especially at the best times like dusk and right after it rained. I loved to get out of the house and get to the quiet places where I knew the river, the fields, the cliffs, and the fish.
There was one place called Indian head that was a piece of land with sand on top. It jutted out like an upside down V and had high cliffs on both sides. On it, you could see the whole wide river, all the patterns the water made, the big island way downstream, and the farmland and big red barns across the river in Suffield. Right across from Indian head, a giant oak tree stood alone. I liked to just sit there and listen and look.
Later in the spring, shad ran. Enfield was a famous spot for shad fishing and people would come from all over to fish below the Enfield dam. Youd have to cast your shad lure along with all the other people along the shore and lines would get all tangled up. We liked it better after everyone left and we had the place to ourselves. People took motorboats out and fish from them. You had to be careful not to get too close to the powerful water of the dam though. It was smooth above the dam but fell about six feet and formed a huge back wave right below the dam.
One time, these men were coming too close to the dam. Sure enough, their boat got sucked into the backwater and the boat went straight into the dam and overturned. No one every saw those two men again although we all looked for them down river. I went down to the police station and talked to some officers about it and filled out a report. The police boats looked for them with anchors but they were never found.
When the water was lower, wed walk out on the dam to catch stripers and bass. It was scary if the water was high because the dam was covered with slippery green algae and the water flowed against the back of your knees as if it was trying to push you in. Wed wear our special river sneakers that smelled bad and got really beat up, gray, and stiff from being in the water. In the summer, I loved to walk out the dam near the fish ladder. The water stopped flowing there because the dam was high there but below the water was deep and full of bass and perch. One time I caught a pickerel that no one had never caught before. Now the big metal sheets of the dam have come off in places and no one can walk out there and fish in that really good spot where I used to fish.
It was in seventh grade that I noticed that the girls were changing and growing
breasts - especially Elise Keller and Caroline Caronna. Elise was a big and
friendly girl with bright red hair. She lived on Pearl Street almost to the
center of Thompsonville near Gourlie's and Tats and St. Patrick's. I liked
to stop and look at their house that was very large and had all kinds of nooks,
crannies, spires, and stained glass windows. It looked like it might be a witch
house. Elise came from a really large family. She moved away before we all graduated
from Saint Josephs and it was sad because wed all been together
since first grade and Id never been over to her house to get to know her
Every Sunday after Church, wed go to Tats and Dad would get the paper and cigarettes and hed treat us to one candy bar apiece - whatever we wanted. Men would be sitting around the counter, eating, talking, smoking, and reading the paper. It was great to get outside after being in Saint Patricks. It was dark and cold in there. In the front of the church over the cross was a huge, golden half sphere supported by huge marble columns. It came almost all the way to the tall ceiling. There were statues around the altar that seemed to be looking at you. Around the church were pictures of the stations of the cross in stained glass with blood and torture on them. It was good to get out of there and drive home by Elises house.
They had to do some alterations on her uniform I imagine. All the girls at St. Josephs - no matter what age - had the same uniform. It was a white shirt and a green plaid dress with black shoes and white socks. We boys had to wear a white shirt, a blue clip on tie, blue pants, and black shoes. The shirt had SJS embroidered on it and you had to buy it special at Sparazzas shoe store. The girls seemed like creatures from another world in seventh grade - like they knew something that we boys didnt. They didnt play with us at recess anymore and talked to each other a lot. I didnt know what they talked about but I often wondered.
In eighth grade, I had a crush on both Carol Gabriel and Ellen Malley. I still have a crush on Ellen Malley. Carol I guess I got over. I was too shy to talk to either one of them but I used to ride my bicycle all the way to the town line where I found out Carol lived. Carol was very friendly and smiled a lot. She also had breasts. Not all the girls did. So on Saturdays, Id ride all the way there hoping to run into her by chance. I never did. Id play songs from the Neil Young album After the Gold Rush which told of great and passionate love like what I was feeling for Carol. Each year there was a carnival at Saint Josephs. There were rides like the Ferris Wheel and another one that made you sick to your stomach and dizzy after you got off. I was hoping to talk to Carol or Ellen there but I just couldnt do it. What if they didnt like me?
Colleen and I used to try and play board games like Monopoly and Risk. Usually
it didnt work out too well. I loved to beat her and got mad if she won.
We had a hard time choosing who would be the banker. The banker usually won
because the banker would take some extra money to build some new houses. Risk
and Monopoly took forever to play.
Colleen and I both had chicken pox at the same time. Mom let us stay downstairs on the brown living room couch and watch television and lie under our blankets from upstairs. We started to fight and grab each other there on the couch. Colleen scratched off a pox that was right between my eyes where my nose starts. It started to bleed. I was so mad but I couldnt hit her back.
Later, we got into another fight and I hit her. She started crying like there was no tomorrow and went right downstairs to get Dad and to tell on me. I was scared of what he would do to me. He came upstairs yelling at me loudly. His face was tight and red. He grabbed me by the arm and dragged me outside. Dont you ever hit your sister! Dont you ever hit your sister! Ill show you what it feels like. And he hit me hard across the face. His arms and shoulders were so big and strong. I could see all his muscles through his shirt. I couldnt say a word but I was so mad that he hit me for hitting my sister. Why should he hit me if he didnt want me to hit her? I felt afraid to talk to him after that.
One time Colleen and her best friend Susan Casey were playing with their dolls in the garage. I brought my GI Joe out and we married GI Joe and Barbie. I wanted to play with their dolls but they wouldnt let me. They said I could only play with GI Joe.
When I was thirteen, I could go down to the river myself. I started hanging around with boys a year older than me. We discovered cigarettes that year. Wed steal them from a store downtown near Saint Patricks that didnt keep them behind the counter. Gourlies and Tats wisely kept them behind the counter. When I first tried them, I thought I was going to throw up right there. Wed all chew gum to hide our breath before we went back home to dinner and brush our teeth as soon as we got home. Joey Sparazza teased me all the time. Hed say, Jonny, boy, in a high pitched voice meant to hurt me, Jonny is a sissy, hes not inhaling. Hed go on and on. Joey was a really big kid. Two years older than me. I couldnt do anything. I wanted to hang around with the bigger kids like Ricky Van Nostrand and Tim Griggly but I would have too put up with Joeys teasing. Hes tease me about everything even the way I fished. Joeys father ran a shoe store downtown near the old abandoned Bigelow Stanford carpet mills. The only consolation was that I knew Joey would rot in hell for a long time for the way he treated me. Sometimes Billy Gardener would tell him to lay off but many times they thought it was funny and led him on.
I used to hide my cigarettes in the garage in my big blue coffee can where I kept my hooks and weights for fishing. Dad found my Marlboros there one day. He knew they werent his because he smoked Kents. I used to take some of his sometimes but not so often that hed notice. Some of the kids parents bought cartoons and so they could take a whole back at a time. Kents werent cool though and we didnt like them. Then Dad found my Marlboros, got really angry, and took me outside to the front yard. Dont you ever smoke a cigarette again! Why are you smoking? Youre too young to smoke. If I catch you again, Ill really make you sorry. And he hit me right across the face. It didn't seem fair that I got hit for smoking when he smoked too.
Mom just keep getting bigger and bigger and she said she had a baby growing
in her stomach. Everyone was really excited about the new baby including Colleen
and me. We tried to think up some good names for the baby depending on whether
it was a boy or a girl. Finally Mom left for a few days and she came home with
Tim. Colleen and I liked to play with him and feed him. He had the same old
red high chair that Mom said Colleen and I used. The paint was worn down to
bare metal on the tray and the red seat had strong gray tape on it to hold the
stuffing in. Tim had a plastic bowl with Bulwinkle and Rockie painted inside
it. I wished I had one too but it was for the baby. Colleen and I would play
food airplanes so Tim would eat his baby food that came from little glass jars
like the one Mr. Van Nostrand used for storing nails in his basement. Colleen
and I used to see who Tim liked more and who would get to feed him and play
with him more. Colleen really liked to be with him like he was one of her dolls
or something. I gave up because she was always around him so much I couldnt
My Aunt Susan liked Tim very much. She always smiled and laughed at him and called him her little peach. She was a fun Aunt, only ten years older than me. She had many different boyfriends and changed schools a lot. One time she was going out with Fred who had long red hair and a beard. One year when Fred joined us for Thanksgiving. I think he was afraid of Grandpa who didnt seem to like his hair and beard as much as I did. One time we went to Freds house in New Haven. It was a neat place where people all lived together in one apartment. Fred had many Grateful Dead albums which really interested me. Aunt Susan had gone to Woodstock and I used to point this out to my friends who were very impressed.
We didnt have many big bushes in our backyard like the Van Nostrands
and the Moschettis. Our back yard went right into Mr. Petes. When
it rained a lot a big huge puddle formed in Mr. Petes backyard. Mr. Pete
was related to the Van Nostrands in some way. He was fun to go visit. He and
his wife might give you some cookies and milk. Their house was so neat; they
didnt have any children. They liked to sit in their screened in garage
on summer nights and watch a television that they had brought out there.
Each corner of the back yard had a tree in it plus one apple tree smack in the middle on the border with Mr. Petes yard. No one was sure where the border was exactly and Dad told me to mow a little extra when I had to mow the lawn. Mr. Pete did the same although he had a tractor he rode on which I very much wanted to ride. Before Mom and Dad even had a garden, Dad shoveled away some of the backyard that was right between the back steps and the hatch way. That was my garden. I planted marigolds there. The seeds were long and thin and light. After a few weeks, theyd start to come up. Soon I would have big round orange, yellow, and red flowers that I would cut and take inside. I grew some carrots and squash too.
I liked to take the long green hose and water all the trees. No matter how hard you put the hose on the outlet, some water always came out near the house and on the end of the sprayer. As I watered the trees, the round circle of dirt carved out from the surrounding grass turned to mud. The water rose and rose until it overflowed onto the surrounding grass in brown rivers. One by one, Id take the hose and water them all. Dad and I had some disagreements about the apple tree. Hed prune it once a year and I said he always took too much off. The thing looked so bare after he pruned it. One year after I talked to him about it and talked to him about it, he cut off even more than usual. It was hard to keep the bugs out of the apples although Dad tried by spraying poison onto the tree. Mom made really good apple pie from the apples that the tree produced, even though there could be even more if Dad hadnt pruned so many of the branches away.
Dad and I played catch in front of the apple tree when it was warm. After he came home from work, wed play catch until Mom called us in for dinner. Usually wed just throw it back and forth but sometimes hed throw me pop-ups or grounders. The grounders were hard to catch. Dad and coaches always told us kids to run to it and then plant yourself but they always seemed to get away. I was in the league for really little kids one year and we won many games but lost the final championship. Dad would drive me down to the field and watch the game. The next year, I played in the farm league that was one league below little league. I got stuck on MacDonalds. We only won two games all year. We all wondered if wed get a free meal at MacDonalds if we won but we never did. It was so embarrassing to be in last place. I played second base that seemed like a safe position in that not too many balls came that way. But it was hard not to strike out and make errors so that was my last year with baseball.
We liked the Red Sox in our neighborhood and hated the Yankees. In nineteen sixty-eight, the Red Sox won the pennant. We were all very happy; we collected the Red Sox glasses they gave at the gas station. Dad was from Boston so I really routed for the Red Sox. The day they won the pennant, we spray painted an old sheet with Red Sox #1 on it and marched around the neighborhood.
Dad used to play softball in a league for his company - Travelers Insurance. Sometimes Id go to the games. Unlike me, Dad hardly even struck out or made an error. Travelers had handsome dark blue uniforms. One time there was a big thunderstorm on our way back from a game. A electric wire came down on the car in front of us. We had to stay in the car until the firemen came to rescue the people. Dad said it was safe if you stayed in your car and that you couldnt get electrocuted. I wondered why if the car was metal and Dad said it was because of the rubber tires.
After dinner, Colleen and I went downstairs to watch television or play Rummy 500 with Dad. We had long Rummy games which Dad would usually win. He was hard to beat at Rummy. After wed play for a while, we Dad might bring down some oranges and a paper towel for each of us. Wed put the peels in the paper towel and bundle them up to throw away. Or he might get some Saltines (with no salt) and some peanut butter and wed have peanut butter and crackers. Dads family was big on peanut butter. Dad showed us how to make peanut butter and sugar toast. You toast some white bread, spread peanut butter on top, and then sprinkle sugar over the peanut butter. That melted peanut butter tasted so good with the sugar on it.
On Saturday afternoons, Id go down cellar and Dad would be watching sports
on television and doing crossword puzzles. I noticed that every time golf or
baseball was on, hed usually end up asleep in his chair or on the couch.
One day we got a phone call from Dads family and Dad was upset and had
to go to Boston. Dad seemed both sad and angry at the same time. Dad wouldnt
talk about it but Mom told us his father had died. I didnt even know his
father was alive. Dad never talked about him.
Mom used to go to doctors a lot and we never knew why. One time she went to the hospital for an operation. We didnt know why she was going. I think it had something to do with being a woman and that she couldnt have any more children.
I had a paper route for a while that I had to bought from someone. It took a
long time to pay them from the money I made from the paper route. I only had
the Sunday paper. It wasnt the one we read in our house. Id find
the two big bundles in the garage and have to use wire cutters to undo the bundles.
Then I put all the papers together. This was hard in the wintertime when it
was so cold. I had to get up early to do it. Then I go wake up Dad as gently
and easily as I could. It was dark in their room. Wed listen to Paul Harvey
on the radio as Dad drove me around the neighborhood as I delivered the papers.
A few of the houses had dogs that could really scare you. One place had them
on leashes - two great big German Sheppards - and they had all kinds of no trespassing
signs on the house. They paid for the paper by leaving an envelope for me so
I didnt know what they were like. But one day I saw them, an older man
and a woman who looked mean. I had customers at the elderly apartments but they
would eventually die and so my paper route went down in size.
I didnt like to collect later in the day. Id have to walk really far and people were never home. Sometimes it sure looked like they were home but they didnt answer the door. Some people gave me a good tip each time I came around. The best time of the year was Christmas when Id make a lot of extra tips. Some people paid for the whole month the first week of the month and Id make the most money then. But then the rest of the month wouldnt be so good. I liked to take the money I made and ride my bike or walk down to Gourlies. Id buy big bags of peanut M&Ms and Mad Magazine. I had to hide the M&Ms under my bed so Colleen wouldnt swipe any.
Halloween was my favorite holiday because Id get lots of candy. Wed dress up and take around a big pillow case to store the candy in. Id come home and sort it all out and see how much I got. One year, the other boys and I went to many neighborhoods and filled those pillow cases up. Colleen and I would check to see who had more and take each others candy so you had to be careful where you kept it. We got candy on Easter too but only one basketful. Wed have to find them in the morning. We had to wear special Easter clothes and go the Gram and Grampa's for a big Easter meal. It was pretty good but you didnt get presents like Christmas. We made fun of Dad because he liked stale chicks that had been left out for a while. At the bottom of the Easter baskets was fake green grass that was light, stringy, and plastic.
Scott Pierce lived next to Mr. Pete before the Andrettis moved in. His
father was mayor of Enfield and Scott had more toys than the rest of us. He
was older and always seemed to know what he was doing and why. His father bought
him a fort that they put up in his backyard. We played Cowboys and Indians.
The Indians would attack the fort and try and make the Cowboys surrender. One
time I had to go to the bathroom and I didnt want to stop playing so I
held in it. I did that a lot. People would see me squirming and ask me about
it but I never wanted to admit I had to go. Sometimes I didnt make it
home and made a mess in my pants. Mom would get mad. She had a special bucket
downstairs for my underwear. Colleen and I both had problems with wetting our
bed. It was hard to sleep over someone's house because I was afraid I would
go in the night. If you did, you had to hide it or the other kids would make
fun of you. Colleen and I had special rubber sheets. They gave us pills to take
before we went to bed.
One time Dad took me to the Yale Bowl to see a football game. There were so many people. It was college teams and I didnt know the players or who to root for. Dad seemed to like the game. I had to go as we were leaving but I was afraid of the bathrooms and all the big men in there so I tried to hold it in. But I couldnt and let it go. I tried to hide it but the pee ran down my leg and was wet and itchy. I was afraid Dad would see me and I was quiet the whole way home. He never said anything about it.
I liked fourth grade. Mrs. Parsaletti was our teacher. She was big and blond
and all the boys liked her. We learned how to play the flutophone and how to
write using handwriting. I still liked to print more than write (like Dad did).
I was shocked to discover for the first time that I didnt get a gold star
for something and it was penmanship. So I worked harder on it but I still liked
to print better. Fourth grade was in a corridor between first, second, and third
grades and the upper grades.
In fifth grade we went to the wing with the big kids and had different teachers for different subjects. I had Mr. Sanders for home room. Marie Lepore and Mary Sarno liked me and they were teachers pets so Mr. Sanders invited me to his home when Mary and Marie were there. It was weird to be at a teachers house and I thought that Mary Sarno wanted something but I wasnt quite sure what. Later we went to Mr. Sanders land in Brimfield, Massachusetts. He had land but no house on it and we went for a long walk in the woods and made some trails. Mr. Sanders explained some of the plants and trees on his land.
We went to Mrs. ONeil classroom for music. She was an old, a friend of my Grandmothers, and lived alone in a big house next to Billy OBrian's. She was always playing symphonies and stuff on a record player while she pretended she was conducting and hoped that we would appreciate it.
Sometimes we would go explore near Saint Josephs. There were fields all along the river there. Near the dam was a field with grapes. We used to eat some of them and throw them at each other. You had to be careful though. It was hard to wash out the stains on your clothes before you got home. One time, the older kids found out that the door to the school basement was open. They dared everyone to go in after they went in. I was scared the cops would come and tell our parents. Some of the kids were trying cigarettes that I knew Mom and Dad wouldnt like at all. Ellen Malley let Wendy look at her. Wendy explained that you pee in a girl to get her pregnant and that it was fun. It didnt make much sense to me. We found pieces of books down the river that described some of these things. Sometimes youd find magazines too with pictures of naked women on them. There was a lot of junk down that basement that we had used in school. Eventually the door got fixed and we couldnt get in anymore.
Sometimes the teachers would ask me to go get filmstrips and books in a storage room upstairs at school. It was fun to get out of class. I found out where the hosts were; I used to eat a few them if I was hungry. I wasnt sure if it was a sin or not because the priest hadnt blessed them yet. In sixth grade I wrote a Christmas play for Sister Alta and we performed it. It was a spoof of Santa Claus and Christmas. Sister Alta was fun; she was young, funny, and played the guitar. In seventh grade, I started to wonder about all the stuff about God we had been taught every day for the last seven years. I started to argue with the nuns about it and ask them really hard questions about Darwin and Genesis. What they were teaching and what life was like in school and at home seemed to be two very different things. When I got my Confirmation in eight grade, I hated it and refused to say the Creed of Faith because I didnt believe it anymore. I had many questions that the nuns didnt seem to want to answer. Some of the other boys were altar boys. I tried it but I started to ask the priests questions and they thought I shouldnt be an altar boy.
Mrs. LaBrie was my seventh grade teacher. She was good but we spent a lot
of time memorizing things about different countries from our geography book.
One day we were talking about carrots that Id read was a biennial plant.
That means it grows for two years before it dies. Most people dont know
this because they pick them after the first year. We had a big argument over
it. Even when I showed her a book that said they were biennial she still didnt
believe me or say she was wrong. Brian Slupecki and Steven Cunningham were getting
really bad by this time and they got sent home sometimes. One day when the teacher
wasnt looking, Brian thought he was funny and dumped all the pencil shavings
from the pencil sharpener on my head. My hair and white shirt got so dirty.
The teacher didnt see it so I couldnt do much. Later Brian and Steve
were sent to public school. Steven's brother Jay Cunningham was later found
dead at the town dump. All the grown-ups said in hushed tones that he had been
dealing drugs and had been in with bad people.
In seventh grade, I started to get interested in the twins across the street. Karen and Carol Pare. They were both very cute. Carol had a wider face than Karen and was friendlier but Karen was cuter. I wasnt sure how to get closer to them; we didnt play together as much as we used to. I thought about Karen a lot even though she was one year ahead of me at Saint Josephs. There was a lot of talk about Colleen liking Jimmy Jacavitch and maybe that they even had kissed each other. I wanted to try kissing Karen and maybe some other things I had heard about from Timothy Grigglys older brother Wendy. My best friend Peter Moschetti was getting handsome and athletic and he seemed very sure of what he was doing. One day I saw Karen and Peter go down the river together and I knew I would never have a chance with Karen. I went down to the river later and sat on Indian Head and looked out at the river.
I didnt want to go to Suffield Academy like my Mother wanted. I wanted to go to public school with my friends and be normal like Peter Moschetti. Billy OBrian was going but he was a brain like me and not as popular as the other kids. Mom gave me many brochures about it and part of me wanted to go but I wanted to feel like Mom and Dad understood about me. On my first interview, I told the interviewer that I didnt want to go there. Mom and Dad were upset when they found out. I started looking at the brochures and I wanted to go more especially if I could live there. But they said that cost too much. I interviewed again and said I changed my mind and wanted to go.
I was so mad at how things were at home and how the Nuns and Mom and Dad talked about Jesus and God but how unhappy everyone was. I couldnt talk to anyone about it so I stayed in my room more. I just came down for dinner and wouldnt talk at dinner. It was always the same talk and Mom and Dad bickering with each other. I complained about it but Dad would get really mad at me and I was afraid he would hit me. I fought against going to church and going to any family events. That really upset Dad who really wanted to have a family like the one he never had.