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Kirby Hollow Against the World:
A Personal Reminiscence from Midcentury
by Kevin Wright

(K. Wright, 2001)

As night creeps on these blue-hazed hills,
Culvers Pond lies so still.
When the time draws near, my heart swells,
Just to hear those Methodist bells.

Wherever our paths part or what tomorrow brings,
I'll be home at heart, Papakating.

As I look'd out the cabin door,
Snow blowed about the forest floor,
To the piny glen and the laurel nook,
Prettier than a picture-book.

Wherever our paths part or what tomorrow brings,
I'll be home at heart, Papakating.

The sudden rain, the rising flood
Turns Frankford Plain to a sea of mud.
On a road of clover, I walk these hills,
Like the lonesome drover, up to Beemerville.

Wherever our paths part or what tomorrow brings,
I'll be home at heart, Papakating.

My grandmother Wright loved to tell the story (as only she could) of two GIs, celebrating V-J Day, who stumbled into the Hoboken train station and asked for two tickets to “the end of the world,” only to wake up the next morning in Newton.

Back then Sussex County boasted “More Cows Than People.” As we ate breakfast and got ready for school, the radio voice of the County Agricultural Extension Agent called out the price of milk from a leather-clad radio at the back of the kitchen counter. Newton commanded the trade of the surrounding countryside, where dairy farms thrived upon sweet grasses grown on limestone bottomland and where orchards shaded the slaty ridges. A starry stream of headlights brightened the highways into town on every Farmers’ Night, when our country relations came to do their errands and find their entertainment: to do their banking or shopping, to see a doctor or a lawyer, to conduct public business, to stop by the library or to catch a movie. That world and that way of life has vanished to all but Memory and it is Memory now that must safekeep and perpetuate it.

I got my earliest instruction on Newton landmarks from my great-aunt Rosetta Queren Wright (1878-1962) when I was only a toddler. She lived in a room at the head of the stairs in my grandparents’ home on Foster Street and specialized in French toast for breakfast. With the air of exiled royalty and an eccentric love of clock chimes, she made her rounds in a Navy Blue polka-dot dress and black straw hat. When I was still trying out my first legs, she would walk me downtown by the hand, down the Big Hill, pausing here and there along the way to point out each brick, foundation stone and plaster cornice that was her father’s handiwork as a stone mason. Her father and my great-grandfather, Benjamin Snyder Wright, was born in Newton on October 13, 1850.

By the bye, Wrights Pond in Byram Township is named for our Sussex County progenitor, Charles Wright, who purchased land on the Punk Horn Creek in 1767. The creek's name is an approximation of the Lenape word, pankhanne, meaning "a steep stream bank." Our connection to Charles Wright was obscured for many years by an incoorect death certificate, filled out in 1890, which mistakensly listed the father of Samuel Wright as being "William." In fact, William was Samuel's older brother, who lived near the old Hude Mine, just this side of Stanhope. Both were sons of Samuel Wright, Senior, who died in 1850. His son (and my great-great grandfather) Samuel Wright sold the ancestral farm in Byram and moved temporarily to Newton, where he married Hannah Stiff. At this time, he apparently resided with his brother, Joseph G. Wright, a carpenter, who built a large house at the corner of Water and Hamilton Streets (it caught fire about ten years ago and was demolished for a parking lot).

Hannah Stiff died in childbirth when daughter
Hannah Jane was born February 8, 1852. Samuel remarried Sarah Hendersona, daughter of David Henderson (and reputedly a friend of his first wife, Hannah Stiff). When John I. Blair completed the Warren Railroad from the Delaware Water Gap to Hampton Junction in 1856, trestles and chutes were built to transfer coal from the railroad to the Morris Canal at Washington, New Jersey, and there was great demand for boatmen. Samuel and Sarah Wright moved to Washington, New Jersey, where he engaged as a boatman on the Morris Canal. Ben was raised by his maternal grandparents, Benjamin Stiff, a Jacquard weaver in Byram Township, and Catherine Snyder Stiff. Unfortunately, when Samuel Wright died at washington, New Jersey, in 1890, none of his descendants knew his true parentage.

My great-grandfather, Ben Wright, married Sarah Elizabeth Talmadge at Succasuna on October 11, 1874. They had four children: Emma Louise, born December 20, 1875; Rosetta Queren, born April 11, 1879; May Belle, born May 6, 1882; and Virgil Ivan, born March 18, 1893. According to his youngest daughter, May Belle Kymer, Ben Wright wore braces on both legs as a young man and had white hair by the time he was 21 years old. As head mason for Newton contractors O’Donnell & McManiman, he worked on building many Newton landmarks, including the Park Block, the Bentley Mansion on Main Street, the McMurtrie Fountain, the Hill Fountain and the Soldiers’ and Sailors’ Monument on the Green. His granddaughter Hazel Bennett remembered how he liked to walk to the McMurtrie Fountain on Sunday afternoons and have a sit. She said that he claimed to have been the first person to have an aerial view of Newton, having worked on the construction of the tall chimney stack at the Silk Mill. His foot was reportedly crushed by a granite block during construction of the Bentley Mansion, at the corner of Halstead and Main Streets, in 1902, which made him lame. I remember a wooden tool box, sitting at the foot of the basement stairs, containing some of the molds he used for shaping elaborate plaster ceiling medallions and cornices.

The Talmadges are descendants of Benjamin Talmadge, a Puritan general who served in Oliver Cromwell's army. They moved with the Dissenters from Massachusetts, down the Connecticut Valley, over into Long Island, and westward into Elizabeth and Woodbridge, New Jersey. Some even wandered up into the northwestern woods, founding Milton and Oak-Ridge in the Berkshire Valley. Noah Talmadge lived in Sodom, Susssex County, which is now the old section of Ogdensburg, down on the river. Noah served with the state Troops during the Revolution, manning the frontier forts on the upper Delaware. His brother Daniel was killed at the Battle of Minisink and is named on the Goshen monument. James L. Talmadge, my great-great-grandfather, settled in the Roseville neighborhood of Byram Township. He married Caroline Queren, daughter of a French ironworker named Frederick Queren, who was employed at the Columbia Forge on Lyons Pond (not Lions Pond, as some nineteenth century maps called it).

Great-grandpa James L. Talmadge was born in Milton, Morris County in 1828. His black hair, grey eyes, and dark complexion fed rumors of Lenape ancestry. He only reached five feet in height. James Talmadge served in the Civil War, enlisting at Newark in Company B, 27th Regiment on September 3, 1862, for nine months. A decorative "Honorable Testimonial," dated March 27, 1866, and signed by Governor Marcus Ward, hangs on my wall. I also have a thirty-four star flag presented to him with the certificate.

According to his pension application, filed in April 1883, he was at Camp Seminary, near Alexandria, Virginia, when, on December 2, 1862, "he was returning from parade when he was accidentally knocked down and trampled upon by his comrades marching over him, severely injuring his back and head; he was sent to the Regimental Hospital [Fairfax Seminary, Maryland], and encsipelas [enchepalitis?] set in or some like disease, which severely affected his eyes and ears, resulting in partial loss of hair and almost total deafness; after being in Regimental Hospital about a week, he was sent to Hospital in Philadelphia, Pa., and was there until discharged, and was then discharged on account of said disbabilities, from which he has suffered, more or less, ever since." He was discharged February 4, 1863.

James Talmadge's Certificate of Disability noted a "congenital retention of right testicle in the Inguinal Canal producing inability to march." This may explain his falling down and being trampled on the parade ground. On his way home, he stopped at the Trenton Orphanage and adopted a boy to do his farm work. My grandfather Wright remembered this fellow stopping by to visit him in Newton many years afterwards (I think Bud was his name). .

His wife, Caroline Queren Talmadge, was born December 7, 1832. She died in a house on Washington Street in Newton on
May 28, 1921. Besides my great-grandmother, Sarah Elizabeth Wright, there were two other daughters, Annie and Rosetta. Rosetta died when she was only about twelve years old, and was buried beside her parents in Andover. When they went to bury my great-aunt Rosetta Queren Wright in 1961, they struck her coffin and were temporarily baffled, until they found out that Rosetta Queren Talmadge was in the spot where they wanted to bury Rosetta Queren Wright.

Daughter Annie married a fellow named Crowley --- that name was synonymous with hellbent, covetous conniving in our family for a generation or more. Caroline Queren Talmadge
died a terrible death of gangrene, literally rotting alive. The smell of decay was so horrendous that passers-by on the street covered their noses and mouths with handkerchiefs, despite a liberal aspersion of lilac-water in and about the premises. Her son-in-law, Benjamin Wright, called the undertaker, but he couldn’t come immediately. The Crowleys came right away. Annie Crowley and husband riddled the house, taking counterpanes and a rug. When Grandma (Sarah Elizabeth) Wright arrived, Crowley opened the door and wanted to fight. For many years afterwards, whenever the family spoke longingly of fine antique heirlooms long gone, they'd say, "Well, the Crowleys must've gotten it." Blood-kin looters and will-watchers were also said to have "a bit of the Crowley in them."

Benjamin Snyder Wright died at the home of his son, Ivan Wright, at 31 Foster Street, Newton, on September 10, 1928, aged 77 years. My father was only five years old when he passed away, but grandma told the story of how he would race his grandfather to the door when the newspaper was delivered; the only time that Ben Wright won the race, my father retaliated by giving him a good hard-shoe kick in the shin.

Ivan (center), Keith, left) Kevin (right) and Gertrude in background
My grandfather, V. Ivan Wright, was born in Andover on March 18, 1893, and was baptized at Christ Church in Newton on January 31, 1909, by the Reverend Charles Steel. Showing his mother’s literary tastes, he was actually named Virgil Ivan — Virgil obviously for the great Latin poet and Ivan from Sir Walter Scott’s popular tale of Ivanhoe. He hated being called Virgil and adopted his middle name. In any event, Ivan Wright was a semi-pro baseball player who went with General Pershing on the Punitive Expedition into Mexico in 1916 as a private in Company A, 1st Battalion, Engineers, New Jersey National Guard. He answered President Wilson’s call for volunteers and entered Federal service on August 5, 1917, but never got overseas during World War I after an influenza innoculation nearly killed him. He married Gertrude C. Brink, of Branchville, on January 20, 1923. In 1928, he was partner in the plumbing-and-heating firm of Straulina & Wright, and studied the oil-burner business at Bridgeport, Connecticut, and New York. He supposedly installed some of the first oil burners in northwestern New Jersey. He was involved in the radar war against Germany, setting up radar stations along the Greenland coast during World War II. He worked at the plumbing-and-heating trade for the remainder of his life and died in September 1971.

My grandmother, Gertude C. Brink, was quite a hardy soul with a heart-felt laugh. Born August 4, 1903, she was the oldest child of John Edward Brink (1878-1964) and Celeste Campbell (1882-1965). She lived for a while on her grandfather Henry Campbell’s farm in Branchville. She told how she used to despise her grandmother, Susan Spargo, for making her scratchy underwear out of flour sacks and what she considered ugly out-of-fashion dresses. Grandpa Campbell had a tempermental horse named Old Doc, who routinely pulled the milk wagon to the Branchville depot. One time, Grandpa Campbell was sick in bed and didn’t rise at his usual hour. After a while, somebody said to one of the boys, “You’d better hitch up Old Doc and take the milk down to the station.” And so they did. But when they got there, the milk agent at the train depot just laughed, saying, “You know, Old Doc was already here at his usual time.” The horse apparently went through the routine at the appointed hour, without Grandpa Campbell or the milk wagon. The agent said he even backed into the loading dock and stood there till he felt it was time to get along home.

My great-grandfather, Henry Campbell, was born in 1837, the son of James Campbell and Anna Kithcart. He died march 14, 1919, aged 82 years, 4 months and 18 days. He married Susan Spargo on October 26, 1887. His wife, Susan Jane Spargo, was born in Frankford Township on May 23, 1845, a daughter of James Spargo and Sarah Decker. She died in Branchville on July 1, 1938. Their children were: william H. campbell (born October 26, 1872, married Minnie R. Brink, died December 22, 1941); Letitia (born June 23, 1874, married Alva Decker, died August 8, 1962); Celeste (born august 10, 1882, married John Edward Brink, died August 10, 1965); and Anna A. (born March 1, 1889, died March 12, 1909).

Henry Campbell enlisted at Branchville on January 2, 1864, as a private in Captain william H. walker's Co. 1, 10th Regiment of New Jersey Volunteer Infantry. The 10th Regiment, under command of Colonel Henry Ryerson, served in the first Brigade, 7th Division, Sixth Corps, and participated in the following battles: Wilderness, May 5-7, 1864; spottsylvania, May 17-21; North and South Amea, May 22-26; Hanover Court House, May 29; Totapoto Creek, May 30; Cold harbor, June 1-12; Weldon R. R., June 21; Snicker's Gap, July 18; Strawsburg, august 15; winchester, August 17; Charlestown, August 21; Fisher's Mill. September 22. He was captured there and taken to Stanton, Virginia, for thirty days, and was then transferred to Lynchburg, Virginia. After seven days, he was taken to Libby Prison, where he remained until february 17, 1865, when he was paroled and sent to annapolis Navy Yard Hospital at Little New York, Pa., where he was honorably discharged.

As a child, my grandmother, Gertrude Brink (Wright) lived on the Henry Campbell farm, about a mile from Branchville, then owned by Frank Allen, of Bernardsville. She went to the Long Bridge School House, which still stands on the Homestead Road, just short of where it connects to State Route 206, below Culvers Lake. In March 1910, when she was seven years old, she came walking home from school, but stopped suddenly along the road. Where she expected to see her house, there was nothing. The house had caught fire while her father and mother where still upstairs in bed. She later said that her father felt the morning urge to go to the out-house. When he reached the head of the stairs, he saw flames from below. He awoke his wife and she grabbed my great-uncle Russ, who was only a babe in the cradle. They just made it down when the staircase caught fire and collapsed. Since the fire apparently originated in a room that had not been used since the previous summer, it was supposed that an incendiary started the blaze. If you go up the Homestead Road, the only thing remaining of the farm is a stone Spring House.

Grandma always said she caught grandpa “on the clothes line,” meaning that they eloped. She married Ivan V. Wright of Newton on January 20, 1923. My father, John Ivan Wright, was born December 4, 1923. They first lived at an old house on the corner of Water and Hamilton Streets. One time when grandma turned her back to do some chores, my father rode a sled down Water Street from the Court House down across the old bridge across Big Brook. They bought a home at 31 Foster Street in 1928 and built a small room on the second floor at the back of the house, as a bedroom for my great-grandfather Ben Wright. It was later my father’s bedroom.

Jack Wright was president of his senior class (1941) at Newton High School and a star athlete. He scored the only touchdown and point-after-touchdown in the Newton High School’s 1941 (7-0) defeat of its traditional rival, Franklin High School — the first such defeat handed Franklin in seven seasons.
Wright found a hole in the Franklin line and dashed 35 yards to Franklin’s 14-yard stripe. He carried the ball for another five-yard gain. Finally, he “lowered his head and plowed his way through the center of the line to the ‘promised land’ and a touchdown.” Under direction of coach Henry Boresch, the Newton High School wrestling team won the NJSIAA State Wresting Championship over Roselle Park. Jack Wright was a heavyweight on the team. In July 1941, John Ivan Wright played as pitcher and short stop in the No. 2 Newton Fire Department baseball team. He graduated from Blair Academy on June 8, 1942 as a three-letterman on the school’s varsity football, baseball and hockey teams. He then went into the Army and served with the Signal Corps. He landed in North Africa with Operation Torch and served throughout the Italian Campaign. He was involved in the liberation of Rome. He returned home and entered the plumbing business with his father, under the style of Ivan Wright & Son. He married my mother, Teresa M. Mullen, daughter of William P. Mullen and Mary G. Diemer, of Leonia, New Jersey, on August 20, 1949. She was a recent graduate of NJ College for Women (now Douglass College). My parents first lived in a house on Paulinskill Lake. One Thanksgiving, they lost power and had to come home to Newton to cook their turkey. They bought the house at 54 Trinity Street from Frank Lockburner, who had a Frigadaire repair and sales room on the first floor. In 1927, he built an apartment on the second floor.

There are seven of us, namely: John Keith, born September 24, 1950 at Newton, New Jersey; Kevin William, born January 26, 1952 at Newton, New Jersey; Timothy Michael, born January 27, 1953, at Newton, New Jersey, and died June 12, 1989 in New York City; Colleen Elizabeth, born June 29, 1955, who married Chad Mikesell (Their children are Cody and Kaly); Patrick James, born August 8, 1956, who married Colette Daiute (Their son is Jack); Pegeen Marie, born September 7, 1959, at Newton, New Jersey, who married Charles Hubbard (Their daughter is Molly); and Terence Joseph (“Ted”), born June 3, 1964.

I fortunately saved a short autobiography that I wrote as a school project in seventh grade. As embarassing as it is to read such juvenile dribble, it does lay out a fair record of my earliest schooling in Newton.

The Merchant of Menace
The following excerpts are taken from “The Merchant of Menace”, written in 1966 when I was fourteen years old as a school project:

“The world seemed very unusual to me at first, but when the doctor released my feet and set me upright, things began to look better. Upon the end of his residency at Newton Memorial Hospital, we (my mother and I) closed business there and went home, myself, with my gifts and presents; and my brother with me and the bill.”

“I was not a slow equipper and soon armed myself with all the articles of war, such as fingernails, teeth, hair, shoes, and a steady sense of balance. I was not a slow one to use them either!”

“Another facility I acquired was that of speech. I used to endlessly ask questions and talk, gesturing constantly with my hands. In accordance with this trait, I took on the title, ‘The Politician.’”

“A specialty during this era was the costume. In my brothers’ and my collection were such items as space suits, calvary officer’s uniforms, Confederate soldier’s attire, Revolutionary War uniforms, U. S. Army fatigues and dress uniforms, cowboy equipment, football uniforms and helmets, pirate’s dress, and ‘Davy Crocket’ frontier outfits. Most children liked to be someone else, we were no different.”

“Another historical event which took place in the ‘Sunshine’ era (I once had a record called ‘Good Morning, Merry Sunshine’ which I played constantly and drove everyone bizerk) was my introduction to schooling. In the Y. W. C. A. building on the second floor I met some gentlemen I would long remember. Two particular events which stand out in my mind are:

“Once Chris Quinn and I were appointed to go down to the kitchen on the first floor and bring up the Ritz crackers and ‘skunk’ juice (so called because we held our nose when we drank it). On our way up, the fire drill bell began clanging and instead of lining up and going downstairs, everyone began to cry. Everyone except Chris and I, that is. Some of the cookies and juice mysteriously disappeared however.”

“Once when we were playing out back in the playground, Bernard Boglioli leaned against the back of the sandbox and it broke. There was nothing to keep poor Bernie or the sand in!”

“It was during this time period I got to dislike the all-time American ‘kids-hate-these-foods’ products. I remember sitting two hours till I ate some spinach; getting a plate of salad on the head; and eating veal only because my mother told me it was crocodile meat shot by my Grandpa Wright.”

“The last days of nursery school closed with the long-awaited three months of summer vacation.”

“On September 7, 1957, I was entered into Kindergarten at St. Joseph’s School, which had been opened the previous year. In Kindergarten we were introduced to two new processes: 1.) thinking, and 2.) remembering. It was in this grade I met the remnants of my former nursery school class and a few major additions, particularly Tom Norris.”

“This era could be named the ‘Roaring 20’s’ because every twenty minutes I was doing something else, and sometimes something right, mostly something wrong.”

“I usually had to stay after school which was no punishment because I had to wait for my mother who was the teacher, anyway. The following May, in 1958, I graduated and became a Bachelor of Nursery Rhymes.”

Grammar School Years - 1st to 3rd
“Time for fun and fantasy ended as first grade began. In school unifroms and with homework we took a broad step forward. Under Sister Noreen’s capable hands we learned such advanced studies as reading (Look, John, Look, Look, Look!), writing, and arithmetic (2 + 2 = 4).”

“In Second Grade with Miss Eberling we learned phonics and ‘curved’ printing. At the end of second grade year I was planned to skip a grade. I took more intense courses, did one or two exams, but didn’t finish the necessary work. Now I’m glad I didn’t; then I wasn’t.”

“In third grade we were taught by Sister Christine, who was previously stationed in Florida and who hated Jersey weather, especially ice.”

4th to 8th
“Fourth grade became for us a ‘renaissance of learning’ never to be equaled again. Mrs. Gaba, with an excellent talent for teaching, effectively brought a classroom to life and kept it that way. In this grade, I actually ‘over-did’ my homework. In our first class elections, held like a regular convention, I was elected president and later was elected Club president.”

“Fifth grade was the next step of my education. I was taught by Sister Miriam Charles and again, was elected duo-president but with Robert Nielson replacing Chris Quinn as vice-president. I was confirmed by Bishop James McNulty. It was in this grade I met Joseph Santora, future Rythmn-and-Blues fan, and founder of the ‘If.’ ”

“In Sixth grade we were taught by Mrs. Giveans and again I was elected president with Chris Quinn, vice-president.”

St Joe 1966 Graduating Class
“By Seventh grade the inevitable change came, and the future of great things became possible. I had learned to despise the burden of being sociable and hated living on the same planet with tradition and conformity. I totally withdrew from society, withdrawing from the Boy Scouts, previously quitting the Altar Boys, and generally every organization that places one person in rank over another. I took up new friends, the harmonica and guitar.”

“The future is indefinite and too far off to worry about.”

Second Thoughts
This reather embarrassing adolescent memoir brings a flood of memories. When I was a boy, Newton was pretty much the same Victorian town that it had been at the turn of the century, with all its wonderful landmarks intact. At that time, the numerous alleys leading from Spring Street to Trinity Street were still lined with lovely little cottages and carriage barns. In particular, I remember a small house where an elderly couple named Shelley lived; it was one of two dwellings along the alley that were eventually torn down to make way for an addition to the back of the Sussex County Drug Store and a small parking lot. Next to our neighbor’s garage was a tall carriage barn with a hay mow in the upper story. My bedroom was at the back of our house, overlooking this barn on the alley. One night I awoke with a dazzling light filling my room. I looked out the window to see flames shooting from the roof of this barn. As I recall, old Joe Heller (who I think worked at the Big Leader Store on Park Place) parked his car in there. My father called the Fire Department and raced out to wet down the back of our house with a garden hose. It seems to me that the Ladies’ Auxiliary had tables set up to serve donuts and coffee before the first fire engine arrived.

My great-aunt Rosetta Wright sometimes used to take care of me when I was small. We would go for walks and I usually ended up taking a nap on her bed. Her bedroom was at the head of the stairs in my grandparent’s home at 31 Foster Street. I can still remember her room very well. There was a beautifully mysterious picture in a gilt plaster frame hanging over her bed. It depicted a mother on a wharf, cupping her hands to her mouth, and calling out across the waters. I used to try and imagine what she was calling for. Aunt Rosetta had a collection of these chime clocks in glass domes that tinkled wonderfully when they struck the hours.

Sadly, poor Aunt Rosetta grew quite forgetful. This was attributed to "hardening of the arteries." Once, I remember my brother Keith and I sitting at the top of the stairs, just outside the door to her room. she came out and said, "Do you boys want to get an ice cream soda? Here's 35 cents, go down to Ding Walker's and get one." we were too young to do any such thing, so we just sat there. after a while, she came out of her door and repeated herself, "Do you boys want to get an ice cream soda?" I think if we had the patience to sit there indefinitely, we would have gotten rich.

Rosetta never married, because of her mother, Iron Bess. They always said that her sister Emma and my grandfather Ivan had to elope to escape Bess's clutches. The story was told of Rosetta being engaged to a fine-looking young gent, a doctor. They came in to discover her mother laying on the couch, barely clinging to life, failing rapidly, and sighing, "Go ahead, just leave me to die!" Supposedly, Bess had a private interview with Rosetta's fiance. Whatever she said turned the trick, for he got on the evening train and was never seen nor heard from again.

When my grandparents purchased the house at 31 Foster street in 1928, Rosetta and my great-grandfather, Ben Wright, moved in with them. They built a small bedroom at the end of a narrow hall at the back of the house for old Ben Wright --- this later became my father's room. Anyhow, Grandma liked to say that she "married the whole damn family!" Rosetta only paid something like $6 monthly for rent, from 1928 through to 1962. In her dotage, she claimed bitterly that Grandma had "poisoned" her father. Towards the end, when she was at the nursing home, she reportedly flushed her family jewels down the toilet so that Grandma wouldn't get them when she died.

My mother, Teresa Mullen, was born and raised in Leonia, New Jersey. She lived in a two-family stucco house on Kinsley Avenue, with the family of my grandmother’s brother, George Diemer, living upstairs. I can still close my eyes and see my Grandmother Mullen’s sister, Irene Diemer, whom we called “Auntie Bye,” sitting in a wing chair at the house in Leonia. My older brother Keith and I were left in her care during a visit. I think I recall this scene because she walked us up to a variety store on the corner and bought us each a stuffed toy dog with an elastic leash (made out of suspender material); the toy dog would bounce up and down as you held the leash, making it seem as though it were walking beside you. Years later, I learned that my parents were attending the funeral of my mother’s brother, John Mullen, who was killed in Korea. This was in March 1953, so I was only fourteen months old when I formed my earliest memory.

I never knew my Grandfather William P. Mullen, who died in 1950, two years before I was born. Whatever his faults, he was endowed with a marvelous wit and intelligence. They say he carried a hip flask and once, when he was walking home on a wintry day, slipped and fell on the steps leading up to the house. Looking down and seeing himself seated in a small reddish pool, he reportedly said, “Jeez, I hope that’s blood!”

I owe great peace of mind to my Grandfather Mullen's foresight. I have on my wall a Plenary Indulgence, signed by Pope Benedict XV (whose portrait fills a circle at the top of the certificate) in August 1920. It is inscribed: "William Mullen and all the members of his family, humbly prostrate at the feet of your Holiness, beg the Apostolic Benediction and a Plenary Indulgence to be gained at the hour of death, on condition that, being truly sorry for their sins, but unable to confess them and to receive the holy Viaticum, they shall at least invoke with their lips or heart the Holy Name of Jesus." Sounds easy enough.

My great-grandfather, Patrick Mullen, was an Irish cop in New York City who died in 1897 or '98 when his son, William, was only eight years old. It was all hush-hush, but I once heard that he committed suicide by taking poison. Grandma claimed that Teddy Roosevelt, then the reformist New York City Police Commissioner, caught him coming out of a saloon in his uniform. I was never able to locate a New York city death certificate for him (despite several attempts). The Police department also has no record of him (though we have an old photograph of him in uniform). I guess he wasn;t buried in consecrated ground either. Left with too many mouths to feed, my great-grandmother, Winifred Finnegan, sent Willie back to Ireland with his uncle, Barney Finnegan, where he stayed for eighteen months. Not long after he had landed, he went with his relations to a parade in Dublin. As a “greenhorn,” he wasn’t to well versed in the volatile politics of that time and place; he also was never too shy to speak his mind. To the crowd’s shock, Willie Mullen suddenly shouted out an expletive-laden cheer which concisely instructed the English Monarch what he could do to himself. The British constabulary was soon in hot pursuit and my grandfather had to hide in a safe place until the heat died down. Up, the rebels!

Auntie Bye died in 1954. Two years later, my grandmother, May G. Mullen, moved into an apartment in a double-house on Trinity Street, several doors down from Trinity Motors. This house was torn down some years ago to build an insurance building. Finally, in 1958, my father made a small apartment for her on the first floor of our house on Trinity Street. It was one of the great privileges of my life to have her live with us until her death in 1984 at 94 years of age. Her father, Jacob Diemer, had fought in the Civil War with a company of Brooklyn Fire Zuaves.

My mother’s older brother, Bill Mullen, came out of the Navy in 1945 and when looking for a job. With the attractive offer of $2,200 per annum, he became Vice-Principal of Newton High School, where he also taught math and was the basketball coach. He lived at Lake Mohawk, but left when the new High School was opened in 1954.

Because my mother was assistant teacher (in charge of music and story-telling), I attended the Nursey School in the Y. W. C. A building on Main Street for two years (this building, known as the old Inslee Mansion, was torn down around 1966 to clear a parking lot for J. R. Roof’s car dealership). Walking home, I remember always seeing Mrs. Grabner’s huge Saint Bernard dog sunning himself on the sidewalk in front of the Cochran House. We frequently stopped at Klinenger’s Ice Cream Parlor, next to the Sears’ store on Spring Street. The old soda fountain was on the left side as you went in and the candy counter on the right. In the back there were booths with generations of initials carved in the backs and flanks. I also remember the magnificent old Library Hall and Post Office on Main Street, which was torn down in November 1958 to build the present Post Office. My father was a Captain with the 50th Armor Battalion and the old Opera House on the upper floor served as the armory before a new one was built out by the town dump. I remember a stage at one end of the room and my grandfather saying that he sang there with a minstrel group when he was young.

There wasn’t much traffic around town, except on Friday and Saturday nights — Farmers’ Nights, as they used to call them — when everybody came into town to shop, to do their banking, to go to the library or to the movie theater. We used to play the game of “Hill Dill” in Trinity or Townsend Streets, using the curbs as safety. The person who was “it” stood in the street and had to tag runners going back and forth between the curbs. Seldom did a passing automobile distrupt the game. There was a very old woman who lived on the third floor of the house across the street, who used to spy on us through her Venetian Blinds. At dusk, we used to play another game called “Freeze” where you would halt motionless in whatever position you were caught by passing headlights, forming grotesque statues. One time we could see the old lady separating the blinds to spy on us; whenever we stopped and looked up, she would snap them shut. Her stint in espionage ended when she cracked open the blinds and saw a line of bare bottoms pointed up at her. I don’t know if she ever recovered her sense of decorum.

Once I was with a group of kids playing Hill Dill near the intersection of Townsend and East Clinton Streets. Our parents were visiting T and H. N., who lived there. It was just after dark when a large, furry shape ambled down the middle of the street, heading for the swamp below the Sewer Plant. We screamed and ran inside, saying that we saw a bear. No one believed us, of course, until the Herald featured a picture of this big old brown bear that Mr. Rosselli had shot down in the swamp. I remember the old-timers explaining that when the bears got old and their teeth wore out, they would come down to the meadows to catch fish or eat berries.

Another time we were playing down at N’s house. A friend (R. Ns.) lived in a small house on the corner of East Clinton and Townsend Streets (there was a beautiful tulip tree in the back yard). An older fellow lived in the house attached to the Plumbling Supply House down the street. He pulled Bob aside for a little conference, saying he knew something that would get girls mad at you. At that moment, one of the N girls was sitting with her friends in chairs on their front lawn. Well, Bob took off in a large circular sweep, extending his arms like the wings of a dive bomber and making the appropriate engine noises with his mouth. He halted quite suddenly in front of the girls and neatly flipped them the “middle finger.” You’d have thought they’d seen a ghost! They fled screaming into the house, chairs and dolls stumbling everywhere, and brought Mrs. N. out. She caught up with that old dive bomber and dragged him inside to apologize. I don’t think Bob ever revealed (even under torture with a bar of soap) who his flight instructor was!

When I was real little, my mother did her food shopping in the Acme Market that stood on Lower Spring Street, opposite Ideal Pontiac and the entrance to Union Place. Later they opened the Grand Union and A & P on East Clinton Street. Day to day, we bought milk, bread and meat at Rosselli’s Market, on the corner of Trinity street and Union Place. Mary Rosselli was usually behind the sales counter, sometimes assisted by her brother, Joe Maggio. Sam Rosselli manned the butcher counter at the back of the store. There were shelves of glass penny-candy jars behind the cash register, where we used to buy the candy drops on a paper roll, jaw-breakers and those little wax soda bottles filled with a very sweet syrup. Real men always chewed and swallowed the wax bottles. We also bought baseball cards there; usually the gum was as hard and stale as the card. It seems to me that the candy drops on the paper role were sort of color coded, so many lines of candy drops of one color, and they would measure out a certain length for a certain price.

Sometimes we would see Flossie the Cat Woman at Rosselli’s Market. Even though she looked a bit shabby, she would always buy cans of salmon or tuna fish and other delicacies to feed every stray cat on Spring Street — they ate better than she did! We always called the brick house on Trinity Street, a few doors down from were we lived, Doc Huff’s house, though I never saw him there. The house was fully furnished but never occupied. In back was a small frame building full of veterinary instruments and business records. Well, Flossie used to walk home from Rosselli’s Market, cutting through Doc Huff’s yard, to her apartment behind Spring Street. Seeing her buy her usual cart of kitty treats, a friend and I ran ahead and climbed the tree next to Doc Huff’s porch. As she passed beneath us, we began to meow and wail. She took out a cat treat and began to call, “here, kitty, kitty!” Purring, we began to call out in a tiny voice, “help, help, I’m stuck in the tree!” With a very worried look on her face, the Cat Woman responded, “Don’t worry, I’ll get you down!” She opened a carton of milk and poured some in a cup that she carried in a bag. Then she hurried off (to find someone with a ladder, I suppose). We scrambled down and ran off before we could be rescued. Later, when we looked from behind the tree at the foot of our driveway, she was petting a kitten that was drinking from the cup of milk — we were too far away, unfortunately, to hear what the cat was saying to her.

Another eccentric was our neighbor Mrs. R. She was part owner of a clothing store on Spring Street, but always kept Farmer’s Hours (as opposed to Banker’s Hours), getting up at sunrise and going to bed at sundown. Her yellow and gray hair was always cut in a sort of page boy that required her minimal attention. Each and every morning, she would rise and walk uptown to have an ice cream soda for breakfast. Her yard was kept beautifully with mountain laurel, flowering quince, forsythia, rambling briars on trellises, and a very prolific black cherry tree. Her pride and joy was her elephant collection: when you came in the front door, she would take this tiny wooden egg from the curio cabinet and open it in you hand, spilling out these microscopic elephants carved in India. As you progressed around the rooms, the pachyderms got larger and more exotic, until finally you sat on a couch flanked by two large elephant lamps.

Her brother L. lived with her for a time and earned quite a reputation for his strange barroom antics. My aunt Hazel used to sell tropical fish from her home on Merriam Avenue and L. would be her best customer on Friday and Saturday nights, sometimes coming back several times during the same evening. My aunt eventually learned that he was taking these goldfish to John’s Tavern, where he would bet people a drink that he could swallow them alive (I can only guess that goldfish were cheaper than the drinks). She was so horrified that she refused to sell him anymore.

My father and grandfather ran a plumbing business and their helpers would come in to the house and sit around the breakfast table, planning out the day’s work. Mrs. R. always wore the same wrinkled outfit, day in and day out, consisting of a blouse with no buttons left to close it and a pair of slacks that looked like they were made out of sofa upholstery; she apparently didn’t wear anything underneath. Since she was a chain smoker, she would gather the blouse closed and hold up her slacks with her left hand, while smoking her cigarette with the other. She also would simply walk in our house without knocking and ramble up the stairs to the kitchen. This one morning the workmen were at their usually gathering, passing the cream and sugar, when in walked Mrs. R. Suddenly she sneezed and her hand went instinctively to cover her mouth, allowing the blouse to fly open and her drawers to drop to her ankles. The men were staring at the ceiling, tying their shoe laces, sticking their faces in the refrigerator ... looking anywhere they could to avert their gaze from the startling revelation before them!

I was destined for higher education at a fairly young age. One time I went with my grandfather to help unclog a waste pipe at the nursing home up by the reservoir on High Street. After fiddling withg a plumber’s snake on the outside rear wall of the building, he said,”I’ll try it from the inside. Keep your eye on it, okay?” And so I did — quite literally. When the blockage gave way, I had a face full. When grandpa came out, I remember him saying: “Send this one to college; he’s no plumber!”

For several years, as a kid, we used to watch movies at the Court Square Theatre on High Street. I think it cost 35¢. I remember seeing “Sink The Bismark” there. Around 1964, the Newton Threatre on Spring Street re-opened. Not long after that, they tore down the old Everitt house on Union Place to accommodate more parking.

We often shopped for clothes at Murray’s on Spring Street. When you went in, his son would often wait on you. He usually couldn’t be bothered much looking for stuff and if you asked for something, he would say “We don’t have it.” That would bring his father running. We always joked that Mr. Murray had tailor elves in the basement. If you went in and asked for size 58 polka-dot long johns with the flap in the front, he would disappear downstairs and always return with the item of your desire.

My great-grandfather Brink lived with my grandparents on Foster Street. He was born in Walpack Centre, learned the trade of wheel-wright at the Millbrook smithy, but worked as Assistant Superintendent on the farm of the County Alms House when he dated a farmer’s daughter named Celeste Campbell, who lived on a neighboring farm near Long Bridge. When I was a kid, Grandma Brink lived with her daughter, Alice Armstrong, around teh corner from us on Townsend Street. They only used to put them together in the same room for several hours on Thanksgiving. They seemed to like to grumble at each other; he saying that she’d never worked a day in her life and she responding that she “had to go to the Poor Farm to find you!”

Grandpa Brink used to have a large garden down back of the house where he’d plant corn in mounds, saying “One for the cutworm, one for the crow, one for the droth and one to grow.” During the Depression, they changed this bit of doggerel to make fun of the make-work road crews on public assistance: “One to come and one to go, one to piss and one to mow.” Anyway, Grandpa raised a full variety of fruits and vegetables, including a white squash — called a “milk pumpkin” or sometimes a “cheese pumpkin” — used for making pumpkin pies. Locally, the more familiar jack-o-lanterns were only grown to feed hogs. Grandpa Brink used to store these milk pumpkins on a bench in the cold cellar of the barn at the rear of the property. Well, one Thanksgiving a new-comer to town was invited to the traditional feast at my grandparents’ home on Foster Street. She brought in a pumpkin pie, covered with a dish towel, and set under Greeat-Grandma Brink’s nose, proudly announcing that she’d made it from scratch, using field pumpkins. When she went into the kitchen to help out, I heard Grandma Brink stare down at the proferred dessert with utter disdain, whispering aloud, only half under her breath: “Pig food!”

Grandma Brink had a room at the head of the stairs in my great-aunt Alice’s house. When I would overnight stay with my cousin Bob, she would make us breakfast. No matter how many toasters she received as gifts over the years, she insisted on using this primitive electric toaster, where the sides flap down to put in the slices of bread. She’d always wait for the smoke to gush forth and then she’d ask you, “how do you like it?” and then scrape it to the desired degree of lightness. Somehow, there was always a taste of charcoal about her toast.

Almost every day, Grandma Brink would get somebody — usually her daughter or grandson Bob — to go to Roselli’s Market and fetch a quart of milk, a loaf of Hollywood Diet Bread, and two copies of the New Jersey Herald (one to mail to her nephew Eugene in Texas). If no one was home to do her bidding, she’d call around the corner and get one of us to go. If you declined (or did anything else that irritated her), she’d erase your name from her family Bible. Of course, once you were on her good side again, she’d write you back in. When she passed away in 1965, they cleaned out her room. Somebody said to me (when they were pretty much done), “why don’t you go up and find yourself some memento of Grandma?” Well, among all these empty pill bottles, I found her Bible. Therein I saw the genealogy pages with the repeated erasures and rewritings. My poor cousin Bob had been written in and written out so many times that there was a hole in the page by his name.

As a young kid, I remember the air raid sirens that would send everybody indoors; once I remember running into the air-raid shelter provided in the Sussex & Merchants Bank. The fire whistle sounded the air-raid alert with a long, loud blast. Sometimes, you would see other little kids just freeze and cry. We, of course, jumped under our desks in grammar school, so that we wouldn’t be hid with flying shards of glass from the shock wave. Once, perhaps during teh Cuban Missle Crisis in October 1961, I remember the whole student body sitting along the walls in the central corridor of St. Joe’s, praying the Rosary. Seems to me that most folks figured the Big One was on its way!

I was the product of a “mixed marriage,” which is to say, my father was Episcopalian and my mother a Roman Catholic (or, as Grandma Brink would say, a “Papist”). My parents were not even allowed to be married in a church, but in the Catholic Rectory in Leonia. My parents had to promise to raise their children as Roman Catholics. I remember thinking that the world was divided between Catholics and “Publics”: Catholics went to Catholic School and Publics, of course, went to Public School. I vagually remember hearing older kids talk on the playground about the possible election of John Kennedy as the first Catholic President and whether or not he would be subservient to the Pope.

The nuns thought that it was soem form of devil-worship to dress up as demons and ghouls for Halloween, so they encouraged us to dress up as our Patron Saints for All Saints’ Day. Unfortunately, I never could find out anything about St. Kevin, so I always had to pick out somebody else. One year, my brother Tim dressed up as St. Patrick in a bishop’s garb with cardboard mitre. Tim was always attracted to danger, like a moth to a flame, and was especially intrigued by automobiles. On this occasion, he slipped behind the wheel of our Ford station wagon, released the hand brake and slipped it into neutral. Our driveway was pretty steep and lined by on both sides by rows of big maple trees. Anyway, the car began to roll down the driveway, picking up speed, gliding erratically between these trees, out across traffic, missing both moving and parked vehicles, and rolled up onto the lawn of the house across the street, stopping just short of the porch. Of course, everybody came running to see if someone had had a heart attack or something behind the wheel — just as they got there, the door opened and out stepped this tiny St. Patrick, adjusting his mitre. They just stood there dumbfounded, supposing for the moment that the good Saint had guided this vehicle out of harm’s way on its treacherous descent.

I also remember a Halloween when my brother Keith won an award for his costume during a Halloween parade. He was some kind of cycloptic monster, outfitted in a huge cardboard box, with holes cut for his arms and legs, and a vision slit. As I recall, he had a red, twirling dome light on top, powered by a battery pack. Late that night, as I was returning up Townsend Street, I heard this pitiable cry coming from the bushes on Mrs. Westbrook's lawn, saying: Help! I've fallen and I can't get up!" Apparently, someone had pushed him over and he couldn't right himself without outside help. I think we had to share some of our candy with him to make up for his loss.

I always suffered from an over-active imagination. One November afternoon when I was in sixth grade, I remember Sister Rosella, the Principal, coming suddenly into the classroom, saying that something terrible had happened and to pray for the President. She returned a short time later and said, somewhat hysterically, that the President had been shot “in the head, just like Abraham Lincoln” and killed. Now, somehow I got it into my impressionable young mind that she also said, “they’re shooting Catholics!” School was dismissed early and we were sent home — presumably to give us a better chance of getting home alive! I remember sneaking through the old cemetery and down one of the lanes that leads into Spring Street. There my brothers and I paused, peered out cautiously before making a mad dash across Spring Street and into the narrow alley that led down to our house on Trinity Street. I guess we figured that Spring Street would be a “shooting gallery” filled with anti-Papist snipers. Years later, I remember townsfolk protesting the construction of the tower apartments on Mill Street (where the old Sussex Shoe Factory stood) because they would make a good sniper’s nest; we always called them Sniper Towers.

I always had a certain craving for history, which I used to satisfy by listening to the old folks talk. On Sundays and holidays, we would have a family gathering. After dinner, the kids would rush out to play, but I always lingered in my seat, because the conversation would sooner or later turn to gossip and story-telling. Inevitably, one of the elders would notice me and banish me from the table, saying, “This is only for adults.” My habit eventually got me into trouble. You see, in those days, the teachers would take the entire class over to church for confessions on Fridays. I remember there was always somebody whose whispering voice in the confessional could be heard by everyone, particularly the teacher. In any event, when we came back to class one time, the good Sister said that we were not sufficiently examining our consciences and consequently we spent to little time confessing our sins. So she opened the Baltimore Catechism to the list of the Seven Deadly Sins for a review. The very next Friday, I entered the Confessional and poured forth my guilt, making up for lost time and a dishonest heart: “Bless me, Father, for I have sinned, my last confession was a week ago. I talk back to my parents twice, I said bad words five times, and I committed Adultery nine times ....” Well, there was this sudden silence from the other side of the screen. After a moment or two, Father Connery asked, “Son, how old are you?” “Nine,” I said. Another moment of silence. “And son, what do you think Adultery is?” “Oh ... that’s when kids act like an adult.” “Well,” said the Confessor, “we’ll let it pass this time. For your Penance, say three Hail Marys and one Our Father and recite the Act of Contrition. For having committed one of the Seven Deadly Sins, I figure I got off pretty easily.

St. Joseph’s Parish was founded by Irish Catholics in 1821. The first church was built in side the walls of the Old Catholic Burial Ground on Jefferson Street in 1854. Many Italians began arriving in the 1880s. Consequently, there seemed to be a tradition of alternating Irish and Italian rectors. When Father Bladek died in 1959 (?), the Bishop appointed Monsignor Gallo. Now, when I was an altar boy, the priest would dress for mass in the sacristy to the left of the chancel. A narrow, semicircular corridor led around back of the main altar to the altar boys’ room on the opposite side. There were two statues standing on wall pedestals above the doors leading from each of these rooms into the chancel: the Irish Saint Patrick stood above the doorway that the priest entered to say Mass and the Italian Saint Anthony of Padua stood over the opposite doorway. Now I seem to remember a buzz passing through the crowd when Monsignor Gallo was installed; somebody tugged my sleeve and pointed out that these two great saints had miraculously switched places during the night!

The Sisters of Christian Charity, who staffed the school, had their Mother House in Mendham. There must have been some kind of competition among the different Orders to have their Founders declared saints. The Sisters of Christian Charity were established by a German nun and kindergarten teacher for the blind, ominously named Mother Pauline von Mollinckrodt. When her brother first saw her in her habit and white wimple, he tapped her on the forehead with his cane (they never said how hard this blow fell), denting her wimple into the shape of a heart (symbolizing, I suppose, Christian Charity). To become a saint requires proof of three miracles. The easiest miracle to prove is that of “incorruption,” which means you exhume the body to find that its saintliness has preserved it from all decay. Sometimes, the corpse even exudes the odor of roses. Now, if my memory serves me well, Mother Pauline died around 1881. I remember being taken with my class (probably when I was in first grade) into the Kindergarten, which served as a theater or assembly room (there was a long semicircular bench framing the rounded front of the room). Here they showed us a movie of the exhumation of Mother Pauline, almost a century after her demise. Well, let me tell you, it didn’t look like those people smelled any roses! When they pried open the lid, there was this creature that looked like a piece of old shoe leather, dressed in a ratty nun’s outfit.

Every parochial school student had to sell at least one box of Mother Pauline von Mollinckrodt Christmas cards, with her lovely picture on the front. My mother had to buy one box for each of us — I don’t think anybody ever mailed one. But my brother Tim did sell a box to Mrs. Wein next door and she was Jewish.

When I was a schoolboy, a stone wall ran along the northwest side of the Old Catholic Burial Ground, extending from Jefferson Street back to the macadam playground behind the school. A narrow sidewalk ran between this wall and the school. Just beyond the rear entrance door to the main hallway there was a window that opened into the so-called Milk Room. This was a small room outfitted with a long refrigerator/freezer, where small cartons of milk for those who ordered milk at lunchtime were stored. At recess, eighth-grade girls sold pretzels, bags of potato chips and ice cream through the exterior window. Now, this Milk Room was also the place where the most hardened criminals were sent to repent their grevious faults. Here the guilty would stand awaiting Final Judgment. Since the good Sisters wore a long string of rosary beads from their belt, the condemned would listen for the ominous clanging of these beads to alert them to the near approach of Justice.

I only did one stint as a prisoner in the infamous Milk Room. Now, you have to understand that we had to attend 8 o’clock Mass each morning before school, where we would sit in pews assigned to our class. One morning, when I was in eighth grade, I happened to leave the house late. I came running up the front steps of the church and opened the door, only to be greeted by an unsmiling Mother Superior. Before I could even open my mouth, she flung me back down the steps with the fatal command to “go to the Milk Room.” Shortly after school started, I heard the jangling beads. Sister came in an demanded that I think about my grevious fault — when I figured out what I had done, she would be back to hear my confession! Several times she returned and each time I produced a litany of my sins, probing deeper and deeper into my guilty conscience in hopes of finding the right one. Though she was dutifully shocked at each revelation, I still failed to produce the answer she was seeking. During the lunch hour, I had to suffer in complete silence the taunts of the girls selling snack foods, listening to them speculate on the probable tortures that awaited me for my transgression. In my final interview, at the end of the school day, I was still unable to produce the reason for my imprisonment. She then stared grimly into my face and announced that I was the lowest of the low, “a Beatle Communist!” She then pointed at my sweaty forehead. Well, in those days we all wore crew cuts called “flat-tops,” using a stick of wax to cement our very short bangs in an upright position. Running late, I forgot this final bit of coiffure, which left these bangs hanging precariously down in the unwholesome style of the Fab Four. This must have all happened (I suppose) shortly after John “Lenin” Lennon made his infamous remarks about the Beatles being more popular than Christ.

In October 1964, I went with several friends of mine to see a Newton High School football game. My friend’s older sister was in High School at the time, but we were still in St. Joe’s and had never been inside the building. So we went in to find a water fountain. As we were walking big-eyed down the corridor, my friend spotted a Barry Goldwater poster put up by the Debate Club. In an unexpected display of partisan passion, he tore it down. I looked out one of the big windows that made the interior transparent to anyone and everyone outside and spied an official-looking gentleman in a suit gesturing excitedly for us to come out. We instinctively began to run down the hall, all the while he running alongside us on the outside of the building. We naturally reached the same exterior doorway at about the same time, us on one side and he on the other. We flung open the doors and made a run for it. I heard him shouting, “stop those guys!” but kept going full speed ahead. As I ran through the startled crowd and up the steep embankment behind the bleachers, I assumed that my friends were right behind me. “This way!” I urged. when I finally collapsed behind soem tall brush in the woods to catch my breath, I looked around and called out, only to discover that I was alone. I’d never been in trouble before, but I pretty much figured that I’d be held guilty by association, even though I hadn’t done anything myself. After hiding out behind Grandpa’s barn for a while, I decided it was nearly dark and safe to walk home. As I turned from Linwood onto Liberty Street, however, an adult getting out of a car suddenly said, “hey, weren’t you one of those guys that the vice-principal was chasing.” I hurried my steps. As I cut from Elm to Halsted Street, past the Rectory, I saw the lights on in the Church, so I stopped into the confessional, explained my predicament and asked for advice. “Son,” said the concealed voice, “you must turn yourself in. What’s your name?” Well, I thought to myself quickly, here I got away by the speed of my own two feet and now he wants me to turn myself in? Now I felt guilty, but not quite that guilty! I silently rose and departed, making my way home carefully in the dusk.

And here are three bits of doggerel from Catholic School:

Lip-Smackin Higgins
Somethings we are taught
Have that familiar ring:
Zero, Oh or Naught
All mean the same thing.

Derisions of Johanna
Hell hath no fury
Like Johanna Scorned;
Did every young heart scurry
Once they’d been forewarned?
And all the lads and lasses
Shuddered at that pose???-
Those coke-bottle glasses
And craters in her nose.

Dance of the Trolls
“What? Is this a freak show?”
Mildred Giveans said,
as she jumped and with her elbow
landed on his head.
Just to knock some sense in,
but she lost control
at the mere mention
of Kicki’s Dancing Troll.

CQ was my best friend as a kid. We used to have "pickle" fights with our older brothers, collecting “pickles” that grew on a tree in their neighbor’s yard on Linwood Avenue. Our brothers would barricade themselves in the upper story of the barn behind the house and we would attack their “fort.” We would fight our way up this exterior stairway, climb on a shed roof and try to get in a window in the back. One time I was taking a short cut with CQ, walking behind the Baptist Church. There was a weeping willow growing beside a low stone wall. He grabbed onto a willow branch and tried to swing like Tarzan off the wall. As he swung out into the air, the branch snapped and he landed on the top of his head, getting a bad cut. I remember that he was quite a scrapper and use to use the “coco-butt” against guys twice his size on the playground. This consisted of ramming your opponent in the stomach with your head and knocking the wind out of him. It worked just fine many a time, until once some kid raised his knee and knocked him flat.

I played a lot of military re-enactment games as a kid, especially with my brother Patrick. we collected armies of plastic soldiers, tanks, troops carriers, and made plastic models of planes and ships. The corner of the yard, under a juniper tree by the patio, was a snadbox battlefield. we also used to put plastic ship models into a large galvanized water tub, put fire crackers into the stacks, and pour lighter fluid on them, to loudly simulate their destruction. We used to argue during the course of these mock battles as to what the effects of each bombardment was on the opponent's defenses ... needless to say, the older brother usually won. Being older, I naturally outgrew these games before my brother did. Once day, I simply said that he could have all my armies; he looked perplexed and acutely disappointed.

I was supposed to "skip" third grade and my brother Tim (who was a year behind me) was supposed to "skip" second grade. Tim succeeded. I did all the work and took all the exams, except for Religion, studying in the convent during summer. As summer drew to a close, I wasn't going to waste anymore of my time memorizing catechism, so I lost interest. consequently, Tim "skipped" and ended up in my class. He lost the friends who had been his classmates and it really took a while for my friends and classmates to accept him. A year makes a whole lot of difference at that age!

Educational methods have certainly changed since my grammar school days. I remember one incident when a teacher punished a student named J. J. for calling out or talking during class. As I recall, he had a pronounced tendency to spray it and well as say it. She tied him to a chair, put tape across his mouth and a wash bucket over his head, and then locked him in the closet for most of the day. Beginning in fifth grade, the girls sat in the back rows of the classroom, so as not to distract the boys with their wiles, smiles and sexy school uniforms (which, of course, were designed to leave everything to the imagination). One day we returned from Mass and were standing to pray and say the flag salute. I saw the nun look angrily at someone in the back of the room and shake her head. From the corner of my eye, I saw a girl raising her hand, seeking permission to go to the lavatory. The nun continued to shake her head negatively while continuing the prayers until, suddenly, there was a sad cry of exasperation and a splash. Unable to contain herself any longer, the poor girl peed on the floor. She left the room, crying hysterically, and never returned. Bodily functions, I suppose, were secondary to spiritual ones.

Attending Novena on Wednesday nights was one way for nasty schoolboys to earn “brownie points.” The trick was to get there early enough to sit in front of the nuns, and be certain that they saw you. I went with several friends once and took the coveted seating. Old Mr. M. sat alone in the pew in front of us. After a while, we heard the tell-tale jangling of rosary beads and sensed the Sisters shuffling into the pew behind us. We were praying very loud and everything seemed to be going our way until ... Mr. M. suddenly leaned precariously, at a very obtuse angle, so suddenly, in fact, that we thought he had a heart attack or something. A that moment — now frozen in my memory — old Mr. M let rip the most amazing flatus, which resounded loudly off the oak pew. With the saints staring griml;y down upon us, we tried desparately to contain ourselves, biting our tongues and pursing our lips, until the guffaws burst forth from our mouths. Just as suddenly, I felt the cold finger of disapproval jab into my spine. As I solemnly learned the next day, “it isn’t polite to laugh at another’s misfortune!” Especially, not in the face of the Almighty!

Unfortunately, one fart joke deserves another (at least according to the tenets of sixth-grade humor). Several familes of refugees arrived in Newton after the Hungarian Revolt of 1956, swelling our third-grade class at one point to 52 students in a single classroom! One Hungarian boy in my class used to bring raw onion sandwiches on dark bread each day for lunch. Inevitably, our afternoon session would be disrputed by a sharp report, the watering of eyes, and a sudden shuffle of students moving their desks away from the usual suspect. When the sulphurous cloud finally reached the teacher, she would casually ask the culprit to step out onto the playground to “air yourself off!” We would grab these long wooden poles with a metal hook at the end and use them to lower the upper sash of the classroom windows. This was culture shock, to say the least.

The older folks used to do a lot of chatting in those days. I remember hanging out at the lunch counter at Julie’s in the strip mall on East Clinton Street, across from the Grand Union. Julie also had stacks of toys and magazines, so it was like a miniature department store. There was also an ice cream and lunch counter at a place called Blondie’s, located on Moran Street, between the Motor Vehicle Station and the bridge over “Piss River,” leading to Memory Park. Everybody would stop here on summer days, going to and from the Town Pool, the playground, or the ball fields. When I was in fourth grade, Mrs. Gaba used to send me and a friend down to get her lunch at the Green Room on Spring Street. There was always the lunch counter in Woolworth’s, with its hot-dog rotisserie and shake machine. We used to buy our Beatle and Stones albums at Woolworths for $2.77. We also would go out to the Farmers’ Market in Springdale, where for reasons unknown, they would have all these English singles, Ep’s and albums for sale.

My father was the Executive Officer for the 50th Armor Battalion, with an office in the Dover Armory. If we wanted to go to the big down, we hitched a ride with him to work and walked into downtown Dover. The Two Guys store on Route 46 was the biggest we’d ever seen (before they built the Big N on the Martin farm on Route 206). I remember GDV, a class ahead of me in High School, saying that he’d heard about this place where you could get hamburgers for 20¢ apiece. He drove down to the new Carol’s Restaurant on Route 46 in Dover and bought a bag full with French Fries. This was the first fast-food I ever saw.

I did play sports as a kid, though not to the extent of any abilities that I might have possessed. I played a lot of pick-up games of baseball with my cousin — you might call it "sand-lot" games, except that we played on the beautiful lush greensward next to the sewer treatment plant, below East Clinton Street, bordering on Moore's Brook (which we affectionately called Piss River). we chose sides either by tossing the bat into the air and grabbing it, putting fist over fist until we ran out of bat. The team captain who got the last full handfull of the bat's neck got the first pick. Other times we would stick out our clenched fists while someone pounded their fist around the circle, saying, "one potatoe, two potatoes, three potatoes, four ..." On other occasions, we would "shoot for it," projecting odd or even numbers of fingers, with one person "calling" odd or even as the fingers shot out. These pick-up games usually lasted until a batter hit one foul, breaking one of the glass panes in the greenhouse of the sewer plant. We then instantly disappeared into a neighbor's house. This type of unorganized play was very heathy (when compared to today's parentally over-organized sports. we learned to settle disputes among ourselves — what was a ball or strike, who was safe or out, et cetera.

I remember playing minors and majors in Little League. My coach was "Dutch" Resch (who I think played baseball with my grandfather, who was known as Windy Wright, hopefully for his speed and not for poor digestion). If I remember correctly, you were picked, assigned to a team and given a uniform for the duration of your time in Little League. Once I came to bat and a good friend of mine was playing center field on the opposing team. He kept taunting, "he can't hit, he can't hit." I swung in anger and drove the ball over his astonished head and through his upstretched hands. It landed near the outfield fence as I rounded the bases. I also recall taking my turn on the catwalk of the score board at Memory Park, manually putting up number cards on hooks to record the hits, runs and outs for each inning.

I also played Pee Wee football. We used to change into our uniforms in the old American Legion building, where the Town Hall now stands. In my last year, the Midgets ran short of players. I think the cut-off for playing Midgets was 115 pounds and since I was the largest Pee Wee, I was selected to move up and fill the vacancy. I took my job seriously, studying the play book they handed me at a team meeting in the old VFW. I played Guard ... on my first time out, I got down into my stance and stared menacingly into my opponent's eyes. Unfortunately, I wasn;t balanced properly, putting too much weight on my planted knuckles. when the ball was snapped, my oopponent quickly pulled my hand out from under me and I fell flat on my face, much to everyone (but my coach's) unconcealable amusement. I suppose for years afterwards, that unfortunate occurrence (if it did indeed ever befall another player) was known as "pulling a Kevin."

In one of my first huddles on the side lines, I was told to go out on the field, carrying the instruction that a certain very good player on the opposing team was to be "taken out of the game." He was to be double-teamed and knocked down ...I was then assigned to fall heavily upon his ankle and disable him. I only made a feeble attempt and was thereafter considered too unagressive. Actually, I thought that I might (deservedly) be the object of retaliation if I did so. You know, take one for the Gipper. I turned in my uniform at the end of the season and never went back. Didn't have the stomach for it.

Around fifth grade, my cricle of friends began to change. Watching my own kids grow up, I think this is usually what happens. This fellow who moved from Iselin liked to doodle and draw, as I did, and we quickly became fast friends. During winter lunch hour, we would each take five minutes to draw as large a fleet of ships as possible on a sheet of paper, one person's armament pointing right and the other's to the left. When time was up, we would place the sheets together, so that the fleets were confronting in battle. We would then draw the trajectory of the shells firing from the guns and the resulting fires and damage to the other player's navy. Of course, the trajectory of these imaginary shells was quite arbitrary and the resultant destruction quite severe. Funny, I was just thinking how we had a disagreement many years later over a similar war game (Risk), played as adults.

The changing times was signalled in the music. My friend J. had two older sisters, who bought and listened to records. We didn't even have record players, except for a family stereo that was a real piece of mahogany furniture. But in those days, they thought that loud or raucous music was bad for the needle and speakers. Well, Joe used to call me from across town and furtively play the Beatles' and Stones' first albums over the phone. Then we saw the Rolling Stones lip-sync songs from 12 X 5 on the Clay Cole Show. The music was a revelation. I went into Graybow's Department Store, where there was a very limited selection of record albums in metal hangers on a pegboard wall. After figuring out that I had no interest whatsoever in Pat Boone, he pointed me to Bob Dylan's Times They Are A-Changin'. I had never heard of any folksingers (other than those who sang on variety shows), but I was intrigued --- The Lonesome Death of Hattie Caroll? You who philosophize disgrace and criticize all fears ...? He was very delighted to finally sell an item that would have others molded on the shelf. It took me a couple of listens to even begin to take it all in.

My brother Tim, several friends and I formed a rock-and-roll band in sixth grade. Out of the five of us, only DP could play the drums (and owned a set) and my brother Tim could play the piano and organ (very well, being a natural musician). We used to practice in DP’s basement on Hillside Terrace. I bought a second-hand guitar at Grabow’s Department Store on Spring Street — it being the only electric guitar in Newton at the time. It had a warped neck and was strung with some kind of razor wire that made your fingers bleed when you played it. But never mind, it wasn’t the sound we were after, it was the look!

3 photos from the collections of Ronald Miller
c 1965 on West End Ave., Newton
Somehow, we got booked to play the Spring Concert at the Halsted Street School. We called Bob’s Radio Taxi and got a station wagon to carry all the equipment and half the band. The rest of us walked. The act before was three cute girls sweetly singing “Were Have All The Flowers Gone.” Then we plugged in and did our electric nightmare versions of “Satisfaction,” “Do Wah Ditty,” and “Get Off My Cloud.” Suddenly I noticed the music teacher (Mrs. Hawkins?) jumping around rather excitedly and waving her arms. Unfortunately, we were playing too loud to hear what she was saying to us. When we finished, she said she would have never had us in the concert if she knew we’d make such a terrible noise. After loading up the station wagon, three of us had to walk back as there was not more room. We got a ways down Halsted Street when somebody finally noticed that a group of girls was following us. We started walking faster and they started walking faster. We started running and they started running. It soon became a chase right out of Hard Day’s Night! Fast running out of breath, he ducked into the deep recesses of the doorways of the Presbyterian Church and hoped that they would run by without seeing us. I guess we watched too many movies or something. They came around the corner and stopped and stared at us. We stared back at them. Then they started talking to us. One girl came down the block from the Public School at lunch time, when I was on Safety Patrol, acting as a crossing guard on Halstead Street, between the Church and the school.

Going to Newton High School was quite a shock to me. More than half of my graduating class from St. Joseph’s went to Pope John XXXIII High School in Sparta. So those of us who went to public high school were really a very small group in a large school with many sending districts. We never had any gym or physical education classes at St. Joseph’s, so when I first stepped into a locker room with all these naked guys in communal showers I thought it was really wierd. On opening day, I remember some seniors throwing pennies under buses and ordering this heavy set freshman to go get them. As sort of a hazing ritual, the upper classmen would lick their fingers and stick it in your ear as they walked past in the hallways.

Newton High School proves that the road to hell is paved with good intentions. As the story was told to me, the Board of Education paid a lotta money for an award-winning design for the building. Only problem was — it was designed for Florida. The old-timers tried to tell them that you shouldn’t build and couldn’t economically heat or cool a flat-roofed building with mostly glass walls, spread over several terraces. Before the school even opened, the plumbing — which had been sunk in the cement floors to conceal it — burst with the first freeze. Consequently, all the pipes were suspended by hangers from overhead, making it seem like you were in a submarine. Many of the glass panels were removed and replaced with plywood. There craziest feature of all was the central corridor connecting all the different levels. We used to call it the “E-Level Rush”: when the bell rang, every student in the school would try to squeeze through this corridor to get to the next class.

I suppose I really jinxed myself for seven years (or whatever the proscribed period is) for flatly turning down an invitation from a pretty redhead to attend a Sadie Hawkins Dance. I'm not sure I ever heard who Sadie Hawkins was, but I believe the annual dance in her honor was held in February, around Valentine's Day. According to the legend, a girl could ask any guy to go to the dance and, if he wasn't already taken, then he couldn't refuse her. Well (to Nancy Reagan's delight, no doubt), I Just Said No. I often wondered if it was taken as a cruelty (hope not).

I guess I was generally innocent in such matters, though clueless might be more honest. In Catholic School, girls were kept among the sacred mysteries (in so far as possible), especially while sprouting feminine wiles and physical enticements. The birth control of that time and place amounted to a repeated warning that farmers tried to marry off their daughters quite young, some even leaving them to sleep downstairs on the couch with the front door unlocked. So beware of Satan's snares! Once (I guess as a freshman?) I was walking to my locker to retrieve books for my next class. When, in the normal course of human events, I turned around, an unknown girl was staring me in the face. She quickly introduced herself and whispered, "I'm so-and-so's friend and she asked me to tell you that she really likes you." I didn't know who so-and-so was and spent the rest of the day looking over my shoulder for a secret admirer. I forgot about the encounter by the next day, assuming that one of my friends had put her up to it. I was eating lunch in the cafeteria with my friends, when suddenly I saw this emissary and her friend heading towards me: I just froze in anticipation of what I assumed would be an embarrassing public prank. To my friends' astonishment, they sat directly opposite me. As plain spoken as can be, this person directly informed me of her feelings and hoped that I might reciprocate. I guess my tongue was down the dry back of my throat by this point and my eyebrows were creeping up my forehead — I didn't know what to think, noless what to say! Once the rather generous terms of unconditional surrender were duly announced, they got up and walked back across the room. Silence prevailed momentarily, when suddenly my friends heaped scorn upon my head (in retrospect, I think it may have been jealosy). I grew to admire the bold honesty — it was unlike anything I knew to that point in my life — but I was totally incapable of acknowledging or returning it. I suppose I should leave some things unspoken, so as not to further harm the innocent.

My freshman Algebra teacher was a nasty piece of work. I remember we had this girl in our class who we (with typical cruelty for that age) called Bash, simply because her rather flat distorted face looked like it had been bashed. Well, we were taking a test one day when I heard Miss Emily say: “Kate, take your finger out of your nose!” We turned to see her do just that — pulling this huge elastic bugger in a string attached to nose and forefinger. Miss Emily was horrified and said, “Get rid of it!” Kate promptly wiped it on the bottom of the desk, which sent Miss Emily into convulsions.

I suppose that we had such low self-esteem that we could only survive by making fun of other people. We had what we called the Hit Parade — a list of nicknames and cartoons of all our favorite characters. For example, one large girl we called Both. Why? In the corridor leading into the cafeteria, the student used to form hot-lunch and cold-lunch lines. This poor soul was so large that we couldn’t tell which line she was in. According to the Golden Legend of the Hit Parade, when the lunch lady finally asked her, “hot lunch or cold lunch?” she supposedly answered “Both!” The Crow got her name after she was chosen Miss Lafayette. Somebody asked how that was possible and the replay was that she had come in third place, “but the cow got sick and the crow died.” Hit Parades names were not necessarily derogatory; many were actually affectionate; some were at least reluctantly adopted by the victims. There was Rancid the Rat and his sister Mouse, Carrot, Melon, Crow, Moose, Island Head, Fairy, Dusty O’Dell, Pud, Cue Ball Head, Bear, Box Cars, Fuzzy Wuzzie, Blabs, Foxy, Hubie, Kiki, Barf, Stang, Munchkin, and Robe. There were others too, of course, whose nicknames have mercifully been lost to memory.

And here’s two little ditties from Newton High School:

St. Paul’s Elixir
I am just a Rambler
Push-button nerves of steel,
the King is dead, shot to the head,
and Johnny’s at the Wheel.
A jar of Jersey Lightning
and prostrate upon the bed,
He spoke with suspense heightening:
“Hey, fellas, I’m not dead!”

Burial in the Senior Lounge
Through the heavy doors,
wafted a sad lament,
Echoing down corridors
of glass pane and cement.
So many faces wreathed in grief
a tiny casket led,
I heard to my disbelief
a voice cry “Gumby’s dead!”

One year we had an English teacher who used to talk about herself in the third person (“Now Mrs. E wants you to ...”) For the book Silas Marner, she gave us an arts-and-crafts project which I thought was a bit too immature. Anyway, the rah-rahs got their fathers to make elaborate models (including, if a remember correctly, a miniature replica
of Silas Marner’s house with electric lights). On the morning the project was due, my brother Tim asked, “what are you gonna do?” As I stood momentarily contemplating, I saw several ugly wooden statuettes that my aunt had brought us as souvenirs of her Mexican vacation. They were humanoid shapes with feline ears and Roswell eyes, sorta hunched over in posture and very crudely finished. I suppose some poor peasant family whittled them constantly and hurriedly for the tourist trade. Now, it just so happens that I had read a magazine article about the latest pop trend in art called Brutalism. Suddenly, it all came together in my head; I grabbed one of these wooden figures as I walked out the door. Just before class, I turned it over to carve my initials on the bottom and noticed that it was ink-stamped “Made in Mexico.” I blacked this out with a pen and inscribed “Marner the Miser.”

I had to sit through a few gaudy student presentations and several painful confessions of failure. Finally, she came to me. I stood up with my pine Oscar and explained: “This is my Brutalistic interpretation of Silas Marner the Miser; it's not a literal depiction of his external appearance, but rather of his contorted inward depraved self. Thank you very much.” Hardly had I finished when the teacher took the wooden critter from my hands, elevated it for all to see, and exclaimed her delighted amazement at such fine work. I got an A+. Of course, I also got a lot of dirty looks from those classmates whose parents had taken out a second mortgage to finance their artsy-fartsy offerings. I also got a few rasberries from those who had been publicly reprimanded for their failure to produce anything, Brutalistic or otherwise.

The teacher asked to put Marner the Miser on display in the hallway exhibit case and I uneasily agreed. She thought I was worried that something might happen to such a dear expression of my soul, but actually I was afraid that somebody might get curious and try to wipe off the blot that concealed the statue’s true origin. She assured me that it would be all right in the case. I smiled wanly.

Several weeks later, Mrs. E let everyone take their projects home ... but me. She came over as I was leaving class and said she’d like to speak to me. I was afraid she was going to say that her cousin just returned from a Mexican vacation with a souvenir — but no! she said she wanted to send Brutalistic Marner the Miser to Trenton for inclusion in a statewide exhibit of students’ work. Oh, sh**. How long could my luck hold? How long before somebody recognized that this was actually a Brutalistic interpretation of an Ugly American tourist. I smiled wanly and said that I hardly deserved the honor.

The next day a longtime friend of mine RN came up to me and whispered, “Guess what I got?” He slyly opened his coat to reveal old hunchback Silas. “How’d you get it?” “Don’t ask.” You didn’t break into the case, did you?” “No. Didn’t have to ... it was in her cloak closet and I had the opportunity, so ...” The next day, Mrs. E walked solemnly over to my desk, the mask of tragedy upon her countenance. “I don’t know how to tell you this, but ... Marner the Miser is missing. I feel terrible.” I smiled wanly.

I remember this Spanish teacher in High School who was new to the staff and spoke very little English. I never had him for class, but he was the warden in the cafeteria. He seemed to take a liking to our little clique, because as we passed him, carrying our trays of food to the tables, we would always smile broadly, wave cheerily and say, “Eat sh**!” He’d always smile, pat us on the backs and return the salutation, “Eat sh**!” One day, however, he came storming down the aisle towards us, all red faced. He pulled up a friend of mine from his seat by the back of the collar and demanded, “Wat is deese Eat Sheet?? Wat does deese mean?” Apparently, he graciously greeted some member of the faculty or administration with our happy salutations.

My friend J. lived in a really old house in Fredon that had been a stagecoach stop. We decided one night to have a seance there. Several of our friends, however, wrapped theselves in sheets, put talcum powder in their hair and dragged chains through the woods around the house, making the appropriate howls. We were in on the joke, but J panicked and ran out of the room. He returned carrying a shot gun and headed for the door. Suddenly we stopped laughing and ran after him. Fortunately, we were able to communicate with the “spirits” just in time to prevent them from really entering the Afterlife.

As I remember, our class in Newton High School was caught between times. There were only five “long hairs.” We used to call the jocks “rah-rahs” from the cheering at sports events. The most dangerous moment came when some students freshly painted the Press Box above the bleachers in preparation for a pep rally. I think it was scheduled the day before the big Thanksgiving football game in 1969 against archrival Sparta High School. That night somebody painted the word “Revolution” across the Press Box. When my brother and I came to school the next day, all these jocks were giving us deadly stares before classes started. When I got into homeroom, the Principal, Mr. Munchkin, came over the school intercom saying somethng to the effect that “we all know the long-haired dissidents who have insulted our school spirit!” That, of course, set vigilante justice in motion. I remember calculating how fast I could run from the auditorium door and up the hill to my grandfather’s house. Deciding that the odds were against outrunning anyone up hill, my freak friends and I marched into Munchkin’s office. I told him that we had been home all evening and that my parents could vouch for us; I told him to call and check if he doubted me. I then said that we were going to get a lawyer and hold him responsible for any harm that befell us because of his ill-considered remarks and unfounded accusations. He immediately backed off and apologized. He went back on the intercom system and said that he had been too hasty in his remarks and that there was no proof that anyone specific had done the dirty deed. After that, he appointed us to a student-faculty committee where we could air our feelings. We also never needed to carry hall passes anymore. I later learned who had painted the Press Box but I will protect his/her identity until he/she says it’s okay to divulge the facts of this case.

Some students requested that I be able to speak at the graduation but one of our class advisors said that it was out of the question. My brother and I never attended graduation, but had our own private ceremony the next day, when Mr. Munchkin handed us our diplomas from the school vault. He was undoubtedly relieved to be rid of us. A week or so after graduationn, Hubie, Russ and I packed our tents on top of Hubie's Volkswagon bug and headed for Walden Pond and the site of Thoreau's cabin. We also visited Hawthorne's Old Manse and the room where Emerson died. We had a great time. Very wisely, we painted a large depiction of Mickey Mouse as the Sorcerer's Apprentice on the front hood. That way, we were able to meet every cop between the Tappan zee Bridge and Plymouth Rock.

I attended Livingston College, Rutgers University, in Piscataway, beginning in September 1970. It was an experimental college, of sorts, built on Camp Kilmer and barely complete when we arrived. There were three Quads — known as Woodstock, Suburbia and the Projects — surrounding a single academic building, called Tillet Hall. It was a steaming side of what appeared to be barbequed reindeer, served in the Dining Hall before Christmas Break, that convinced me to become a vegetarian (which I’ve remained every since). I remember my father coming to pick me up before Midwinter Break. My brother and I had a dorm room on the first floor in the Woodstock Quad. Each room had a large picture window opening onto the central court. It was the first snowfall of the season and there was an impromptu band of naked women being led by an unlikely Pan, wearing a tuxedo jacket and top hat (but nothing else), playing a flute. My father stared at this pagan apparition in disbelief. Well, the Times They Are A-Changin’.

My good friend JS went to Glassboro College and majored in education. We used to visit each other on weekends. I remember that he bought a de-scented skunk for a pet from a farm outside Newton. We went to a party at a Glassboro dorm. Without saying a word, he lifted the skunk from his pocket and put it under the couch. In a moment, this little Pepi Le Peu wandered out into the center of the room and provoked instant pandemonium. He even stamped his feet and raised his tail at several excited guests as they made for the exits.

My father died of pancreatic cancer in August 1971. On his sick bed in September 1970, he had resigned his commission in the National Guard and so gave up his pension and medical insurance. He then got the best-paying job he ever had, working to build a power plant outside Belvidere. He needed only a few weeks more to get Union benefits, but was unable to continue because of the pain. When he died he left my mother without any life insurance or compensation for the loss of his income. She raised seven kids, providing college educations, on her salary as a Kindergarten teacher. My grandfather Wright died of a broken heart two weeks after my father’s death. He unfortunately left no will and his fabulous collection of Indian artifacts was vandalized, broken up for coffee-table decorations, despite my best efforts and arrangements to have it donated to the Delaware Indian Museum at Seton Hall University in his name. All of my father's World War II mementos also disappeared.

In my sophomore year I transferred to Rutgers College. I moved with several friends into an apartment on Route 27 in Edison. We furnished it with Depression-era (Mission) furniture, which was still plentiful and unappreciated. We even connected the speaker in an old radio to a hidden record player and would put on original recordings of Franklin Roosevelt’s speeches when ever company came over. I lived in several different apartments during the next two years: on Easton Avenue, on Livingston Avenue and finally on Somerset Street. I met my wife, Deborah Powell, while I was working the late-shift at UPS, Raritan Center, in my senior year. She was taking textile-design courses at Livingston College. Our first date was a bizarre Halloween party, after which we went to the famous Corner Tavern in New Brunswick. We married on August 20, 1976, and lived for a year in Green Brook. Then we moved to Newton and I got a job at Waterloo while attending the History program at Rutgers Graduate School. We moved to Broadway, Warren County, in December 1978. My eldest son, Ivan Timothy Wright, was born there in January 1979. We had a midwife who came from Verona. My wife was having contractions when her sister and I called for the midwife to come. She was delayed in a snowstorm and finally called me from a phone booth along Route 31, just outside of Washington, New Jersey. She told me (if need be) to offer her a glass of wine just to relax her. Deborah didn’t want anything to do with it, so I drank it ... and emptied the bottle. When the midwife came in and saw the empty bottle on the dresser, she said, “Oh, I said just a sip!” My wife said, “Don’t worry, he drank it.” Ivan was born at 10:34 PM with little help from me.

I took the job of curator at the historic Steuben House in River Edge in November 1981. My son Benjamin was born there in December 1982 and my daughter Anna in February 1985. She was only four and a half pounds when she was born and our doctor suggest that we take her into Englewood Hospital to monitor any weight loss in the first week. So my brother Tim and I carried her in our van over to the hospital, arriving at about 6 o’clock in the morning. When we came in, the head nurse saw these two guys with this new born infant and asked “where did you get that?” “Where do you think?” said I, respectfully. We soon had everything straightened out. In May, my grandmother Gertrude Wright came down to see her newest great-granddaughter. I fixed plenty of food for her and her sister, my great-aunt Alice Armstrong. But they arrived a little early and I didn't have time to run out to the store and buy film. The yard of the Steuben House was filled with almost a hundred lavendar blooms of grandma's favorite iris, from bulbs taken from her house on Foster Street. She stayed that night at her cousin's home in Lodi. About four in the morning I got a call from Alice saying that she had taken grandma over to South Hackensack Hospital with heart trouble. She died shortly after I arrived.

I will add to this account from time to time as the spirit moves me or as others refresh my memory.

Copyright 2000 Kevin W. Wright. All rights reserved.
Updated 7/11/03

<a href="" target="_top"><img border="0" alt="Counters" src="" ALIGN="middle" HSPACE="4" VSPACE="2"></a><br><a style="font-size:12" href="" target="_top"><font color="#666666">Columbia House</font></a>