2nd Book by George Albert DeFrehn, III
“REMEMBERING 201 CATHOLIC KIDS and THE 1960’s” (Anticipate Publishing April 2018)
Well, I am going to do something different in “leaking” this, my second book, out to the public. Directly below this, you will see the PREFACE, the INTRODUCTION, CHAPTER 1 and now Chapter 2 of this memoir. It’s name is derived from a grammar school class reunion that I spearheaded and helped organize in 2016, from the Class of 1966 from St. Helen’s Catholic School in the Olney Section of Philadelphia, PA.
Now some may say, “Here he goes again with a memoir. Where is this going now?” Well, I was first told when I ran the idea about having a 50-year grammar school reunion, “What are you stupid?” And yeah, maybe I was…but let me tell you, “IT WAS AWESOME.”
We had 201 kids in our class in June of 1966. Through the help of a few classmates and social media, we uncovered 92 who said they wanted to attend. On the night of April 9, 2016, 75 “boomers” from our class appeared (a total of 86 including some spouses and even a former teacher) and we “grooved” the night away.
If you happen to be a “baby boomer” of the 60’s I know you will relate to this collective memoir. If you happen to be a Catholic boomer, maybe more so. But this book is for everyone. I include the word Catholic, because this is what brought the 201 of us together five decades ago. Today, some still practice that faith. Others have become “publics” (the word for Protestants in Philly in the 60’s). Still others, I’m sure are Jewish, Buddhist, Hindu, Muslim, Agnostics and Atheists. And that is okay, too.
If you’re not a boomer and are from GenX or GenY or a Millennial, this book may give you a great understanding of where “we came from” and answer the question you may still pose today about your parents, “What is wrong with them?” !!!
Now, I was told by an acquaintance before I wrote “Is Anybody There” (details below) that I must have a good motive for any book that I decide to pen. My motive for my personal memoir was to possibly help then next suffering alcoholic and their family members who are plagued with the disease of alcoholism and addiction.
With “Remembering 201 Catholic Kids…” my motive is to paint a picture of a time now fading in memory as seen thru the eyes of kids who lived it. We were in grammar school from 1958 to 1966; graduating from high school in 1970. In 1958, America was living in what I would describe as Post World War II innocence. It was the era of Sinatra, the Big Band Sound, Elvis, the Honeymooners and Leave It To Beaver. By 1966 the Fab Four had invaded our shores telling us “All We Need is Love; a hippie name Zimmerman was crooning his anti-war rhetoric with “Blowing in the Wind”; as a country we had military “advisers” in a far-away land called Vietnam; in 1969 Neil Armstrong walked on the lunar surface and in 1970, four students were killed by the Ohio National Guard for protesting that war in that land far away.
So…I begin. I hope you enjoy the PREFACE. After reading it, I would love your feedback. I know I am intruding on your time that is precious, but I do believe it will be time worth spent. In a week or two, I will put the INTRODUCTION on this website, and roll out chapters thereafter. I’ll end here and depart with the saying of my generation…“Peace”.
We were nerds, geeks, book worms and jocks. We were short, tall, skinny and plump. We grew up in the 1960’s, maybe the last era of innocence in America. We watched black and white television with only four channels! Our favorite TV shows were: The Honeymooners, Leave it to Beaver, Dobie Gillis, Lassie, Bonanza, the Adams Family, Gilligan’s Island, F-Troop, the Ed Sullivan Show and the Wonderful World of Disney. Some of our television heroes were actually named: Barney, Gomer, Otis, Aunt Bee, Wrangler Jane, Maynard G. Krebs, the Professor & Maryanne, Matt Dillon, Miss Kitty, Chester, Hoss & Little Joe, Lerch & Cousin It, Timmy, a dog named Lassie, Howdy-Doody, and two puppets (this is pre-muppet era), Fussy and Gussy. The heroes of our sports world were Wilt, Chet, Hal, Wally-by-Golly, Zinc, Timmy Brown, Israel Lang, Ben Scotty (all head no body), the Blade, Jim Brown, Butkus, Staubach, Taylor, Gonzalez, Callison, Bunning, Short, Covington, Mays, Mantle, Musial, Maris, Kofax, Drysdale, Banks, Santo and a young black superstar, the Wampum Walloper…a dude named Richie Allen.
In this era, we actually dialed phone numbers on our black rotary telephones. If you were poor enough (like us), your home phone had a “party” line, with a red button on it, where you sometimes would pick up to call a friend and someone else was already talking on your phone line with another “party.” Yes, we were taught that when the red light was lit, you did not pick up the phone. Try telling that to teenagers, even in 1966. So, you calmly hung up and waited your turn. (Could you imagine this working in the 21st Century?!)
Most of us inhabited what were and still are commonly called “row-homes.” Unlike the townhomes of today where four or six or eight houses are connected on a quiet, tree-laced cul-de-sac street in the suburbs with 2,000 to 2,500 square feet of living space, we lived in a neighborhood where about 30-50 of these babies were connected on one-half city block, with walls so thin you could hear your next-door neighbor snoring or passing wind (in street vernacular…farting). These row-homes were approximately 17-20 feet deep and 15 feet wide. Most were two stories. Most had 3 bedrooms and one bathroom. Total living space was approximately 850 square feet, 1000 square feet if you were lucky. Now for Mom, Sis and I this was plenty of space. But for one of my best buddies, Mike, who had a set of Irish parents and 7 siblings…well, 10 people living in 850 square feet and one bathroom proved a daily challenge. Can you imagine? More on this later.
We came from different ethnic backgrounds. We were predominately Irish and German in our neighborhood, but there were others, too. We had Italians, Poles, Jews, Danes, Austrians, Scots, Brits, Ukrainians, and French; all sprinkled in for good measure. Many of us were second generation Americans. Others dated their ancestry back to the American Revolution and this was quite appropriate, for this neighborhood, that was designated and called Olney, resided in the City of Brotherly Love, the Cradle of Liberty, adopted home of Ben Franklin, home of Betsy Ross and the first Capital of the United States…Philadelphia, Pennsylvania.
In the early 1960’s, there were only three major league sports teams that called Philadelphia their home; the football Eagles (which we called Iggles), the basketball Warriors (which we called Wilt’s team) and the baseball Phillies (which we called losers for they were always awful). All of us professed diehard allegiance to these teams, to do otherwise, well, one would fear bodily harm. There were no Dallas Cowboys fans or Yankee fans in our neighborhood. If there were, they remained behind closed doors and cheered in silence. By the mid-60’s the Warriors had become the 76er’s and a group of Canadian hockey players invaded our city, won over our hearts and are forever etched in our collective memories as the Broad Street Bullies. Our new heroes were Clarkie, Dorny, Reggie, Ricky, Moose, the Hound, the Hammer and the greatest goaltender of his era, Bernard Marcel Parent, a.k.a. Bernie.
We found entertainment in and on a variety of venues. We walked everywhere and we loved it. For movies, we had a theatre called Fern Rock. For athletic prowess and feats of Olympian agility, we had two recreation centers. One we called “A & C” or simply the “Rec.” The other was located across from the local Catholic high school, Cardinal Dougherty, called Sturgis Playgound. For a place of solace to get away from our annoying parents, we had a park with trees called Fisher’s. Today, I describe to my kids and grandkids that I grew up in a neighborhood where I thought trees had wires growing out of them until I was about 10 years of age…a concrete jungle! There were no technological distractions in this era. When we arrived home from school, we were instructed to do our homework and then “get outside” and play. And boy did we play, finding total amusement in games we either invented or had been passed down from older brothers and sisters in the hood. Boys played stickball, fastball, half-ball, wall-ball, wire-ball, step-ball, street football, bottle-caps, baseball and basketball. Girls played with dolls, played house and I’m sure drooled over us “hunky” boys as they watched us in our athletic endeavors! Ok, being a guy I’m not really sure what girls did, but trust me before this masterpiece is complete, you will know all.
As noted, we had a few kids of Jewish ancestry living on our streets, but most were Catholic or Protestant. We Catholics kids called the Protestants “publics.” The Protestant kids called us Catholics, “papes.” Hey, they attended public school and we attended catholic school, go figure. Catholics went to school dressed in a uniform. Guys wore shirts, a school tie, navy-blue slacks and shoes. Girls, God bless them all, had to wear an ugly, and I mean ugly, wool uniform dress every day, that had to come down below the knees and reside half way between the kneecap and the ankle; I kid you not. We boys concluded that this was punishment due to what Eve did to Adam in the Garden of Eden leading to Original Sin. It’s true, you can look it up or Google it if you must! The public kids, from what we could gather, could wear anything they wanted: boys could wear jeans (which we called dungarees), shirts of any color and sneakers. Girls could wear any color top, skirts or slacks, shoes or sneakers. It’s the only time we Catholics would admit we wanted to be Protestant. It had nothing to do with our different religious beliefs. Had everything to do with our wanting to wear to school Chuck Taylor Converse Sneakers (high blacks were best) if you were a boy or Keds if you were a girl.
So, this epic that you hold in your hands is about us; 201 Catholic kids who graduated from St. Helena grammar school in the Olney section of Philly in June 1966. We are now approaching our “golden” years as some describe them, which in reality is a crock of sh**! Most of us were 63 and 64 years of age as I penned this missive. Some have had knees replaced, hips replaced, wear hearing aids, have 20-400 vision, have had cataract surgery, multiple hemorrhoidectomies and on a daily basis cannot find our car keys. Nothing golden about these years. However, we do have great memories of an era long past and friendships forged in the classrooms, on those streets of Olney and we want to share them with you. We also want to share with you what has happened in these 50 years since, to each of us but also to our country. This “collective memoir” may appear disjointed at times and that is ok. We human beings have a way with being disjointed. Yes, life is great but it is also messy. As you read, you will encounter many of us but some are just with us in memory.
As I type these words on my laptop computer, 20 of the 201 kids from our class have died. There may be more, but we know of these 20. Most of us did not know them as adults, so in our mind’s eye these 20 are still the 13 and 14-year-old kids from our youth and will forever be so. I dedicate all of this…we dedicate all of this to them. Amen.
In June of 2015, I came up with a brilliant idea. I asked my oldest friend in the world, Tim, the following question. “Tim, next year will be 50 years since we graduated from grammar school. What do you say we have a 50-year reunion from St. Helena?” Now Tim knows me well. He’s knows that at times I’m playing with “half-a-deck,” as we say back in the hood. He responded and I’m paraphrasing, “What are you friggin’ stupid.” So, the idea went back to the attic
Then August rolled around and I was still thinking about it. Now some of you know I am a recovering alcoholic and have read my memoir, “Is Anybody There? Memoir of a “Functional Alcoholic.” Well, there is a guy named Clarence in the rooms of sobriety who when he shares will sometimes point to his head and say, “Don’t play with the toys in the attic, they’re all broken.” Well, I was back up in my attic and I grabbed the “reunion idea” and carried it over to my laptop. Now I was never a Facebook person and still don’t use it a lot. However, my editor, Marie Duess told me I must have a Facebook page for my memoir. Yeah, she was right. But now I was going to use it for something else.
It was August 4, 2016 and I logged onto Facebook and thought of the names of people in my class in grammar school from 1966. For whatever reason, and us Catholics give credit to the Holy Spirit, the name Tracye McArdle came into my head. Now I always thought Tracye was the smartest girl in our class. She always had her hand raised and seemed to always get the answers right. So, I searched her name and dang, there she was! In living color. In my mind’s eye, I only remembered her in black and white. We didn’t have color TV’s in the 1960’s. I found her! So, I did the Facebook thing and sent her a message telling her of my brilliant idea. As soon as I sent it, my first thoughts were, what the fluck am I doing? I haven’t talked to this girl, now a woman, in 49 years. SURE, she’s going to get back to me. So, I did another Catholic thing and said a prayer to St. Jude. Now, Jude is the patron saint of hopeless cases and I was hopeless. But isn’t it great to have patron saints. Crap, there are saints for everything. Google the patron saint for fireworks. My first guess was Joan of Arc because she got “lit up” and burned to death at the stake…but no, it’s St. Barbara. Go figure. You can look it up! Ok, back to reality.
So, I sat for a few minutes on the edge of my bed with laptop in hand, feeling like a perfect idiot and the miracle happened. Tracye sent me a message back! Not only a message, but a message that said, “Go for it!” And that is how this tale begins.
As you read this collective memoir, you will meet some of my classmates who have agreed to share some of their “Catholic story” about growing up in Philly in the 1960’s. I have asked them to share their fondest and not so fondest memories of that era. To share a story or two about their favorite teacher or nun; their best friend; what they remember the day JFK was assassinated; or an episode that has lasted in their attic for 50 years.
I know by naming this book with “201 Catholic Kids” in the title, that you’ll think I’m limiting my audience. NOT SO! If anything, it should enhance it. Why? Well there are approximately 62 million people in the USA who identify themselves as Catholic when asked about their religion. If I sold one book to each of them, I would be the greatest writer in the universe! (Remember now I’m an alcoholic…it’s all or nothing!) Plus, the fact, I want Protestants, Jews, Muslims, Atheists, Agnostics, Buddhists, Hindus and the rest of the world to read it too.
As a group, we began grammar school in 1958 while Ike was President. We graduated grammar school in 1966 and high school in 1970, during the presidencies of LBJ and Tricky Dick, respectively. Subsequent to high school, some of us went on to college, others to trade schools, others went to medical or nursing schools, others to the seminary or convent, others joined the military, others, in time, joined the police force or fire department, still others, well, they went to work and started earning a living, and a few went away to that war in Vietnam. Many of us married, but others stayed single. Many of us had children, others did not. Some of us divorced and remarried, others are still married to their grammar school, high school or college sweethearts. I’m sure some made a phenomenal amount of money in their careers, while many made enough to support their families and live comfortably. Still others, I’m guessing made enough to get by, some living pay check to pay check; some not having enough when the pay check ran out.
The era we grew up in was unique. We have been called “Baby Boomers”; beatniks; hippies; members of the Generation of Love, where, all we really wanted to do was, “Give Peace a Chance.” We have been both praised and vilified for what exists culturally in America and around the world today. The cry of our generation was, “Sex, Booze, Drugs and Rock ‘n Roll!” In the early 60’s we were watching “Leave it to Beaver” and “Andy of Mayberry” on television. By 1969, many were smoking pot and dancing at Woodstock. In 1964 those four magnificent Brits stormed our shores and with their music, awoke a generation to movements that in one breath could start a riot on the campus of Kent State University in Ohio and in another stop a War in that far-away tiny country we knew nothing about but whose name still haunts us today and will forever…Vietnam.
The style of hair in the mid-1960’s was pretty simple for both sexes. Boys had crew-cuts while girls wore ponytails or made gallant efforts of curling their straight hair or even more gallant efforts of straightening their curly or frizzy hair. We wore dungarees (jeans) with white socks and sneakers in the early Sixties, went out every Halloween and grabbed gobs of candy, loved drinking milk and eating cookies. By the end of the decade we were wearing jeans, desert boots, grew our hair long, smoked cigarettes, drank beer, Ripple and Boone’s Farm Apple Wine, and smoked some dope, which some of us called “ha-ha.”
At the beginning of this decade our music repertoire was varied. Depending on our parents and older siblings we listened to Elvis, Chuck Berry, Chubby Checker (a Philly kid!), Buddy Holly, Jan & Dean, Peter-Paul and Mary, Jimmy Dean and even Sinatra was making records that seemed somewhat relevant. Yet, by 1969-1970 we were grooving and dancing to the music of the Beatles, Stones, Doors, the Who, Hendrix, Airplane, the Supremes, Gladys Knight, Aretha, the Temps, Diana Ross, Janice, Sly & the Family Stone, Crosby-Stills and Nash, Iron Butterfly, Santana, Blood-Sweat and Tears, Chicago, Country Joe McDonald and a host of other rockers. Yes, there was a ton of racial tension during this era, but on the dance floor the racial walls appeared to come down. We had white kids dancing to the Temptations and black kids grooving to the Stones. Yes, it was cool.
As infants, all 201 of us were all baptized Catholics. We attended St. Helena’s School from September through June of each year. In second grade, we received our First Holy Communion and in third grade the sacrament of Confirmation where we could pick a cool name, rather that the dorkie one our parents gave us at birth! It did not become our official name, but it was still cool anyway. We attended the 9 a.m. Children’s Mass every Sunday and on every Holy Day of Obligation (I’ll explain these later). We went to Confession (sometimes known as visiting or “hitting the Box”) once a month or more telling the priest how many times we beat up our little brothers and sisters, how many times we lied to our parents and how many times we took the old man’s dollar bills when he came home loaded from Harry’s Saloon at Second St. & Godfrey Ave. The nuns told us there were NO dirty parts of the human body, but if we did in fact touch them, it was a sin…huh? Exactly. And if we couldn’t come up with any sins, hell, we just made them up…so, in essence, we went to Confession making up lies that we lied! Oh yeah, that rumor you heard about us Catholics pre-Vatican II, we could NOT eat meat on Friday…was true! Pretty cool, eh?
So, this memoir will be our story, our gift to you. Yet, it will be much, much more. Yes, you’ll discover what went on during the “coolest and grooviest” time to live in, through our lenses and the lenses of history. But I, also, want you all to see and understand what has happened to us, America and the world since that once innocent time of the early 1960’s. These 201 kids grew up in Philly and you may be from LA or Chicago or Des Moines or Indy or Atlanta or Macon or Beaufort or San Antonio or Orlando orCharlotte or Dayton or Minneapolis or Seattle or Birmingham or Bangor or or Baltimore or Providence or Pittsburgh or Charleston or Boston or San Francisco or New York or God-forbid, from Dallas. Hey, we’re Eagles fans here and we still hate ‘dem Cowboys! But I guarantee you will relate and understand the message.
As the major contributing author, there is no way I could ever hope to interview all my classmates. However, I am going to give it one hell of try. At this very moment, as I conclude writing this Introduction, our Class of 1966 has had a 50th Reunion from grammar school. More than 90 from our class had committed to attending. 90 from grammar school! How great is that? Or as we might say it in 1966, “Can you dig it!”
Now some of you may think that a 50th year High School Reunion is more relevant. Beg to differ…big time! Here’s why. In high school I have become a person who is extremely hormonal and opinionated. I’m probably working a part-time job, have some money and will soon have my driver’s license. By sophomore year I’m hanging with a “click” and if you’re not part of it, you are uncool…so get lost. By junior year, I have a girlfriend who I know I will marry and love more than anything on earth (except maybe for football or baseball or basketball or hockey). By senior year, I’m now dating someone else, hanging with a cooler click that drinks beer and smokes Marlboro Reds or Camel non-filter cigarettes, hangs out at the Rec and has rented a house down the shore for the summer after we graduate…and you are not part of that click or house…so get lost. AND THAT IS WHY A GRAMMAR SCHOOL REUNION IS THE BEST!
You see those high school years were filled with emotional ups and downs. Friends came and went. But in grammar school, heck we had a great time! We ALL seemed to be friends. I understand the definition of friendship for a 13-year-old is pretty shallow…hey, we were kids. Our knowledge and definition of everything was shallow. That’s why young kids do not hold grudges as do their more mature counterparts in high school. Heck, tomorrow I have to get up and play with them again! And lastly, when are you ever going to go to a class reunion where no one cares where you finished in the class standings; no one cares who you dated (99% of us didn’t); what kind of car you drove (couldn’t); or how much money you made (didn’t have any)? I’m just sayin’!
So, sit back and while you’re reading, once in a while close your eyes, and attempt to picture yourself as that “kid” we’re talking about. Picture yourself at 9 or 10 years of age playing touch football in the mud with friends; catching lightning-bugs on a hot, humid, sultry summer evening with kids on your street. If you’re a “Boomer”, cool, but if you’re from Gen X or Gen Y or a Millennial (whatever that is?) do the same and remember the innocence of your youth. Remember how you had the biggest fight of your life with your best friend in 8th grade…but got up the next day, called him or her and began playing again. Now, that is truly “cool.” I would normally try to end this with something profound, maybe like Mr. Spock in Star Trek and say to each of you, “Enjoy the book…live long and prosper.” But, let’s keep it simple. Those hippies from the Sixties extended the index and middle fingers in the sign of a V and said “Peace.”
2016-Reunion Day-12:00 p.m.
I arise from a fitful sleep with eyelids that feel like they’ve been dipped in Gorilla Glue. I have flipped, flopped, gotten up thrice, and ingested about 23 tablets of Benadryl (only kidding). I gaze at my Apple iHome clock and the time is 4:37 a.m. Sleep will not come. Time to move. It is finally here; our 50th Reunion from our Catholic grammar school. 86 tickets have been purchased. Classmates are traveling in from Washington State, New Hampshire, Missouri, Florida, Georgia, South Carolina, Maryland, Delaware, New Jersey and from around the Commonwealth of Pennsylvania. Since this was originally my idea, here’s hoping for the best.
I flip open my iPad, turn off the home alarm and venture downstairs. It’s still dark, but dang, it doesn’t look all that dark. Our home faces the Schuylkill River in Montgomery County, PA. It’s normally a beautiful setting, especially in autumn and spring. So what gives? And then I almost crap my pants. My Gorilla Glue gaze leads me to the light pole about 25 yards away. “When what to my wondering eyes should appear?”[i] Snow…are you friggin’ kidding me??!! And that is how our reunion day began.
Fortunately, unlike in 1966, we have The Weather Channel. Now we Americans “love” the Weather Channel. Hell, many of us leave it on all day as background noise as we work and wander about the dwellings we call home. The irony…meteorologists are witch-doctors. Trust me on this. Who the heck could keep a job making mistakes 78% of the time? How about that orthopedic surgeon who replaced both your knees? How about that neuro-surgeon who removed that benign tumor from you uncle’s brain last winter? How about that proctologist who worked on your plumbing last summer? All would be sleeping under the bridge of an interstate with that record. Yet, we gullible Americans will plan vacations, weddings, anniversary celebrations, family picnics and yes, class reunions based on the “intelligence” these morons give us regarding the weather. This is the only instance I believe, God up in heaven, is really laughing. He’s probably turning to St. Peter saying, “Can you believe these dopes?”
I turn on the Weather Channel and although they know it’s snowing, they believe there will be little or no accumulation. Now ain’t that grand!? Me, knowing there is absolutely nothing I can do about the weather, put on the coffee pot. Yet, I know there is something else I must do. I flip my laptop computer on, Google “patron saint of bad weather” and there he is: Saint Medard! Medard was a 6th century bishop from Salency, France, population 911. So in case of bad or inclement weather, if you’re Catholic, dial 9-1-1 on your prayer phone, ask for Medard; then ask him for good weather.
Now I know what some of you are thinking, especially those of you who are non-Catholics, and you would be wrong! Some of you are saying, this guy is worshipping people that the Church has given the title of “saint” to. Not so. We worship the One, True, Triune God; Father, Son and Holy Spirit. We consider saints, friends, who have died before us and believe are in heaven with the Lord. Let me ask you this, if one of your parents has died (both of mine have passed away) don’t you still keep a picture of them around your home or apartment and don’t you still “talk” to them? I do. Am I worshipping my mom or dad? Heck no! Same with Medard. Just talking with him about the weather and if he has any pull with the “Man-upstairs” tell him, “Enough with the snow!”
A few hours slowly pass. I begin loading my car with the “stuff” I’m bringing to this gala. I have orchestrated an organizing committee of 13 classmates including me. This number 13 is indeed “lucky.” Each of my classmates brings a unique skill set and talents to the table. They are divided up into the Decorating Committee, the AV/Foundation/Gift Committee, the Treasury and Miscellaneous Committee. Without these 13…there is no reunion. We plan to meet at the American Legion Post in Fort Washington, PA where this event will take place, around noon. The clock is ticking.
My “attic” is on overload. If thoughts and anxiety could leak out of my ears, my new IZod shirt would be drenched. I’m tooling down the PA Turnpike doing 73 mph on cruise control. The snow is wet and has been falling a few hours. No real accumulation, but the country side is dressed in white. In my mind’s eye I’m remembering snow falling in my childhood. My cell phone beeps, the reverie is broken. I have a text. Now I am a person who NEVER texts while driving…NEVER. But today, I look down at my phone and a text is there from my best friend from grammar school, Dennis Smith. Now Smitty and I played ball from dawn to dusk endlessly during those years. You name it, football, basketball, stick-ball, fast-ball, half-ball, step-ball, and wire-ball. His text reads, “I got the pimple ball and I’m bringing my fast ball…we need a bat, can you bring it?” I text him back. “Just got my mom’s broom from the basement. Sawed off the broom head. I got the bat. See ya soon. Do you have the chalk?” I continue my drive but mist forms around my eyes. Memories abound. The Irish Catholic part of me says, “me thinks this will be a hell-of-a-day.”
Chapter 2 “Me, Smitty and those Fightin’ Phils”
On July 8, 1961 I entered a world that I knew not. Less than a year before in October of 1960 my father died suddenly. He was at work one day and dead the next. My world was shattered. My mom, sister and I lost everything: home, car, bikes. If we couldn’t wear it, we lost it. I lost my school and neighborhood friends, besides. We then resided with my aunt and uncle for about 9 months and I attended a school in Cheltenham, PA for the remainder of third grade. Then on that sweltering, hot, humid, god-awful day in July of ’61 we moved to the Olney Section of Philadelphia. We rented for a year on a street called “Sparks” and in 1962 we moved again, two streets away, to our permanent home on Spencer Street. This row-home would be the only home I would know until I was 25 years of age. But on that July day I felt homeless and lost. I knew no one. For the fourth time in four years, I had to begin all over at a new school with new classmates. I was alone and friendless.
I was born in February of 1952, actually on Leap Day, February 29th. Many who know me say that explains “it.” The “it” being the reason, I’m a little off center. Some nicknamed me Crazy George…I’m sure you get the drift. I was only 9 years old when we journeyed to Olney. Brief side-bar, people from Philly “tawk” differently then let’s say people from Iowa. Hell, we talk differently than most people anywhere. In Olney, people have a tendency to add syllables to words where none exist. Bear with me. The Acme Market became the Ac-a-me Market. Olney became Ol-a-ney. Other differences…we pronounce water as “wudder and creek as “crick.” Attitude is pronounced “ad-dee-tude” and beautiful is “bee-u-tee-ful”. Heck, in Boston they pronounce Worcester as “Woosta” and chowder as “chowda” …go figure.
First week of September 1961, Dennis Smith moves to Ol-a-ney from North Philadelphia. School was in session for about a week, so Smitty walks into a setting where he knows no one. We were in fourth-grade. He, too, is 9 years old and was born in February of 1952 and is lost. He has no friends in Olney. Two months before, I had no friends in Olney. Fate or yes, the Holy Spirit, had plans for the two of us. As luck would have it, we lived on that same street named Spencer. Dennis lived at 174 Spencer and I at 106 Spencer. Only 34 row-homes separated us. We became best friend’s day one.
As noted, we played a lot of “ball.” In summer fast-ball was king. We were able to purchase what then was called a “pimple” ball for about a dime or if you had no money, you could exchange five empty soda bottles at 2 cents each and procure one that way at the corner store. This “pimple” ball was made of rubber, about the size of a real baseball and actually had zits on it…or pimples. Thus, its name. Once the ball was purchased, a bat was needed. This is where moms came into play (whether they wanted too or not). Every row-home in Philly had to have a broom within it walls and probably had two. Moms were always out day and night sweeping crap off the steps leading up to the front door. Could be dirt, mud, dust or real dog-crap; but you needed a broom. Now we boys knew that every spring, mom would be buying a new broom after our snowy winters. I mean that old broom was beat to sh%$#*&t. Baseball season rolled around every April and sure enough we would be sawing off the old broom stick from the beat-to-hell broom-head and presto! …we had a bat.
We were now in need of two other objects: a piece of chalk and a wall to draw home plate on. The first was easy. We would just “borrow” a piece of chalk from our school class room. Note the word borrow connotes the intention of returning something that was taken. We had no intention of bringing it back…so yeah, we stole it. Our first venial sin! The wall was attached to a public school at my end of Spencer Street. The school was called Finletter. It’s where the “publics” received their education. Most public schools in the City of Brotherly Love had screens on the outside of their windows. Catholic Schools had glass. Early on, we wondered why? By 1966 after playing five-years’ worth of fast-ball and stick-ball we knew why. We crashed many a line drive with those pimple balls off those screened windows. Our parents were poor and those “publics” knew better to be smart than sorry. Heck we couldn’t afford most of our food, let alone having to pay for broken windows. Yep, they were smart.
By 1964, Dennis and I were fast-ball kings of Finletter schoolyard. The pimple ball was hard but pliable, meaning you could throw it like a real baseball. We mastered the curve-ball, slider, change-up, knuckle-ball and of course “heat”; the fast-ball. By late September that year, our Philadelphia Phillies, those god-awful fightin’ Phils as we called them, were in first place in the National League with only 12 games left. They had a 6 ½ game lead over their second-place rival. Win four out of the last 12 games and we’re in the World Series. Dang, it was exciting.
Smitty and I were in 7th grade now, coming into our own as athletes. We were still best of friend’s, but we also were very competitive…very. So, on days after school that summer of ’64 and into September we would hustle to Finletter with pimple ball, broom stick and chalk in hand. We would also bring our transistor radios to listen to those Phillies games while we played. “Here’s the windup and the pitch, ‘Richie Allen hits a long fly ball to deep right-center field, it’s off the Ballantine score board…one run in, two runs in and Allen slides into second with a double and the Phillies lead 5 to 4!” “Bottom of the ninth, two outs, the Giants have the bases loaded. Phils lead 1-0. Willie Mays at the plate. Jim Bunning on the mound. He gets the sign from Clay Dalrymple his catcher…the 3-2 pitch….SWING AND A MISS, HE STRUCK HIM OUT! PHILS WIN 1 TO NOTHING!”
So I would be Mays and Smitty would be Bunning or I would be Allen and he would be Juan Marichal or Sandy Koufax. We would play ‘til dinner and 10-minutes later we were back at the wall firing heat at each other. By 8 o’clock, the street lights would be coming on, the sun was setting, and it was time to head home. Smitty and I would look at each other sadly and then the biggest grin would spread over our faces. Why? Because tomorrow was another day and we would be back. “Here’s the windup and the pitch, There’s a long drive to deep center field…”
Those 1964 Phillies broke our collective hearts as kids. With 12 games left they lost 10 in a row. By that 10th game most of us were on suicide watch, I kid you not. They came in second place by a game and we died after each loss. Then it was over. I don’t believe the city ever fully recovered. It wasn’t until 1980 when Schmitty and Bowa and Bull and Lefty and the Tugger won it all, that Philly felt whole again. So…Baseball was over for the year. It was October. In Philly that’s time for our E-A-G-L-E-S. Broom sticks away. Pig skins out. “Come on, Smitty, let’s head to Finletter and play some touch-football. Let’s stop and get Chico, Callahan, Rostick, Short and a couple others…times a wastin’!
[i] From: “The Night Before Christmas”
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GEORGE’S FIRST BOOK:
“Is Anybody There?: Memoir of a “Functional Alcoholic”
“Is anybody there? Does anybody care? Does anybody see what I see ” John Adams from the Broadway Play “1776”
The above quotation from the Broadway play “1776” is sung by the revolutionary, Boston patriot, John Adams. When dealing with Franklin, Jefferson and the rest of the Continental Congress, Adams displayed little or no finesse. His social skills were negligent. He was the proverbial bull in the china closet. At times Adams appears his own worst enemy. He fulfills that ironic historical saying, “We have met the enemy and he is us!”
I can relate to Mr. Adams, can you?. Life has a way of throwing a knockout punch once in a while. Looking at my life in the rear view mirror from my first memories until I reached the age of 45 I, too, was my own worse enemy. Of course, during the years, I would never admit to that statement. When things went array, I played the blame game. Why look at the “man in the mirror” when I could just point to you or someone else.
Welcome to my story! “Hi, my name is George and I’m an alcoholic.” I uttered those words out-loud for the first time on September 10, 1997. I had been sober all of 12 days. It was the occasion of my first meeting in sobriety. Never had I received a DUI or lost anything due to my drinking. However, I almost lost myself, my very soul.
I had had a love affair with alcohol since 1968. Like most illicit affairs it ended in disaster. Booze had kicked my butt both physically and mentally. Morally and spiritually I was bankrupt. I had a hole in my soul and I did not know how to fill it.
Here’s an excerpt from my memoir:
Is Anybody There? Memoir of a “Functional Alcoholic.”
PUBLISHED: September 29, 2015
See if you can identify or empathize.
“If you’re anything like me when it comes to drinking, I just thought that I drank like everyone else. Didn’t everyone drink to get buzzed…to get drunk? Social drinkers were amateurs. Also, I readily confess that I loved drinking. Why would I not? It made me feel great and killed the pain in my head and sometimes even in my body. I drank when I felt sad and I drank when I felt glad. I drank at the thrill of victory and the agony of defeat! It was medicinal for all occasions in life from the birth of children, to graduations, to weddings and to funerals and for anything in between. I truly believed that alcohol was God’s greatest invention until that fateful week at the end of August in 1997.”
Fortunately for me, I stumbled upon a book, Drinking: A Love Story by Caroline Knapp. https://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Caroline_Knapp
She describes her love affair with alcohol. As she told her story, I saw my story. I had never met this woman who lived in New England, yet, when she described herself, the how and the why she drank booze, I immediately knew she and I had something in common; the disease called alcoholism. I have been sober now 18 years and in that time I have realized that it has taken “a village” to get me sober. I owe thanks to so many.
So, if you, a loved one, colleague or acquaintance is suffering from the disease of alcoholism/addiction and cannot imagine life without alcohol, maybe you’re in the right place.
Also, the November issue of my monthly Newsletter – “One Day at a Time” will be out on the 1st of the month! So, take a moment on the following pages and subscribe!
Is Anybody There? Memoir of a “Functional Alcoholic” is ready for immediate purchase.
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