Weird Memories from My Childhood

What I'm going to write about happened during WW II when I was a kid.

Recently I remembered two girls that went to my grammar school that I thought were beautiful and rather mysterious.

Their names were Lillian and Lorena, though they went by Sugar and Pee Wee.

To me they looked like the enchanted fairies right out of the lovely illustrated books I liked to read. Both had very light blonde hair and were thin and rather wistful. Lorena wore what looked like a part dress to school, one that was too small for her. (Back in the day, we wore the same dress to school for a week, and changed into play clothes when we came home. And yes, girls had to wear a dress.)

One day, Lorena, who was in my class invited me to her house for lunch. I always took my lunch--the same thing every day--half a baloney sandwich and half a peanut butter and jelly sandwich, a banana or other fruit, and 3 cookies.

When I arrived at her home,  which perched on the hillside behind the school (an area I wasn't supposed to go to--the boundary my mother had set was only as far the school). I only saw the front screened in-porch. No one else was home. There were two narrow beds out there and I learned that's where Lorena and her sister slept. I thought, "How grand! Almost like camping."

I shared my lunch and she brought me a bowl of beans--which she told me was her lunch. Wow, I thought, how fortunate to have beans for lunch. Looking back, I'm pretty sure that was all they could afford.

The family moved, to where I have no idea, but the two girls left a big impression upon me. I can still see the Lorena in my mind's eye though she was in my life for such a short time.

Another friend I had who lived near my house, but for only one summer and during the same time period, was named Aurela. She had black hair with sausage curls, and like me, thought it would be a good idea if we became spies. We really thought we would be invaded by the Japanese. We spent a good deal of time making poison in the basement of her home, using liquid fertilizer and everything else we found on the shelves, and putting our concoctions in small bottles.

We also dug a tunnel in the vacant lot next to her house, so we would have a place to hide if need be. Our parents had no idea what we were up to.

When summer was over, Aurela moved away. I still harbored thoughts of being a spy, but my poison making and tunnel digging were over.

Definitely weird, right?



Popular posts from this blog

Reunions: You Can’t Go Back Again (Because ‘There’ Is Gone) You hear about people going to Reunions: high school, college, family, war vets, et cetera. Well, not me. For example, my high school, St. Augustine’s Diocesan on Sterling Place in Park Slope, Brooklyn, was already out of business when the passenger jet made an unscheduled crash landing on its doorstep in the late 1960’s, erasing all prospect of reunions. No matter, I wouldn’t have been attending anyhow. As for St. John’s University College, whose ‘campus’ was in a seven-story former bank building on Schermerhorn St. in Downtown Brooklyn---it’s condos now and even if the doorman would let me in for old times’sake, I’d pass. I spent all of 1956 and half of 1957 at St. Augustine’s as a transfer student, having come from a low-rent seminary that was supposed to prepare you to become a member of the Franciscan Order of Teaching Brothers. St. Anthony’s ‘Juniorate’ (odd name for a high school, right?), no doubt why we boys simply referred to it as ‘Smithtown’, located as it was in the Town of Smithtown on Long Island, among the potato fields of Suffolk County. My short story: I got kicked out after two years, told I was mistaken in thinking I had a ‘vocation’ (I won’t bore you with my sins). So how’d I get there in the first place? Well, you’re graduating from eighth grade in St. Anthony of Padua grammar school (same ‘St. Anthony’, no coincidence); you’re twelve years old and, since the age of five-and-one-half, been shuttled from the school to the looming red brick Church next door when the steeple bells summoned us to prayer. There, all us boys, in our dark-blue worstered trousers, white shirt and clip-on black tie, have been kneeling for all eternity on the hard wood kneelers in the pews in the Lower (basement) Church, interminably humming the five Decades of the Rosary amidst the fourteen Stations of the Cross, as the priest parades up and down the marble-floored aisles spewing swirls of sweet smoke from his incense-burner. No surprise then: After the Good Franciscan Brother reveals to our class that some among us may be ‘called’, on Easter Sunday, at Mass in the Upper Church, drunk on incense fumes, I actually see God point a long index finger at me through the fog, and over the swell of the organ while the choir pounds out the Hallelujah Chorus, I hear Him say to me, clear as a bell: “You! You! Pack your bags!” Upon graduation in February, 1954, I boarded the LIRR, Ronkonkoma Branch, with my ticket punched for Smithtown. One recent Sunday, in the grip of an irresistible impulse to see Smithtown once more, I get on the LIE and head for the North Shore of Long Island. To get to the school, you must drive through the hamlet of Kings Park, once home to the Kings Park Psychiatric Center, which I see from my car on Route 25A, is still there, sprawling on top of a hill but empty, decommissioned. And I remember then being aboard the ancient yellow school bus, the name ‘St. Anthony’s’ painted in black on its sides--captive boys being taken to the movies in Kings Park on a Sunday afternoon more than half-a-century ago--the hospital full of life, the inmates hooting and hollering to us from their barred windows as we speed past. It’s a high point of the trip, riding past the Looney Bin: a happy feeling, I remember, as if them up there and us in our bus were connected. No more acres of potato fields as far as the eye could see along Rte. 25A now-- replaced by row upon row of suburban tracks, Divisions and Sub-Divisions. I drive onto the grounds of St. Anthony’s. It is not a functioning school, it’s obvious. There are some broken windows in the elongated two-story structure, and the white paint is peeling. I think of Iroquois Longhouses, I suppose because of the stretch of the building. I get out of the car and what strikes me is how small-scale everything appears: the buildings, the playing fields behind the main house, the grass badly in need of cutting. The chicken coops are gone as well as the fenced-in execution ground where I beheaded and plucked my first chicken for the Sunday dinner, on orders from the Brother in charge of the Refectory. Everything smaller than I remember it. For it’s vivid, larger-than-life in my memory. Jerome Megna, the pool shark; Joe Rogus, the polio-stricken basketball star; Bill Cullen, the gay librarian from Brooklyn and my best friend; the school’s principal Brother Henry, vain about his PhD in history; Brother Patrick “The Claw’, who taught Latin, had a crippled left hand and the DTs from drink; Brother Linus, the math teacher, who’d feel you up if you weren’t fast on your feet. I swear I remember them all, the faces and their names. I even remember the movie we saw that Sunday in Kings Park in 1954. The Bridges At Toko-Ri; William Holden, Grace Kelly and Mickey Rooney starring. I wrote the movie review for the school paper, The St. Anthony Star. Funny how it all stays with you. The important stuff.

The Greatest Benefit of Virtual Book Tours

Good Writing is Rewriting