For as long as kids have been going to school, there has been kids figuring out ways to avoid getting there. I originally really liked school and learning, but by the time I was in 7th grade I had become an almost incorrigible truant. It was my big brother Butchie, who first taught me how to miss the bus.
The first bus I ever missed, happened right out of the chute. It was my very first day in kindergarten, at the brand spanking new William Floyd School in Shirley. My Mom had driven me there, and held my hand as she took me to Miss Fechtmann's classroom. It was just for a half day and for some reason she could not get over there to pick me up. So I was to take the bus home. I remember asking someone which bus to get on and perhaps it was the confusion of the first day, or that the person didn't really know where section 10 of Elm Road was. Elm actually ran east and west across the entire southern half of Mastic Beach. As the bus got into our town, I knew I was close to home, but then instead of heading east on Neighborhood Road, he went south on Cranberry and into section 5. Section 5 was a place that was pretty unfamiliar to me, but familiar enough for me to know that we were not even close to my bus stop. The other big clue was the fact that Butchie wasn't on the bus. So after the driver finished his last stop he asked me where my stop was. When I told him Jefferson Drive, he said "Well your going to have to go back to the depot with me"
Hawkins Bus Service was located in Center Moriches, about 8 miles away, so when my Mom didn't see me get off the bus, I'm sure she was pretty concerned. Couple that with the fact there were no cell phones around then and it must of led to some high anxiety. When we got back to the depot, I think Mr. Hawkins called my house, then he put me in his limo, which was a big old '48 Packard land yacht and drove me right to our house. A pretty big adventure for a little 5 year old kid, and the hot topic of dinner table conversation that night.
Kindergarten was a lot of fun and starting your school experiences out in a brand new building wasn't too shabby either. One day however Butchie came to my classroom window, he was in the third grade then and was out on the playground at recess. We talked for a bit and then he ran off to join his pals. Well I wanted to go with him in the worst way, but knew I couldn't. Still this tremendous feeling of wanting to be with my brother came over me. When I saw them line up to return to the building, I got this brainstorm and asked Miss Fechtmann if I could go to the boys room. I didn't really have to go, but used my time away to make a beeline for his classroom down the hall. When I opened his classroom door they were all seated and his teacher was talking to them about something, she looked a little startled and asked if she could help me. "I'm here to see my brother", I announced and just walked straight to his desk, which was in the center towards the rear of the classroom. I could see all eyes were on me and it was a true Leave It To Beaver minute. When I got to his desk, I didn't really have anything to say. Finally the teacher just said "Walter, would you please escort your brother back to his classroom". When we got out in the hall Butchie said something like "For crying out loud... what did you go and do that for? Your gonna get me in trouble" Yep it was Wally and the Beav, five years early.
Probably the most traumatic thing that ever happened to me that year or perhaps any year of my time at Floyd, also happened on the bus. We had a real neat bus that a kindly old driver named Mr. Loper drove. It may of been the pride of the Hawkins Bus Fleet. I think it was a Reo and I'd say it was built in the late 1930's. Instead of ugly yellow, it was a really nice forest green color with a lighter color green roof. It had deluxe brown leather seats and even had a radio in it. A large oval shaped speaker grille and housing that looked like a tennis racket was mounted over the front windshield. I remember Mr. Loper trying to listen to the World Series on it.
THE HAWKINS GREEN BUS AT THE MORICHES SCHOOL (The Annex) CIRCA 1938
( from home movies courtesy of Mac Titmus )
The route we took home was pretty direct, We would head south a few miles down William Floyd Pkwy which may of still been called Suffolk Blvd. Then we turned left on Neighborhood Road. Our first stops were not until we passed through our town. As we proceeded east on Neighborhood Road Mr. Loper would stop every few blocks and let some kids off. Another bus also took the same basic route, but would turn south once he hit town to take his kids into section 5. Every day with out fail, he would pass us up on Floyd Parkway and blow his horn. Mr. Loper never said anything or acknowledged him. On days when we were too close to the Neighborhood Road turn off, he would really race on by and drive to Brushwood the next street south. Brushwood ran on a north east angle and merged into Neighborhood road about a quarter mile east of Floyd. He must of really hauled to cover the extra distance because he would always get to the intersection first and again make a point of blowing his horn as he sped off into town. Mr. Loper just went steady as she goes. Some kids would really get into this one driver game that Mr. Loper didn't seem to want to play. Many days I'd hear Butchie and lots of others say, "Darn he beat us again." It never bothered me because we definitely had the much cooler bus. Even at the age of six I seemed to be aware of all things automotive.
It might of been late fall, winter, or early spring. I'm not sure, though winter would be my guess. I just remember wearing a maroon winter coat with barrel buttons, that would of been appropriate for any of those seasons. I remember that the kids in the back seat were looking out the window yelling here he comes. We made the left and I saw him fly by us on the right shoulder, heading pell mell for Brushwood. All eyes looked ahead to the intersection. It looked like we were going to beat him today though Mr. Loper was going his usual slow and steady speed. Brushwood by the way had a stop sign at the Neighborhood intersection.
I was sitting with Butch on the left side of the bus about halfway back. We were coming up to the intersection and "Hot Rod" had not appeared yet. All of a sudden, I saw a yellow blur and he didn't stop. Then he plowed into the right front of our bus. The sudden stop threw kids and lunch boxes all over. A girl in Butchie's class, Annette Mezzapelle seemed to get the worst of it as her mouth was bleeding and she was crying. Mr. Loper was in shock, but managed to keep every one calm as he checked on us and the kids in the other bus. The hot rod bus driver seemed fine. We got off the bus and I remember Mr. Loper being very upset at the damage. He was lifting the side of the hood to see where the water was leaking from. After awhile Butch and a few others decided to walk home instead of waiting for a replacement bus. I recall looking at the damage and Mr. Loper as we started our adventurous trek eastward towards home with around 4 or 5 other kids. I did not know then it would be the last time I would see him or his green bus. A short time later he would have a fatal heart attack and I never knew what became of the pride of Hawkins bus fleet. For the longest time I missed Mr. Loper and I missed his fine green bus.
Big changes happened as I entered the first
grade in 1953. First off both Butchie and me were sent packing
to the old Moriches school. For Butchie it was no big deal as
he went to grades one and two there. Gerry had gone there too
up to the 8th grade. Then she had to go further east to Center
Moriches for High School. Moriches was real different as a building.
It was much much smaller and built in the early 1920's. For 25
years it served as the only school for the whole area of Moriches,
the Mastics and the just starting to boom town of Shirley. The
school board had severely underestimated the growth and within
one year their brand new William Floyd School which was planned
to grow into a K-12 building was totally overcrowded. Moriches
had started out with just 4 rooms and after the war they added
some quonset huts, which I thought were very cool. The rooms were
on the dark side but we had these neat old wooden desks with inkwells
in them. A whole lot of the kids I first met in kindergarten were
there with me and there were some new faces also. The old face
I was happiest to see though was that of Larry Schulz. His folks
had moved back.
First grade was filled with new things like learning to count with toothpicks and learning to read. Math would not prove to be a problem yet. Reading came completely natural for me and I found myself reading way ahead of the class. This could prove embarrassing when Mrs. Whitman would call on me to read the next paragraph and I had no idea how far back they were. Dick, Jane Sally, Spot the dog and the handy man Zeke were introduced to all of us. I think the biggest word in that first grade reader was little. Then of course there was the playground. Really just a great big field with a few swings and see saws. The best thing out there was this huge tree that must of been there since the revolutionary war. I can still see the portrait of George Washington too, at the rear of our quonset hut keeping an eye on us kids. I really think first grade was more fun than kindergarten and having Larry back as pal helped a lot. Butchie for some reason wasn't adjusting as well to the 4th grade and I overheard my parents talking about him possibly getting left back.
It could of been his school trouble or it could of been just because it was spring, but one perfect sunny morning as we made our way up Jefferson drive to the the bus stop, Butchie said , "Hey...lets miss the bus and we won't have to go to school." We were about halfway there when he said, "Duck into the woods so Bill doesn't see us". Bill was our new bus driver. It was kind of fun, but I didn't think too much about it one way or the other. When we returned home, my Mom must of knew who's big idea it was, 'cause she really glared at Butch. Then she just loaded us in the car and drove us to school. Several years down the road I would use variations on Butchie's "miss the bus" plan that worked all too well.
During the last weeks of first grade, Mrs. Whitman told me that I was to go with Mr. Hawkins and some other kids. She didn't say what it was all about. He drove about 4 or 5 of us in his station wagon over to the new school and we sat in folding chairs in the auditorium / gym. Then we practiced going up on the stage when our names were called, walking across it, shaking hands with someone, as he handed us a blank piece of paper. This went on for several days but no one told us why we were doing it. I was really enjoying the time out of the classroom routine. Then that weekend my Mom took me into Patchogue to Swezeys department store to buy me a suit. A few days later, they told me sort of what it was all about. It was an awards night the last week of school. This time when I went across the stage it was to shake hands with Mr. Thomas the principal. He was a kind of aloof person that kids said you usually only went to see when you got in trouble. I was pretty nervous as I walked across the stage and he shook my hand and handed me a small manila envelope and a certificate. It really had some weight in it and I was wondering what it was. The certificate said To Kenneth Joseph for Outstanding Academic Achievement. I thought that was pretty neat but the four silver dollars ( I had never seen money like that before) with the 1800's dates on them was something else. How about that I thought.... they are paying me to go their school.