It's an institutional ritual that's been going on for decades except we didn't call it spring break back then. It was Easter Vacation.....However one year I started mine early and continued it right on through the summer. I guess it was the mother of all spring breaks.
I really liked the second grade and especially the second half. It started with a bang for us just before Thanksgiving. My folks enclosed the summer porch and the construction which lasted a week or two provided some excitement. We wound up with an extra room we could use all year round. Now it had one of those modern picture windows just like the Burkhardt family had, right where our old door used to be. It was the first of many Christmas' that the tree wound up out there too. Santa brought me a set of metal construction toys and Butchie got an English Racer bike.
My teacher that year was Miss Doubravre. She was a looker too. I thought she looked like a lot of the high fashion models of the day in my mothers magazines. I recall looking at her long legs a whole lot and my looking must of caused her some concern, as she scheduled a conference with my Mom. But it was not what your thinking, She was a looker, not a mind reader, and besides my mind didn't have much to read in it back then. It just enjoyed the view. No, she was concerned about my eyesight and my seeing the black board. So my Mom scheduled an appointment with a Doctor Wiesen. "Why can't we go see Doctor Remy?" I asked, "I like him". (Doctor Remy had stitched me up that New Years Day) "Because Doctor Weisen is a specialist and you need to see a special doctor for your eyes" Ok...that was all I needed to know.
Doctor Weisen was in Riverhead, about a 45 minute drive back then. I liked being in his town and would find myself returning to Riverhead a whole lot in the years to come. He put me in a chair, had me look through all kinds of stuff, put drops in my eyes, shined lights in them etc. Nothing hurt and it was a lot of fun. Then he asked me to wait outside while he talked to my Mom. Not a whole lot was said on the way home. I think I asked if was going to get eyeglasses and my Mom said no. That night I could hear her talking about it with my father, but I wasn't paying much attention. Besides Gerry had Alan Freed on the radio as she was doing her homework and Butchie and me were paying much more attention to that.
It was Butchie who first broke the news to me, though he wasn't supposed to. He proved good at that through the years. "Hey guess what?" "What?" I asked. "They are going to put you in the hospital and give you an operation!" I don't know why he said that, because he should of known better. I'm sure he caught hell for it too. Hospitals and me have a long checkered history and that's probably why my folks were not planning to tell me until the last minute. When I was less than a year old I spent a lot of time in them and I can still remember it. Probably because it was so damn traumatic. I had pneumonia at 6 months and almost didn't make it. Then they discovered I had an enlarged thymus gland and their way of dealing with that was "Radiation Treatments" They put me in the hospital for a week or so and blasted me daily with a ray gun right out of a Flash Gordon serial. I was real homesick, and it tore my Mother up to leave me there.
The mental scars are still there, not to mention I was "recalled" in 1976 because they discovered that they should of not "blasted" anyone back then. But it was the blasting era. Remember getting under your desk in elementary school? It was really practice for kissing your ass goodbye. But finally my parents had to come clean and tell me what was in store for me in a few weeks. All they said was Dr. Wiesen is going to do a simple muscle correction. They never said anything about taking my eyes out to adjust them and Butch was told that if he said another word about it....they would put him up for adoption ....(kidding)....but he was threatened.
The weekend of the big deal came and I was getting the royal treatment. On Saturday night, we went to the Center Moriches theater to see the brand new Walt Disney picture, 20,000 Leagues Under The Sea. Now we would have a new game to play with the Schulz's.....but it would have to wait a bit. On Sunday afternoon my parents drove me to the hospital and stayed till they had to leave around 8 that night. I remember looking down from my window as they drove our 1941 Caddy fastback out of the parking lot. That real homesick feeling was coming on strong and flashbacks of my first hospital stay coupled with some fears about the next morning were setting in. I was still a month away from turning 8 years old.
That morning they came and got me early. I remember going down to the operating room and waiting outside of it, before they wheeled me in. Dr. Wiesen came by just before he scrubbed up said Hi and told me not to worry. They wheeled me in and I still can recall the big overhead light. They put a rubber mask over my face and told me to breathe. The smell was awful. It was ether and smelled just like nail polish remover. The overhead light started to spin and I literally saw stars.
I woke up back in the room around 11 or 12. I was completely bandaged and it felt strange to be blind. I also felt very nauseous. The nurse brought me breakfast (oatmeal) and I fumbled with trying to eat it. Three bites and I threw up all over myself. I could also hear someone else moaning, but I didn't know what that was all about. My Mom showed up a few minutes later and took control of the situation. She got me cleaned up and moved into another room. It seems my new roommate was very very old and was not doing very well. So Mom got me a private room. She stayed all day, read me stories, watched me sleep, told me what Butchie had told her happened on The Roy Rogers Show the night before and just did the good Mom stuff. When she had to leave, she promised she would be back when I woke up.
Very early the next morning the doctor came in and undid the bandages. It was like in one of those old movies as he unwrapped the gauze but told me to keep my eyes shut. He had me open one eye at a time very slowly and the room was darkened. He shined a light for a second and then bandaged me back up. He asked my Mom to step out into the hall with him. She came back in and said , " Your not going to believe this.! You are coming home with me today". Initially she was told I'd be in there 3 to 4 days. That was fine with me. But it felt weird moving around blindfolded.
I don't think I was home for a half hour when Larry Schulz came over to see me. I could hear him but couldn't see him. His Mom thought it was cute that he came home crying "Kenny is all bandaged up and now he's blind!" Like I said earlier, Larry is my first and oldest friend. A couple more days and it was back to Dr. Wiesens office and the bandages came off. I got a pair of Polaroid sunglasses to wear and had to use them whenever I went outside. Just call me Ray Charles. Though Doctor Wiesen told my Mom he thought the operation was a success, I was inclined to disagree with him. For now I saw two of everything. He said that would go away in a few months, but I was to forget about returning to school for the rest of the year! I GUESS IT WAS A GREAT SUCCESS....ETERNAL SPRING BREAK.
I would bet if you went back and checked the weather records for April - June of 1954, you would find almost nothing but sunny days. I think that's why I developed the a strong taste for being outside and freedom from institutions and their prison like walls. I had no trouble at all being alone most of the day and entertaining myself. I was just starting to get the hang of a two wheeler and though Butchie's English Racer was off limits and too big for me anyway, there was Larry's bike which just sat in his front yard all day. So I knew he didn't mind , but if he saw how I first got off of it, it too would of probably been placed off limits. I could start and ride but had not mastered the art of stopping yet, so I just jumped off and the bike took care of stopping itself. After a few harrowing crashes and some crooked handle bars, I would look for a hedge or shrub to pitch it into. I must of made progress though cause my mother told my father I think it's time Kenny got his own bike. Besides Butch was getting tired of having me on his cross bar. So we went to a used lawn mower & bike shop where they got me a brush painted 24" two wheeler for $5.00. It felt like a Harley Davidson to me though. Now I could really branch out into the neighborhood.
My sister was dating a boy named Dennis in high school and Dennis' father had a small rowboat with a 7 and half horse Elgin outboard. One weekend Gerry and Dennis took Butchie and me fishing in it. It was moored in Pattersquash creek about a mile west of our house. We had a lagoon less than a half mile to the east of us too and Butchie and Me always loved going to look at boats. I guess we got that from our Dad who was in the Navy and always wanted a boat, but said he couldn't afford one. He used to rent rowboats on his vacations and take us out fishing on Great South Bay actually it was called Narrow Bay by our house as Fire Island was real close and you could walk across most of the bay with the exception being the channel. Anyway my dad always told us to never go on anyone's boat without permission to come aboard. I assumed it was because we didn't know the people personally that owned them. Though I always made a point to talking with boat owners whenever they were either working on or getting ready to take their boats out or tieing back up. But the fact that my sister was dating this guy who spent most of the time after school hanging around our house, gave me permission in my mind to go sit in his rowboat anytime I felt like it. I spent a lot of my mornings just doing that. One time I found an old wooden milk crate and nailed a stick to it thereby making myself an outboard motor to rest on his transom. Captain Kenny....ahoy there.
When the rest of the kids got out for Easter vacation, I had new places to show them in my expanding world. One was called the point and it became one of our favorite fishing spots on the bay. Larry, Dennis, Butchie and me spent hours there and at the Beach Ten bulkhead catching flounders in the spring. Come summer it was bamboo poles and Snappers! But Easter break was over soon and I was back to being alone.....one thing I did not mind was not having to compromise on what we were going to do. Play Cowboys and Indians, explore the woods or the swamps, go fishing , ride bikes......I was in charge of my own entertainment. On days that my Mom would go into Patchogue shopping, I'd go with her on the bus. For some reason we were down to just one car then, she usually had a jalopy to run around with, but we just had the Caddy that spring. I seem to recall there were two other cars in our driveway back then. The Hudson that brought us to Mastic Beach and an old '36 Dodge sedan that all the windows had discolored to the point of not being able to see out of them. That's what happened to early safety glass back then. One day the junkyard picked them up and that was that. No more cars in the yard to play in. I remember my vision was really staring to improve with only lapses of seeing double and I recall how vivid the leaves on the trees started to look. I really enjoyed that solitary spring