The Wander Years
1956 - 1961

 

October '56

 

1956 : Ike won re election in a landslide and then retired to the golf course. Not exactly, in 1956 the world saw many changes; Hungarian Revolution, Suez Canal, Salk Vaccine, in America ; Civil Rights, The Interstate Highway System, Elvis, In Mastic Beach, and the world of Butchie and Me; All kinds of new discoveries; friends, guitars, girls, schools.

My sister Gerry graduated from Center Moriches high school in 1956 and in some ways I guess I graduated too. Accelerated rapidly might be the better word, but after all it was a rocket world back then. On May 11th that year, I turned 9 years old and Butchie turned 11 the week before. A few weeks later, Mrs.Tribble my 3rd grade teacher and school principal, asked my mother to come see her at the little Moriches School where I had been going since I was 6. I didn't have a clue what it was about, nor did Mom. I had only been to see Mrs. Tribble as a principle one time before. That was in the second grade when I had some trouble with Donald Martin. Trouble with Don made no sense at all, because he and I had been friends since kindergarten. His only mistake was teaming up that day with a playground gang. There were several of them, these playground gangs that were usually comprised of kids that were a grade ahead of me. Donald wasn't, but like me, he was tall for his age so that might of been why they took him in. In our kindergarten graduation photo Donald, Christine Linder and I, tower over our classmates.

I think Donald was running with the most feared bunch of all. The Bobby Bucholz's gang. Their reputation for trouble and causing great physical harm, had grown to legendary status out on that Moriches playground over the years and I always tried to give them a wide berth. Most of the time I hung out with Larry Schulz, which was just an extension of what I did at home. Well one day it was our turn to get singled out and I sensed The Bucholz gang was about to cause harm to Larry and me, till I picked up a rock and opened up Donald Martin's head. His only crime was, standing the closest to me. The blood scared the gang off and some of them rushed him inside. A few minutes later, I was grabbed up by a male 4th grade teacher, and rapidly taken inside to meet THE PRINCIPAL...Mrs. Tribble. She was giving first aid to Donald and yelling at me at the same time. It was a pretty hairy moment to say the least and she did call my mother. A year later she was calling her again and I couldn't figure out why. I now had her as a teacher and we never seemed to have any problems between us that I knew of. I don't even think she remembered the playground incident or perhaps she just never let on.

I didn't find out what it was all about till after Mom discussed it with Pop. The only thing she told me was that I wasn't in any trouble, which was all I was really concerned about. They didn't tell me till the next morning which was also the last day of 3rd grade. It seems Mrs. Tribble was "concerned" about me. Her words to Mom were basically, "It's not that Kenneth is any smarter than his class mates, but he seems to catch on very quickly, gets his work done too fast and gets very bored too easily. Seeing that the fourth grade is basically a review of the third, I can see him getting into trouble if he takes it. He needs to be challenged, so therefore I think placing him in the 5th grade might be the wisest course of correction. Of course that final decision is up to you, but I am STRONGLY RECOMMENDING IT". Little did I know that Mom had already agreed to it before she left that day.

The last day of school, Mrs. Tribble called me aside and as she handed me my report card, she basically repeated what she told my Mom. When I opened it , there it was in writing. Promoted to the 5th grade. Felt pretty good to me. It was only on the bus ride home that I started to get different opinions on it. Larry didn't think it was too great an idea. But some of the other third graders did. As for the fourth graders on the bus, that I would be joining next September, most didn't have much to say about it. After all who thinks much about school on the last day of it? The excitement I had lasted for a day or so but was soon forgotten about as summer vacation started and the city kids came out for the summer.

It was a great summer. The Denning's, The Yodices, and the whole gang. As I think back it was the summer we first set foot in the mansion. My sister was still dating Dennis Keirnan and Butchie and me would get to tag along with them sometimes. In retrospect, it may of been my Mom's vain efforts to try and cut into their alone time. Dennis' father had just bought a new boat that year and moored it in East Moriches, instead of Pattersquash creek. His reason was to be closer to the inlet. I recall one Saturday we drove to the boat in Dennis' new '47 Chevy Torpedo back. In those days the only way to go east was on Montauk Highway. No Moriches By Pass, No Sunrise Highway, no nothing, but stop and go traffic that crawled through the towns. Butch was always notorious for getting carsick, especially in the heat and that day was a scorcher. He was starting to turn green on west Main Street Center Moriches, when an announcement came over the radio that stopped him from heaving and stopped all of us in our tracks. A solemn voice said, "Ladies and Gentleman we interrupt this broadcast to bring you this announcement. A FLYING SAUCER HAS LANDED!!!! There was stunned silence if only for a few seconds before the first snippet of Fats Domino's "I HEAR YA KNOCKIN' was used as the first words spoken from the "invaders", to let us know it was all a joke. Laughter may be the best medicine as I don't remember Butch having to get out of the car to throw up.

It was a great summer that included a group outing (Butchies Idea) to the town dump to forage for soapbox hot rod parts. We ,The Denning's, Yodice's actually walked there (the one that was near the Mastic & Mastic Beach road fork) but came away with some good stuff. Buggy wheels and wood barrels to make two hot rods. Butch was pretty handy with the tools and had a clear vision of how to build it. We had a lot of fun in them and would build many more in the years to come. But summer came and went too fast and right after Labor Day it was back to school.

They had just doubled the size of it since I was there in kindergarten four years earlier and my 5th grade class was in the new wing just across the alley from the cafeteria, that they would soon start doubling too. It was the first year that Floyd had a high school class. They started with just a 9th grade and added one grade per year as the kids moved on. They may of only been freshman, but they looked like full scale older teenagers to me. It could of been the Elvis craze that had everyone looking a whole lot older. I remember several of them like Ralph Perra, wearing sideburns. Motorcycle jackets, engineer boots and Levis were all the rage.


But then even my new classmates looked a lot older.They were mostly a year or two older than me and what didn't seem to make much difference on a bus ride, seemed to after a full day in the classroom. Miss Rosado was our teacher that year and she was real nice, I don't know if she knew I was a lot younger and I don't recall having any trouble with her, but she did move me from the back to the front of the class after awhile. That could be because of what was going on in the cafeteria. The high school kids were allowed to play records during lunch and with the windows open the strains of Hound Dog and Don't Be Cruel captured my attention a lot more than fractions on our blackboard would.

The original Floyd Cafeteria. They would have to double it the following year.

 

Math would really dog me in the years to come, but I found my strengths in history and writing. I really liked essays and on some of the history ones I would just let my imagination run wild. We used to have to read them out loud and by the reaction I was getting from the class to my off the wall way with words (even Miss Rosado was laughing) it just encouraged me to go further. Unlike the typical class clown antics, that usually rely on someone getting in trouble to get attention, I found my way to acceptance, was by trying to be the class Mark Twain. It didn't hurt that some of the girls seemed to like it the most either. Though basically I would not have much social inter action with girls from school throughout most of my years there.

For Butchie it was his first year of junior high and that meant lockers and changing classes. I wanted a locker too, though I didn't need one. But one fall day I walked into the office with a dollar and got myself a combination lock. It was a case again where my height helped me look old enough to possibly be in the 7th grade, but I recall the secretary kind of staring at me as she handed me the lock. I got away with it for about a month, when a sharp eyed Mr. Coles stopped by as I was opening my lock to ask me what I thought I was doing? He gave me my dollar back and escorted me back to class. And what a class it was!

 

 

Miss Rosado's 5th Graders : 1st row: Alicia Patera, Virginia LeFebre, Herbie Ruquet, John Stewart, Mary Ann Russo, Sarah Bonandono, Roberta Straub, Richard Baker, Steve Landau, Andrea Tydeman, Carolyn ?

2nd Row: Me, Robert LaCentra, ??, Caroline Hahnl, Sharon Davin, Barbra Brine, Pat Sharp, Delores Dudine, Joe Pugliese, Miss Rosado

3rd Row: Richard Johnson, Peter Apostolu, George Petersen, Richard ? Donald Bull, Vic DiPiero,Frank Valenti

Known Missing from photo. Bob Lentini, Randy Cruise, ? Frankson ???

Photo From Pat Sharp's Class Of '64 Web Pages

 

Besides all the adjusting to school in 1956, that Christmas was a milestone one for me at least and I'm going to lift the account of it, from another book of mine If The Devil Danced In Empty Pockets (He'd Have A Ball In Mine)

In the fall of '56 my mom asked me, "What would you like for Christmas?" It was the first time the word Santa had been excluded. I always felt Santa didn't get too nice a send off thanks to Butch. "A GUITAR" , I shot back. "A guitar ?....... really... you want a guitar?" "Yep , sure do" "Well how about a uke?.....did you know I used to play one in the '30's, I could teach you what I remember".... Now Carl Perkins, the Everly Brothers, Jimmy Rodgers or Elvis did not play a uke. The only guy I knew with a uke back then was Arthur Godfrey. I didn't care too much for Arthur Godfrey, nor did my grandfather Jack Spooner (Mom's father) who said, "He's the cheapest bastard I ever met" Jack was in position to know as he met everyone who was anyone. He was in the nightclub and society cafe biz, in its glory days (20's -50's) He knew celebrities of all types, FDR, Joe Kennedy, Cary Grant, Bob Hope, Cagney not Lacy, Babe Ruth, Lou Gehrig. In fact Jack Dempsey, the heavyweight champ of the world was a partner with him in a restaurant on Broadway. Gramps spent most of his years at the famous and posh Stork Club. He was on a first name basis with everyone. Mike Todd who was one of Liz Taylor's husbands, once gave him a hundred bucks to get him a good table. "He was a swell Son Of A Bitch". This was around 1953, so that was a nice tip back then....... "MOM..... I REALLY WANT A GUITAR."

My dad worked his entire life for the New York Telephone Company. He'd never get rich there, but it was secure. Mom did some part time stuff when we were young, including a stint as a telephone operator. But most of the time she was home for us. I think she spent the bulk of my fathers pay on food. She was a tremendous cook and should've had her own restaurant. It was discussed at the dinner table many a night, but was probably tabled for lack of capitol. When I got to high school she became a sort of pro cook for others, including cooking for a convent serving several full course gourmet meals each day to the Sisters at St. Johns.


Well Christmas came and I got a uke....It might of been the Joseph food budget that shrank my dream, but nonetheless I had something and something is always better than nothing. In my eyes it was a guitar and I was playing guitar stuff on it. No hulas for me... no sir. My mom showed me what she knew. She didn't even know what it was, but it was a chord progression. G,GM7th, G7th,C, E7th, A7th , D7th, and back to G. I learned to resolve early on. In a short time I was figuring out the songs of the day on it using those chords and other ones I 'd find. It was an excellent course in early ear training that I'll never regret.

 

It was early in the winter of 1957 when Butch got a new kid in his class. After school that day he brought him over our house. His name was Doug Percoco and he only lived a block away from us on Beaver and Elm. Actually he had been coming out during the summers just like the Yodice's and Denning's, but for some reason, we had never met till he came to Floyd. The three of us hung around a bit, but I could tell they preferred to be on their own. It caused a little bit of friction between Butchie and me but not for long. In a few months Doug transferred to St. John's Catholic school and they stopped hanging around with each other. It was soon back to familiar ground of Larry, Dennis, Butchie and Me. But it would not be the last either of us saw of Doug Percoco.

To be continued.......

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