Thanks for a Path that Preserved my Life

Ever wonder what life would have been like if you made different choices years earlier?

I was 19 when I felt “separated” from most of the people I hung out with and called friends. I wanted to be so much like them; not to care about such things as “love,” “compassion,”  other people’s “feelings.” That was “sissy” stuff; stuff that only a “wuss” would think about. I saw these aspects of myself as a “weakness.

Looking back, I now see they gave me a strength, a real “life-preserver,” and in some cases, a bullet-proof vest. You see, the neighborhood in which I grew up — Brewerytown (small section of North Philly) — was tough. Some friends never made it beyond the age of 30. Others who feared the living of day-to-day, took their own lives before reaching 40. And of course, drugs — which most of us experimented with  — sucked the marrow right out of some of the best of us, leaving  nothing but the legacy of a lost life behind.

Bobby Mendel was one of those first killed while in his early 20s. A year younger than me, he was a “late bloomer,” not dating until well toward the  end of high school, and possibly marrying the first girl he ever “knew.” He was shot by next-door neighbor while defending her honor during an argument outside their Philadelphia home. The shooters went to jail. I lost track of their whereabouts.

Big Dave,” a fellow from the bordering neighborhood, Fairmount, was not as lucky. Someone killed him in what we  later have named a “drive-by” shooting . Never did hear of any arrests. Another young man (maybe 19), whom I only knew as “Rebel,” died from a broken neck when he dove into shallow water while trespassing at a rock quarry with others. Could not see the bottom, eyewitnesses said,  because the water was so dirty.

Two guys who sang first tenor in singing groups in which I had harmonized  may have ended up taking their own lives. Mikey Dugan, a fellow who helped get me my first job as a messenger boy at 15, was said to have overdosed following what friends say was a deep depression. He came from a rough family. Brother, Dusty Dugan, did “state” time for some assault or another. Moose” Moran, who also sang with a clear falsetto voice, was rumored to have shot himself near the 29th Street Bridge that separated Brewerytown and Fairmount.

Others died way too early. Tommy Humphreys, who fathered a child with one of the 15-year-old girls who “hung “out with us, is said to have succumbed to drugs. He chose a hard life, one which contributed greatly to his early demise. I still think of Connie Magee birthing their child and having to enter adulthood earlier than the rest of us.

One of  the saddest deaths I had to accept involved Pat Lawn, clearly the most beautiful girl who hung at 29th and Poplar Streets. She was the ideal teenager: pretty, soft-spoken, always appearing as a real  lady. She also could dance and sing!  She would often harmonize with us guys, filling in with the high parts. You knew she came  from a good family and that if any one would make it out of the neighborhood in one piece, it was going to be her. She was loved by many of the guys from my “crowd.” Johnny Keller, whose kidney failed him before turning 21 and who lived beyond the 20 years doctors gave him to last following a transplant from his brother, Edward, was smitten by her. He carried that with him ’til the day he died. My best friend. Never marrying. Dying before I had a chance to tell him how much he meant to me. To all of us.
Jimmy “Soss” loved Pat, too. He ended up marrying her. But split as problems developed. Some may have involved drugs. Lots of drugs that Pat got drawn to years after breaking up with Jim.
Pat Lawn died from an overdose, taking a little part of all of us who knew her.

Well, I have a lot to be thankful for this November, 2009. Hope I can carry that feeling over to the holidays, Thanksgiving and all. I could have chosen a different path than the one I walk today. I am thankful for lasting this far on the Journey.

11 comments on “Thanks for a Path that Preserved my Life

  1. Bruce Saul says:

    I remember hearing about Bobby Mendel and knowing the shock of that story. I did not know you sang. Too bad. We could have gotten together some time. I joined the USCG in 1964 when I had graduated from Edison and spent 4 years in it until 68. I missed out on much of the stuff that happened in the neighborhood


  2. […] (For another look at growing up in the old neighborhood, please see the following: Thanks for the path that preserved my life) […]

    Liked by 1 person

  3. Sad, but beautiful. Your writing really takes the reader on the journey with you–one of the hallmarks of a great writer. Thanks for sharing your journey. 🙂

    Liked by 1 person

    • contoveros says:


      I never responded to your message until seeing it more than 10 years later.
      Thank you for your interest and your kind words. I hope all is well by you and that you get this message that is a little belated, to say the least.

      Liked by 1 person

      • Bruce Saul says:

        Just read this story of yours. I find it interesting that we lived so close to each other but you hung out with a different group of guys i did not know. I knew Jimmy S, Johnny K and Bobby M but did not know the others in your story. I was also a singer but never knew you were one too. Of course we went to different schools and i never ventured to south of Girard Ave.

        Liked by 1 person

        • contoveros says:

          Were you a singer? I never knew that. Cool.
          Yeah, some of the guys I hung out with were juvenile delinquent-wannabes. One actually did time in a juvenile facility and was not really a friend of mine, only someone I played hooky with in grade school. (See:

          Yeah, we traveled different paths, most of my jaunts were south of Girard Avenue and we have lots of stories I bet we could tell the grandkids when they get old enough.
          I’m surprised this article appeared right now. I wrote it more than 12 years ago and was trying to locate the message’s author, Kalliope.

          Good hearing from you!


  4. Karen Velen says:

    heartfelt thoughts Michael – I always try not to feel sad when these memories came to me – I try to feel gratitude for those memories, they live on in my mind and often give me strength. Karen

    Liked by 1 person

    • contoveros says:


      I got the stength to write it after feeling how grateful I am that I did not choose to go down some roads that either went no where, or ended up in a dead-end.

      Maybe Somebody Upstairs had His (Her?) Eye on me!

      My only regret is not spending more time with my best friend. I did not think his last bout with illness was that serious, so I only stayed in touch over the phone.

      Wish I had visited just one more time. It still chokes me up more than five years later thinking about it. If I would ever face something like this again, I would not pass up the chance to simply “be there” for someone.

      I’d actually “be there” for myself.

      Liked by 1 person

  5. Snædís says:

    Such a sad but beautiful post Michael, and so in tune with the feel of the day; I just learned of the death of a friend I haven’t seen for years. I deeply regret not having told him what great support he was to me during the short time we spent together. It makes me realize what loss it is when I hold back my love and don’t express it freely.

    Love wants to be shared and not stored in my heart.

    With love,

    Liked by 1 person

    • contoveros says:

      You’re Ok.

      Actually, you’re way more than that, and it is so good to be able to share one’s Self with another without having to pretend they are someone else.

      Let’s all tell the next friend how much they truly mean to us.

      Liked by 1 person

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