While I am still able to recall in some details highlights of my early life before true adulthood I decided to write them down for future generations and others who may want to commiserate with my adventures and misadventures.
My early recollection is painful. I was no older than four and was at Atlantic City, a resort town that my Hungarian immigrant grandmother on my mother’s side once sold fruits and vegetables and where my Greek father once worked as a chef on the boardwalk.
I crept beneath that boardwalk somehow and remember quite vividly how I fell and cut the back of my wrist. I still have the scar and will never forget the pain I suffered.
My next recall was at age five and going to first grade. Sister Saint Leonard greeted us in the full black and white Middle-Age nun’s outfit. She was tough. How tough? She caught my brother John chewing gum a few years earlier and ordered him to sit in the wastebasket. She also forced him to stick the gum on his nose while all the other kids laughed at him. He refused to go to school the next few days and it turned him off to organized schooling and was eventually left behind to repeat the class.
At age six, I was awarded the honor of being an escort for the second-graders about to receive Holy Communion for the first time. Sister St. Leonard chose me to be an “angel.” I still have the picture my folks took of me in the white cape and outfit standing outside of St. Ludwig’s Roman Catholic Church in Brewerytown.
I don’t remember much about my own first communion but I do remember kneeling at the front of the church when one of the bishops offered the third grader’s something called “Confirmation.” I chose the name of one of my favorite saints – Francis of Assisi!
Fourth grade exposed me to the love of history and an eventual path toward getting a masters’ degree in American history years later. My favorite nun, Sister Josephine Francis, taught us about the golden age of Greece and I felt a kinship with the land my father was born. Hey, I’m from Philadelphia and I felt proud that my city paved the way for the revolution and the creation of a Constitution that has so far endured despite efforts by some despots that will go un-named.
My highlights turned to “lowlight” in seventh grade. I got caught playing hooky for the first time and was knocked down a flight of stairs by Sister Saint Clair when I refused to tell who I skipped school with. It was really an accident. The fat nun kept pushing her finger at my chest demanding I “rat out” the kid that was a true juvenile delinquent. I kept back away from her and fell crashing all the way to the bottom of the steps.
Eighth grade saw me become a celebrity of sorts. I listened to Rock & Roll on the radio every night and called into a radio show presented by the Philadelphia Disc Jockey Georgie Woods, the “man with the goods.” I requested that he play a new song by Little Jimmy Rivers and the Tops called “Puppy Love” that did well locally but not nationally. It became the most requested song of the week and the DJ played my voice requesting the song on his radio show. I’ll never forget the next day when walking into class a really hot chick way out of my league told me that she heard my voice on the radio the night before. I was thrilled and filled with joy!
I got caught playing hooky at my high school in South Philadelphia, called Bishop Neumann. (He got a “promotion” since then and is now designated as St. John Neumann.) I was ordered to go to summer school for religion and my folks decided to send me to a trade school in North Philadelphia instead.
I asked a girl to go steady at age 14 and she surprised me by saying yes. We were a couple on and off the next four or five years.
Nothing unusual occurred until graduation at age 17. I visited a fellow classmate near Dobbins Tech High School which was across from Connie Mack Stadium where the Phillies played. No one was home and the fellow offered me and others a can of beer. We then went to the stage in the auditorium of the school and sat on the bleachers singing “Climb Every Mountain.” From the Sound of Music. I had to take a “pee” from the moment we sat down and it was torture to hold it in during the rather lengthy ceremony.
I bought a 57-Chevy the next year. It was my first car and my all-time favorite one. I drove it to “practice” for our singing group that I helped to form that year. We called ourselves “The Five Jaunts” and appeared on a local television dance show. I loved to harmonize even though I was never a really good bass singer.
I eventually became a printer, working at two different shops at age 18.
The next year I got drafted into the army.
I was chosen to go to Officers Candidate School a year later becoming the second-youngest lieutenant from my company at Ft. Benning Ga to be commissioned.
And at age 21 I was leading a combat infantry platoon in the Vietnam War wondering where oh where had my childhood highlights gone by so quickly.