A local resident whom I’ve known for longer than I can remember and, turning 80 on 9/11, that’s a long time-wrote me the other day. We correspond periodically. We met in the late ’50s at my first rehearsal with the Military Band over Clemens Drug Store on East Main. I was a snot-nosed high school cock-robin trumpeter, and he played clarinet under the direction of the renowned Salvi Ferraro. Wednesday night band concerts in the parks remain for me, nostalgic focal points. I mean, who could forget the Master of Ceremonies supreme, bow-tied Clarence Hotaling, and special guest performers, the likes of the incomparable Shirley Leon Ashley. And-oh yeah-Bugler’s Holiday by a trumpet trio comprised of the best ever, Leo Potrikus, high school band director Don Musella and the Leo wannabe-me.
In his letter, he mentioned that on this past Memorial Day, he had nostalgically thought of days gone by. Gone were the kids playing kickball in the road, arguing back and forth in a friendly manner. Gone were neighbors having cookouts and hollering pleasantries to each other. Gone were the annual treks to decorate the graves with garden flowers. Who could afford the florist? Gone also the annual parade with the Military and high school bands and St. Mary’s and American Legion Drum Corps. Gone too the Memorial Day service in Eastern Park with his uncle Tony Zuccaro playing Taps.
His reminiscences triggered a few of my own. Gone-marching in those danged woolen Military Band uniforms in the 90-degree heat. Gone-having the honor to play alongside three great trumpeters-Leo, Don and Jimmy Harter. Gone-sledding down Skinner St. across Furnace (blindly wonder we weren’t killed by cars going up and down the street) and into the park with Cory and Gary Urich, Bobby Mihevc, Sandy Janezic (ultimately married, Bob-always knew there was a spark), my sister Diane and Sandy Marosek (dad ran Charlie’s Smoke Shop on the corner of John and West Main). Almost forgot-Al Koziol (Vietnam vet). Gone-walking to Granny Lenarcic and Aunt Mary’s domicile next to the car wash on West Main, where the incomparable Slovenian delights of potica and streukla awaited.
Gone-neighbors sitting on porches after supper-quietly recounting the day’s doings-eating homemade pies with whipped cream topping and smoking Camels. Gone, trick-or-treating each Halloween-wearing homemade costumes-gathering “tons” of candy, and, of course, soaping the windows of those who slammed doors in our faces. Gone-whiffle ball games in Gaborza Bielejec’s garage lot (RIP “Nam vet Gabby), snowball fights, hide and seek in the woods at the end of Skinner, and searching for crabs in the creek flowing behind my house. Gone-sledding down Old Baldy (a large hill in said woods), picnics at cousin Donnie Wenberg’s camp on that marvelously clear (harhar) Keyser Lake. Gone-ventures over to Restante’s on the South Side for red raspberry double-dip cones, 65-cent eight-piece pizzas at Pop’s, and a Saturday afternoon at the Rialto enjoying, for a quarter, double features starring Randolph Scott and WWII hero Audie Murphy.
And unlike today’s generation of youngsters, we were always together, playing morning, noon, and night-communicating face to face, “yukking” it up, learning how to resolve our differences with smiles on our faces. And when Mr. Sun faded into the twilight, we hugged each other goodbye and headed home. Gone-those precious experiences which shaped us into the persons we became. And as parents, we’ve tried our best to inculcate in our children those indispensable values so much a product of said experiences- the 5 R’s-respect, responsibility, resilience, resolution, and reliability.
I’ll always be grateful for growing up in Rock City, especially now that the mental and physical maladies concomitant with old age take their toll. While the advantages of modern medicine are certainly helpful, nothing makes each day more manageable than trips down memory lane. And, as the song goes, “Memories may be beautiful and yet what’s too painful to remember we simply choose to forget.” Those “golden days” may be gone, but they’ll never be forgotten. Time to relive a few more of them in the letter I owe him that I’m about to write. Finally, a huge THANK YOU FOR YOUR SERVICE to our area veterans, including the local resident referred to in the above-Arthur Street resident, Mohawk High teaching icon, WWII combat vet, and supreme nice guy-Mr. Joe Vespasiano.