Archive for June, 2011

Popper  (1911-1998)

He drank his coffee black and his scotch straight up with a beer chaser.  His gruff exterior probably masked a more mellow interior…and I say probably, because I didn’t see that mellower side when I was growing up. Not that that was unusual. The times, as they say, being what they were, most men drank their coffee black in a metaphorical sense. Men who came of age during the Great Depression and who engaged in the Great War were hardened, not by desire, but by circumstances.

My father considered fatherhood an obligation. His job was to put food on the table and to keep the proverbial roof over our heads. He worked long and hard. There was little room for much else in his life.

I lived under the same roof with him for 18 years…and then I was off to college…and while I might have returned intermittently, the father/son role was more or less a relationship of kinship…and not the one that I had always imagined could have been…if.

If. It was the title of a poem my father recited on more than one occasion when I was growing up. I include it here, because it remains one of those mellower memories from my childhood

If you can keep your head when all about you
Are losing theirs and blaming it on you,
If you can trust yourself when all men doubt you
But make allowance for their doubting too,
If you can wait and not be tired by waiting,
Or being lied about, don’t deal in lies,
Or being hated, don’t give way to hating,
And yet don’t look too good, nor talk too wise:

If you can dream–and not make dreams your master,
If you can think–and not make thoughts your aim;
If you can meet with Triumph and Disaster
And treat those two impostors just the same;
If you can bear to hear the truth you’ve spoken
Twisted by knaves to make a trap for fools,
Or watch the things you gave your life to, broken,
And stoop and build ‘em up with worn-out tools:

If you can make one heap of all your winnings
And risk it all on one turn of pitch-and-toss,
And lose, and start again at your beginnings
And never breath a word about your loss;
If you can force your heart and nerve and sinew
To serve your turn long after they are gone,
And so hold on when there is nothing in you
Except the Will which says to them: “Hold on!”

If you can talk with crowds and keep your virtue,
Or walk with kings–nor lose the common touch,
If neither foes nor loving friends can hurt you;
If all men count with you, but none too much,
If you can fill the unforgiving minute
With sixty seconds’ worth of distance run,
Yours is the Earth and everything that’s in it,
And–which is more–you’ll be a Man, my son!

It wasn’t until I married and started my own family did I see my father add a little milk and sugar to his coffee. I saw the mellower side of him peek out behind his gruff exterior. And I was glad, because I was to have a new memory of my father to share with my children.

And now I have climbed yet another rung and have grandchildren of my own. I see the way my son-in-law, Bryan, is with his two little girls, Jillian and Brielle. He takes his coffee with cream and sugar.  I see the way my son, Jeremy, is with his son, Andrew. He takes his coffee with cream and sugar. I see the way my son, Nicholas, will be with his first child (due in October). He, too, takes his coffee with cream and sugar. And my heart tells me that when my son, Kieran, becomes a father, his coffee cup will also be filled with cream and sugar.

And “If” I can offer a few words of yellow-brick wisdom to my sons and son-in-law, it is this. Be the man you need to be in these tough times. Take care of and protect your children, but never lose sight of what the Little Prince might have said about fatherhood.

“It is only with the heart that one fathers rightly. What is essential is visible in the eyes of your children.”

Happy father’s day, Jeremy, Nick and Bryan.

And happy father’s day to you, too, Popper.


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1954 - Me, Bruce, "Buzzy" and Douglas on Lincoln Street

The cost of gas is through the ceiling and airlines charge for baggage making leisure travel a bit expensive. But there’s one trip you can still take that doesn’t cost a dime…and hopefully you won’t need to carry any ‘baggage.’ It’s a trip down what is commonly called “memory lane.”

Destination for this trip: Lincoln Street, Seaford, NY 11783
The time: From 1953 to the mid sixties.

Lincoln Street was one of those new suburban developments meant to attract GIs from the boroughs  who wanted to raise their children in an idyllic location. I don’t know if Seaford qualifies for idyllic, but it was the closest thing to Norman Rockwell’s America you could ever find. Or at least that’s my opinion.

Consisting of mostly Cape Cods and a few split-levels (with a rumpus room), the denizens of Lincoln Street arrived in 1953, most with one or two kids five and under.

Boys were the dominant gender on Lincoln Street, and from day one there was a certain camaraderie that bonded us together. And while it’s been decades since the boys from the hood on Lincoln Street were together, let me share with you my memories of the kids I grew up with: Douglas Weberling, William aka Buzzy Riecker, Bruce Cronemeyer, Bobby Gardali, John Moran (a late comer to the neighborhood), Bobby Milota, Bobby and Johnny Powell, Johnny and Joe Whiteman (they lived on Conway Street, but that was like Lincoln Street Two), and Bobby Stetina (or Cousin Bobby because he was Bobby Milota’s cousin…and he, too didn’t live on Lincoln Street, but he grew up there with us.)

Douglas was focused and determined. He always knew what he wanted and was certain he was going to get it. Smart, very smart and athletic, there was no telling how far Douglas would go. And he did go far. He went on to become a well-respected optician in Virginia and was at one time the Mayor of Bristol, VA.

We grew up calling him Buzzy, but his real name was William Riecker III. He too was a really smart kid…and athletic, too. He was also focused and had his eyes set on becoming a dentist…which he did. He has had a long and successful career as Dr. Riecker of Connecticut.

Bruce Cronemeyer. Bruce never really spent much time with us on the playing fields. His first love was nature. There wasn’t anything about plants and animals that he didn’t know about. When it came to night games and such, Bruce was one of us. In addition to being very intelligent, Bruce was one of the kindest people you’d ever want to meet. I always admired him.

Bobby Gardali. It goes without saying that he was extremely bright. But he was more than that. He was fired up. Perhaps it was the Italian blood in him, but there was nothing that Bobby did that was half measure. He played hard (he too was a good athlete) and you could always depend upon him to make things exciting.

John Moran. The Morans built a house on the empty lot with the crabapple tree in about 1960. It was the biggest house on the block. John was a top student and a top athlete. I always knew that he would not settle for second best, and my hunch was right. After graduating from the Merchant Marine Academy in Kings Point, John entered the business world where he worked himself to the CEO of a profitable company in Maryland.

Bobby Milota. Can you guess? He, too, was a bright guy. Curious and always wanting to learn more and do more. He was a thinker and it shouldn’t surprise you that he took his learning to the next level and became a first-class educator and a well-respected teacher of meditation.

Bobby and Johnny Powell’s family did not move into the neighborhood when the rest of us did.  They had roots in Seaford that went back more than a hundred years.  Bobby was closest to my age. He was a far better athlete than I was, but we used to see who could hit the ball over the trees in the lot we played in all summer long. Bobby followed in his father’s footsteps and joined the Seaford Fire Dept.  I don’t know what Johnny ended up doing.

The Whiteman brothers, John and Joe, did not live in  a Lincoln Street house, but rather in a an older house around the corner. John was very, very smart. Joe was not the academic match to his brother, but he was the perfect friend to have in a neighborhood. John majored in psychology and did go into that field. Joe became a Nassau County law enforcement agent.

Bobby Stetina was different. He was the only kid in the neighborhood growing up in a single parent house. He was overly generous, sharing everything he had with us. I can only wonder what happened to him. I only wished good things for him.

That’s a look at the Lincoln Street kids as individuals. As a group we played hard together throughout the year, but hit our stride in the summer when we played 26 hours a day, eight days a week.

And believe it or not, there were never any fights. Some scuffles, of course, but no fist fights. And when we weren’t playing, we were down at the canal fishing, hiking through Takapausha Park, building forts, camping out in someone’s backyard. selling lemonade, playing night games, riding our bikes to the candy store, collecting baseball cards (got it, got it, need it) and going to the library once a week (in between games we’d get together and read…usually under the tree between my house and the Cronemeyer’s.)

And then we grew up. I was the first to go off to a private high school (St. Agnes) where I developed new interests and new friends. John Moran and Bobby Gardali went to Chaminade High School…and John Whiteman went to Regis. The rest of the kids went to Seaford High School

And in a blink of an eye we were off to college…and then jobs…marriage for many of us…and then….

Maybe growing up with the kids on Lincoln Street wasn’t perfect…but it was, in my opinion, a great way to spend a childhood.

I salute the kids I called friends for giving me memories that have lasted and lasted and lasted.

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