Thursday, July 13, 2006
Yesterday morning, I opened an e-mail that amazed me. It came from a fellow named Richard Kropas. I went to grade school with Richard and it's been more than thirty-five years since I last saw him.
I'm not sure how, but Richard came across this blog. On the off chance that I might be the same Jim Sullivan he went to school with - lo, these many years ago - he dropped me a line. In the e-mail, he gave me enough info to let me know he wasn't someone pulling my leg or trying to scam me. He named a few other kids from our classes, a teacher; stuff like that.
I wrote back to him and gave him a small bit of my history since those days in Dorchester. I'm awaiting his reply. In the meantime, I dug up a school photo that included both of us and then memories started kicking down long-closed doors in my head. I decided to turn on the ancient computer (no internet connection) at home and now I'm just going to go from person to person in the photo and see what comes to mind. I'll post it in the morning when I get to an actual on-line computer.
(Disclaimer: I'll probably misspell names and I'm bound to get some things wrong concerning personal histories. After all, I was either 8 or 9 when this photo was shot, so I've had forty years worth of time to fry some synapses since then. If I insult anyone, it's wholly unintentional and I apologize beforehand. However, if you're reading this and you ARE insulted, you should get in touch with me, too. I'd love to hear from you.)
(Second Disclaimer: I suck at Photoshop, at scanning, and at anything else I could have done to make the following photo nicer. If you need more detail, click onto it and you should see an enlargement. I hope.)
Here's our fourth grade photo.
Let's start with the bottom row, since that's the one I'm in. The first person on the left is Johnny DuPass (and his last name is probably the first misspelling.) Johnny was sort of a tough kid and in later years he was a member of the Red Emeralds, a local motorcycle gang from Mattapan. Now, if my recollection is incorrect on this, I'm going to look like an idiot, but I recall that Johnny lost a leg in an accident and he passed away a few years later; that would have been maybe twenty years ago now.
When I was very young, I wasn't comfortable around Johnny. Oh, fuck it - I was afraid of him. But as the years passed, I saw that Johnny had a nice side to him. I recall a couple of minor incidents where he made things more comfortable for me when he didn't have to do so. Nothing worth going into detail about, but the sort of kindness you don't readily forget. Wherever you are, Johnny - I hope my memory of hearing of your death is incorrect - I surely did appreciate that.
Beside Johnny is Tony Cefalu. Tony was a real nice kid and we graduated from the same high school class, Boston Tech 1974. An odd memory pops to mind.
Stephen Murphy and I once visited Tony's house after school. Tony lived quite a few blocks from our house, so we rarely got to his neighborhood for anything other than school or church. Anyway, Stephen and I were both white-bread Irish boys and Tony's home smelled so strange! Well, of course, it was just garlic and rosemary and oregano and whatever other wonderful things a more adventurous family might have used to cook dinner. The most daring seasoning either of us had ever seen used in our homes was pepper. We got used to the smell and had a fine time.
Tony had a younger brother; I think Nicky was his name. Nicky had a small physical deformity. As I remember, he was missing some muscle on one side of his neck, so his head always leaned off to that side. It wasn't anything we thought much about; just interesting to us as kids is all. He also had an older brother, Jimmy, and I seem to remember that he was a pretty good athlete.
Now we come to the first person (of quite a few) whose name I can't recall. I remember he was a pretty nice kid - good-natured sort and fairly bright, I think - but no other outstanding memories.
(I'm sure that if everybody in that class looked at this picture, there'd be quite a few who might have the exact same commentary regarding me.)
And that brings us to the redheaded kid. Good-natured sort and fairly bright, I think. Other than that? His pants are too short and what's up with that tie? Definitely a goon.
The last kid in the row was named Miles and although I thought there were others, he appears to have been the only black boy in the class. Maybe my friend Phillip Stiles and Freddie and some others came the next year. I wonder how Miles felt about being one of a kind? I know that there were an awful lot of n-words thrown around in those days and not so subtly sometimes, either.
This was the first year there were any black children in the Gilbert Stuart. My father followed Stephen Murphy and me to school on the first day that year, at a distance of about a block behind, because he thought there might be troubles. There weren't, I'm happy to say, but it was still a somewhat awkward time for both the white kids and the black kids. We had hardly had any exposure at all to black people, so they were a curiosity - sometimes built up as a threat through ignorance from some of our parents - and I'm sure the black kids didn't especially enjoy traveling from their own neighborhood into a foreign environment where they might have been told they would meet unfriendliness.
(My parents weren't the worst, by any stretch, even though my father tagged after me. My mother has never been one to consider a person's skin tone a qualification or disqualification for anything. And my father, despite his very constant use of group epithets, was never one to deny an individual his due. I always found it intriguing that a man who said "niggers" and "jew bastards" on a regular basis, when referring to groups of people, had so many true and good friends who were black or Jewish, and whom he would have gone to the wall for if you said anything bad about them.)
In the next row, we start with the girls. This being the fourth grade, as well as medieval 1965, I don't have as many memories of them as I probably should. I've got some, though, so here goes.
First on the left is Eva. She was nice enough, as I recall, but that's about all I recall, which is more than I can say about the next two girls, whose names I can't recall at all. Such nice smiles and open faces. I feel truly bad not being able to call to mind a single salient fact about either of them. I feel as though I'm hurting their feelings from forty years in the future.
The fourth girl from the left was Geraldine Donahue. I remember the names of all the redheads, male or female, I suppose because we're the same species. She was a nice kid with a few extra pounds and teased because of it, of course.
Next to Geraldine is (I hope my memory is correct and it is her, because it's a great name) Allison Angel. My mother says that when I went to kindergarten, and Allison was in my class, I came home all excited because I thought she was Allison Wonderland, since that was the only Allison I had ever heard of before.
Ahhhhhhhhhh! The recipient of my first kiss. She appears none the worse for wear, but I'm not sure if this was before or after it. The other female in that story, Lorraine, is the first one on the left in the third row. My buddy, Stephen Murphy, whose birthday it was and who knew the rules, is the second boy from the right in the top row.
Is that MaryAnn Arsenault next in the second row? I should know, but I don't. If it is, I should be ashamed for not being sure because I had a major crush on her in first grade. Next to the possible MaryAnn is Mitzi McCall. No, actually I'm not sure who she is. Another damned nice smile, though.
You've already met Lorraine, so let's go on to the second girl in the third row. Nope - no clue.
(You have no idea how much this bothers me. I can picture one of these people coming across my blog, same as Richard did, reading this and getting pissed that I don't remember them. Or, worse, getting sad. If you see yourself, get in touch with me, please. I want to know you - again.)
The next redhead is the very pretty Sheila. Next to her is a wonderful girl named Rosemarie Espinosa. It never struck me until this very moment that she was probably of Hispanic descent. Of course, she almost certainly never knew that I was one-quarter so, also. Whatever else she was, she was always nice to me. She was one of the brightest kids in the class, too. I was a very good speller and Rosemarie and I were often as not the last two remaining in class spelling bees. She was one of two girls in the class I can honestly say I was completely comfortable around. I'll get to the other in a moment.
(No, oddly enough, it wasn't Julie, the girl I kissed. She was just my kissee and we didn't spend much time talking or otherwise palling around at school.)
Well, the girl after Rosemarie is drawing a blank and again many apologies. Deborah Williams is after her. Then another blank for me, insofar as the name is concerned, but I do remember her dancing ballet during an assembly once. Then another nice smile, but still another non-recall moment for Jim.
OK. Now we come to the other girl whom I very fondly recall and whose company I always enjoyed. Her name was (and is, I hope) Susan Lawlor. Well, I mean I hope it's still Susan Lawlor if she wants it to still be Susan Lawlor. I mean... ah, hell, she's the type who knows what I mean and that's why I liked her so much. Look at her standing there in that plaid jumper. What impresses me now is the look of intelligence combined with a very pretty set of eyes and a sweet smile.
Jesus, don't get me wrong. I think I might be coming across like I had some kind of major crush on Susan. I honestly didn't. I really had no feelings of that nature at all for her. More's the pity on my part, of course. Susan was the easiest girl to talk to in the entire class. I mean the following in the most sincerely nice and unsuggestive way imaginable - she was like one of the guys to me. You could tell her the type of mild dirty joke prevalent among fourth-graders and it wasn't because you were going to shock her like with the other girls. You told her the joke because she'd appreciate it and you wanted to make her laugh. Or, maybe she told you a joke. Really good girl and one I'd love to talk to again.
I did have somewhat of an opportunity to see Susan again a few years ago, due to her participation in one of the more fun things MY WIFE and I enjoy in Boston, The Museum Of Bad Art (MOBA), but I never followed through on it in a timely fashion and we never met up. I regret that.
(By the way, if you click on the link above, the first "art" you'll see is a portrait of Susan's grandmother. The story behind it is there on the site somewhere, also.)
And the next three girls? They may have been just as nice, but my sieve... excuse me... my memory totally fails me again.
Not to give anyone else shorter shrift than I've already given some folks here, but I'm getting tired and need to hit the hay. Quick, then, through the top row.
First on the left is the assistant teacher, whose name I (surprise!) can't remember. The only girl in the back row, poking her head up as though she were a prairie dog (but with a much prettier smile) was, I believe, Trixie. I want to say that the boy next to her is Robert Buhl, but I may be mistaken. I remember Robert as having worn glasses, but it still may be him. Maybe he didn't wear glasses at all. Maybe I just need glasses.
The final redhead in our class, standing next to the probably Robert Buhl without glasses, is Donald Henderson. The fellow with the extremely good posture next to Donald is Eddie Reavey. I became pretty fair friends with Eddie (and his brother) during high school, at least during school hours. We didn't hang a lot outside of school, but we seemed to sit next to each other a lot (probably alphabetical - Reavey, Sullivan) so we talked a bunch.
The fellow who started me on this stumble down a Memory Lane filled with potholes is in the very center of the top row, as he was in every class picture I still have, due to his height. He is Richard Kropas. He was always the biggest kid in class, at least during our time at the Gilbert Stuart. As a result, he'd play Santa Claus in our Christmas pageants. Always a smile. Good kid. I look forward to getting another e-mail from him.
One of the class clowns, Robert Gallagher, is the kid with the glasses. He was a funny guy. Oddly, I remember everyone calling him "Gallagher" rather than "Robert", the only one in the class not generally referred to by his first name. No, he didn't smash watermelons with a sledgehammer - different Gallagher.
Another cipher to the right of Gallagher. Maybe a Ronald? I don't know.
My best friend of early childhood was Stephen Murphy. I've mentioned him other times here and in one or two other stories. He would be the one I most recently saw, although it was still too long ago. I saw him at the wake of his older brother, Jimmy, almost four years back now. At the time, we exchanged phone numbers but never called. I've since lost his.
It's so sad that you can be truly intimate with someone when you're younger, but not feel comfortable enough to call him as an adult. He was at my wedding. He was my little league teammate. He was in the same cub scout den. We walked to school together, every day, from Kindergarten through 6th grade, and for the better part of the years after that we rode to school together. He was my actual next-door-neighbor for almost thirty years, since we both stayed in our Dorchester duplex after we had been married and both of our parents were long gone from that scene. I enjoyed playing catch in the backyard with his son, just as I had played catch in the backyard with him when we were both kids.
He and his family moved to Quincy about a year before MY WIFE and I moved to Watertown and since then, the wake was it. Too bad.
Well, Billy Shea (?) next and then my fourth-grade teacher, Mrs. Welch. Mrs. Welch was a decent sort and I liked her. I really can't remember a teacher at that school who wasn't at least decent. Many were very nice. I especially have fond memories of a Mrs. Hickey from fifth grade.
Enough meandering nostalgia for one day. See you soon.