I don’t want to give the impression I was a sad, pathetic, rejected lad doomed to wander the streets forever alone. I did sometimes feel that way once I got into Junior High, but not so much in elementary school, especially as I did make some new friends soon enough after returning to Downingtown.
Friends and enemies weave through our lives. Some times one becomes the other and vice versa. We don’t always know why. Tim Mahan (right 1941-2009) had been a close friend in pre-school and pre-swamp days. Somehow during the transition from First to Third Grade we began to drift apart. He never became an enemy, but somehow the friendship passed into acquaintanceship and faded over time into two strangers who had once sailed on life’s early water together.
Billy Smith, who lived up the street moved to Coatesville and then to the country, and gradually out of my life. Our parting was like a long progressive death. We played daily in those first years and then I moved away from town and only saw him on weekends. Then I moved back and he moved away, to Coatesville about seven miles west, and I visited him perhaps a half dozen times over a few months, traveling by bus with my little cardboard suitcase. And then he went further away, gone someplace out in the countryside where the buses didn’t venture. I visited him once at wherever that was, driven there by my grandfather, after which the friendship died from distance. (On left, 1946, Tim Mahan, me and Billy Smith in the backyard at 424 Washington.)
Now once the Smith family had left town and vacated the home on Washington Avenue, the Shirk-Myers family moved in. At first this seemed a good thing to me. Their were four boys in the family and the oldest son, Denny Myers (right 1941-2015) had become a weekend friend during my marshland exile period. I am not exactly certain how this came about. I may have befriended him during my brief stay in East Ward’s First Grade or perhaps he had befriended Billy in my absence and Billy introduced him to me. The first he appears in any family photograph is at my birthday party in 1949. This would have been six months before I moved back to town. He is the boy to the left, Billy is in the middle and I am on the right.
However we met, Denny did not welcome me on my return to Washington Avenue; indeed, instead he became an enemy who made a habit of ridiculing me.
Ironically, his brother Michael Myers, next in line by age, became my friend as Denny pulled away. Michael was a couple years younger than I, which did not bolster my place among my peers. Now I was considered the companion of both girls and “little” kids.
Bobby Cuellers (left) and I had a friendship at West Whiteland between my Downingtown periods. I met him at the West Whiteland School and visited his home. He moved to Downingtown about the same time I came back and we both ended up in Miss Ezrah’s Third Grade class. The friendship didn’t bloom with that reunion, however. We were simply classmates, neither hot nor cold toward each other.
By the way, Bobby Cueller’s looked like Jimmy Cagney to me.
When Denny Myers’ family moved into the Smith’s abandoned Washington Avenue address, a boy I knew from preschool days moved into the apartment where the Shirks-Myers use to live. This apartment was located behind the gas station at the corner of Lancaster and Whiteland. I had met this boy during one of my kindergarten years, but we weren’t really close friends during those days, just acquaintances. His name was Gary Kinzey (right 1941-2011), a famous and somewhat scandalous name in the 1950’s although the notorious sex researcher, Dr. Alfred Kinsey (left 1894-1956), spelled it with an s rather than z. During a few years when Gary and I both attended East Ward we build a bond and friendship around electric trains, but this relationship soured in Junior High and the spark went out, even though Gary’s nickname was “Sparky”.
We come to my inner circle, my clique, and my gang. Gary drifted into and out of this pack, but five boys and a few girls became a core group around me. We were not all always together, but often formed trios or duets or quartets.
Three of the girls went back to my youngest days, Iva Darlington, who lived in the next house up the block (before another was built in the vacant lot between us. Her place is the left side of the structure pictured.) Her mother was a close friend with my grandmother and Iva was one of my earliest friends.
A second, and also one who went back to very early in my life, was Judy Baldwin (1942-2012). She was a best friend with Iva and both of them were together a lot and both attended my birthday parties. (On right, Judy and Iva, 1952.)
The third girl was named Bonnie Lou Walton (1941-2010). Bonnie hung around East Ward a lot when we were children. She lived East a ways up Lancaster Avenue. She was another Tomboy and I had a crush on her for a while in late grade school. I thought she was cute. I remember her joining in these hide ‘n’ seek games around the schoolyard in dusk when it was getting slightly dark out. She never married and passed away in 2010. In the photo on the left, she is the girl on the far right. I am on the far left. This was 1953.
Among the new friends I made was a gentle boy named Dave Fidler (right). It may have been destined because of his name, but he did actually play a violin. He was tall, wore glasses and had very curly wild hair. He lived in one of the old pre-Revolutionary homes along East Lancaster Pike directly across from East Ward. I was in his house many times and once he took some of us into the basement. There was a room downstairs with wrist restraints and leg irons fastened into the walls by large eyebolts. One wonders what went on in that house one or two hundred years ago.
Dave had an older and a younger brother. I didn’t know the older brother well at all. The younger was an occasional playmate and visitor, but he was a sneaky sort and he stole several things from me, so in the end I didn’t want him around.
Before Bill Brookover (left) was a friend of mine, he was first a close friend with Stuart Meisel going back to pre-school days. He was Stuart’s Billy Smith. When Stuart became my friend, so did Bill. The Brookover’s had lived next to The Meisels and that was how Stuart and he became friends.
Bill was the smallest of our group. Stuart, Dave, Ron and I were all tall for our age. Bill’s family was also better off financially than most of us. When I knew him the Brookovers lived in one of the “newer” homes built along Uwchlan Avenue. His father was an accountant for one of the paper mills I think, and drove an Oldsmobile, “the executive’s car”.
Another friend Stuart brought into my life was Teddy Miller lived next door to the Meisel’s on Lancaster Avenue, across from the Library. His family had moved into that house when The Brookovers moved out. (The house is pictured on the left, Teddy on the right.) Teddy played the trombone. Teddy’s family had some kind of relationship to Griffith’s Hardware store downtown. Teddy was often with Stuart and I. I often saw my friends as images of some famous personage. Teddy Miller made me think of Jerry Lewis (right).
Stuart was Jackie Gleason with his extra weight and dark black hair. Although Stu did not like anyone teacsing about his size, he must have associated somewhat with The Great One. he took one of Gleason’s shticks as his own. If he got angry with you, he would point toward the door and yell, “Out! Out!”.
I have never been sure of how I met each and every friend. I know I became friends with Bill Brookover and Teddy Miller because they were already friends of Stuart, but I don’t know how it was Stuart Meisel (left) and I became such close friends, and along with Ronald Tipton he was to be one of my two best friends. We still are.
Stuart was one of those who others saw as “different” and sometimes gave him grief for it. His family was the only Jewish one in town.
Another who became a regular member of our little group was Sam, Shirley Ann McComsky. I don’t recall exactly how Sam drifted in among us. She was in our class at school, but so were many others, boys and girls. Perhaps it was a love of baseball. She seemed to simply show up at Stuart’s during one of our impromptu backyard ball games and then just kept returning. She was a pretty good player and I remember her as having a great sense of humor and fun. Whatever, she adapted easily into our little island of misfit toys.
There was another girl who came into the perimeter of my limited circle of friends. Her name was Gracie Styer. I recall her vaguely now and this may be because she was more a friend of Stuart’s than of mine and my associations came through him. Here is what Stuart wrote about her in his memoir, My Story:
“Gracie Styer was a Negro. In the 1950’s, it was not “cool” for whites to be friends with blacks (called Negroes at that time.) I don’t recall ever seeing Gracie Styer outside of school. However, we were friends in school. However, I just saw Gracie as a nice person and a friend. Years later at a reunion, I saw Gracie. We were still friends. She now seems to have slipped from view – No one knows where she is now, or even, if she is now.”
It was the treatment of not just myself, but of my new friends because of what they
were that helped begin my lose of innocence.