Susan Easton; Mary Backus Dye

kindergarten

Susan EastonSusan Easton was a core member of my church choir. By that, I mean she was almost always present, doing her part to keep the altos on track. If someone were sick or had a family member die, or had a baby, you know she was actively involved with making sure they felt cared for.

Susan was an excellent cook. She wasn’t a flashy type and was seemingly reserved. Though she could puncture her placid demeanor when dealing with nonsensical people. In another life, she probably could have been an air traffic controller, such was her attention to detail.

Somewhere in this house, I still have the champagne split celebrating her 40th wedding anniversary with Al back in 2003. Al is also in the choir, a tenor, and in my Bible group.

My wife told me this story only recently. Sue was a fill-in at a doctor’s office my wife was using and called with the appropriate information. And my wife knew that Sue would be the appropriate model of discretion.

Her funeral will be at First Presbyterian Church Saturday, January 16. The choir is singing. I mean, of COURSE, the choir is singing. It is the fourth choir in 2022. My condolences to Al, their children, her church family, and all who cared for her.

DSD

Mary Backus DyeBack in 2015, I got a Facebook comment from Mary Backus Dye. “Roger Green – I think I went to school with you. Daniel S Dickinson … we were young but I remember you. I have thought about you for years. You helped me on my very first kindergarten day [in 1958!] and for some reason, I wasn’t afraid when my mother left.

“You were my very first crush. Am pretty sure we started kindergarten together. Her name was Miss Cady.” I remembered her as well, though I didn’t remember the crush. “I kissed you on the cheek in kindergarten and your eyes got big and you ran from me LOL. Miss Cady moved my seating and I was sad. We were buddies all through grade school until I moved.

“I haven’t seen you since we were young, but you made quite an impact on my life. You were my very first buddy. And at that point in our lives, we surely needed a buddy.”

But she doesn’t seem to recall that we kissed under the mistletoe when I was about 13. Was that a false memory of mine? It doesn’t matter.

She told about singing with a six-piece R and B group, and about her family.

I discovered a Backus in my genealogical research. I asked, “Was there a Frances Marie Backus in your family who married Morris Sheldon Walker in 1938 in Susquehanna, PA?” Mary said, “Yes she was my father’s sister.”  Morris was my grandmother’s brother and my father’s uncle. So Mary and I are somehow related. I sent her the wedding license of Morris and Frances.

Mary had some health issues since at least 2020 and passed away recently. The funeral’s on July 30 in Cottonwood, AZ. I’ll probably attend it remotely.

Not talking about race as a kid

Slavic neighborhood

Talk-to-Your-Kids-About-RaceSince June 1, a week after George Floyd, I have had lengthy conversations about race with three of my oldest friends. And by “oldest,” I mean I met two of them in 1958, and the other much later, in 1960. Yet I don’t remember talking about it when we were growing up. When I noted this with one of them, they said, “You ought to blog about that!” The problem is that I can’t really explain why.

For those unfamiliar, I should explain that I grew up in the First Ward of Binghamton, NY in the 1950s and 1960s. The city consisted of many Irish, Italians, and especially Eastern Europeans, second- and third-generation folks. There were black people in other parts of the city, but north of Clinton Street, which was a demarcation for “the Ward,” most folks were Slavic – Russian, Polish, Czech, Ukrainian, primarily.

At my school for K-9, Daniel S. Dickinson, I was often the only black kid in my class. There was a black young woman named Bernadette in 7th grade, coming from one of the feeder schools to our junior high. But she was gone by 8th grade to who knows where. Robert in 5th grade, who I’ve mentioned, was so academically challenged that he eventually ended up in my sister Leslie’s class, and she was three semesters behind me.

Also, in kindergarten, there was a “mixed-race” girl. She’s one of my current Facebook friends. By her account, I was very nice to her, even as most of the other kids were not. I have no recollection of any of this. Incidentally, I believe we have the same great-grandfather.

So NOW we talk

When I told one of my friends how traumatized when I saw photos of Emmett Till’s dead body in a magazine in 1960, I was asked, “Why didn’t you tell me?” I dunno. Why didn’t they tell me how their father put a stop to some racist taunts directed toward a man I knew at my church?

Another friend was pretty shocked that there were any racial problems in Binghamton at all. I’ve noted that back in 1964, over 200 black people complained in an open letter in the paper problems, jobs, and even “common courtesies.” Yes, I was pretty insulated in that geography triangulated by Dickinson school, my grandmother Williams’ house at 13 Maple Street, and my house on 5 Gaines Street. But I knew there was more to the story in the rest of the city.

I had long talks not only with the third friend but also with the spouse. Much of it has been generated by the contents of my blog over the last two months. “We didn’t know you were going through things like that.”

Theories

Maybe it was that I didn’t want to point myself out as different. Perhaps I didn’t think they’d understand. I talked with my sister Leslie about this. She had a similar situation, except that she did have one black classmate, Bonnie for a few years. They didn’t talk about race either. It was assumed that they were going through the same, or similar things and there was no need to verbalize it.

It’s like when I’ve seen a black person in a sea of white faces. Inevitably, one of us will give a nod to the other. It’s an acknowledgment of assumed common experience.

I suppose I should be grateful that my old friends and I are talking about race now.

Bernie Massar, Barnyard (1953-2019)

The Professional Firefighter’s Cancer Fund is a non-profit 501(C)3 organization committed to raising funds for cancer research programs.

Bernard Massar.Jan KostyunKaren, Carol, Lois, Diane, Irene, Bill, Bernie and I all started kindergarten together at Daniel S. Dickinson, where we did K-9, and graduated from Binghamton (NY) Central High School together.

Because Bernie Massar lived in the opposite direction from most of us, down Clinton Street rather than up Mygatt Street, I spent less time with him outside of school than I did with most of the others. I’m not sure if I had even been to his house.

But he’d been to mine at least once. I had a birthday party when I was eight or nine. I don’t know if it was poor communication or something else, but only two people showed up, my Cub Scout buddy and classmate Ray, and Bernie.

He could be the life of the party, betraying his clean-cut look. I hadn’t seen him in a long time when he – and Karen, Carol, Lois, and Bill – attended a high school reunion c. 2006. I see this jocular fellow nicknamed Barnyard with a walrus mustache, who had been fighting fires for a living for 27 years.

Obviously, I have no current history with him. Yet however unconnected we had become, he’d show up unexpectedly in the back of my mind. Now, Bernie Massar, this guy I’d met when we were not quite five – his birthday is a couple weeks before mine, I still recall – has died at the age of 66 and I have this sense of wistfulness.

And from pancreatic cancer, making him the THIRD person I’ve known IRL who died from that dreadful disease in 2019, and the year’s not even half over.

It makes me want to donate to his designated charity, the Retired Professional Firefighter’s Cancer Fund, 4 Loretta Drive, Binghamton, NY 13905. It is a non-profit 501(C)3 organization committed to raising funds for cancer research programs, which has been doing great work, it appears.

Guide us our whole lives through

Back when I was in college, they tore down Daniel Dickinson school.

Carol’s wedding reception in 1979 with Vito, Karen, me, my friend Susan, Becky from DSD
My group from the K to 9 school Daniel S. Dickinson entered Binghamton Central in February of 1968, along with far more kids from West Junior and also MacArthur. I felt a bit overwhelmed.

But thanks in no small part to Karen, I found a whole coterie of new friends, left-of-center leaning, civil-rights-supporting, antiwar chums such as Vito, Jane, Michelle, Steve, Catherine and the two Georges.

It had been the tradition in student government that someone other than the candidate give the nominating speech. Apparently, my oratory for Karen when she ran for secretary was rip-roaring; I know it came from the heart.

The next year, they changed the rules, and candidates had to give their own speeches. Meh. I ran for student government president, gave what most thought was a mediocre speech, but won anyway. Carol was the vice-president. Dickinson rules!

But before my sister Leslie and her friend Christine, only a year and a half behind me, got to Central, they had to spend a year or two at West Junior.

The thing about old friends is that you don’t have to see them often to pick up on the relationship.

We went to our 10th high school reunion in 1981, and it wasn’t particularly interesting. But the afterparty was great. I DID get tired of Start Me Up by the Rolling Stones, however.

In 1982, Bill invited Karen, Lois, Carol and me over to his house. We stayed up nearly all night, talking. A year or two later, I went to Bill’s wedding as I had gone to Carol’s about a half decade earlier.

When I was at a low point in the fall of 1977, Karen came from the Boston area to New Paltz to proverbially kick my butt. We had some significant conversations when I’d visit her in the Boston area in the early 1980s. Though she had moved to New York City by then, she came to my 1998 taping of JEOPARDY! in Boston.

Karen has turned me on to music, always, from The Beatles to The Band to Los Lobos to latter Johnny Cash to Valerie June. She came to Albany to see Paul McCartney in 2014.

Carol lived in the Mid Hudson of New York State and I was working at FantaCo in Albany. Coming back from New York City, my colleague’s vehicle broke down on the Taconic, and Carol came to our rescue. Before she moved south, she went to one of the MidWinter’s parties I used to frequent.

When my high school class had a reunion – I want to say 32nd? – I went, primarily because Carol and Karen and Bill and Lois and Bernie were going to be there. Circa 2009, we discovered that Karen from NYC, and Carol from TX, and I from ALB would all be in Binghamton the same weekend, and of course got together.

In 2018, I’ve been in email contact with Carol and Karen. I spent two hours on the phone with Bill.

Back when I was in college, they tore down Daniel Dickinson school, which was weird because, by all accounts, it was better constructed than, for instance, Wilson.

But it was in that “bad” neighborhood. It never seemed that bad to me.

May all our words and deeds e’er uphold thy glory

In junior high, there was an infusion of new kids, from other elementary schools.

One of the great things about my k-9 school Daniel S. Dickinson was that it had a library. I’m pretty sure now, though I didn’t think about it then, that it was part of the Binghamton Public Library system. Not every school had such a facility.

One of the librarians was Mrs. Genevieve Taylor, who attended my church, Trinity A.M.E. Zion, less than two blocks from my house. She was a black woman, as was another church member, Beccye Fawcett, a librarian at the main branch downtown, where I worked as a page when I was in high school. I wonder if they had an effect on my future vocation.

At some point, there was this Peter Max poster at the Dickinson library, and I wondered who Die-lan was. Mrs. Taylor said, “It’s Dil-lin.” Oh yeah, I HAD heard of him, just didn’t recognize the name.

In sixth grade, Mr. Paul Peca, our favorite teacher, challenged us. I remember a class debate on whether the US should have dropped the atomic bomb on Hiroshima. He was pro, mostly of us were con. We also had a mock Presidential election. Lyndon Baines Johnson beat Barry Goldwater, 13-3. I still remember who two of those AuH2O voters were. The following year, several of us walked up to his house, near the airport, to visit him.

We had a class newspaper. Karen wrote an epic fantasy story story about meeting the Beatles. She later got into the music business and promoted John Lennon’s Double Fantasy in 1980. Later, she worked for a label that carried Paul McCartney’s albums. In 2015, around my birthday, she came up to a hearts party I was having and regaled my friends with wonderfully detailed stories about Paul and marmite, and also Johnny and June Carter Cash.

For what we then called junior high, Dickinson was a school that got kids from other schools, such as Oak Street; see Don Wheeler’s great report of his trek to Dickinson, a semester before I moved up to 7th grade.

In junior high, which was 7th through 9th grade, there was an infusion of new kids, from other elementary schools, including Oak Street, Wilson (I think), and the parochial school, St. Cyril, which was right behind our playground. In elementary school, we called them St. Cheerios and they called us Dixie Cups.

There was this black girl named Bernadette who passed me a note so blatantly that people thought something was going on between us. But she was merely a conduit for her friend, a redhead named Dawn. But I was too holy/naive to respond to her overture.

(Dawn and her boyfriend/husband moved next door to my family on Gaines Street a few years later. There’s a Stupid Physics Tale to tell, if you’re interested.)

We had Mr. Frenchko (the assistant principal) and Miss Gertrude Kane, of the purple hair, for English. Mr. Stone was a social studies teacher; friend Karen boldly corrected him when he referred to the band Cream as The Cream.

I can’t remember the shop teacher – Mr. Williams, I’ve been told – but I recall being really bad at wood shop, and I was always blowing up ceramics in the kiln. But I was surprisingly good at metal shop.

We had a junior varsity basketball team, and I was the “manager”, which meant I schlepped equipment. Our team with David, Ray, a kid named Lonnie and others, was pretty good. We lost to East Junior High, 60-58. Afterwards, the East girls beat up some of the Dickinson girls.

Mr. Joseph was the 9th grade homeroom and biology teacher, who was married to Mrs. Joseph, the music teacher. He thought my father was “crazy” to quit the security of his boring IBM job, moving stuff on some sort of forklift, especially to take a job at Opportunities for Broome, a federal OEO program.

By the time we finished 9th grade in January 1968, there were again only 16 of us, I believe: Carol, Lois, Karen, Irene, Diane, Bill, Bernie, David and I, together since kindergarten, and Ray and Jim, but there were Walter, Joanne, Pamela, Richard, Chad, and two girls named Marlene at SOME point in junior high.

Ugh, memory fails.

More soon.
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Someone in this narrative is having a birthday today! HB, Sara Lee.

IN response to a previous post: It’s four o’clock somewhere

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