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Karen, 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.
Back when I was in college, they tore down Daniel Dickinson school.
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.
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.
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.
Someone in this narrative is having a birthday today! HB, Sara Lee.
The one time in my whole life I intentionally entered a fight was in fifth grade.
By fifth grade at Daniel Dickinson, my classmates and I had a routine after school. We walked Bill home on Mygatt Street. This was less than two blocks away, and right across the street from the store, Miss Ellis’, where I usually bought red licorice “shoelaces” from her big glass case. Then to Lois’ at Mygatt and Meadow, and to Karen’s at Mygatt and Spring Forest Avenue, across the street from the cemetery, where some of my ancestors are buried.
If I were going to my grandma’s, I’d split off and head to 13 Maple. But if I were heading home, I’d walk Carol to her house on Cypress Street, then go over to Ray’s house a few doors down, which was behind another house, cut through his yard, go via the Canny’s trucking lot back to Spring Forest, down Oak Street, and back to 5 Gaines.
We didn’t always all go together, but frequently enough for Christine, my sister’s best friend in those days, to acknowledge quite recently how much she admired our group. Christine, BTW, lived right next to my grandmother, so we got to swim in their family above-ground pool in the summer. There’s where I first saw color TV, in 1962 or 1963 – Disney and/or the western Bonanza.
Starting with 4th grade, we had gym with Mr. Lewis. EVERY semester, we had to do marching drills – “column left – MARCH” – before we could do anything fun, like volleyball. I always felt he was training us to be fodder for some war.
The first teacher we had for a full year since kindergarten was Miss Marie Oberlik, who lived on Meadow Street, less than three short blocks away. She taught us how to count to 19 in Russian, which I still remember. It was in her class where we learned about JFK’s assassination.
Neville Smith was the principal of the school, a well-dessed man, as I recall, and Pat Gritman was the secretary. For a number of years, starting when i was in fourth or fifth grade, both Leslie and I went to her home on Front Street for Friday night Bible club.
My father, Les Green, would come and sing folk music at my class every semester from about 3rd to 6th grade. And he did the same for Leslie. He’d always sing Goodnight, Irene, which made some of the kids think I had a crush on the girl in the class by that name.
He DIDN’T do this for baby sister Marcia, and I remember that I went to her kindergarten class to sing. By that time, her teacher was Mrs. Burroughs.
The one time in my whole life I intentionally entered a fight was in fifth grade, when this kid Robert was pushing around David D, the one who was about a head shorter than most of the other kids. The fracas didn’t last long, though, because Mr. Frenchko, the assistant principal, and later my English teacher, yelled out of a school window and we scattered.
The drag about Robert was that he was the ONLY other black kid in my class. He was so academically challenged that he eventually failed three semesters in two or three years and ended up in the class of sister Leslie. (There’s a Stupid Crime Story I could tell you, if you want.)
Even then, I occasionally wondered if our school was getting all the resources it should. Specifically, the music book we used in Mrs. Joseph’s class, which I took for six or seven years, was ancient even then. I remember a time in fifth grade when she allowed us to pick songs, and someone called out the number for Old Black Joe, which we had never sung. We didn’t sing it that day either, as she said, plainly, “Let’s pick something else.” And a good thing too, because I was ready to walk out of the classroom.
I began writing about how I had started kindergarten in early February 1958 at Daniel S. Dickinson school in the First Ward of Binghamton, NY, named after a 19th-century politician, located at the intersection of Dickinson Street and the curved Starr Avenue.
But then I came across, on one of those Binghamton-specific Facebook sites, this peculiar newspaper article, slamming the neighborhood that I grew up in, while holding up my school as an oasis from whatever scourge existed on the streets. And it wasn’t my experience, for the most part. What I ended up writing, will be in four parts, each titled from a line from my first alma mater.
If my mom didn’t work, at McLean’s department store downtown, first as an elevator operator and then as a bookkeeper, the trajectory of my life would have been quite different. Since we lived at 5 Gaines Street, between Front St and Oak St, I probably would have gone to Oak Street school for K-6.
Instead, the school district used my maternal grandma’s address at 13 Maple Street, between Prospect St and Cypress St, only a few short blocks away, as our address. That’s where my sisters and I went to lunch each day.
If I had gone to Oak Street, I might have met Karen and Carol and Bill, who I’ve in touch with in 2018, or Bernie or Lois, who I’ve seen in recent years, at some later date. Probably we would have been together in junior high, also at DSD, or certainly at Binghamton Central High School. As it is, February 2018 marks 60 years of friendship, which is very rare indeed.
Starting school in February, as well as September was, as I now understand, a peculiar system that almost no other district used. The kids who were turning five in the winter would begin school then. This is why I STILL remember some of their birth months.
I started kindergarten in Miss Cady’s class with Carol, Bill and David T. (December birthdays), Lois, Irene, and Bernie (February), Karen (like me, in March), and Diane (April) and some other kids, including Mary (April) and David D.
We had clocks that had Roman numerals; I recall the four was shown as IIII rather than IV. My rug for taking a nap on was yellow, which I passed on to my sister Leslie, a year and a half later. One time, I clearly remember waking up at 11:45 when everyone else had gone home for lunch one time.
I have no recollection of what I actually DID in kindergarten. When I went to Karen’s mother’s wake in 2012, Karen’s sister told me how I complained on a local kids’ TV show that Karen snapped my suspenders. I had no recollection.
We had eight teachers between first and fourth grade, in large part because some of teachers went on maternity leave. One in first grade, was Mrs. Goodrich, and one In fourth, was Miss Erickson, maybe? Mrs Waters, in third grade, I remember, came back and taught Leslie.
In second grade, we danced the Minuet in G. I think Karen danced with Bill, and Lois danced with Bernie. I know I danced with Carol.
Also in second grade, some sixth graders forced me to fight a kid named Danny, who was my sister Leslie’s classmates, so about a year and a half younger than I was. We were supposed to make it look good, lest they beat us both up. I inadvertently hit him in the nose and drew blood. I felt awful, but the older kids were thrilled.
I joined the Cub Scouts in third grade. Ray, who ended up in my class in second grade was, in the pack, as was David D. Ray’s mom was our den mother. When Ray married Pam in 1976, I got to escort Ray’s mom to her seat.
Was I an overly sensitive kid? One time, some kids on the playground were playing “keep away” with my hat. I got mad and went home. Legend has it, though I don’t specifically remember, that I hopped a ride on a Crowley’s milk truck. Did that really happen?