Friend Karen, 46 hours my junior


Karen (center)

If I remember correctly, my friend Karen was born c. 1 pm on March 9, and I was born c. 3 pm (actually 3:15) on March 7. So I’m SO much older than she is.

However, she was the youngest of four, and I was the eldest of three. She was often fearless.

mentioned how I ratted her out on a local TV kiddie show because she used to snap my suspenders when we were in kindergarten. Her sister told me this story at their mother’s wake in 2012; I have no recollection.

What I do recall is that her musical interests were forged before mine were. She was buying the Kinks’ latest single at Philadelphia Sales, a store less than two blocks from our elementary/junior high school, Daniel Dickinson before I knew who the Kinks were.

We had a class newsletter in sixth grade, per our teacher Mr. Peca’s suggestion. Karen wrote a fantastical story about winning tickets to attend a Beatles concert.

Our seventh grade, Mr. Stone, our history teacher, was telling the class about a new band called The Cream. Karen said to him, “It’s not The Cream, it’s Cream.” Either way, I had never heard of them at that time.

She was part of that coterie of friends – Bill, Lois, Karen, Carol, and Ray, in that geographic order, I often walked home after school.

High School

When we were in tenth grade at Binghamton Central High School, she ran for secretary of the General Organization, the student government body. For some reason, the candidates couldn’t give their own speeches. I gave a barnburner of an address from all reports, and she won.

The next year, I ran for GO president, and they changed the rules so that I had to give my own speech. I’m told my talk for Karen was MUCH better than the one I shared on my behalf.

Karen was the one who initially made friends in high school with a group of like-minded kids from other junior high schools. We created a club in school called the Contemporary Issues Forum. Outside of school, we were Holiday Unlimited, with the motto, “A splendid time is guaranteed for all.”

More Music

Karen worked at a record store in nearby Johnson City before working at the first of four record labels over a four-decade career.

When John Lennon died in 1980, she was the first person I called. Her label was promoting the album, which thrilled her tremendously.

She tells great, detailed stories about being in the music business.  When promoting Robbie Robertson’s eponymous first solo album in 1987, she had to deal with a 24-year-old program director who didn’t know who Robertson was. He also didn’t know The Last Waltz, the legendary concert film by Martin Scorsese and the album, which came out in 1978.

When she showed up at my annual hearts party in 2017, she regaled my friends with stories about singing Will The Circle Be Unbroken in an elevator with Johnny Cash and June Carter Cash.  Or looking all over Manhattan for marmite to give Paul McCartney.

At her retirement party in 2019, her co-workers shared her drive to get a radio station to play this record or a story to carry that album. “Unrelenting” was the most common description of her approach. She loved music and turned me on to more artists than any three other people.

World traveler

Friend Karen has been to so many countries I’ve lost track. She’s gone everywhere, from Cuba to Croatia, Morocco to Malaysia, Italy to India, and plenty of places in the US. She takes lots of photos and often writes remarkable narratives that she ought to put in a book. (I’ve told her this more than once.)

We often see each other in Binghamton when we both happen to be there. Lately, though, she’s occasionally visiting her friends, most recently this past October. She is fiercely loyal to her friends.

I can tell more, but that should suffice for the nonce.

Happy birthday, Bill!


When I was growing up in Binghamton, NY, I attended Daniel S. Dickinson School from K-9. For some arcane reason, school started both in September and in February. The February classes were smaller as they generally contained people whose birthdays were from December through March.

There were nine of us who went K-9 together and eight who graduated from Binghamton Central High School simultaneously. And I still remember all of their birth months, even though half of them I haven’t seen in decades. Diane in April, Karen and me in March.  Bernie, Irene, and Lois in February. David (who stayed an extra semester to play basketball), Carol, and Bill in December.

So I’ve known Bill almost all of my life, which is a great thing. Sometimes I call him on his birthday, which is December 17 or at least send him an email. He lived right across the street from Ellis’ candy store on Mygatt Street, in the middle of the block between Dickinson and Clinton Streets, but he insists that he always went one of the corners and didn’t jaywalk, which sounds right.

In high school, he was that guy who could straddle the different cliques. He was a jock who the longhairs could trust. That’s probably how he got elected as class president.


A group of us went to our 10th high school reunion. It was a rather meh event, to be honest. But the afterparty was fun. We thought we’d have a gathering of us Dickinson kids. Maybe a year later, Carol, Lois, Karen, and I converged on Bill’s house. We bought food and talked almost all night. It was a grand time. The second and third pictures above are from one of those occasions.

A year or so later, some of us went to his wedding to Brenda; it is a cliche to say she’s beautiful inside and out, but no less accurate for that.

I’d see Bill at random times, such as our 35th(?) reunion. The biggest surprise was when I was taking the Amtrak to NYC a couple of decades ago. I was walking through the train and ran into Bill, which was great.

The last time I saw him was at our last high school reunion in September of 1971 at Ross Park in my hometown.

Happy birthday, Bill! Or happy birthday, Guillaume. (He, like I, took French in high school, the odd stuff one remembers…) 

Susan Easton; Mary Backus Dye


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.


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.”


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.

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