Section II Early years and Primary School
Section II Early years and Primary School
- part 1, growing up "normal". Aspiration sprout (see below *0):
early years in Queens, Freeport, Seaford; Grandparents, School; holidays, Discipline, short cuts home, bikes and serving early mass, paper routes and sweet choices, Boy scouts, Baseball, Alberta Canada relatives, making money, Jack’s evening adventures, “bold mopsies – Sly Boots”, Hiding Puppies
- Altar boy and thinking of the priesthood, (listen to partial audio recording (*1)
A-*0 - part 1, growing up "normal". Aspiration sprout
- What is normal? But I had a pretty happy childhood.
St Albans, Queens:
I was born and
Baptized in Queens, NY, USA in May of 1947
to Wanda (Davis) (Canadian) and Jack Keefe (usa).
I lived in St Albans, less than 3 miles from Parson’s Boulevard, near GC parkway where I now live between Jamaica and Flushing. But my memories of that time are vague.
I moved when I was very young (before I was 3) further out on Long Island. (More info on how my parents met and history is at section 1 - prologue)
- My grandparents (Stan and Wilde Davis) from Canada visited and
our grandfather Davis (Papa)
made us kites and whistles from found sticks. He was a cabinet maker.
- I remember sleeping in cot with my older brother jack at the other end and my father sleeping with two chairs put together in the living room because my parents bed was used by my grandparents during their stay.
- I think I remember getting in trouble for eating rocks a lot (but it could just be remembering my mother telling stories how she was always watching closely because I liked to do it ).
- I remember my father "daddy boy" coming home from work and running up to him on the sidewalk. I retained memoires of family friends Mac Donalds, Millers and Hogans, some of whom became like relatives for life in the way the families stayed in touch over many decades.
- My friend Chris M. and I became buddies. He pushed the hand lawn mower and I tried to stop him because I had been warned it was dangerous and thought we would get in trouble. Unfortunately my way of halting the operation was to put my fingers in the blades. My first hospital experience.
- I remember the big pond /swamp at the end of our street. Some of the land later was reclaimed for a Freeport School. One day Chris and I were missing and my grandfather found us a block away at the pond getting ready to jump in from a little rickety dock at water edge (seems we were discussing who would go first when confronted) . I also remember rides at Nunley’s amusement park nearby but possibly from later time when returned to visit.
- Another day we were running away from some bigger boys or neighborhood bully and I climbed up a garage roof. When they started to follow I pushed the ladder down. When they left, somehow I jumped or fell down but struck my head in the process. The big gash was only discovered by my parents when they couldn’t get my hat off that evening. The blood had dried between my hair and the hat and I had just continued my daily adventures. It established I had a hard head. [or guardian angle working overtime] and kept my parents praying I would survive childhood. And I was only number 2. They would have 7 children more after me!
- My last memory in Freeport is of the moving van that was the biggest truck I had ever seen – and it was in our driveway. I remember lying on the other side looking under and wondering what this other place we were going to would be like. I was 4 and half and I was pondering what life would be like in the next place “Seaford”. Was the “Sea” right there? Or could you “see” a ford. Around the same time one of the close Freeport neighbor 'family" moved to Merrick (a few towns away from Seaford) and still kept in touch. When we visited, John Senior, would entertain us with stories /jokes and one was about their neighbor named “Ford”. John would start out quite serious and get our attention and then somehow made the last line instructing the neighbor to “see Ford!” in honor of our visit. He, Uncle John, charmed all of us with his wit and wisdom. If he was in the room a calm,wise, joyful and loving presence was felt.
- Later ib my teens I was able to ride my bike from Seaford to Merick to spend time with my friend Chris M. and his family we took as aunt N. and Uncle J. relatives. Chris would sometimes add Keefe at end of his name, since he also liked being with us. the mischief we got into together seems pretty tame by todays standards...but it was great fun..
- Chris M. my Freeport and then Merrick "cousin - friend" hanging out at alan drive.
SEAFORD: (still further out on LI).
- South Seaford was just being built up. Allan Drive, Dale place and Waverly Avenue were all part of a new development. Our back yards were full of wonderful mountains of dirt and mud from the construction site. I remember getting stuck in that mud and my grandmother Davis (Nana) had to come to rescue me on laid out plank boards and lifted me right out of my boots. She was a woodsman, horse rider and farm lady who know immediately what to do in the simplest calm way;
- I went to Seaford Ave School for kindergarten and remember running around the playground with some of the other future SHS people. I loved my “combat boots” I received one Christmas and was happy to show and tell about them (everyday).
- On one occasion, when quite young I reacted to my parents threat of further punishment of "spanking with hair brush" if did something (I can’t recall what it was) I was so shocked at being threatened by them, that I went and got a hair brush and held it out to them with tears in my eyes and stared at them without saying anything. That was a bit much for my parents, they told me later – there was no instruction manual to deal with this kid.
- A little bit later I began wondering about "God" and then I have some recollection of first realizing I had told the first conscious "Lie". By then I had already heard about formal Catholic “confession” so I began looking forward to the event so I could start over (and presumably have no more lies on my record)
- I also remember riding down the steps in our big old bikes in the later days....First seemed dare devil whne saw some one else do..then just thrilling....How come parts got loose .... ?
- First Grade was in Jackson Ave school.
- I remember one incident where in middle of the year they planned to begin one period of teaching us according to our reading levels. It would combine the other first grade classes in the school (I think there were at least 4). Then they called us out to go to different classes. Some how I didn’t like it. It felt wrong to split up our class, so I wouldn’t participate in the reading and when it came time to go back to our own classrooms I refused to get up until it was time to leave for the day. I don’t think I was able to express what I didn’t like about it but I remember the teacher having a huddle to discuss the results of their first day.
- Next day those who didn’t want to go to the different class room didn’t have to and I think they dropped the idea for the rest of the term. The experiment hadn’t worked out the way they expected, I think some of the other 1st graders were also confused.
- Recreational Summer school. Two neighborhood schools (Jackson and Seaford Ave) in the summers were home to good summer school programs for us older kids. They had 2 months of crafts and games and I would see some of the former 1st grade friends.
- One day a week we would get a free ride to and from Jones Beach, leaving from Seaford Ave School – that was the best. I think on Friday afternoons they also had free movies in the auditorium. That was my first experience of the “3 Stooges”. I had been looking forward to see them from what some of the older kids had said – but was disappointed, surprised and not appreciative of how rough they were with each other, I couldn’t get my mind around how this was funny.
- The Woods. There were a few places in the area that had not been built up yet and we called them the "woods". Here we could make local forts by a combination of digging holes and covering over with brush. Simple tree forts, as well as hide and seek or group tag games took place. It was amazing to me to follow the different trails and how much bigger a place seemed when it was over grown in summer compared to when the leaves were all gone in winter. One year us kids brought different tools from our parents garages and cleared out an area that didn’t have much trees and made it big enough for a small football field. I think we spent more time actually clearing the field that fall than we did playing football. But it was great fun working together and thinking and talking about all the great games we could have. In later years we would just remove any big rocks and tree limbs and make them the goal posts and start playing on the overgrown high grass when we were inspired. In a short time the game became the most important thing and after a couple of hours of trampled grass the field was again our own.
- Baseball, stick ball and "catch". Most boys in our area joined little league baseball. Some of the parents were coaches and it was a pretty laid back affair most of the time. One of the stores in town would supply the T-shirts and hats in the beginning years and bigger stores would provide full uniforms later. Not too many parents were in to the “you have to win” mode. How you played the game and attitude was stressed. It was time to have fun win or lose;
- In the streets in front of our houses we would play a modified game of stick ball because the rubber ball was not likely to hurt cars or break windows, also some lawns were out of bounds so it was a constricted game.
- When the light weight plastic Wiffle balls came out, it was a good alternative game. You could swing with all your might and the ball wouldn’t have much force by the time it came down on the wrong persons lawn;
- The best thing for some reason was just playing “catch”; just throwing the ball back and forth to a relative or a friend of any age and just chatting about things. There was something satisfying about that. You just needed one other person, you could be working in your glove and building up you skill by asking the other person to throw different types of “one hop”, “two hop”, “fly” or “grounder” to you. And at the same time talking about any subject that came into your mind.
- Another good game if you had handful of friends and narrow or limited size ball field was “Catch-a-fly-yr-up”. The first person to catch one fly ball or three “grounders” got to bat next.
- There was also the game of “running bases”. I remember playing it and running or catching but don’t remember the rules. I was reminded of it when I saw some of my international friends in later years playing cricket.
- Team Betrayal. My father, uncles and Grandfather were originally from Brooklyn. So they were naturally Brooklyn Dodgers baseball fans. As I got older, I was surprised to learn some of our good neighbors on the block were fans of the NY Yankees or even the NY Giants (which played at the Polo Field then located at 155th Street and Eighth Avenue). I was so into the Brooklyn dodgers and the excitement of them possibly winning in future years. Then the impossible happened, they just moved far away to California. I couldn’t comprehend how a team could do that. It felt like a deep betrayal. I kept asking to have it explained to me. I didn’t believe it would really happen. Somehow at the last minute I thought it would all turn out to be a mistake and of course they would stay. But they didn’t and I couldn’t ever whole heartedly route for a team again. I still liked playing the game but the fun went out of watching how a team was doing or who the great players were. Later the NY Mets started to gain some traction with me and I even began in later years to like and appreciate the NY Yankees but never with that same intense total feeling of a young boy. Most times I would still route for the underdog or the team that had never won the pennant before or some other odd reason. I didn’t talk about it too much after the first two years but just sort of withdrew from conversations or any real interest in the teams. It was only years later that I realized what had happened. I had more time for other things.
- Adjusting to St Williams: From 2nd to 8th grade I was at St William the Abbot. (Or “willy the rabbit” as we said - not so our parents or teachers could hear). I remember I missed some of the friends I first knew in kindergarten and first grade that didn’t transfer to St. Williams for second grade. How come? I asked. Some of us got reacquainted over the years in boy scouts, little league of later in Seaford High School (SHS). My child heart liked that - it was a benefit of growing up in a small town. Later I met people who had had to move every few years and were always missing their friends due to their parent's job responsibilities (usually military or business).
- Inadvertent Cheating: I remember my first year in St Williams, early in second grade we were shown some words one day. Then the next day the teacher read out the words we had seen the day before and asked us to write them down. I was at a complete loss and then I remembered the words were also in one of the books they had been given out the day before. I was so happy when I looked in the book that as I started to write I announced to those around me triumphantly that I had found the words. I thought the game was to do it quickly and was then rushing to correct what little I had already written. Someone sitting in the next row then called the teachers attention and said I was cheating. I was shocked and couldn’t understand why they would say that about me. I think my protestations that I was not cheating that I was just copying out of MY book and that I had the book right open on my desk gave the teacher a clue that I had no concept of a spelling test. I obviously hadn’t been paying attention the day before about home work because somehow it had escaped me that we were supposed to memorize the words. (I think we might not have had homework in first grade). It also taught me you could get in trouble even when you have innocent intentions. It then seemed like school became more of a chore. I got a bit nervous about the whole enterprise. Some of the fun left. I never did do well in spelling. There has been some improvement since the computer spell checkers arrived.
- Discipline: I know I got disciplined (mostly ruler on the outstretched hand) by the teachers some since I was bit tall for my age and a bit loud. At the same time I could be “dreamy” when I would get taken with an idea that had nothing to do with what was going on in class. And I suspect my laugh was more like a guffaw if someone did or said something I felt funny – and I loved to laugh.. Keeping my attention was a chore for them. I was not a very good student. But all in all, I found the nuns that taught me dedicated and mostly kind considering the pressure they were under (In the early years there were up to 70 students in one class! and they had us all for the whole day). Having taught some in later years to much smaller groups I am amazed at how much they actually were able to accomplish. More below...
- Forgetting Lunch + sweet warning: I remember forgetting my lunch a few times in the lower grades. There would be a little lecture about “forget your head if not attached”. And then quietly, as lunch time arrived, I recall being taken across the street to the convent to get a sandwich. (Some of the biggest I had ever seen! And the nun who was cooking that day really seemed to enjoy giving us something special – after they told us not to forget again..
- Kindness remembered: When I was out of school with Pneumonia, in order to recover, I had to stay inside when the other students went outside to play at recess. At that time I also had to make up some of the school work I had missed. The principal, Sister A, who was also teaching second grade because of a shortage of staff, one day put her hand on my shoulder and was being extra kind to me. I always remembered those moments. Years later when she was the full time principal, she no longer taught and was then seen by most others as just the strict disciplinarian a student might have to visit if in trouble. Because of those early tender moments when I had been sick, I was never afraid of her. You could say from that moment I saw her heart, not the principal’s habit. It is amazing how a simple kindness with a child can have such a long lasting effect (even now 50+ years later). I had once heard the she didn’t want to be principle but somebody had to do it so it came to her. I liked her more after I heard that. I think when I would see her I would always smile and she reciprocated. It was something to understand that people had jobs to do and they were still people inside. It also seemed that she didn’t take personal offense that I was in trouble from time to time. With some of the other teachers it seemed that if you were in trouble one year a few times you became somehow a “bad person” from that time on and not just a kid that had messed up (a few or more times).
- Which Summer School? I remember in later years at St. Williams one day a few teachers came to our room and asked if anyone would like to go to summer school. I was one of the few to raise my hand with enthusiasm. The teachers’ couldn’t understand it. I was one of the last persons who they thought would be interested. So much so that they didn’t believe I was serious. For some reason they thought I was showing off or just saying what I thought they wanted me to say. This too was out of character since I never seemed to be paying too much attention in class and was not overly concerned with pleasing them with what I thought they might like. So they were confused. I think eventually I explained when questioned further that I was talking about the recreational program of the public school. I certainly was not thinking of giving up my summer for more regular school. It was an awkward situation for all of us, it was not the discussion they expected of the merits of their new proposal. It seemed then that they realized that I was not putting them on or trying to make trouble – just being honest. But it still felt a bit uncomfortable all the same to have my honesty doubted initially and they felt bad about that or at least about how the discussion got sidetracked. I learned again that an enthusiastic answer can sometimes get an unpredictable response. I also thereby learned of the concept of some summer school that would not be all fun and games. It prepared me for a stint I had to do after 9th and 10th grade of High school for Latin and French.
- Understanding teaching challenges: My understanding for the teaching situation grew tremendously when I was helping out with a small experimental school in Dayton Ohio and we had ten students. In our classes at St. Williams in the early years we would have close to 70. I began to have much more appreciation for these, mostly young, groups of women who had left their native country to come teach the wild Americans in the 1950’s.
- Holiday Plays. I remember the big St Patrick day extravaganzas as well as the Christmas play each year at St. Williams. Once because of my height I played Uncle Sam. And once I was supposed to be Sheppard but on the last days of practice I wasn’t paying attention, so even though my mother had already made my costume I had to go join the choir and one of the boys from the choir was promoted to Sheppard. I was not happy with this last minute switch and the other boy felt uncomfortable wearing the costume that was made for me. We both felt something wrong and unjust had taken place but we remained friends – it was out of both of our hands. My only protest was not to smile when “singing” in the choir.
- In 2009 I was able to travel around beautiful Ireland and visit over 30 schools there. It was an incredible experience to hear the children perform so confidently, sweetly and enthusiastically some of the songs and ballads our teachers had striven so hard to impart to us 50 years earlier – I was deeply moved. (http://www.worldharmonyrun.org/ireland/route/)
- Altar Boy: I was also an altar boy and enjoyed going to early mass some times during the week and especially on the weekend. But I found the Latin responses very hard to remember. I don’t think I would have done it except for my older brother saying don’t worry about it, just follow the movements I do on the altar, if you ever have to serve. And then one day there was only one altar boy (the other boy who was supposed to serve with him had not shown up) and he talked me into joining him even though I hadn’t passed the test for latin responses yet. He just said since I had learned the first line of most prayers I should just mumble after him for the rest – and remember to strike your chest at “mea cupa”. I did and it all worked out. Since I had then already served mass in an “emergency” and no one complained.– I never had to take the test. Maybe Jack had planned the whole thing when he saw I would never pass the regular test, no matter how many times I listened to the Latan prayers on the record they gave us. But the priests were probably happy to have the two enthusiastic altar boys at the early hour. When I think of it now two, innocent boys about 8 and ten or 11 going about their duties with serious conspiratorial intention and whispering to each other must have been interesting or charming to watch for any of the parish people who noticed.
- Nuns communion: For the earliest masses the nuns who were the teachers at the school we attended would sometimes be in the front seats. At those times we would be on our best behavior, especially if you had to go with the priest when he was giving out Holly communion. In that situation it was interesting seeing their close up faces from a few inches away. The devotion of some of them made an impression, and again they became individuals that I sometimes wondered about their feelings and motivations.
- Funerals: Sometimes we would also get out of school during the day, when there was a request for an altar boy to serve for a funeral. The first times it was seen as a real honour to be able to get off from school with no penalty. Also just like for high mass the altar boys got to look after the incense burner. That meant not only lighting it and carrying it around during the service but playing with it behind the church before putting the coals out afterwards. And at that age in a boy’s life anything with fire associated with it got our attention. However, after a few times of serving one realized a funeral was a very serious event (no fooling around outside and certainly no making faces with your buddy or any mistakes while on the altar). Seeing all the different people’s families’ faces always made me somber afterwards. Sometimes it seemed better to not have that duty - it was too sad.
- A reward not accepted. At the time the pastor of the parish seemed quite old and after a mass or funeral he would sometimes want to chat to the altar boys. One day he inquired about what we were planning to do after grammar school. I think both of us were planning on trying to be priests. So then he spoke to us at length about his decision to be a priest and that he sometimes had some second thoughts since he had changed from his initial training to be a doctor. I remember him telling us to look at our hands and to note if there were white spots on our fingernails. Because if there were, it meant that fairly recently we had banged our fingers during the time the fingernail was growing. After speaking to us for a while he then told us to wait and then went out to the poor box or the candle box and came back with I think a dollar for both of us as a reward for serving the mass and listening to his long story. I think at the time it may have been near his anniversary of being a priest or some special event like that.. I felt uncomfortable receiving the money he gave us for a number of reasons. But I didn’t want to offend the kindly man. I felt that we shouldn’t receive a reward just for listening to his story. Actually I liked older peoples stories of what their lives had been like and why they made certain decisions. I felt I learned more from this type of stories than I did in many classes in school. I also didn’t know if it was right to take money from one place and give to another unintended, even if he was the pastor. But after we left to go back to school I told the other server that I didn’t feel right accepting the money especially if it might have come from the poor box. The other server felt it was the church’s money and the pastor’s responsibility to do the right thing. If there was anything wrong it was the Priest’s fault not ours.. So he was more than happy to keep the dollar. I think he may have joked that he would be happy to also take mine if I didn’t want to keep it. But later I went back to the church and put the money in the poor box. I didn’t know what was best to be done but I just didn’t feel right having that dollar. I thought it should be going to its intended purpose by the donor. By putting it in the poor box it satisfied my conscience and I didn’t offend the priest who gave it to us.
- Serving Early Mass bike rides: We lived a mile away from the church and school and if we were scheduled to serve mass in the early mornings we usually would walk and run the mile to the church. We could take a breakfast with us and then just go early across the street to school and eat our breakfast there. (In those days according to church rules, one couldn’t eat from 12 o’clock the night before and still receive communion at mass). If we rode our bikes, we had to go back home afterwards that morning, because we weren’t supposed to take our bikes to school ( I can’t remember what that rule was about – too dangerous?). I really liked the early morning bike rides to the church. It was so quiet, few cars and it was so quick compared to walking or running. But only those going to mass were allowed to ride their bikes. After mass, we were supposed to ride the bike back, have breakfast at home and then take the bus back to school (or walk run if you missed the bus). Sometimes we would hide our bikes in the bushes behind the church so we could skip the bike ride back home in the morning and enjoy the forbidden ride home after school. It worked out pretty well, till then one day one of the bigger boys discovered the bike in the bushes and as a joke started to ride it around the big playing field the bigger kids used at lunch time behind the church. He was just having some fun and showing off. But then it got dicey to claim the bike once the nuns saw and took possession. So we had to admit to bringing it. Since we explained it was for mass I don’t think we got in big trouble for that one time. They only knew of the one bike – I think by that time in fact a few of the altar boys were hiding their bikes there even on days they hadn’t served mass. But future leaving the bikes in the bushes was not possible once it had been specifically banned. I learned then that you could sometimes get to do some cool things if there hadn’t been a specific rule to ban it before you tried.
- Crossing Davis field: From our house on Alan drive to St William’s church and school was about a mile as the car drives. It was bout a 15 minute walk to school /church from Alan drive. It was significantly less to go through Davis Field as the small boy’s (bicycle riding or walk-running) mind calculates. However, for reasons noted below it could actually be an hour or more extra if you took the forbidden “short cut” back through Davis Field” – especially if it wasn’t a school day.
- We weren’t supposed to cross it with our school or church shoes on. But many times we couldn’t help ourselves – there were just so many things to see. And we had to explore all the ways to get around the mud holes And then trying to get the mud off our pants and shoes before we got in the house was another trick.
- The other advantage of Davis field was that it also had some unexplored paths that zig sagged, which provided various sized puddles to be skirted around or skated across (depending on the time of year -in winter they would ice over). It also provided potential encounters with other kids throwing dirt bombs and a myriad of things to think about or be distracted by as you passed through.
- There were also the former season’s memories of the landscape to compare to the current views and to be amazed all over again at the difference.
- Even the light at different times of day was worth noting or thinking about.
- The down side was that many times the jump over the small puddle would be beyond the current capacity and the shoes and pant bottoms often had telltale signs.
- However, the time from leaving school and heading home to arriving at the other end would some not add up when confronted why it took so long. Needless to say going through Davis Field was not an approved route, especially when one was already quite late. However the temptation was actually too much after only once or twice going on the “approved” routes. The approved routes were about a minute or two theoretical (as the crow flies) longer, but seemed like an hour or so longer when thinking about all the time one could save by going through Davis Field.
- Time in Davis field was never part of the calculating – only getting to Davis field and getting from Davis Field to the final space. In Davis Field was a "timeless" time due to all the other neat things to think about - even with the fear that one would be late or muddy again in the background. After the big rains it was a big conflict because Davis Field would be really flooded and there was no way to go across the middle so one had to almost admit that it would be longer to go around the whole field – and even then certainly get your feet wet. But the temptation to see Davis Field up close from the construction dirt piles around the sides and take in how far the big puddle actually had expanded from the rain was usually too much to resist. If you were with someone else you could discuss all the way to the turn off when you had to decide which way to go. Then you could make compromises about how you might run around the part in Davis Field compared to the fact that you could only be walking if on the approved way. And sometimes we would race someone going the regular way so we could figure out that we would not be too much behind if we ran to catch up before they got to their destination. Of course running around the puddles threw caution to the wind so the chance of muddy missteps also increased.
- There were so many Davis Field Stories – in the winter it would freeze and there would be ice skaters and someone would start a fire in barrel ( learned I had very weak ankles when I tried to Ice skate)– and calculating how long the ice would support one racing across in the spring results in many deep steps into the muddy water. One year in the spring the grownups fixed up a part and built in one area a ball field for the Little leagues practice since there was so much use of the other fields. New Generations don’t know of the joys of Davis Field except from stories such as mine. It is not really visible now since that land eventually became a part of the last southern section of the Seaford Oyster bay expressway that was later completed.
- “Making Money”. There was always the interest by the children in the neighborhood of making a little money. One could set up a lemonade table on the street and even sell some old toys for pennies. But business was not so good. One time I even made some money selling cooking pot holders put together in colors to match requests. But the best quick money was if it snowed real hard and the neighbors on a few blocks were looking to pay for the help to shovel the snow from the walks. One thing I learned about snow is that it takes longer to move than one thinks and what looks like a 30 minute job was usually 2 hours. I remember underestimating how long it took to do a corner house on Waverly Ave. across for the Seaford Ave. School. We found out that below the snow was ice that we were also expected to get up. I think we took a cut in pay for what we were supposed to get because it was getting dark. We were just happy to be going home. What seems like a great idea at start of the day had turned a little less cheery by the end. But valuable lessons were learned about work and estimates of time and effort needed to accomplish the task. We also began to consider if it was worth losing the whole day with your friends enjoying the show for the extra dollar. At some point we decided that one or two houses were enough for a day and after a while we had the papers to deliver in the snow. We also had the experience at a penny or 2 apiece to put leaflets under door mats or in door handles at the time of the election. That too after a few years was not a sought after job since so many hours were needed to make it seem worthwhile. The steady job of the paper route which had just a few hours each day seemed much better.
- Halloween at end of October was a special day: As we got big enough to go without parents, we would plan our strategy in advance to get the most candy in our bags. How quickly one could cover a block. The costumes ware not too important for most of us boys ( in an emergency there was always the sheet for ghost or some sort of mask and a cowboy hat.. The big thing was how many houses one could get to. Since there were many children in those days in the neighborhood and the houses were quite close together, it was theoretically possible to cover quite a bit of ground if one started early. we had to figure out when it was worthwhile to come back to the house with the load collected and go out with a new bag. How early to start and how many people to go with? Too many and you couldn’t go quick enough to houses to make it the most profitable. My mother had a policy that you shared with the younger ones some but got to keep quite bit for yourself too. Each day after Halloween you would have your bag of collected goodies for a certain amount of time usually after lunch and could eat what you wanted before you would put the bag back in the cupboard. That lasted a few days till most had disappeared. Usually nobody got sick after everyone had a little experience with overdoing it.
- Alberta Canada: When I was nine, my mother and Father with their 6 children (between 11 and 6 month old) drove to Chicago. From there my father returned to his job in NY.
(25 Dec 1956, Jack Keefe & 6 children:
Jackie, Adhiratha [Kevin], Tim., Elizabeth, Donna, George)
- Our aunt and her 3 children, who lived in Illinois, joined us in the station wagon (now 11 people). We traveled the many miles to visit my aunt and mother's family in Alberta Canada. It was one of the best summers of my life. We were gone for over two months and the freedom of the farm was a kid’s dream. There were cows, pigs, chickens and horses. And there was "Big sky" in the rolling distance. When it was going to rain, you could see it comming acrooss the hills from miles away.
- We spent hours building forts in the woods or just riding on a tractor with cousins or laying around on the piles in the hay fields and sharing stories about our different lives..
- We picked carrots in the garden and wiped the dirt off on the jeans and eat it right there. I never tasted carrots that sweet.
- We kids thought the milk from the cows the first few days tasted warm and funny when we first arrived. When we left and returned to NY the milk tasted flat and “thin”.
- The big family gatherings were like mini celebrations on the weekends and some the evenings. All these older people you didn’t really know warmly embraced you with such “knowingness” because they all loved my mother and the man she married. The connections were just assumed and because they all claimed us immediately, within a few minutes or hours together we also claimed them.
- The Canadian relatives joked about the way we said “cows” and they were tickled to hear how “Wanda’s kids” talked. On our part we thought they talked funny. But by the time we left we didn’t notice any difference anymore. The difference had just become one more reason why they were special. It was just who (the aunt, uncle, cousin or friend) they were. Love is like that. As I would later learn from the “little prince” we had “tamed” each other.
- (see also section 1 - prologue for more on Keefe –Davis Canadian American experience)
- Boy Scouts: We three older boys belonged to the Boy Scouts at the Protestant Lutheran Church, By the time the catholic church had a troop meeting at their school we had been years in the troop that met in the Lutheran Church. We saw no need to change. I was glad about that. My mother was a convert to Catholicism and her family had been mostly protestant of different denominations (still are). So at home and with our neighbors there was a more open feeling about people of a different faith than we sometimes received or misinterpreted in St William’s religion classes. My parents had a good sense of the foibles of all peoples and it didn’t seen limited to any one religion or culture. Later when I discovered Garrison Keillors “Prairie Home companion” radio show (http://prairiehome.publicradio.org)/ – there was a happy reminder of the truth in the humor of all that)
- I really liked boy scouts and Little League. It was interesting to reconnect with some of the guys I had last seen in first grade – because I had left for st willies. I noticed that in some essential ways you still knew the person.
- At the weekly scouts meeting sometimes we just practiced tying knots or disappearing to find a new way to climb up on the roof of the church. Other times I remember a lot of dodge ball.
- The weekends camping trips away could sometimes be a bit cold and the food we cooked was pretty basic but it was an adventure I enjoyed, being in the woods outdoors, cooking on open fires and freedom to go out on long hikes and exploring for hours and just be back for the next meal. The extended freedom of the two weeks at summer camp in tents on platforms, I looked forward to with great anticipation. I actually learned to like the marching and singing together we did and even the long hike to the long Island sound (after the first year).
- Sometimes the men who would come along with the scoutmaster would start their own conversations about their lives and their experiences and it was fascinating to see how they related to each other and how they told their own stories of the war or other events.
- I received a gardening merit badge for only having a half successful garden that my parents wondered about. But the advisor explained to my parents that what I had learned about failure was also valuable. For instance, some of what I observed about the things that did not grow was also useful. But my mother who grew up on a farm, I think knew everything would have grown better if I had paid more attention to her advice and weeded a bit more regularly…
- I was thwarted on my bid to get the citizenship merit badge because one had to plan an outing with the family and write about the process. Our family process was not too much discussion of planning or participatory unless you were doing the action. My dear friend Chris describes his mother’s reaction to hearing how kind others thought she must be to take her kids to the beach almost every day. She would dismiss any praise by relating that she just said to her 3 sons: "I’m going to the beach if you are coming get in the car.” Ours was a bit more complex but it was not a community discussion, it was just a common sense assignment of who would look after the younger ones and all had to remember to shower off the sand with the hose in the backyard when we returned. Also I was not very confident of my writing skills. With spelling I was able to find a few different ways to spell the same word on one page. I worried a bit about that – so my mother suggested I check at the end and at least be consistent in my error so I only got marked for one misspelling. Then she would joke and say if I forgot to be consistent and got in trouble I might say to myself it showed I was creative, to feel better.
(Dec 1961 - Wanda, Jack and 9 Children : Jackie, Adhiratha [Kevin], Tim., Elizabeth, Donna, George, Moira, Michael and Mark at 2064 Alan Drive Seaford NY)
- But for that citizenship paper I gave up on it I think also in part I didn’t know how I felt about writing about what I considered our family’s private business of not seeming to have a formal plan…
- Paper Route & Wantagh; I also had a paper route that went into the next town “Wantagh”. So I got to meet some of those kids who were Seaford “Rivals”. Sometimes it would take me 2 and a half hours to do a 40 minute paper route, because I would stop for a game or a chat or just to break up all the ice on the street with the back of my boot that was still left at end of winter. I always looked forward to spring.
- I was also amazed at how many stories were in all the houses. I would knock on the door to collect for the weekly paper usually on Friday. If the weather was bad the people would invite you in and have a chat and sometimes it could be 20 minutes in one house. I had my paper route from the time I was about 10 [legally I don’t think I could do till I was 11 but my older brother had route earlier and I just started helping him]. I kept it till I got my Job a Jones Beach when I was 15. [later about that]. By the time I gave up the route I felt I knew many of those families quite well…
- Mom pitches in: At one time we were 3 Keefe boys who had paper routs. That was convenient if one of us got sick,. The others could just pitch in for a few days and help with the other route. However it could be bit tougher for my mother if the weather was real bad. She didn’t want anyone else to get sick and she would pitch in to also help by driving us around to some of the houses. This in addition to her other duties, which could be very demanding especially if she or others in family were also sick.
- Rewards for new customers One of the remaining open fields in the area had houses built on the land. It was in the middle of my route, right on the Seaford Wantagh boarder. I would observe when a new house was finished and when delivering papers keep alert if it showed signs of people starting to move in. I went around and asked the people moving in if they would like the paper delivered. This helped me win some prizes and I received an English racer bicycle. The older bikes were bigger and better for delivering papers, but I liked my new racer and made it work for the papers. I regretted losing that land that we had sometimes explored and often used as a short cut. But my commercial instincts were honest enough to admit that I was happy to have the opportunity to add to my customers.
- Special Tips One of the new customers was very enthusiastic when I came to see if they wanted to subscribe. This house always paid their bill on time and they were good tippers. The first winter we had some very heavy snow days and I really had to put some effort in getting the papers delivered. Sometimes if the snow plow had not come down the street yet, I couldn’t carry all the papers that I had for the rest of the route. So I would leave my bike (or sled if the snow was very bad) at the top of the street and then just trudge through the snow up the block and then go back empty handed to the paper stash. I was plowing through two feet snow. After I had delivered to all the houses on theblock and was coming back out the street, the woman of the first delivered house called me and came half way to the street and gave me a dollar. (The price of the paper for a week was only 40 cents) and said her husband asked her to give it to me. He so admired that I was out in that weather delivering the papers. I thanked her at the time and then or some time later I remembered we talked for a little bit and she told me that her husband had been a paper boy as a child. I hoped I would still remember what it was like when I was their age.
- Notes to Subscriber: One of the regular customers had a notepad by the mail box and doorbell. On the cover it said something like. “If at home you don’t find us, leave a note to remind us!” So when I would come to collect for the paper once a week and they were not home a couple of times I would leave a short note sort of as a joke. But I also did it since I liked to stay current and some people didn’t always remember if they weren’t home the week before. In some instances it was a bit awkward if you had to ask for two (or more) weeks' pay since they were not home the previous week(s). At any rate, once at this house I got a bit carried away with the detail in their little book and they finally informed me that the invitation to “ leave a note to remind them” didn’t apply to the paperboy. Possibly one of their other visitors had read the note?
- Paper route treats: For delivering the papers we would get so much per paper, maybe a penny or two and we would also get tips from most customers at the end of the week. We had an agreement with our parents that we could spend the tips with no accounting but we would put the money we made from the papers in the bank to be used for something big we wanted. Some times the amount spent would exceed the money made and sometimes one of my brothers even exceeded what he had to pay for the papers. The biggest expense was the “candy store habit”. At one time there were three of us in the family delivering papers and if one of us didn’t have enough money left to even pay the bill for the papers some times we would make a “loan” to each other to cover. That way the offending one would not get in trouble.
- French Treat: I remember one day my older brother told me he had a new discovery. It was more expensive than the usual nickel candy but was well worth it. He said I wouldn’t believe the taste and it could only be gotten fresh in the bakery and were “French”. I was sorely tempted thought the price put me off at first. We went to the bakery he pointed out the chocolate éclairs?. We ordered two, and after one bite on the way home I was sold and didn’t mind the price. But after a few days, with the paper bill due at the end of week, they weren’t so impressive for the price and I went back to the less expensive candy
- In the summer the big temptation was the Ice cream truck that I would sometimes come upon while on the route. Regular ice cream like toasted almond was 15 cents. An Ice pop was 10 cents. Sometimes I would splurge and get one of each. Eating the regular ice cream first and then washing it down with the ice pop. One day I think I saw ice cream man at beginning of route and again towards end and ordered the both choices. As I finished the second round of ice cream / ice pop I began to feel like it was a bit excessive. I was most thankful for my paper route on those days.
- I remember one summer my cousin was visiting from Illinois and he told me that sherbet with thin sliced American chess was really good so we could get a ¼ lb of thin sliced American chess and a pint of sherbet and eat it sitting on the curb. It was a great taste sensation. But then I also liked peanut butter and dill pickle sandwiches.
- In fall and winter hard candies were found to be much more satisfying and better for the budget. I liked sugar babies because you could suck on them until the coating came off and then there would be sugar rush. It helped keep the body temperature up during the cold weather. That knowledge was a great help when I would be out of doors in winter in later years. If it was cold, and I was waiting for a bus or doing some volunteer work, when I had some hard candies in my pocket, my mood was much better.
- One winter it was really cold and I was eating more candy, and the tip jar was getting empty quicker. I started to look for alternatives and realized if I brought a big bag of the hard Christmas candies that were in individual wrappers, they would last longer to suck on that the sugar babies and they would be ¼ of the price if I brought the biggest big bag. Once I got the bag I was quite happy with all the money I would be saving. But then I realized I didn’t know what to do with it since it should last me for a few weeks. I was a bit embarrassed that I had brought such a big bag, I didn’t want to have the extra weight in my paper bag for the route and I didn’t want to leave it at home. I had noticed that one of the houses had an old mailbox on the wall that they never used and one more prominent, nearer to the door that they currently used for the mail. So I just took a day's worth of candies and stuck the rest in the peoples spare mail box. That worked out real well, until the candies were gone. I don’t think I did it more than once. Lesson learned: the big quantity purchase can have storage problems..
- Town rivalry: From my paper route and church associations I knew some of the “Wantagh” People of our age. so I was never too interested in the Wantagh vs. Seaford rivalry. This idea was somewhat encouraged during the pep rallies or other less formal events during football season. I think later times it had to be tamed down after some of the participants got carried away thinking they were acting out characters in the 1957 “West Side story” (https://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/West_Side_Story). Some local tough behaviors started to manifest the idea of suburban take on street fighting. There were stories of chains, knives and bats. The only gun incident I remember was when a few towns further east one boy shot another child in the bathroom. A proof of its rarity was that it was such a shock for so many and it continued to be a discussed story a decade later. When I thought about it, the Wantagh-Seaford rivalry didn’t make a lot of sense to me and seemed similar to that Catholic vs Protestant thing. But all the same, I did like it when Seaford won something. At the time I was also concerned that my older brother would be drawn into the town rivalry by some of his friends who saw participating in any announced fight or “rumble” as a test of bravery and loyalty.
- Brother evening exploits – Zen Explorer My older brother would sneak out of the house at night through our bedroom window when he was in seventh or eighth grade. He would climb out on our roof and jump into the tree (really and overgrown shrub) that would break his fall to the ground. Most times he would come back after some adventure with his buddy John W. from Seaford Manor. He would tell me the full story and invite me to go next time but I never would at night – during the day was a different matter. (I was two years younger). I would always worry that he would get hurt or in trouble but I would never tell my parents. When he came back the tree wasn’t big enough to support his full weight climbing back up. So he would throw rocks at the window when he returned to alert me to go downstairs and open the back door so he could get back in. After one adventure he started to tell me stories about this thing called “Zen Buddhism” that John W. had let him read. I was scandalized that he was thinking about this stuff that seemed to be clearly out side catholic or Christian religion and prayed for his soul. When I told him he just laughed and thanked me for the prayers, opening the door and not mentioning this to my parents. He would also go with me to serve as altar boy at catholic mass on many early mornings so I figured God would take care of it.
- Sly Boots, Hoodlum priests; J. and his crew were in trouble a bit more than me at school for “leading each other into the bad” but the nuns sort of liked him and his roguishness. So he would get some hell and special discipline, but a sort of admiration from them too. J was a charmer. I think it helped that he went to church a lot too and the nuns would see us up there serving mass. Around the time the film called the “Hoodlum Priest” came out (1961 film by Irvin Kershner, based on the life of Father Charles Clark, who ministered to street gangs). I remember I think TC. In my class had been suspended from our class at St Williams may be for getting caught for buying one of the 15 cent hamburgers or French fries at Hubbies [before McDonalds) or soda at the gas station during lunch time (big time crimes in those days). As we got older we learned how to do all this better (standing lookout and without getting caught).
- Any way the nuns were touched by the movie and they thought us rogues and “sly boots” might be the next rough and tumble priests so they cut us some slack once in a while. Tad or one of the other guys got out of suspension on that movie
- Shameful! young ladies - bold Mopsies: Some of the girls were labeled by some nuns in disgust as “bold Mopsies”. There seemed to be a separate set of rules for the girls and things that deserved punishment (uncombed hair or something – God knows). But when Sister R. [affectingly labeled by the older children who first had her for her portly size as “Porky”) called someone a “bold mopsy*” with that scorn in her voice it sounded pretty shameful. * in 2009 I learned there was around late 1930’s and during World War II a “Mopsy” comic series which ran for 19 issues until 1965 - Bold, manipulative, and double-dealing femmes". None of us grammar school kids in the 1950’s would have thought the conservative catholic nuns of our school were referring to “Mopsy Modes Topper’ from the 1940s which also appeared in the “Gladys Parker Mopsy Sunday Comic Strip” with Associated Newspapers in the 1950’s. But the tone of voice conveyed the message.
- Hiding the puppies– feeding the cats. My older brother got in trouble for things that centered around animals a lot. He was always finding stray cats or puppies and hiding them in class, in the church choir loft or sacristy. He sometimes used the back of the family station wagon or in garage overnight, if it was cold. Once in our bedroom he hid puppy in our closet and I kept coughing all night to cover the puppies yapping. I think some of the girls in his classes would cover for the puppies or cats when he was hiding them in class. A vacant house in the neighborhood on his paper route was an option. He knew who had moved out when the next person was going to be in. Latter we found out about this big warehouse on Merrick road. I think it was used to store bags of cement and building materials, and one kid found a way in. We would run around playing a sort of game of climbing on the stacks of supplies and enjoying the thrill of being where we weren’t supposed to be. It was between the new king Kullen Supermarket and the bakery a block away. Cats would run wild in there. I think older brother J. used his paper route money to bring them tuna fish or maybe it was from King Kullen grocery store when he later worked there.
- Later my brother became part of the canine core of the Police department. He joked that the dogs were some of the best partners he ever had. He arranged to keep them on at his home after they became too old for service. Maybe he inherited this love of animals and Police work.
Here are pictures of both grandfathers on horses:
- On our father's side, our uncle Tom and also Grandfather “Pop” Keefe had both been mounted NYC Policeman.
- And on my mother's side Grandfather “Papa” Davis a homesteader, woodsman and cabinet maker rode horses. My Grandmother “Nana” Davis and mother also rode horses.
(1939, Summer, Wanda Davis on horse "Lady" (Blue Roan) in Canada (bad quality photo):
*1 - Altar boy and thinking of the priesthood, Listen : Conversation-Hearts 10: Adhiratha Keefe - A episode of radio podcasts with stories from the hearts of the Sri Chinmoy Centre. Adhiratha mentions being born nearby in Queens NY, then growing up further out on Long Island and having mediation moments as a young boy delivering papers, relatives in Canada, thinking of Christ's 18 hidden years, University days living and working in Ohio, traveling as merchant seaman, visiting many countries and some of the insights about the spiritual life learned from observing his own life, and also from studying meditation under the guidance of Sri Chinmoy. https://www.radiosrichinmoy.org/conversation-hearts-10-adhiratha-keefe/