PROSE AND POETRY


Part I - Tales Told Out of School about:

Bob Brumberger
Jack Chapman
Ed DeFinis
Dave Fossett
Ray Froling
Ed LaMeire
Al Malachuk
Jim Mangiafico
Rich Picciuto
Jim Salerno
Roger Skeels
Mary Ann Watters
Post Script to Mary Ann
C. V. Winters - A Man with a Mission

Part II - Poems & Short Stories by authors Long on Talent

(The) Best Day of My Life re-created by Ed DeFinis (author unknown)
Faces and their Names by Richard (Murf the Surf) Murphy
'50's Love by Robert Brumberger
Fishing In New Jersey by Robert Brumberger
Home is Where the Heart Is by Robert Brumberger
Journey Home by Robert Brumberger
Mine Kopf by Harold Wrede
Ode to an Olde Friend by Joan E. Warwick, Friend of the Class of 57
Schwinn, A Lasting Legacy by Robert Brumberger
Bicycling Finds by Robert Brumberger
Biking the LSU Lakes by Robert Brumberger
Wake Up Call
by Robert Brumberger
Spiritual Biking
by Robert Brumberger
First Bike by Robert Brumberger
Mr. Jacobs by Robert Brumberger


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Mr. Jacobs - By Bob Brumberger

Most of us have tender memories from high school. Some dim over the years. Others keep vitality and linger. I feel the need to pay tribute to one gentleman whose memory still casts a fresh shadow. Two recollections especially stand out.

The first involves my getting to school. I lived just past the boundary of school bus pick up. The walk was nearly a mile and I lacked the rides most kids found. Livingston Avenue fronted our house. I crossed the street to hitch-hike. A nearby subdivision housed Mr. Jacobs. He taught English and speech. He was my homeroom teacher. Each morning he braked and I hopped in. In those days teacher/pupil boundaries were fixed. Teachers enjoyed idealized respect. Students stayed diligent and docile. A teacher's personal life was strictly off limits.

Our morning rides lowered the boundaries. Mr. Jacobs emerged with unguarded humor. He even smoked. I saw him in ways not seen as my homeroom teacher. There he followed prescribed rituals and I conformed as well. We established a bond that seemed deep and permanent. It was to be broken years later in a haunting way.

A second episode involved his speech class. Group presentations took place and ours planned to surprise him. We modeled it after a popular TV program of the time, This Is Your Life, in which an unsuspecting guest is surprised by the appearances of numerous friends and family. Our group visited Mrs. Jacobs to learn humorous and telling anecdotes. These we took turns sharing with the class before a startled Mr. Jacobs, seated center stage, his face registering a shock I still see. I helped orchestrate this project, a labor of love. We received A's. A hint of bribery never entered our minds.

Years later I learned Mr. Jacobs committed suicide. I do not know the circumstances. In a certain way his This Is Your Life became part of mine as well. Boundaries can be broken. A certain bond cannot.


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First Bike

by Robert Brumberger

My bike called. I answered. I listened. The words rang true. They stung. I was guilty as charged. Admitting neglect is not easy. Lame excuses didn't help. A bike has feelings. And memory. And an accusing tongue. Mine fired well aimed shots. They bulls-eyed. I winced and sensed the arrival of a long overdue wake-up call. I had to face a moment of truth lest my bike fire again from fingers already on the trigger. After all, I can dodge only so many bullets in life.

I was scolded out of hurt. I detected real feelings underneath. The indictment pulled no punches: Stop mindless pursuits. Awaken to a fresh start. Seek fresh air and sunshine. Smell the roses. Befriend the wind. Find joys bikers know best. Discover friendships car windows thwart. Surprises await you. I, your bike, can help you find these and other life invigorating endeavors. Just say the word to feel brand-new.

Let me, your bike, lead the way. Childhood thrills are revisitable. Bike paths welcome. Parks beckon. Trails invite. Neighborhoods hearken. Such rides will bring you home again. Lost ways can be found again.

I felt a stirring. My bike extended its hand. So what if it needed oiling and dusting off. I offered mine. The rebuke was deserved. The passage of time and place didn't matter. An old flame might fade but never dies. Sometimes it takes only a phone call. And a slap-in-the-face reminder if rendered from a loving heart to one still young-in-heart.


 

Wake Up Call

by Robert Brumberger

Certain attachments are life-long.  Salmon swim upstream on a final return.  Seniors dance to songs from their teens.  Nostalgic objects stay marketable. 

Bikes are no exceptions, especially the first one.  They rank right up there with the first kiss.  Both stay fresh as childhood highlights. 

My first real bike was a junkyard rescue.  It was fender- less and rusty.  Brakes were temperamental.  Bald tires were flat ready.  It wobbled and knew how to inflict injury.  I was to sustain cuts and bruises.  Stitches too.  The faint outline of a scar remains.  My parents felt a few spills wouldn't hurt but improve my riding.  Today they'd face child endangerment charges.  

We lived in a rural area.  I lacked friends.   Nature compensated and readily shared secrets.  I came to see what was largely hidden.  I learned to spot movement.  I found companionship in the air, from the brushes, and amid the waters of a trout-stocked stream. Even grazing cows no longer took notice.  I become a familiar part of the scenery. The mental snapshots taken then remain.  

The bike and childhood fall to history.  Condos arrived.  Landscapes changed.  Time takes its usual toll.  

A new bike arose and to be ridden not by a youngster but by a senior with gray hair.  But torn jeans and spandex are still brothers.  So are bald and new tires.  Certain kinships can change only so much.  Yesterdays manage to cling.  The past constant in casting inescapable shadows.  

I now pedal more slowly.  The bike sports numerous features.  The brakes work fine.  The asphalt has posted signs.  One cautions against feeding wildlife.  Another mandates bike helmets.  Others offer suggestions and distance measurements.  I pass an emergency call box.   

I feel pampered in a sanitized way.  My parents would scoff.  They inhabited a world so foreign to mine. But certain kinships are never to be broken. These kindle a warmth that keeps recollections fresh and old legs feeling brand new.   

I happily recycle attachments spanning a lifetime where past and present stir the heart, and where old friends and family from days riding a beat up bike stay bright to one riding a new one.  

Bob Brumberger
04/13/16


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SPIRITUAL BIKING

A picture long hung in my house. I passed it many hundreds of times. This time I stopped and stared. I don't know why. I do know what I had missed. Objects and colors and content jumped out at me with startling freshness. Was the picture new? It seemed alive. Had it changed or did I? How could so much have been missed for so long? Did familiarity keep me from really seeing? Did distractions blind me? Did I need to grow up first?

The picture was patient. It knew its value all along. I didn't. When I did, a profound moment struck. I grasped with keen clarity what the artist conveyed. He spoke to me. I heard with appreciation. I did my viewing part. He did the rest. He rewarded with opened eyes. A spiritual moment arose from this joint effort. I gained entry to a realm of rare possibilities.

Such moments arrive unannounced. These bring gifts to ordinary biking. The experience is subjective and beyond words. Others might never understand. I resort to metaphors and images. These afford only a glimpse. The heart knows love and the spirit prayer in ways words only fleetingly capture.

But let me try. Indulge an old man and make allowances. A worthy attempt at the elusive has merit. Clumsy results are forgivable.

A spiritual bike ride is hot coffee on a chilly morn, sunshine from a blue sky or a golden sunset, a beach where childhood frolicked. Such rides warm to the friendships of flowers, the crunch of autumn leaves, the tracks on newly fallen snow. Spiritual rides know dreams and hopes, trails not taken, whispers of the breeze, a lover's touch, and water to quench a thirsty soul. Spiritual rides illuminate the invisible and give voice to silence where music and a newborn's cries can be heard.

I pedal before the gifts of life, including my own, and am never alone. My bike knows no boundaries. It takes me before the timeless, to places where smiles and our better angels dwell.

Grab your bike. Take the high route. A spiritual ride may be waiting for you. Look around. You just might find, figuratively speaking, a picture hanging on your wall. And this you can be sure: You'll know when you know.

Bob Brumberger


 

Biking the LSU Lakes

by Robert Brumberger

I bike the LSU lakes as a senior. I've biked other lakes as a kid. This was before cellphones and bike helmets. My mother never worried where I was. "Go bike" was her answer to a pesty kid. Even she rode to catch a breather from my father. Shopping came later when we moved to the suburbs.

By that time, girls and sports replaced biking. By that time, my mother caught a permanent breather from my father. Only my bike stayed put, in cold storage. It stayed that way too long.

Fast forward a lifetime later. I'm on a bike once more. The LSU lakes look familiar to the many others I have come to know. Lakes don't change that much. People do.

Lakes hold steady. They are durable. They help halt the march of time. They can make an adult feel like a kid again. They favor bicyclist returnees.

There is talk of revitalizing the LSU lakes. A welcomed endeavor, to be sure. Yet for me, perched on a bike, pedaling slowly, gray hair peeking from under a ball cap, the endeavor has already begun. Some returnees are late arrivals.

Time may have taken its toll on me as well as the lakes, but this much is certain: restored lakes restore people. I too come alive with healthier lakes. I too bike with renewed energy. What started as a kid still flowers as an adult and not all change is for the worse. A bike no longer in storage can be just as frisky as a new one.

In many ways my biking days have just begun.

Bob

Am still residing & biking in Baton Rouge (and forwarding submissions with an ever hopeful heart).

2016


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Bicycling Finds

by Robert Brumberger

There is much to note in bicycling about Baton Rouge.  Many sights thrill.  Others dishearten.  Bicycling highlights each in ways less seen from cars.

Litter is as unpleasant an eyesore as roadkill.  Too often am I greeted by cups and containers, food wrappers, and assorted items too numerous to cite.  Bungee cords are plentiful.  Coins and bills less so.  I once found $8.32 in scattered bills and change and on another occasion a rumpled $5.00 bill peeking from the levee bikepath grass.  Clothing items often appear and a pliers and screwdriver now reside in my toolbox.  I even recovered a junked but repairable bicycle, now my backup.

Some finds are returnable.  I reunited a lost dog with its owner as was the case with a wallet and keychain.  I am not a hardcore finders-keepers but fret when useful nonreturnable items invite recovery.

I feel like an urban archaeologist noting what others eat, drink, smoke, and use before disgarding (or losing).  Who are these folks for whom a rolled down car window is a mobile trash bin? How did they acquire a throwaway mentality? Does conspicuous consumption and materalism breed an instant waste disposal mindset?.

I struggle to understand.  I am the product of Depression and WWll era parents who knew scarcity.  They'd jump at loose change.  They stretched hand-me-down clothes and intervals between haircuts.  I know thrift stores, figuratively and literally.  I know leftovers. Their values are hard to shake. Even bicycling seems a carryover from those once ridden in childhood.

Others bicycling finds puts litter to a comparative shame.  These are aesthetic and delight by striking a chord difficult to describe.  These offer visual feasts.  These enable silent music to be heard.  These stir where words fail.

There is grandeur to a flock of pelicans suddenly rising in a white cloud above the LSU or Capotal Lakes.  There is stunning beauty to a golden sunset sinking over the Mississippi River.  There is high drama in a gliding hawk's arrow-like dive at an unsuspecting squirrel.  There is enchantment at the first hint of seasonal changes, as when buds appear or summer temperatures cool.

Thus are my bicycling finds a mixed bag.  What is deplorable is countered by what is captivating.  Eyesores and eyeopeners go hand in hand and are never far apart. One, in fact, enhances the other.

I bicycle before both, remaining the observant spectator.


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Schwinn, A Lasting Legacy

by Robert Brumberger

As a child I was given a beat up Schwinn found by my milkman father making deliveries in northern New Jersey.  It was rusting, fenderless, with a faulty coaster brake.  He scoffed at my mother's fears, confident my learning to ride was worth a few scrapes or bruises.  He was right.  But so was mother.  The faint outline of a leg scar remains.

On this wobbly note did my lifetime affair with Schwinn begin.  It would remain a constant before assorted dislocations and trails.  A wife couldn't do better.

It stood with me through a 50's adolescence, past pimples and sock hops, transistor radios and girlfriends, hay rides and ball fields.  That bike watched the dating scene where sometimes serious relationships emerged from casual bike-related chats (Imagine the debt offspring from such unions owe Schwinn who are no doubt Schwinn riders themselves).

The emerging car scene left bikes like jilted lovers.  Customized car cruised drive-ins.  My bike languished in the garage gathering dust.  Tires went flat.  If indeed hell has no fury like a woman scorned, Schwinn's rise from the brink was remarkable.

College campuses helped fueled the rebirth.  Clogged roads and ticket-writing officers helped.  My upgraded Schwinn (aptly named"Collegiate", with basket and rack) sped me between classes, library, fast food, laundry, and girl dorm sites.  I gave little thought to safety precautions.  Near misses with cars and helmetless spills were insufficient warnings.  Thus its sudden disappearance was a rude shock.  (Others would follow.  Quarterbacks are not the only ones blindsided in life).

Marriage and family brought other changes.  I wore a helmet, pulled a safe baby trailer, and cautiously peddled on a "loaded" Schwinn Criss Cross.  My backpack was filled for most eventualities.  Weather conditions and rest stops were calculated.  Organizing such rides was no small task.  (Thankfully bicyclists, like campers, are quick with a helping hand).  They provided the sunscreen I often forgot.

Senior status brought forth leisurely rides on a Schwinn Jaguar 7 speed Hi-Ten, a comfort bicycle with sturdy frame and fat tires, befitting one with gray hair and a pokey pace.  Most zip past me with a deferential wave.

But I know what they can't, a fulfillment that comes from lifetime bicycling and the discoveries made along the way.  Poet Robert Frost once alluded to a boy being a swinger of birches.  How apt for bicycling as well.  And too for this boy from New Jersey who grew up on Schwinn's but has never outgrown them.

Bob Brumberger


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The Mary Ann's of the World (Mary Ann Watters)

by Richard Picciuto

We were both students at a Group II high school in northern New Jersey, but I never really knew her.  I can remember speaking to her only a few times.

She was in a few of my classes, very quiet, unassuming, and seemingly withdrawn.  When she was pronounced valedictorian I wondered if she was really that smart.  I can bring her face into focus after glancing at a yearbook.

Today almost fifty years later I know even less about this woman.  I don't know if she was ever in love, if she had a happy life, was married or had children.  Her address is now unknown.

I never thought about her very much during school or afterwards.  I'm not sure why she bounded into my mind this week, though it was following a cerebral conversation I was having with a colleague.

I can't remember what, but there must have been a trigger in the conversation that in turn ignited certain synapses in my brain.  Now I'm questioning why she never penetrated my consciousness previously.

There were cliques in high school.  I belonged to one and got along with most people in others.  She may have been in a small, intimate one or she may have been a loner.  I can't remember.

The empirical truth of Mary Ann and me is a significant truth in a system of truths, the universal truths and myths of the world.

I wish I had taken the time to know the Mary Ann's of the world, not only the very bright, but the ordinary and enigmatic.  What rich fields I could have tilled if I hadn't missed these kinds of connections.


Post Script to Mary Ann

by Richard Picciuto

I remember writing this piece in 1998, at Union High School while watching a regional wrestling tournament well before the 50th reunion was a gleam in my eye and I suppose in any of our collective eyes.  I had been haunted by the fact of not making more of an effort to get to know many of the people who surrounded me in life, most notably people who might enrich my life, and Mary Ann was one of those people.  The last line is the crux of the piece:  What rich fields I could have tilled if I hadn't missed these types of connections.  When the reunion was becoming a reality I was asked to submit this piece and it was met with mixed reviews, the main theme being I had not captured her with the same lens others had.  I went on a mission to then locate Mary Ann while others were doing the same.  When our class bloodhounds had found out she had recently passed away I was absolutely devastated.  For me the news added the final punctuation the piece needed and that is it doesn't matter where we are in life, get to know, or know better, the people that can enrich our lives.  What better place to do that than at the 50th reunion.


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C. V. Winters - A Man with a Mission

by Richard Picciuto

The Livingston High School athletic programs were begun by the first physical education teacher most of us knew in the Livingston school system, Charles V. Winters.  He was the first gym teacher most of us had in grammar school as he roamed from one school to another, Harrison, Roosevelt, Central, Squiertown, and later Burnet Hill taking one class at a time to the playgrounds for a period of physical education.  Among the games he taught and played with us were kickball, soccer, softball, basketball and an occasional game of dodge ball.  When the junior high school was constructed and the gym classes were segregated into boys and girls classes, he was the first teacher for the boy's classes.  He later became our first junior high basketball and baseball coach and as the high school was being built, the freshmen coach of these teams.  He continued as a physical education teacher and to no one's surprise became the first athletic director in the school's history; a job for which he was perfectly suited and had paid his dues for.  He was an extremely well liked man and later upon becoming the high school disciplinarian, was still highly respected.

It was Mr. Winter?s job to develop the athletic program in concert with the Board of Education, not an easy task at all since there was no tradition established.  Everything was a first, including finding coaches to coach the only constant that was in place, the athletes themselves.  Rivalries had to be established and the only obvious one was Caldwell, where all the students had gone since 1944, and Caldwell was already ensconced in the Suburban Conference with the towns of Madison, Verona, Summit, Millburn, and Glen Ridge.  Mr. Winters persistence got our first games with four of those teams which we played from seventh grade on or until their other commitments took precedence.  Later he got us games and/or scrimmages with the likes of Clifford Scott, East Orange, Bloomfield, Montclair, Bloomfield Tech, and others with well established programs.  We were a Group II school and many of the others were Groups III and IV.  All of our coaches were coaching their first teams while having no prior coaching or assistant coaching experience.  The teams did well in the early years but it was no surprise that when LHS got to the varsity level the program struggled, especially without any athletes having played ball as underclassmen at the varsity level.  One team that reached the .500 level (8-8) in the regular season was the senior varsity basketball team whose team went to a state tournament for the first time.  Although they lost, it was another milestone in the annals of LHS sports.  All the other teams had victories in their varsity year also.  Tradition takes a long time to build and there was a great deal of impatience by some parents and even some fans, but the biggest fan of them all was Mr. Winters who was always there to pat us on the back after a game.  I?ve seen him running down the sidelines to congratulate someone in the end zone and also visit the locker rooms of all the teams.  He was our number one fan and a good man.  After we graduated he was able to get LHS into a conference, The Jersey Hills Conference.  It took a few years but some later LHS teams prospered and even excelled.  It took someone to get it all started and also the tradition started by the first class, it?s athletes and fans.

Editors Note:  The Jersey Hills Conference was later expanded and renamed the Iron Hills Conference with the Iron Division and the Hills Division.  One division consisted of Group IV schools, while the other consisted of Group III schools.  The divisons were reorganized anually based on enrollments.


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My name's Ed, what's your name? (Ed LaMeire)

by Richard Picciuto

In sixth grade at Harrison School our teacher, Mrs. Schwartz, thought it was a good thing to create a yearbook to celebrate our passage from elementary education to junior high school.  She got all her students involved in the process of making what turned out to be a not so elementary product, The Old Blue and Gold, named after the Harrison School colors.  It included a snapshot page of all the students, a section on sports, a class history, a will leaving items to the fifth graders, and an awards section for which all the students voted secretly to recognize their peers in some capacity and Ed was voted class artist and also the best dressed.  I voted for him for both awards, in fact I always wondered why he didn't pursue a career using his artistic abilities, he was that good.  When we went to junior high and later to high school, he was still a nice dresser and continued with his artistic flair, it was evident he had a natural aptitude.

As we advanced through school we became friendlier and it was a rare moment when you didn't find Ed with a smile on his face.  Ed was left-handed and as such would complain about living in a right-handed world, as lefties are prone to do.  Whenever he complained I would bust his chops even more and at one time told him that since only ten percent of humans are lefties, it must be a birth defect, but he always came back with the usual left-handed litany of how lefties are the more creative persons.  We had a lot of good natured banter such as this.  After graduation he would often have large gatherings of friends at his house to watch sporting events including once for an NFL playoff game.  There was a lot of food out on the dining room table including a layer cake, and we were all eating and having a great time watching football.  In the midst of some of the clowning around one of the guys had the bright idea of taking the cake into where we were watching the game, coming up behind Ed and putting it right into his face.  I'm not sure what prompted the action but I suppose because of Ed's good nature he just laughed, licked some of the cake and wiped the rest off seemingly unperturbed.

A few years later I went to Florida with Ed and as single guys in their mid-twenties we partied a lot.  One day we went into a bar that was pretty empty with only a few patrons.  There was also a bluish black mynah bird and as we walked in said, "Hi, my name's Pete, what's your name," to which Ed replied, "My name's Ed."  A few minutes later another guy walks in and the bird says, "Hi, my name's Ed, what's your name." After the guy responded we realized the bird always said the last person's name to the next patron.  If I hadn't seen it myself I never would have believed it, it seems like another bar joke.  After we flew back to New Jersey we continued our partying ways and Ed was with me driving to Aunt Kate's, a bar in Hackettstown, when I turned my car over on Rt.  46 and skidded 167 feet on the roof.  Ed was in the passenger seat thankfully wearing his seat belt.  When we came to rest with the car upside down, I asked Ed if he was OK.  He said, "Yeah, let's get the hell out of here."  Later that year he introduced me to the girl I would eventually marry.

It's been hard getting over the e-mail I received from Harold telling me of Ed's death.  I've been having conversations with myself as to some of the things we would have spoken about at the reunion he was so looking forward to.  I had hoped we would talk about the mynah bird episode.  So Eddie, "Hi, my name's Rich, what's your name?"


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Reunion Overload (Bob Brumberger)

by Richard Picciuto

Bob and I were on his screened front porch on N. Livingston Avenue when he handed me a paperback book and said:  "Rich, I've just finished this book and you've got to read it, it's a fantastic read."  I took the book he handed to me as he was retelling the plot with boundless enthusiasm that was one of Bob's trademarks  I scanned the preface  It read:  'What would you do if you stepped into your living room after a day like any other day and learned that you weren't you?   Your wife says it's not you.  Your dog doesn't recognize you.  And there is another man there who says he is you.  Would you give up and begin living another life?   Or would you, like the hero of The Man With My Face, put up an incredible fight to be yourself?   I agreed to read it largely because of Bob's promotion.  It was summertime and I would often stop at his house before we went to the Harrison School playground.  We were good friends and basketball teammates at Livingston High School, and what would you do when you went to a playground with Bob?   Play basketball or course.

Ever since he moved to Livingston from Dunellen NJ, Bob had been a basketball junkie.  He had an addiction for the game that precluded him from playing other sports although he was a fantastic athlete.  He was an engaging guy who always had a smile on his face, and he had lots of friends.  My mother thought he was the nicest friend I had.  Of course we played tons of basketball together.  I was the point guard and Bob was the shooting guard on the varsity team and he had one of the best shots I've ever seen.  How often our coach had the two of us do a pick 'n roll during a game.  Of course I did the pick and he took the shot.  He had all the tools and was a skilled player.

After high school we sort of lost track of each other and then something happened at our thirty fifth reunion that has brought us closer than we ever were during our school years.  Reunions have dynamics all of their own, there is an emotional overload, and as the years pass the emotions grow.  We had greeted each other early, it was good to see him.  Everyone was circulating and so it was no surprise that later Bob came to where I was seated to talk and we exchanged pleasantries again.  The surprise came when he revealed what it was he wanted to talk about and the sense of urgency on his face.  He asked me if I remembered an incident in high school when we had words about something and then agreed to meet in the parking lot after school to settle whatever it was that was wrong.  I could only stare dumbfounded, completely unaware of what he was speaking of.  I didn't remember one iota of the incident, but I apologized for his carrying around what was obviously an important issue for him.  He said he was nervous all day about what may have turned into an ugly incident, but that in the parking lot I just dismissed whatever words may have passed between us with a grin.  I have no recall to this day of anything that transpired.  Bob later wrote about that incident and of our talk that night, and had it published in his local newspaper.  By the way, he had completely forgotten about the book, The Man With My Face, which was later made into a movie.

Bob and I are now the very best of friends.  We communicate regularly.  I have visited him in New Orleans and at his home in Baton Rouge, LA and we are planning a trip this spring with our wives to the Smoky Mountains of Tennessee.  He still plays basketball in senior leagues and in a recent game he alone outscored the other team in its entirety.


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A High Octane Friendship (Rich Picciuto)

by Robert Brumberger

I saw him at our last high school reunion, our first contact since graduation.  Rich looked fit and fully recovered.  We had been close friends, despite an incident when this was threatened.  It was the stuff of adolescent bravado.  We had traded insults in the school hall and agreed to settle the matter in the parking lot after school.  Today, gunfire might erupt on the spot.  At that time we postured and glared like prizefighters before the opening bell.  Fights were rare.  They were more ritual than combat.  But not always.  I think we were both taken in by the turn of events.  Certainly teen bystanders played a part.  They always do, even if they had not snickered and laughed derisively.  If they helped set us up, we dutifully followed the script.  It was, after all, a time of designated roles, of being on stage.  And we performed on cue.  Fights did not happen by chance.  An athletic rivalry also contributed.  It was unspoken and unacknowledged.  It would have been hotly denied but it simmered nevertheless.  Each of us showed promise in sports and such prowess helped define social status.  Thus the stage was set.  There were only so many starting positions both on and off the playing field.  Another factor was the 50's.  We lived bland, suburban lives.  Drive-in movies and cruising burger stops offered limited excitement.  So did sock hops and rock music.  Discovering sexuality in parked cars helped but was it enough.  Maybe a good fistfight was needed and to hell with blemishing college-bound transcripts.  We were tired of tiptoeing before an adult world orchestrating our lives so carefully in measured steps. .  I wonder why more fights didn't break out.  I didn't have to wait long.  The 60's was just around the corner.  I was anxious that day.  He was clearly the stronger, a muscled football player with Elvis sideburns and a wavy pompadour.  A comb was never missing from his shirt pocket.  He sped about in a fancy car with loud mufflers and blaring radio, leaving behind facial peach fuzz and high pitched voice.  He cast a striking picture of brash energy and high octane, a young man on the prowl and one likely to relish a fight.  I was the skinny basketball player with court quickness I hoped would come to my rescue in the parking lot.  But deep down I knew better.  Yet I struck a jaunty pose that day, strolling the halls with white socks and penny loafers, pretending not to have overstepped.  Who was I kidding?   Even if I landed the initial punches I knew his recovery would be as swift as the outcome certain.  We met but didn't fight.  He answered my challenge with a playful, disarming grin.  I managed to smile and the matter was over and never mentioned again, until the reunion, when I so inquired.  He professed no recollection but his keen memory has long left me suspect.  Was he sparing my feelings?   Was my own recollection playing tricks?   Only in 2007 have I happily been able to resolve longstanding doubts, resolved finally by reading his sketch on me.  And our friendship continues to remain strong, now as then.  So much for puberty rites and peers, memories and rituals from another time.  So much for whatever sparks fights that may or may not take place.  What ultimately counts are friendships that remain unbroken, if not strengthened, by shared histories that span years and enrich lives.  So much for perplexing memories.  Such questions for friends need not be asked or answered. 


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Jack and The New Deal (Jack Chapman)

by Richard Picciuto

He was a very large kid but not the menacing or intimidating kind that many of his size could sometimes be.  Good-natured and gentle are keywords I would use in describing him.  I first met him in the sixth grade when our teacher chose the two of us to debate the firing of General Douglas Mac Arthur, by then President Harry S. Truman.  Easy pickings I supposed, a war hero against a shoe salesman turned president.  I learned quickly it was anything but easy.  Apparently from a family of New Deal Democrats, Jack had spent much of his time at the dinner table learning of the plight of the working class while I was embroiling myself in the Ted Williams-Joe DiMaggio debates of mealtime.  I figured since I argued well for the 'splendid splinter' in New York Yankee territory, the hero status of Mac Arthur alone would be enough for me to prevail in the upcoming debate.  I was wrong on this count.

  • Lesson One---Know your material, don't just read a few articles in Time or Newsweek.
  • Lesson Two--- Don't only listen to adult's vitriol in their political discussions.
  • Lesson Three---Respect your opponent and his point of view.

The debate ended up the way most do, with more debate needed.  I took away knowledge that performance is more important than reputation and there is no substitute for preparation.  Lastly I learned good-natured intensity blended with a touch of comic relief goes a long way in the debating process.

Fast forward to senior year football practice.  Jack was still a magic marker in a world of pencils.  Our coaches were frustrated at their inability to goad Jack into anger, for decapitating opposing quarterbacks was not part of his agenda.  Even his teammates could not rile him up.  I heard one of them say, "Christ, if I was your size I would go around kicking everyone's ass just for the fun of it."  In the same conversation he asked Jack for his suggestions on bulking up, to which Jack replied, "Snack on oatmeal cookies and bananas everyday, and if you have a chance take a nap after snacks."  My own attempts at needling Jack were limited to lightweight political barbs.  When I said "I like Ike" to him, it was returned with a glance and a smile or "You Republicans just don't get it."  Maybe I didn't get it but I had a protected feeling as a quarterback placing my hands under Jack while awaiting the snap.  My hands felt like a pair of skylarks nesting in the hollow of a wise old oak, or maybe they were just like another couple of hungry hands sheltered by the WPA during the New Deal.


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Jim's First Step at Livingston High School (Jim Mangiafico)

by Richard Picciuto

Everyone comes from someplace it's true and Livingston was inviting because of its open area, a little over thirteen plus square miles in the western portion of Essex County.  Many families were beginning an exodus from the more urbanized portions of Newark, East Orange, Orange, and Irvington westward toward towns with vast areas of undeveloped land.  Livingston, New Jersey was one of those places.

I first became aware of Jim on the first day of school in my freshman year.  He was a dark, good-looking guy, but it was his gregarious nature that made you aware he was present.  In a word I guess you might say he was louder than most, and he was bold, very bold.  It was no surprise then when I spied him he was wearing a corduroy outer jacket with the words 'The Gladiators, East Orange, New Jersey' splashed across the back.  This was the kind of bravado that made the white bread boys of Livingston shiver and only some of the more brazen girls swoon.  You'd have thought Marlon Brando was in town.  I wasn't sure Livingston was ready for the Blackboard Jungle or Wild One culture despite the fact that Elvis Presley and James Dean were hovering on the cusp.  We soon learned that Jim was the type of guy that no one, teacher or student, could ignore.  Within weeks of his arrival everyone knew him or knew of him.  He had a certain swagger, an infectious smile, and a brand of humor that was disarming.  He pitched for the high school baseball team and became right halfback and co-captain of the football team.  We became good friends.  On the field, in the classroom, hallway, or cafeteria you always knew where he was.  At the local sweetshop he pummeled a rival for his girlfriend's affections that left the school abuzz for awhile.  After his four years in high school he was voted the most popular in a vote that I don't suppose was that close.  He had been embraced by his classmates and in a sense left his own unique mark on the class.

He married his high school sweetheart and Jim and I stayed in touch during the course of our marriages.  The night Neil Armstrong stepped on the moon we were guests at his house.  It brought back memories of Jim's first step at Livingston High School.  There were differences of course.  Jim's wasn't a giant step for mankind and Neil Armstrong didn't wear a Gladiator jacket.


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Eddie's Tears (Ed DeFinis)

by Richard Picciuto

We woke up wanting to have a breakfast of steak and eggs before our first football game, the first in our school's history.  Roger's mother made it for both of us and served it with toast and orange juice.  I had stayed at his house the night before and we spent a good part of the evening wondering out loud just how good this kid we were going to face from Butler really was.  Our coach who we had nick-named 'The Pear' due to his shape spoke about him all week.  "This kid, Buzzy is really something special, but we're gonna run right at him, hit him from all angles, gang tackle him, and make it a game he won't forget."

Fifty plus years has erased much of the memory of that game, but I do remember the only thing we won that day was the opening coin toss.  Buzzy did it all, he was the left outside linebacker, fullback, place kicker, and punter.  The joke was that he even drove the team bus and carried water to the field during timeouts.  Our first play from scrimmage was named 'Fourteen' which was the one back through the four-hole, the right halfback between the right guard and tackle.  We clapped, broke the huddle, and walked to the line.  I took the snap and as I turned and handed off the ball Buzzy took our halfback down in our backfield.  So it went until the final lopsided score of 41-0.  Buzzy was a juggernaut for his school that day.  We found out weeks later he got a full football scholarship to a powerhouse North Carolina college.

Back in the locker room 'The Pear' and his assistant, 'Big Red' tried to talk us off the ledge.  But my lasting memory of that day was our feisty little left guard, Eddie, emotionally spent and cursing uncontrollably between sobs while pounding on his locker as the rest of the team gathered in stunned silence.  I found out thirty-five years later how sensitive a man Eddie was.  He wrote to thank me for my part in arranging a class reunion.  "The gleam in my eye turned to a tear when it was over" it said in part.  I reflected about how little I really knew this proud man and the effects of time upon us all.

Eddie is married forty-five years and is the father of four.  His wife Ginny was in my sister's class four years behind us.  Ed is a veteran who volunteered for service during the Berlin Crisis, was packed and ready to go with the XVIII Airborne Corps during the Cuban Missile Crisis and ended his tour of duty as members of his unit were being called to Vietnam.  I might add he was a hell of a football player who never gave an inch on the field or in practice.


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Black Shirts, Suede Belts, and Drag Racing (Jim Salerno)

by Richard Picciuto

Every generation is typified in some way and the fifties have been noted as the rock 'n roll era, but to those of us who grew up then, it was far more than that.  It was not only a time of vast change in music and cars but also in behavior, a time of cool.  To me, Jim typified what the fifties were about.  He wore great threads, played in a rock band, and had the coolest car in the class.  A lot of males have love affairs with cars, but Jim exceeded the perceived normal boundaries.  His car was a rust colored and white 1956 Chevy Belaire convertible with a continental kit.  A few of the other guys we knew bought that model in hardtop, but Jim's stood apart from the crowd.  After school he worked at a car dealership and later in life owned his own dealerships which should be considered a significant love affair with the car.

I first saw Jim at a bus stop on the corner of South Livingston and Harrison Avenues.  We were bussed from Livingston to Millburn for classes at White Oak Ridge School. (A rented office building on White Oak Ridge Road in Short Hills, no longer in existence.)  After several moves I met up with him at Livingston Junior High (Now an integral part of the high school) and then in the same building for high school.  It is there that I came to know him well.  He was quiet and soft spoken, traits he still has.  He always had a fifties appearance in his dress, whether pegged pants, gaucho shirts, or square toed shoes with taps, toes and heels.  One day after mid-winter vacation, I came to school with a pair of pink pants I had bought in Florida.  I was taking a lot of flack from classmates when Jim came over to talk with me.  "You can't wear that blue shirt with those pants, I'll change with you." So we waited for the hallway to clear and went into the stairwell to change shirts.  Since I now had his black shirt we switched belts as well.  I had pink pants, a black shirt, and his narrow suede belt also.  He said to me, "Now that's more like it." It certainly was, according to the class the rest of the day.  Jim got his shirt and belt back at the end of the day and I never wore those pants without a black shirt again.

Later the same year, we met up with friends at Don's drive-in, the local car hop (on South Orange Avenue near the corner of Hobart Gap Road. Again, no longer in existence).  Another of our friends named Russ cruised in with his light green and white '56 Chevy.  I'm not sure who threw down the gauntlet, but one of them did and they agreed to head over to Becker's flats (a two or three mile stretch of Livingston Avenue from McClellan Avenue almost to Eagle Rock Avenue in Roseland) to see just who would have bragging rights.  Each had claimed to have the faster car.  Jim went off with a friend and I went with Russ over to the flats in Roseland.  It was my first drag race and I felt the flush of excitement as the two of them revved their engines.  Off they sped very close at first and then Jim pulling slightly but decidedly ahead to victory.  Russ said he would tinker with his car to assure winning the next one.  Black shirts, suede belts, and drag racing is in part of what typified the coolness of the fifties in Livingston.


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The Sensations of Kindergarten (Dave Fossett)

by Richard Picciuto

In 1944, I got my marching orders to attend to a kindergarten in Livingston that seemed to be nestled in the middle of the woods somewhere.  My parents had driven me there beforehand to show me where it was.  It was the Livingston Recreation Building and it was opposite where our high school was to be constructed, but for now the only thing surrounding it was trees and a few houses in its backyard.  It seemed like a stone cottage that one might suspect was in the story of Hansel and Gretel.  I was taken there by bus for the morning session where I was soon to learn what smocks were for.  I was introduced to finger paint, clay, reading groups, and the smell of graham crackers which were snacked on after a wearying morning of play.  We also laid our head down for a rest period and then split into two groups for books to be read to us by an older teacher and a young, pretty one.  It was amongst all these new sensations that I met Dave, the first classmate I ever told my parents about.  We didn't have a 'show and tell' but were encouraged to bring in things that we wanted to share with the group.  Dave, wearing striped short pants, brought in a jar with some water and a frog inside.  The frog escaped from the jar and there was Dave, his classmates, and teachers attempting to capture this little frog jumping all over the place.  There was more giggling and laughter than I had ever heard in a group up to that period in time.  I told my parents about Dave and the frog, and I was giggling as I told them.  I grew to learn that Dave's modus operandi was, in part, garnering laughs.  He seemed to get attention from classmates bordering on idolatry in one form or another and this continued throughout our school years.  He seemed to gather groupies before I even learned what the term meant.

I watched as Dave got more than his share of laughs during our school years together.  On a senior class trip to Washington's Headquarters in Morristown NJ, I was exiting the front door when I saw and heard uproarious laughter with kids pointing up to a second story window.  It was no surprise to me when I peered up and saw Dave.  He was at the window with a musket and revolutionary hat, with that 'What, me worry? ' look on his face.  He had done it again, bringing many of the class to tears.  We needed it because apparently someone had brought beer on the trip and back at school we were being lectured by our principal, 'Wild Bill.'  Among other things, he told us that we were ruining it for future classes who would no longer be allowed to go to Washington's Headquarters on trips.  We seemed to have collective 'What, me worry?'  looks on our faces for we were going on to the future, regardless.  We had already seen the atomic age, the king of rock 'n roll crowned, and the launch of Sputnik.  We just wanted to get on with business, realizing every once in a while we need a Dave amongst us to add a measure of levity to face the daunting business of the future.


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A Picture of the Grass (Roger Skeels)

by Richard Picciuto

Because of my family's move after kindergarten to the other side of town, Roger became one of the few kids I went to school with from first grade through twelfth.  Both our houses were within walking distance of Harrison School and it wasn't unusual that one of us could be found at the others after school, usually with a ball or bat in hand.  We were both athletic and I can say that I was probably on a basketball court, baseball or football field more with Roger than any other kid by the time we both finished up the Livingston schools sports programs.  I can remember Livingston 6-1841 as his telephone number (later Wyman 2 and still later 992).  I had called him often. 

Due to the time we spent with together we got to know each others families well, and during grade school there were occasions we had dinner at the others house.  One particular night in fourth grade we were having corned beef and cabbage at my house when Roger was there.  My dad saw him really relishing the meal and said to him:" You really like that Roger, you must be Irish. " Roger replied: "I'm not Irish, I'm Episcopalian."  When the laughter subsided he went back to polishing it off.

When we got into junior high school we were in each others homerooms the first few years and also in class upon class.  After school it was always practice, basketball, football, or baseball.  His father attended most of the games and many practices as well.  When I dislocated my left pinky at a basketball practice it was Roger's father who pulled it back into socket and put a splint on it.  I think of him often when I look at the enormous size of the knuckle the dislocation left.  His father also took moving pictures at the games, especially football, where Roger was punter of the team.  The week following games we would look at the films and during one there was only a picture of grass.  We finally realized what happened, Roger had kicked the ball over sixty yards and his father had dropped the camera, still running, while admiring his son's kick.  Roger was a fine athlete and as fast as the wind.  It was tiring running wind sprints in practice against him for the winner got to leave the field to go an early shower.  He always won, leaving the rest of us on the field for more sprints.  After our high school careers were over we remained in touch and corresponded during college.  By happenstance our sons went to high school together in Morristown.  My son James played third base and Roger's son Tommy played first base.  I was watching a baseball game when James picked up a grounder and tossed to Tommy for the out.  It was particularly poignant for me to watch as I had lived that scene so many times before in my life throwing a ball to Roger.  Roger died at age fifty-five and as the priest had said during the eulogy, he was much, much too young.


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A Little Fish In a Big Pond (Al Malachuk)

by Richard Picciuto

Mal and I would always meet at a midway point between our houses, the corner of Hillside Terrace and S.  Ashby Avenue, and from there walk to school from 7th grade through 10th.  He lived next to the Ely Cemetery on Hillside Avenue where the only slave is buried in Livingston.  We played a lot of basketball on his home court and also at the junior high, freshmen, and junior varsity levels and it was a rare time when he shot that anyone grabbed a rebound.  He was the best I'd seen up to that time.

In the fall of 1954 in our sophomore year, our favorite baseball teams, the New York Giants and the Cleveland Indians, played in the World Series.  He's never let me forget the trouncing his Giants gave my Indians four games to none.  That was the series when Willie Mays made what is arguably the best catch I've ever seen in baseball to this day.  Still later in our sophomore year, our English class took a class trip to the soon to be defunct presses of the Newark Evening News.  Miss Steele was our English teacher and at the time of our visit Pope Pius XII was ill and in critical condition.  The newspaper was doing a spread about him and had pre-printed the first page with papal stories, pictures, along with the headline reading 'Pius XII is Dead.'  I was standing next to Miss Steele when Mal said, "That's a helluva thing, what if his wife sees that?"  When Miss Steele stopped laughing she said, "Are you serious?" and then proceeded to explain to Mal that popes didn't marry.

Mal left LHS in 1955 in part because of his contentious relationship with the coach of the basketball team, who didn't like his brand of basketball, refusing to start him and benching him repeatedly.  Mal then went to Stony Brook Prep School in Long Island where he starred in basketball making all Ivy League, a prestigious league of New York prep schools.

His family's house was still in Livingston and at the end of my senior year he and I took a road trip to Florida.  His father was deeply religious and I remember he prayed over us for our safety on the trip.  That was probably a good thing for we really partied and had adjoining rooms with a couple of girls from Chicago who were vacationing also.  I guess you'd call that the luck of the draw.  One night we went to a minor league twilight-night doubleheader, leaving before the second game was over.  A foul ball sailed out of the park hitting the sidewalk next to us, and bounded into traffic with us in pursuit.  The ball hit the windshield of a car being driven by a mountain of a man who slammed on his brakes, got out of the car and pulled a gun on us pointing it right at Mal, thinking he had thrown the ball.  A passerby told him what happened but Mal was so shook up that I had to drive his car back to the motel.

Mal was a year younger than me and repeated a year of high school at Stony Brook and graduated in 1958.  He had garnered 25 basketball scholarships both partial and full.  The Livingston High School team would have done an about face with him in our lineup.  When our coach heard about his successes he only said, "You can either be a big fish in a little pond or a little fish in a big pond."  There's a moral there somewhere.


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Faces and their Names

by Richard Murphy

What is it about a face or a name that makes it stick in your mind, even after years, after decades, maybe not ever again seeing the person that name or that face belongs to? 

I have those faces.  I have those names.  They are emblazoned on my mind's eye, for some reason or other.

Who are they - well, a few of mine are:

From LJHS days I have remembered her a great many times, one lady, one face, and the name that goes with her.  I've often imagined she may have been God-awful lonely, even while surrounded by over a hundred classmates.  Why?  Because - NO ONE gave her "the-time-of-day."

I was new at LJHS, a co-ed school, which I had not been in for the previous four years, so I was painfully shy myself.  A few of the ladies liked to say "Hi Murf" in that sexy sorta way a 9th grade female could tease.  And I obliged by turning a bright red, probably right down to my toes.

She was painfully shy too.  But very probably for a different reason.  She was shunned.  When her creator put her together, for some reason he put ALL her beauty on the inside.  And that is what I have felt must be what made the rest of us stand off.  Eventually, I got up the 'courage' to say, "Hi Beverly", as I entered homeroom.  My feeble attempt to reach out.  But that is about as far as I ever got.  I noticed after a time, a few of those many pretty girls in homeroom also started offering their "Hello Beverly"s too.  But they too never got past that brief greeting either.  And she politely, and oh so shyly responded, head bowed, with her quiet "Hello", back to us.  And I have wondered if our tiny, quick greetings, followed with nothing else, were even more painful for her than nothing at all.  She was gone from LJHS the next year, not coming with us LHS plank owners*.  But I have thought of her more over the years than all the rest combined.  Wondered if we drove her away - by our omissions?  One face, one name, and inside, I imagine, one beautiful person.

Five years later, after graduation, I had joined the Navy, finished boot, engineman and submarine schools, and reported to my first submarine, the U. S. S.  Halfbeak (SS-352) as an NFENFA (E-2).  I no sooner stepped into the Forward Engine Room then I was handed some rags and directed down into the bilges to wipe oil leaks.  I took the rags and climbed down into the even tighter lower level.  I practically climbed on another young sailor who was likewise assigned to wipe the bilges.  He was a husky, well built, handsome fella, with a huge smile, wider than his face.  (I said tight?  Ha, what wasn't in a WWII vintage submarine modified into a GUPPY to hold much more equipment than she was ever designed to hold and 30 more crew than bunks. ) Well, we wiped together, worked the dirty jobs together, became friends together, and when I drove home on the weekends I had off-duty to visit my folks (and hopefully date Cliff Baker's sister, Nancy Jean), he rode with me to visit his aunt in Bloomfield or Montclair (I forget which) and back after those short weekends.  We didn't serve together very long.  Everett Michael James was literally driven off the ship by my engine room mates, most of who were from the south.  Why do I remember this short friendship?  Is that smile burned into my mind's eye?  Yes.  But it is his manners that are burned into my memory.  He is still today, after all these years, from among the thousands I have worked with and met in travels over half this world, the most polite, well mannered human I have ever encountered.  I have tried to find him, with no success.  OH - I forget to tell you why he was driven off the submarine Halfbeak.  He had the audacity to try to be an Engineman and a Black man at the same time.

Everett passed through the middle of Hell, by the long route.  But I bet he smiled that big wide smile of his at Beverly as they passed each other.  I hope she was able to lift her head to him and smile a happy smile back.

Now a new face has emblazoned itself in my mind's eye.  And I regret to say; I had to refer to the Yearbook to refresh myself, as this ole mind could not sort out which of two faces this name belonged to.  Turns out it was the taller of the two out of our many LHS beauties I recall.  Why now?  That's Ed's fault.  On the "First to Fifty" web site Ed wrote one sentence that has made me wonder at her magnificent courage and makes me tear each time I re-read it.  In the Memoriam section Ed said so much in so few words.  He wrote, "Margaret Wootton Quinn, July, 2002, age 63, (died of) smoke inhalation and burns suffered in an unsuccessful attempt to rescue her sister from a burning house."  Yes, those other twenty-one bring tears too and a tightness in my throat and chest.  But for Margaret, it is also an anger, coupled with a sort of euphoria.  And a glorying!

Now I had another hero.  Quite different in at least two ways though.  Margaret was not unfavored by her creator, nor was she black and trying her darnedest to fit where she'd never get a hint of a fair chance.  Hopefully she had a good life up until the time she responded to that ultimate call and showed the mettle that was probably her all along, as did the other two, though each in different ways.

What is my point?  Is it, "I complained because I had no shoes .... " or is it " ... walk a mile in the other man's shoes" or ...??? There are all manner of heroes - some as unnoticed as a single parent working in the silence of an unnoticed life, but doing one heck of a job all the while.  Or the "Leg" trying to cope with the horrors of a politically driven hot war he was cajoled or conned or forced into and can never free his mind from what he has experienced.  Or two parents, though being two, who still had a time of it getting you to adulthood.  You know these heroes.  Stop, think ... and you'll recall.

We, the Class of '57, are getting a bit long-in-the-tooth, so to speak.  Graybeards.  We have our likes and dislikes, and some of them may be people.  If they are people, especially family, then give yourself pause.  I bet at least some of us cannot even remember why we have that burr under our saddle.  We just do.  Pretty much like ........................................

One day a salesman came to a farm peddling his wares.  While he was talking to the farmer, a dog over by the barn kept howling an unending mournful howl.  The salesman, concerned, asked the farmer why the dog kept howling like that.  "Lazy", the farmer said.  "Lazy, what do you mean lazy", the salesman asked?  "He's lying on a thorn and he is jus' too darn lazy to get off it", replied the farmer.

Why didn't I say more, much more to Beverly, those many years ago?  Or find a way to stick up for Everett, those many years ago?  For Everett I was still too young to know how.  For Beverly, I don't rightly know, even today.  Maybe the same reason, plus being five years younger.  OR, was it jus' too hard to get off my "thorn"?  Too much like the Cowardly Lion, so afraid to take that journey to Oz?  To reach out? 

I flatter myself to think that just remembering Beverly and Everett, somehow compensates.  Not!  I know having known Margaret makes me the richer for it.  A better man - no!  But surely a richer one.  The plus for me is, as my own shadow grows shorter, I am (too slowly) learning to get off that darn thorn and reach out.

If these words strike a chord for you, do it - reach out to your someone - get off that thorn - before that once long shadow catches up to you.  It will you know - twenty-two are calling to us.

Don't waste the decades or the years or the months or maybe, the days, you have left.


Reach out and HUG that someone - that
someone just aching for your touch!

Via Con Dios ... Murf

* A "plank owner" is an individual who was a member of the crew of a ship when that ship was placed in commission.  Herein it is used to denote the first graduating class of the newly commissioned LHS.


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Fishing in New Jersey

by Robert Brumberger

For some it's their first kiss; others it's the game-winning basket or home run.  For others the drama is more tangible, like winning the lottery.  For me it was less spectacular but no less memorable, catching my first whopper fish, a rainbow trout.

The quiet stream held a secret as it meandered lazily through grassy banks amid a pasture of grazing cows.  The sun was bright that spring day, the air filled with buzzing insects and budding flowers.  I too was emerging, a 10 year old as frisky as the trusty mutt beside me.  A stick fishing pole bounced on my shoulder, the line balled at the tip.  This was rural New Jersey in the 50's, a scene as picturesque as one painted by Norman Rockwell.  There was no hint of the drama to come.

The cork swayed, jerked crazily before vanishing.  I was slow to react.  The stream often played such tricks.  But the pull was sharp and demanding.  The pole was suddenly alive, quivering.  The water churned oddly before erupting.  I stared wide-eyed, chest pounding as the pole bent like a branch before an angry wind.  The struggle began.

The fish had no business being caught.  It was too large for a flimsy pole.  The line should have snapped.  The rusty hook broke only when the landed fish spun to the water's edge.  I lunged desperately at the thrashing, slippery mass.  Inches made a difference.  Seconds counted.  Luck played a part.  For an anxious moment escape hung in the balance.

The giant fish glistened on the grass, its colors sparkling like jewels.  A rainbow trout is aptly named, mesmerizing a small boy and his dog who stared in awe.  The iridescence was to dazzle in unforgettable ways.

I am older now, the springtime of my life long gone.  Other fish have been caught, bigger ones, but none so captured in memory.  If that fish failed to escape, nor did I.  I often wonder who caught whom on that sunny spring day so long ago.


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Journey Home

by Robert Brumberger

It was to be our last trip together.  His request caught me off guard.  He was now infirm.  His memory played tricks.  Surely his doctors would not approve.  Why would he now want to suddenly revisit and old and distant neighborhood where familiar landmarks were long gone, and to insist I accompamy him.

I would talk him out of this trip.  After all, I was the adult son to whom authority in such matters had long passed.  Surely I would prevail.  I was mistaken.  All the right reasons fell on deaf ears.  He dug in his heels.

He had always been headstrong and over the years left a trail of strained and broken relationships.  Ours was no exception.  The rupture was never complete but caring for him now forced us to revisit old battlefields.  This time I raised the white flag.  We would journey together.

The risk was obvious.  Revisiting the past jeopardized the truce of the present.  Old tensions were ready to surface to spark renewed hostilities, to sour the future.

I was mistaken again.

The trip proved one of surprises.  Tellings insights emerged.  I glimpsed the hardships of his formatiive years.  Deceased grandparents I had never known took shape.  Ghost-like figures from an unknown or forgotten past paraded before me in a new reality, as did my father whose story disclosed much of the storyteller previously unknown.  I felt my own legacy enlarge as if family secrets were finally disclosed.  I returned home different from when I had left.

Indeed my dad's journey became mine in ways he could not have foreseen.

Or did an old, headstrong father bestow a final gift to a son long asleep to such matters.


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"50"s Love

by Robert Brumberger

She got out of the car.  It could have been a time capsule.  Her attractiveness remained, to be sure.  Her figure had handled times well, catching my eye now as then.  The teen look I knew so well was long gone.  What do you expect from a mother of two, one of whom is the age she and I were when we first met in high school?  The years had passed.  I wondered why I suddenly thought of the Japanese soldier found on an island cave, unaware of a war long over.

We dusted off our past and basked in the memories of its shine.  Initial awkwardness gave way to animated chatter.  My own son would be surprised to know that even a hidden Japanese soldier, blinking in the sunshine, has a past.  And a memorable one at that.  She was part of that past -- indeed, had helped shape it.  And we had come to the brink of sharing a future as well.  But it was not to be, and neither of us had ever looked back.  In a way, this might be our first meeting.

She had changed little, and I could readily see what had attracted me as a teen.  The distant past took shape, bringing with keen freshness the images of the '50's.  She was so big a part of that time.

We frolicked with the ageless Dick Clark and American Bandstand.  Rock 'n' Roll blared from the Apollo Theater to sock hops.  Customized Chevys with loud mufflers roared from high school parking lots, driven by crew-cut youngsters with cigarettes dangling.  Elvis was adored, and sexuality jumped from out of the closet into the seats of parked cars.

I first learned of Sputnik's launch while munching a hamburger at a car hop, the radio interrupting the Everly Brothers' "Wake Up, Little Susie" and Little Anthony's query on teenagers falling in love.  She was with me then.

While some twisted on dance floors to Chubby Checker, we twisted at drive-in movies like frisky pups, fogging windows and rumpling clothes.  Enlarged dice dangled from the car dash.  Away from parental scrutiny, we thought ourselves safe in our own metallic cave.  We, too, blinked in the glare of lights, preferring the shadows as Sinatra crooned we would.  And she was there.

And she was there in packed gyms, cheering me on, and we held chilly hands on the bleachers during crisp autumn football games.  We muddled through homework assignments, breaking away from the gyrations of Elvis on the Ed Sullivan Show to do so.

Farewell Milton Berle.  Hello open roads, eight cylinders and gleaming chrome.  The girls in tight sweaters flashed toothpaste smiles.  It was fill-her-up time with youth on the prowl.

She remained a constant in my unfolding adolescent drama, far away from a forgotten Japanese soldier and children yet born.

We chatted at length, exhausting the past while distancing ourselves from the present.  But memories stretch only so far and cannot be a prop for the present.  Yet we resisted.

Her life followed the familiar.  She lived in the suburbs near where she had been raised, mother of two and wife of a commuter stockbroker.  It sounded predictable, even uneventful.

My life differed considerably, and my divorce prompted many questions, too many I thought.  Was I something akin to lost innocence? A glimpse into what she had nearly become a part? Or a reference point on her life today?

We said our farewells.  It felt good connecting again and restoring histories, updating versions of old snapshots.  We left much unsaid, including another meeting.

I wondered on the Japanese soldier.


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Various Shades of Red (Ray Froling)

by Richard Picciuto

How many towns can lay claim to the fact that their high school is within a triangle formed by two centers and a traffic circle?  Not any that I know of except Livingston, NJ.  The high school building was a continuation of the newly constructed junior high school that was where I first met Ray, a very popular student who always seemed to be running for student council or another class office.  You don't run for those positions unless you're well liked by your peers and he certainly fit that bill.  One vivid memory I have of Ray was during an assembly when he was giving a speech while running for a class office on a ticket with the girl I was going out with at the time.  Ray was an accomplished speaker and was using a metaphor of riding up the river against the current in a canoe with his running mate, and my girlfriend, Lynda.  He paused and with perfect timing looked squarely at me and said, "Sorry about that Rich."  It seemed as if everyone's eyes turned to me as I was turning various shades of red, mostly beet as I recall.  His brand of humor and comedic timing seemed to put people at ease.  For the life of me I can't remember if he won that election but he certainly had my vote.

Although we shared many classes together we never sat near each other at lunchtime because Ray sat in another room during lunch hour.  He was the disc jockey who piped music to the cafeteria feeding us a steady diet of the Penguins, the Platters, and Fats Domino.  Because Ray was holed up in his retreat he missed one of the more memorable happenings in high school history, the famous senior food fight.  It started innocently enough, just a peach pit or two, and then graduated to cartons of milk and even a piece of lemon chiffon pie that hit Eddie, who was seated to my left and then splashed on me.  After that it was nonstop food until a few teachers started taking names resulting in our principal, the great suspender, sending letters to the participant's homes.  It stated in part that although he couldn't be sure of the culprit's identities it was true that 'birds of a feather flock together.'  We were disciplined by having to sit, from then on, in what was called the alcove, two to a table.  My guess was that Ray was playing Blueberry Hill during the food fight.

After we graduated Ray was putting himself through college while working at the Northfield Pharmacy, where he seemed to be a fixture.  Several years passed when I had occasion to go into the store needing a product that Ray got for me.  As he handed it to me he said, "A little horizontal recreation tonight, huh Rich?"  Again he had proceeded to make me blush, turning me various shades of red, while explaining how most everybody paid for that product with large bills, easing my uneasiness.  I'm guessing twenty dollar bills were considered large at that time.


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ODE TO AN OLDE FRIEND (Roosevelt School)

by Joan E. Warwick,
GCHS Class of 1955,
Friend of the Class of 57

Memories of years past...
Days of long ago, we thought would last.
Halls filled with kids, shouts and laughter,
A thousand things fill my mind these long years after.
Miss Cox, Miss Pettit, Mr. Richards, Miss Youngjohn,
Mello Rolls, recess, oh I could go on and on.
Roosevelt School, you were always there.
Remember Shirley, Walt, Lea and Rae, Sue & Jimmy,
Dick and Ray?
Miss Youngjohn's farm? Miss Dickinson's Lane? Miss
Cox's Scotties? What were their names?
Well old friend, it's come to an end
Another turning, another bend.
They may sell you and change you, or tear you down,
But on your corner laughter and fond memories
Will always be found.


Note from the author:  The names mentioned in here (in case you'd remember some of us) are Sue (Riley), Shirley (Litzenburger), Lea and Rae (Smith), Jimmy (Chamberlin) Dick (LaVecchia.) and Walt (Wenker).


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HOME IS WHERE THE HEART IS

by Robert Brumberger

New Jersey Governor Chris Christie recently had a ribbon-cutting ceremony re-opening the five mile stretch of the Jersey Shore Boardwalk ravaged by Storm Sandy.  In doing so he re-opened my pre-Baton Rouge adolescence when I too walked the Boardwalk.  This was before he was governor and not yet the catcher on the baseball team at Livingston High School from which I too had previously graduated.  (My history teacher there had served aboard the USS Kidd).  The Baton Rouge/Jersey (Shore) connection had begun.

I was a frisky pup then, frolicking on the beach, tumbling ashore from riding "breaker" waves, eyeing girls, and licking "custard" (soft ice cream) on a Boardwalk filled with sunburned vacationers.  I too was in a festive mood, basking before a summertime spectacle of amusement rides, game barkers, arcades, and banners fluttering behind droning planes.  I nibbled on cotton candy, held hands with various girlfriends.  Saltiness filled the air.  Food aromas teased the palate.  Beachfront sights and sounds swirled about in a giddy, gaudy manner.  I soaked it in.  No sunscreen necessary.

A cast of characters and images paraded before me, unaware of my mental snapshots of them.  These were not to fade.  I was seeing with what a poet called "the mind's eye."  Mine was storing a rich collection.  Not seen, however, was Baton Rouge, first glimpsed later from a Jersey barstool during an LSU game.

If snapshots proved lasting, so did my feelings at that time.  I was fresh and newly minted, the chick hatching from a broken shell, the hatchery-raised fingerling released from captivity.  Adulthood called.  A future beckoned, one of dreams and promise with the Jersey Shore and Boardwalk always nearby.

No notice was given the navy recruiter sweating on the beach in a snappy uniform.  Where was his bathing suit? Who needed foreign adventure with The Shore at hand? He was not of my world.  Mine was emerging rock 'n roll.  His was constrained big band.  The gulf between couldn't be wider.

Fast forward to Baton Rouge years later.  I arrived by chance, stayed by choice.  Dreams fade.  New ones appear.  A Boardwalk adolescence is not a Baton Rouge maturity.  A sunrise there is not the sunset here.  The fire of one is not that of the other though both shed light and are players on the same team in the game with the timeclock running.

My respective worlds have imitative features of each other.  The seeds of one can sprout in the other.  Elements from one time and place are transferable in resembling ways.  A rose by another name smells just as sweet.  Even mimics can claim authencity.

A "grinder" or "submarine" sandwich has all the earmarks of a muffaletto or poboy.  New Jerseyite Bruce Springsteen and "Fats" Domino have much in common.  A clambake is a modified crawfish boil and fried scallops have keen competition from southern fried chicken.  And are French Quarter enticements not exaggerations with those on the Boardwalk? Even blizzards have a hurricane counterpart and Asbury Park and Seaside Heights are barely substitutes for Gulf Shores/Orange Beach and Destin.  Clams struggle to match oysters in ways weak coffee compares to Community Coffee, or years back when a Jax beer happily took on a Ballentine.

And don't overlook the downtown Baton Rouge levee.  With a stretch of the imagination are there not hints of the Boardwalk? Perhaps a poor man's version, but where's a USS Kidd or the nation's tallest state capitol along the Boardwalk?

So am I a "turncoat" who sold out by not being by Governor Christie's side? Have Boardwalk dreams fallen before Southern charms? Is my nostalgia tinged by sugar-coated longings for a lost youth.  Maybe.  But divided loyalities are not mutually exclusive.  I can have dual "citizenship."  I can still eat my "grinder" in Baton Rouge.

Home is where the heart is.  Home is also where the heart has been.  Certain times and places live on and from which there is no escape.  They are or become as loved ones.  In such a way was I at the ribbon-cutting ceremony.  I thank Governor Christie for bringing me home.  He might just as well have cut such a ribbon in Baton Rouge.  Either way I'd be homeward bound.


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