This is a memoir of my dad’s life, from the time he was a teenager growing up during WWII through his thirty plus years in the military, including his time in Viet Nam.
“I was six when my mother died. She died in childbirth. My father sent Brian to Salem–to live with my aunts. He couldn’t take care of a newborn himself. And my older brother Tammy went to Salem too. I stayed in Gardner with my father. That was 1934. It was five years before we-–my brothers, my father, and I–were all reunited. But not long after that, the next year, in fact, Tammy went off to West Point. And then the war started and my father’s unit was activated. He was gone four years . . . he left me with Louie and Ella. They were friends of his, but I didn’t know them at all. They were nice people, but it was not the same as being with my family . . . and then the year after my father came back, I was off to West Point . . .
“I remember going to my brother’s graduation at West Point . . . it was on D-day. I mean the day itself, 1944 . . . They graduated you in three years during the war, and then they sent you off to fight. As the war drug on, they really needed bodies. My brother stayed in Germany after the war ended. They had a points system, and he’d gone over real late, so he didn’t have many points. I didn’t see him much after that. We were always stationed on opposite sides of the world. Then he died in a helicopter crash in ‘67.
“My grandmother moved in with my father and I after my mother died. She was a good woman, but I remember she and my father used to fight. I remember praying for them to stop fighting. I think my father just didn’t know what to do after my mother died . . .
“An odd thing I remember about my father was that he wanted us to call him by his first name, Tom. I didn’t like doing it, but we all did. My older brother was Tom also, but we called him Tammy instead . . .
“Things were so much different back then . . . Growing up today, you just can’t imagine what it was like . . . Everyday things we did would seem so foreign today. I remember the ice man. He’d come around every day. He’d get ice from the reservoir at the edge of town; it was Massachusetts, so the lake would freeze in the winter. The ice was always in one-hundred pound blocks. When he made deliveries, he would split a block into four twenty-five pound pieces–just the right size for the icebox. We didn’t have refrigerators back then. They came along a few years later . . . There were no washing machines either. I remember my grandmother using a washboard for clothes . . . Monday was always laundry day. We would hang the laundry on the line. It would freeze during the winter. Although, we did eventually get a washing machine–but no dryer. The laundry still froze on the line. . .
“The milk man would come too–once a week. He would leave bottles on the porch. I remember the milk would freeze too, but the bottles had paper caps, so they wouldn’t break. I remember there’d be that much cream sitting above the lip of the bottle. This was before everything was homogenized. My Grandmother would pour off the cream, and use it for coffee. Sometimes we would leave the cream, but then you’d have to stir the milk before drinking it.
“There were several different ethnic groups in Gardner . . . I remember we had a Polish church in town. We went to an Irish Catholic church, but I remember going to the Polish church once. The whole service was in Polish, except when they passed the plate . . . then they asked for money in Polish and English. I remember the IRA used to collect money outside our church. Can you imagine that? They were much more respectable in those days . . .
“Things may have been hard–we were still in the depression and I certainly didn’t have what you would call a normal childhood, but it didn’t seem so bad at the time. It really wasn’t the worst time to grow up . . . I remember going to the movies almost every weekend. That was the thing to do . . . One thing they always did back then was have a serial movie before the Saturday matinee. Each episode wasn’t long; it would last about five or ten minutes and would end with someone literally falling off a cliff. You’d have to come back the next week to see what happened . . . And when you went the next week, the hero was somehow miraculously saved in between the two episodes, only to get into some other scrape again . . .
“I remember one time going to the movies on St. Patrick’s day. It was during Lent and the nuns had told us we couldn’t go; they told us we had to give up movies for Lent. Well, I really wanted to see The Fighting 69th with Jimmy Cagney, and since it was St. Patrick’s Day and it was Jimmy Cagney, my grandmother thought it was all right to make an exception . . .
“When we went back to school on Monday, the nuns asked if anyone had gone to the movies over the weekend. They asked us the same thing every Monday. I raised my hand–my grandmother had said it was okay, so I didn’t think I’d done anything wrong. Boy was I mistaken! Unfortunately, none of the nuns were Irish. They didn’t understand about Jimmy Cagney and the Fighting 69th . . .
“Once I got a little bit older, we would sometimes go to a ball game. Now that was a real treat. This was before the war, of course. My buddies and I would take a train to Boston to see the Red Sox . . . at Fenway Park. Boston had two teams back then, the Red Sox and the Braves. But we didn’t see the Braves very often; it was usually the Red Sox. Before the game, we might go to a movie, sometimes we went to the burlesque show . . . You know, the showgirls . . . They weren’t quite as risque as they are today, but then, they didn’t leave much on either . . .
“We used to get box seats for the ball games. They weren’t as expensive as they are today. The Red Sox had a lot of big names back then . . . Lefty Grove . . . Johnny Pesky . . . Rick Ferrell . . . Ted Williams. I remember Williams was a nasty son-of-a-gun. The Boston crowds were rough on him for some reason. They might get all over him after a pop-up, and he’d just give ’em the finger.
“I remember seeing them play the Yankees several times. They had a lot of big names, of course. Joe Dimaggio . . . Dimaggio was a strange one. I remember one time, bottom of the ninth, guys on base, a chance to win the game, and Dimaggio struck out. He didn’t get mad . . . showed no emotion at all. Put down his bat and sat down. Didn’t ever say anything to any of his teammates; there was no expression on his face. I thought that was a little odd . . . and I remember Mickey Mantle as well. . . he could have been twice as good as he was–and he was very good, but he was always out carousing . . .
“But in the end, the Red Sox could never win. The Yankees always beat them out in the end . . . At least some things never change.”
Next: Chapter 1: Hired Killer