Local Matters

Recent comments

Community Sponsors

David Reilly's blog

January 9, 2023 - 8:00am
posted by David Reilly in batavia, news.


Fifty or sixty years ago, in small cities like Batavia, barbershops were one of the hubs of the community. Every man and boy (unless their wife, mom or aunt was a hairdresser) generally went to the barber at least once a month and sometimes more often. But the barbershop was more than a business. It was a gathering place for the males of the community, just as the hairdresser was for the females.

The barber was often, in addition to a haircutter, a person to tell your troubles to if you'd rather not use a bartender. Men gathered in the shop would talk politics, (especially the local kind), sports, or fishing and hunting. Today you will be more likely to witness that in a diner or coffee shop where groups of usually older retired gentlemen will sit around a table with their cup of joe complaining about “ how the world has gone to hell in a handbasket.” In his later years, my dad and his cronies called it the “ coffee klatch,” and their main forum was Sport Of Kings Restaurant.

img_0761.jpg img_0757.jpg
Dave at age 7, Brylcream style and, Dave age 11, Butch wax style.  

If you were a kid in the 1950s, there were really only 2 choices of haircut you could have – the regular trimmed on the sides and combed neatly on the top kind or a crew cut (today called a buzz cut). There were no mohawks, mullets, or, god forbid, long hair. I had both at various times, and each required a different kind of care.

For the regular cut, you'd add some Brylcream ( “A Little Dab'll Do Ya”) to keep your hair in place. Many crewcuts like mine would leave some raised hair in the very front. That's where “Butch Wax” was utilized. You would add the gooey wax to the front and then comb it upward. In the winter, if you walked to school, the wax might freeze, so you looked like you had brown, red, or blonde chia grass on the front of your head. Then when it melted, it smelled like bubble gum as it oozed down your forehead.

When you got to be a teenager, a third possibility became available, but only if you wanted to be considered a “hood” or “greaser” or Elvis wannabe. This was the ducktail or D.A. (duck's “rear end”). The type of guy who had this hairdo might be seen with a leather jacket, white T-shirt with a rolled-up sleeve bulging a pack of Lucky Strike smokes and, if he was way cool, driving a '57 Chevy.

We Reilly kids went to Mr. (Warren) Parker to get our haircuts. He was located upstairs at 114 Main St. near The Dagwood Restaurant. There were closer barbers to where we lived, but I think we went there because our dad did. I remember that when we were little, he had a booster seat to put in his chair to raise us up high enough (I'd guess all barbers had something similar). As we got a little older, the main attraction was his supply of comic books. I recall that he kept them in a drawer, and you had to ask for them -- probably to prevent their disappearance.

I was never a fan of the Action Comics “superhero” genre. I was more of a Donald Duck/Scrooge McDuck, Popeye, Bugs Bunny kind of kid. Since this was recently post-World War II, my favorites were “ army” comics, of which I had a huge collection at home. Like some other things I “lost” over the years, I wish I would have kept them as they would be worth some decent money today.

I'm pretty sure Mr. Parker, like most barbers back then, had another drawer for certain of their men customers, which contained “Playboy” and other risque adult magazines of that type. That collection was off-limits to kids, though.

As proof of the importance of the local barbershops of that time, Batavia in 1960 had a population of about 18,000 people. At any given time there were probably about 20 to 25 shops in town. Some operated solo, while others had 2 or 3 chairs, “no waiting,” they advertised.

Haircut prices at that time were usually in the $1.50 to $2.00 range, with an extra charge for a shave. My brother tells a story that when he was about 10, he sneaked into a barber who was cheaper because he wanted the extra money for something. But the barber buzzed him with a crew cut that my mom didn't want him to get. So, he got in trouble besides being scalped.

My barber Warren Parker's brother John (called “Shorty”) had a shop on West Main Street near the corner of North Lyon next to Ann's Paints.


The 3 Meleca brothers, Carl, Tony, and Benny, had a shop also on West Main between Walnut Street and The Holland Land Office Museum. This was an iconic section that backed up to the Tonawanda Creek and also contained Sloat's Tires (where they changed your tires right in the street), Grentzinger's Hardware, and Vi's Restaurant. Customers reported that the Meleca brothers would fish in the creek out of their back window. Carl later moved his shop to the corner of Main and Oak and also owned a bar called The Drinkery there. He worked in his shop until he was 89.

Ben Meleca was hired as a chemistry teacher at Notre Dame High. He was my teacher the second time I took the subject (I was more of a language/history student than math and science. I actually had to take geometry three times! Good thing I taught elementary school my whole career). Ben went on to become a professor at Ohio State University.


Carl Meleca


Another popular barber, Ray Fisher or “Stub,” was on East Main by Pontillo's Pizza. He was an avid fly fisher and used to tie his own flies right in the shop between customers.

Also on East Main was Tom Varco, who in addition to cutting hair, apparently had quite a repertoire of off-color jokes for the men.

On the North side of Main Street, up above Thomas and Dwyer Shoes, was Tony Mancuso. He also had a shop by the bus station.`

Bill Cecere was another north side of Main Street guy. Kids loved going to him because he'd give out a pack of Juicy Fruit gum with every haircut. He also stocked Mad magazines for your reading enjoyment.

Over on Oak Street was Charlie Puccio and Louie Fanara was on Ellicott Street by the Pok-A-Dot Restaurant (still there today) and across from Ange's Italian Restaurant.

Jack Burling was on State Street and later on East Main by The Miss Batavia Diner (also still there). Reportedly he was cutting hair into his 90s.

Joe Deni was on Ross Street by the Richmond Library. Kids would go get books and then get their hair cut or vice versa.

Chuck Wood had a shop on the corner of Bank Street and Washington Avenue above a TV repair store (those don't exist anymore). Dads could drop off the television for some new tubes and then get a haircut.

So, if the barbershops were so useful, popular, and necessary, why are there so few remaining, not just in Batavia but everywhere? Well, you could blame it on The Beatles, for one. In the early 1960s, when The Fab Four took the world by storm with their longish Beatle Cut hairdos, many boys (to the dismay of their parents) jumped on the long hair bandwagon. Then when the “Hippie” culture spread out from San Francisco, and long hair became synonymous with the Vietnam War protests, it was the beginning of a decline for the barbers.

As we progressed into the 1970s and the rise of “Disco,” it was no longer considered a stigma for men and boys to get their hair cut by a “stylist,” particularly female ones.

Today rather than the old-fashioned barbershops, there are “Hair Zoos,” “Super Cuts,” “Sport Clips,” “Fantastic Sams,” and many other similar franchises literally on every corner or in every mall where men or women can get their hair needs taken care of.

There are still a few barbers in Batavia, such as Canzoneri's and Royals on Ellicott Street and My Cut on East Main. All are throwbacks to days gone by. They will not disappear like Photomat, Blockbuster, or Borders Books because men will always need their hair cut. But, it doesn't seem that in today's fast-paced world where people are always in a rush that, the barbershop will ever regain its place as a de facto clubhouse for the men and boys of the town. That might be the unkindest cut of all to barbers.

Author's note: Thank you to all who responded to my inquiry on Memories Of Batavia and provided me with recollections of Batavia barbers which made some of this story possible. I apologize for some that I omitted.

Photos provided by David Reilly. Top photo: Louis Fanara cutting hair in his shop by The Pok-A-Dot.

July 31, 2022 - 3:30pm
posted by David Reilly in music, memories, batavia, notify.

Listen To The Music (What the people need is a way to make them smile ... The Doobie Brothers)

Throughout my life music has been both a source of joy and a cause for regret. On thr positive side, I listen to or watch music every single day. It is one of the things I absolutely have to have in my life and I find it hard to imagine being without it. Going to see and hear live music is something I do all of the time, and I really missed it through the two years of the pandemic.

However, I constantly regret not ever learning to play an instrument and reading music. Like a lot of other things I didn’t do in my life, it was a result of shyness and insecurity mixed in with the lack of available resources. In elementary school (St. Mary’s) and high school (Notre Dame) we had no instrumental music instruction at all.

My brother Dan was a member of St. Joseph’s Drum Corps, and I was too shy to join. As an example of my reticence, when I was 9 or 10 my mother signed me up for swimming lessons at Godfrey’s Pond. When the time came to go, I hid in the closet, and she had to threaten to call the priest to get me out of there. Of course, once she got me there, I was fine and loved swimming.

When I think about being a little kid, I really don’t recall much about music then. I was more interested in sports: I can remember a football game I watched on TV in 1954 when I was 7. My parents, like everyone from the World War II era, loved Big Band music, so I probably heard some of that on the radio. My Aunts Kate and Peg wouldn’t miss “The Lawrence Welk Show” every Saturday night, but a kid wouldn’t admit to their friends that they watched that. Every weekday morning my mom had on the “Clint Buehlman Show” (“yours truly Buehly”) on WBEN Buffalo while we ate breakfast and got ready for school. But he was an avowed rock and roll hater and wouldn’t play any of that “noise.”

Vinyl Countdown

Eventually, I did start listening to some of the DJs, and I distinctly remember the first two records I ever bought. The first was “Singing The Blues” by Guy Mitchell in 1956, and then “Come Go With Me” by the Dell Vikings in 1957. I think they might have been 78 RPM records, but I’m not positive. The former was kind of country-ish and the latter was “Doo-Wop,” so I think my mom didn’t complain too much when I played them on our very basic record player.


A Christmas present which really made a big impression in my music life was a little red transistor radio with an earphone I got when I was 12 or 13. Up until then I had to share the family radio with my parents. The transistor meant I could listen to whatever I wanted, whenever I wanted. And I could plug the earphone in and only I could hear what was being played.

At that time in the early '60s, WKBW 1520 on the AM dial from Buffalo was getting a reputation as a powerhouse of rock and roll broadcasting. DJs Tommy Shannon, Joey Reynolds, and Danny Neaverth were all “spinning the hits” for a wide audience, which definitely included me.

Tommy Shannon was one of the early cool DJ's who drove a Corvette and reputedly dated Ann Margaret. He wrote his own theme song which I'd bet many people could still sing today: “Top tunes ... news and weather. So glad we could ... get together. On the ... Tom Shannon show.” The group Rockin' Rebels did an instrumental version that became a top 10 hit in 1961.

Joey Reynolds (real name Joey Pinto), in between playing songs, was an early predecessor to “shock jocks” like Howard Stern. He would break records he didn't like, argue with callers, and just generally adopted an over-the-top persona. When he eventually got fired, he nailed his shoes to the station manager's door with a note that said, “Fill these!”

Danny Neaverth was a home town Buffalo boy who was on WKBW for 25 years. He made appearances at local schools including one time at a Notre Dame dance that I attended. At one point he asked for a volunteer to come up on stage, and I was too shy, but my “friends “ volunteered me by carrying me to the stage and dumping me up there. I don't recall what I had to do, but I'm sure my blushing face was as scarlet as a fire truck. Neaverth was also the public address announcer for the Buffalo Bills football and Braves basketball teams.

Regardless of their radio personalities, it was mostly these three DJ's who introduced me to Dion and The Belmonts, the Shirelles, the Beach Boys, and eventually to the English explosion of the Beatles, Dave Clark 5 and the Rolling Stones.


(L to R) Joey Reynolds, Tommy Shannon, and Danny Neaverth of WKBW 1520

Television Tunes

As far as seeing bands, the best place to do that was on “The Ed Sullivan Show” on TV. Of course, there was the infamous Elvis Presley swivel-hipped debut in 1956. Buddy Holly, The Four Seasons, and The Beach Boys all had appearances leading up to the debut of the Beatles in February 1964. I had just turned 17 and was in my senior year at Notre Dame, and I was watching with millions of others. My biggest memory of the show was an audience of screaming teenage girls who seemed to be having, in the words of “The Count Five” song a couple years later, “a psychotic reaction.” (As a side note, that crowd craziness was what caused the Beatles to give up playing live.)

There was also “American Bandstand” with Dick Clark. I think more girls watched that for the dancing. Plus, the songs were lip synced, not live. A funny part to me was when they'd choose a boy and a girl from the audience to rate a record. Practically every time one would say, “Dick, I'll give it a 10 because it's got a good beat to dance to.”

Then, in college years, there were two shows called “Shindig” and “Hullabaloo.” They had on all the famous bands (plus go-go dancers). Back then in college, no one had a TV in their dorm room; there was one in the lounge, but hardly anyone ever watched it except for when those shows came on. Then the room was packed.

Going Live

As far as actually seeing live music in person, we were pretty much limited to local teenage bands like Batavia High's Cryin' Strings in the basement of St. Mary's Church, or at school dances, due to not being old enough to drive. I have a friend I met in college who went to Toronto in 1964 and 1965 when she was in high school to see the Beatles, but that was way out of my league. She probably still suffers vocal chord problems from it.

In June 1964, though, a rock and roll show actually came to Batavia at the Mancuso Theater, and I wasn't going to miss that. I don't remember who I went with, but I'm hoping it was a girl. I did have a sort of girlfriend my senior year, but since I didn't have a driver's license or a car, I was lucky she tolerated me.

The headliners were The Searchers from England. Part of the “British Invasion,” they had a couple of hits with “Needles and Pins” and “Love Potion #9.” I remember thinking at the time, “Wow. A real English band in Batavia.” In doing some research for this story I heard from a woman (a young teenage girl then, of course) who said that she and some of her friends talked their way onto the tour bus and she kissed the drummer. There's a memory to last a lifetime! I bet she wishes “selfies” was a thing then.

Other bands on the bill were Ronnie Dio and The Prophets. I don't remember them, but years later he became the guitarist for Black Sabbath, The Dovells (a choreographed dancing boy band who had a hit with “Bristol Stomp”), and Dick and Dee Dee who sang “River Deep, Mountain High.” I was surprised to find out Dick had the high falsetto voice. There were two shows and five bands, so some of the groups must have done only two or three songs. It was emceed by Danny Neaverth, who seemed to be everywhere back then. I wouldn't put it anywhere in the top shows I've seen, but it's memorable for being the first.


The event that really turned things around for my music experience was going to college. In September 1964, I was off to St. John Fisher College (now University) in Rochester. Between the guys in the dorm and the girls at Nazareth just down the road, I became exposed to a lot of different tastes and genres. Eventually, between the two schools and being in Rochester, I got to see a lot of bands and groups. Nazareth had an especially nice theater which hosted some great shows.

When I came back home for the summer, Batavia really didn't have any national touring band venues, but about 15 miles north on Route 98 in Albion there was the Oak Orchard Lanes. For most of the week it was a bowling alley, and on weekends they covered the lanes with plywood and set up a stage and sound system. I didn't have a car yet, so I had to ride with friends who drove way too fast. Closing my eyes and gritting my teeth all the way there and back, I always thought it was worth it to see good bands.

Some of the groups I remember seeing there were The Association (“Cherish” and “Windy”), Shadows Of The Knight (“Gloria”), Los Bravos (“Black Is Black”) and the Swinging Medallions (there's a '60s name for you) which had a hit with “Double Shot Of My Baby's Love.”

There was a band from Toronto called The Mandala and dressed in gangster-styled suits and used strobe lights which I had never seen before. They had a minor U.S. hit with “ Love–itis.” All in all, no really long-lasting famous bands, but it was something to do and some pretty decent music. When I was researching this part of my story, a lady named Gail who used to frequent “The Lanes” back then had been there recently and took some photos that she shared.


Photo courtesy of Gail Williams

Burn Baby Burn

Another summer college destination was The Inferno, a big venue in Williamsville east of Buffalo. The main draw for going there was the weekly appearance of Wilmer Alexander and the Dukes. Wilmer was a black R&B singer from Geneva, fronting an all-white band. Immensely popular in the Western NY area, The Dukes drew sellout audiences wherever they played, with their signature crowd pleaser being a cover of The Four Tops’ “Reach Out.”

I also recall seeing Junior Walker and the All Stars there doing “Shotgun” and “Road Runner.” The night I saw the Paul Butterfield Blues Band, I was standing in the back watching an opening act, and glanced to my side and Butterfield was standing next to me in all of his black-leather-jacketed glory. What did I say to him? Well, it was me, so I just stood there pretending I didn't see him until he walked away. Again, an iPhone 13 would have come in handy.

Ironically, I was kind of a soul music/R&B fan at that point in the summer of 1967, and it was at that venue where soul was king that I had an experience that changed my whole musical taste. In addition to the main room at the Inferno, there was a another glass-enclosed smaller room which featured a second act. One night I didn't care for who was playing in the big room and decided to check out a band called Salvation Navy. I don't know who they were or where they were from, but the music they were playing blew me away.

That May the Beatles had released “Sgt. Pepper's Lonely Hearts Club Band.” I was somewhat of a Beatles fan (who wasn't?), but hadn't seriously listened to that album yet. Well, the Salvation Navy, whoever they were, played that album note for note and chord for chord, and I don't see how the Beatles could have played it live any better themselves. I was entranced, and from then on my head went in a whole different direction in my musical taste.

Unfortunately in September 1968, The Inferno lived up to its name and burned to the ground, ending its several year reign as a go-to music venue.


A local Batavia spot I should mention — although most went there for the girls and drinking rather than the music — was Columbo's Clinton Lounge on Clinton Street Road. It was definitely misnamed, because you wouldn't go there to actually “lounge” or even drink out of a glass. But on Saturday nights, they regularly had a band from Rochester called King Arthur And The Knights. My clearest memory of them is the cover they did of The Four Seasons' “Can't Take My Eyes Off Of You,” which was great for some serious slow dancing with a certain girl.

In my final couple of years of college, and with getting a car, I really began to see a lot of big time bands, both in Rochester and elsewhere. After graduation I kept up my love of going to live music all through the '70s until the '80s when I had children. There were few shows in the next 20 years, but most of my time was taken up with child- centered activities, particularly softball.

When the kids got old enough to “fly from the nest,” and especially when I retired from a 33-year teaching career, I resumed going to concerts in earnest. I certainly don't pay $3-$5 for a ticket any more, like in the old days, but it's worth it to me to be entertained. It's also different than attending sporting events, because you don't leave sad if your team loses.

In recent years I have also become a poster and ticket collector of concerts that I have attended, and my apartment looks like a mini rock and roll hall of fame. It's fun to look back all those years ago and remember how my love of music started and developed, and grew into something that gives me so much happiness today.

I just keep asking myself one question though: why couldn't my mother have broken out the priest threat to get me to take music lessons instead of swimming?

January 16, 2022 - 4:08pm
posted by David Reilly in chuck berry, music, arts, entertainment, news.


Everyone who attended college, especially those who went away to school, has at least a couple of good stories. You know, stories that you told your parents years later prefaced with, “It's a good thing you didn't know this back then but...”. Or stories that you told your kids once they were grown to prove that you were cooler or crazier than they thought you were.

One of my stories(I don't have that many) involves a weekend my senior year at St. John Fisher College in Rochester when I met some famous musicians. Unfortunately for me , even though in retrospect they were funny, my interactions proved that I was definitely not cool.

Blues Bonanza
In the spring of my junior year, some friends of mine produced what is still probably the best “Blues” show ever in Rochester. Held at the Nazareth College Auditorium it included the legendary Son House, the iconic Muddy Waters Blues Band, The Electric Flag with Mike Bloomfield and Buddy Miles, the Paul Butterfield Blues Band with Elvin Bishop and David Sanborn, and the Junior Wells Blues Band.

My friendship enabled me to score front row tickets to each of the 2 nights, but I was not involved in any of the production. It was such a great event though that 50 years later 3 of us who were there in 1968 went back to Nazareth on the anniversary to reminisce.

The following autumn the same friends had another big show at Nazareth planned and this time I wanted to be a part of putting it on. I was assigned to “Publicity”. This boiled down to me going around the downtown Rochester area and asking bar owners to put a poster in their windows. Not exactly exciting but a job that had to be done.

Grunt work I guess you'd call it.

As a reward for doing that and probably because I was one of the only ones with a car, my next task was to pick up 2 of the musicians at the airport for the first night's show.

All That Jazz
The group that night was a well-known jazz ensemble -- The Charles Lloyd Quartet. It consisted of leader Charles Lloyd on saxophone, Jack DeJohnette on drums, Ron McClure on bass, and Keith Jarrett on piano.

I knew little or nothing about jazz music then, but over the years I learned that these were some of the biggest names in that genre. Fortunately, now in their 70s and 80s, they are all still playing.

So, on Friday afternoon off to the Monroe County Airport, I went in my cranberry 1961 Chevy Biscayne to transport Ron and Keith to Nazareth for the soundcheck. I felt a little nervous, but not really having any idea of their stature in the jazz world, not too much.

I don't know if they were expecting a limo or some better kind of vehicle, but if so they were kind enough not to say so. We put McClure's upright bass in my trunk and off we went.

Apparently, I was more nervous than I had thought though. On the way there it had been raining. But , as I drove the two musicians the sun had come out. I was trying to make conversation when one of them said, “Hey could you turn off your windshield wipers? It's kind of annoying.” I hadn't even noticed they were on and hoped they didn't notice how beet red my face had turned.

Everybody Hasn't Heard About The Bird
Then at some point during the trip, I don't recall how it came up, but I mentioned the phrase, “...gave him the bird”, the colloquialism for the 1 finger salute given to people you are mad at. Except, neither Keith nor Ron had ever heard it called that. They said, "Gave him the what?” I could almost feel them exchanging odd glances at each other behind my back. But, at least it made for an interesting discussion the rest of the way. Hey, maybe I taught them something.

The concert that night was stellar and I felt good about broadening my horizons to a kind of music with which I had not been familiar . My date was a young lady from Batavia (who I have not seen for 50 years) and I probably tried to impress her by pointing out the two musicians on stage who had been in my car that afternoon. I left out the windshield wiper incident though.

If He Walks Like A Duck
The next night's headliner was the “Father of Rock and Roll” Mr. Chuck Berry. I would have been ecstatic to drive him from the airport, but Chuck had a very unique way of going on the road to perform.

The promoter would pay for his plane ticket and Berry would fly into town by himself bringing only his guitar. He would rent a car at the promoter's expense and drive himself to his hotel and the venue. No tour bus or big production with a trailer and “roadies” for him.

According to his contract, the promoter would be responsible for hiring a capable local band with bass, drummer, and rhythm guitarist to back him up. Chuck would show up for a soundcheck and rehearsal before the show and that was it.

I was fortunate to be able to attend the warm-up at Nazareth that afternoon and it was an experience to see Berry put the band through its paces. It was fairly easy actually. He would say, “ Key of G, 1,2,3 and away we go...”. But he had specific cues to guide them like when he stomped his foot they would pause and when he stomped it again they'd start back up. He had them go through some of his basic songs like Johnny B. Goode or Reelin' And A Rockin', corrected them on a few things, seemed satisfied, and let them go with, “See ya tonight”.

They must have been a very capable band because Berry was known to be somewhat difficult with his backups at times, including some famous musicians. There is a 1988 documentary about him titled “Hail! Hail! Rock And Roll!” which shows how hard he could be to work with specifically with Keith Richards of the Rolling Stones.

Before that night's show, a friend and I inhaled a substance that was illegal back then but mostly legal now. It was the first time for me (it never became that big of a deal for me going forward) and let's just say that we were in a “jovial state of mind” for the festivities.

Chuck put on a very entertaining show going through many of his hits and showing why just about every rock guitarist who came after him borrowed his licks and paid him homage by their imitation. He did his patented duck walk move a number of times and had the crowd right in the palm of his talented hand.

Nuns Night Out
Being in a “jovial state of mind” really added to one song that Berry did. He did a humorous double entendre tune called “My Ding A Ling” ( Google the lyrics) which involves an audience sing-along with different parts for the men and ladies.

As this concert was held at the Catholic Nazareth College, a number of the nuns who lived on campus must have decided to have a night out for themselves and attend. There were a bunch of them all sitting together in one row and good sports all they sang along with everyone else.

Well, it was funny enough to see a row of nuns singing, “ I wanna play with my ding a ling'', but our “jovial state of mind” put us over the edge into side-splitting laughter.

After the concert, there was the usual “after show” party. Ours wasn't held in a ritzy club though. It took place in the apartment of some of the students who had worked on the show. It was located above a bar on Monroe Avenue in Rochester known as the Cobbs Hill Grill. Today it's still operating as Jeremiah's, known for their chicken wings which weren't even invented back then.

Party Like It's Almost 1969
So, college student apartment 1968 style: probably minimum furniture of the used variety. A bookshelf made from concrete blocks and boards may be holding Kurt Vonnegut novels, Kahlil Gibran's The Prophet, a book of Lawrence Ferlinghetti poetry, and so on. Hanging beads separate one room from another. Possibly a big wooden spool from a utility company that had once held wire now used a table. On the table would be a Chianti bottle used as a candle holder coated with melted wax and a couple of overflowing ashtrays. A stereo system with good-sized speakers and some Bob Dylan vinyl spinning on the turntable.

People came in from the show in twos and threes. Chatting, smoking one thing or another, drinking beer or wine, talking loudly over the music. Someone said they heard Chuck was coming to the party. “Nah. Chuck Berry here? No way man.”

A group of us were hanging out in the kitchen when there was a knock at the door. Someone yelled out, “It's open!” and in walked Chuck Berry. Our mouths dropped open because 1. it was Chuck Berry and 2. he was accompanied by a Nazareth girl who I bet has a way better story to tell than me.

We were all trying very hard to be cool and nonchalant in Chuck's presence. You know like the guy who pretty much-invented the rock and roll guitar wasn't standing right there.

It's Not The Real Thing
Then out of the blue came one of the greatest uncool moments of all time. Chuck asked, “Hey man, anybody got any coke?”

One of the girls replied, “ There might be some in the refrigerator.” And I in my infinite naivete chimed in, “ Or if not , I'm sure they have some downstairs at the bar.”

Chuck looked at us with a look like, as my mom used to say, we all had 3 heads. “Man”, he scoffed. “ You ain't even in the right ballpark.”

“Oh!”, we all realized together. “That coke!” You could almost see us facepalming ourselves in unison. SMH as we would have commented today by texting.

I don't remember exactly, but I don't think Chuck stayed at our party much longer. All these years later I wish I could find that Nazareth girl( now in her 70's if living) and find out where the rest of the night led them.

Now, since “that coke” wasn't really a big well-known deal until the 70's I guess we could be forgiven for our cluelessness. Also, since I had just finished the third of my 4 summers working for Coca-Cola in Batavia, one could see why the kind that came in a bottle would be fixed in my brain. But still... it was embarrassing.

But, on the positive side, it was in reality a good thing we didn't have what Chuck wanted. And over the years I have told that story many times and never failed to get a laugh out of those who heard it.

Chuck passed away a couple of years ago at the age of 90, but he is still one of my favorites and I listen to his songs all the time. When I hear the lyrics to “Reelin' and a Rockin' that says, “Looked at my watch, it was 10:28, I gotta get my kicks before it gets too late”, that night in 1968 flashes in my mind.


October 2, 2021 - 4:34pm
posted by David Reilly in Health Care, batavia, news.


Unless you are over 103 years old and remember the Spanish Flu worldwide outbreak of 1918, then the COVID virus is your first (and hopefully last) pandemic. Enduring all of the shortages, masking, social distancing, quarantining, and isolation for the past year and a half has caused me to think back to when I was a kid growing up in Batavia in the 1950s and 1960s.

What kind of health care did I receive? Who were my providers? What kind of medical problems did I experience? Did we have fears back then like there are now with COVID?

Doctor In The House
My first memory of a doctor is when I had appendicitis at age 5. We lived at 26 Thomas Avenue and our family physician , Doctor Mansueto, lived across the street at number 23. He regularly made house calls after office hours and my mother summoned him to see me.

I had a fever, was vomiting, and had severe lower right side belly pain – the class signs of an infected appendix. But when Dr. Mansueto began examining my abdomen I started giggling like he was tickling me. My mom was exasperated by my reaction until he touched the right spot and I let out a screech so loud that the customers at Olivers Candies probably heard me. It was off to St. Jerome's Hospital for me.

This was in 1952 and a year earlier a major renovation of St. Jerome's had been completed so they were all ready for me. I recall that the anesthesia that was used for my surgery was ether which causes a lot of nausea upon awakening. In between throwing up, all they would give me was ice chips to moisten my mouth. After several days' stay, I got to go home minus my appendix and plus the first of many scars.

Dr. Biagio Mansueto had gotten his degree from the University of Bologna in Italy and then served in the U.S. Army Medical Corps in Europe during WWII. In 1946 he began his medical practice as a family physician in Batavia with an office upstairs at 73 Main Street above what was Critic's Restaurant. He had a 35-year career and helped deliver over 2,000 babies before retiring to California in 1980. He passed away in 1995.

We had many occasions in our family to call on the services of Dr. Mansueto over the years. When I was about 7 or 8, I had a bad case of strep throat and he had me hospitalized for several days at St. Jerome's. Back then your own family doctor would visit the hospital and oversee your care. The only thing I can remember is that I was given some Hydrogen Peroxide to gargle with and for some reason the nurse left me alone to do that. I spilled it in my bed and lay uncomfortably in the wet sheets until someone discovered it.

A Bad Dime Was Had By Me
A more humorous incident that ended up at the doctor's house began in St. Mary's Church. While attending Sunday Mass my mother gave me a dime (talk about inflation) to put in the collection basket. Me being a goofy little boy, the dime ended up stuck in my nostril. After a couple of embarrassing minutes trying to extricate it (resulting in a lot of runny snot), mom dragged me (probably literally) out of there.

She got me in the car and proceeded to Mansueto's across the street from our house. Fortunately, the doctor was home and calmly removed the stuck coin with tweezers. He told my mother and me that he would be required to keep the coin as payment. This became a funny family tale in subsequent years, but I got my ears blistered (as my mom used to say) that day.


College Interruptus
Probably my last interaction with Doctor Mansueto was after my sophomore year of college in 1966. The whole school year I had been feeling off health-wise and had been losing weight. While working a summer job at Coca- Cola on East Main St. I developed a nagging cough. Eventually, the doctor suspected pneumonia and had me admitted to St. Jerome's for tests and observation.

I have 2 memories of that stay. First, one night the dinner that was served was a not very fresh plate of fruit. Nutrition-wise I guess that was okay ( if it didn't look like it had been left out for a couple of days), but not exactly what a 19-year-old would want. I think I had my mom go to Kustas Kandies on Main Street and get me a big cheeseburger.

Secondly, I know people seem older when you are that young, but there was one nurse who looked about 80. She was walking so slowly entering and leaving the room, with tongue only partially in cheek I asked the young man who was my roommate if he thought we should get out of bed and assist her.

As it turned out. I ended up at a specialist in Rochester and had to withdraw from St. John Fisher College to have surgery for a benign (thankfully ) tumor in my lung. That was definitely not a fun experience but did result in my spending an extra year getting a degree and delaying immersion into the real world of adulthood.

Take Your Best Shot
4.jpgOne other very clear memory I have from back then is how frightened my friends, classmates, and I were of polio. Of course, adults including our parents were concerned too. There had been a polio outbreak in 1939 resulting in school closings and some quarantining. Everyone knew someone in the community who had been paralyzed or crippled by it. In fact, the President during the 1930s and 1940s, Franklin D. Roosevelt, was debilitated by polio including needing leg braces and having to use a wheelchair.

But by far the things that scared us the most were the newspaper and magazine photos of kids in “Iron Lungs”. These were the precursors to ventilators and consisted of a large metal tank which the patient was placed into with only their head sticking out. The apparatus helped you to breathe easier and helped the lungs and diaphragm to regain their strength.

Most people only needed the iron lungs for several weeks, but somehow we kids got the impression that if you got polio you'd have to spend your whole life in there.

So, needless to say, when we and our parents learned of Doctor Jonas Salk's vaccine discovery that would keep us from those horrible contraptions we counted the days until we could get our shots. Sound familiar in 2021?

It was in the spring of 1955 when the vaccinations finally came. I was in the fourth grade at St. Mary's School and it was announced that doctors would be going to the schools and be assisted by nurses in doing the inoculations. Dr. Samuel Gerace came to our school and I recall him being very friendly and soft-spoken to make the nervous kids more at ease.

I don't remember which kid it was, but one of the boys was boasting about how easy it was going to be and no one should be a “scaredy-cat”. As he waited in line for his turn, he saw the needle go into a child's arm and fainted, going down like an electric pole in a hurricane. For the rest of the year, he was the one that got needled.

Later on in the 1960s, my younger brother was protected against polio by an oral vaccine developed by Doctor Albert Sabin. Instead of a shot, the medication was placed on a sugar cube and you just had to pop it in your mouth. No more fainting.


You Know The Drill
I would be remiss if I didn't mention my experiences with dental care. Our dentist was Doctor Lawrence Mulcahy whose office was in a big white building on the northeast corner of East Main and Ross Streets. I'm sure that he was a very capable dentist, but I would have rather eaten bugs than endure a session with him. I used to stress for days before my appointment.

I don't recall Doctor Mulcahy giving an injection (what most people call Novacaine but used to be Procaine and is now Lidocaine) to numb my mouth for fillings. Rather, he administered Nitrous Oxide, also known as laughing gas.

This is a chemical that apparently people have fun with at Grateful Dead concerts, but I can assure you that I wasn't doing any laughing in the dental chair. It made me feel a little lightheaded but did practically nothing for the pain. I'm pretty sure I yelled out in agony on several occasions.

I was so traumatized by my dental visits that I did not go to the dentist for many years. Eventually, when I finally did go, I had so many cavities that I had to have them taken care of in stages. Dental care was not as bad in the 1950s as in the Old West days when the barber doubled as the dentist. But, I'm sure happy that my appointments for dental care today are painless and anxiety-free.

A lot of folks who get on board the nostalgia train seem to think that everything was better back then. Admittedly, you were more likely to have a personal relationship with your family physician, especially in a small town and particularly when they sometimes came right to your home. But, advances in scientific discoveries ( for those of us who trust them) and medical technology have enabled us to have a longer and healthier life today.

June 13, 2021 - 8:00am
posted by David Reilly in batavia, nostaglia, history, news.

My life in the teen years growing up in Batavia in the late 1950s and early 1960s was a mix of trying to please my parents and teachers while also attempting to be more independent. Of course, this is true of young teens pretty much anywhere at any time.

My friends and what they thought and did became all-consuming it seemed.

When I was 10 and going into the fifth grade, we moved from the Thomas/Ellicott Avenue area across town to North Spruce Street. After some begging and whining (and maybe some fake crying) my parents agreed to let me continue at St. Mary's School on Woodrow Road, even though it would involve solving some transportation issues.

Most of my friends still lived on the west side of town and at first, I didn't see as much of them except during school.

The exception was Charlie, my partner in shenanigans, whose parents built a big house on East Avenue. Their basement was so big at one time they considered putting a bowling alley down there. They also installed a fountain in their front yard, which featured spraying water that changed colors. Older teens used to park in front and make out until the police shooed them away.

So, Charlie was right down the street and then as we got more toward 12 or 13 years old my friends' and my parents allowed us further range on our bikes and the gang was back together again.

A huge kid advantage to living on North Spruce was having lots more outdoor room to play and horse around. At that time, we were the last house on the northeast side of the street. North Street ended at our corner. All around us were woods, which today is the Narramore and Allanview Drive area.

Charlie vs. Dave

We had a big back yard and Charlie and I would spend hours out there playing whiffle ball. He was the New York Yankees and I was the Milwaukee Braves. We'd designate certain areas for singles, doubles, triples and home runs and we'd play entire nine-inning games, even to the point of writing down lineups and batting orders.

We had some epic games and even a couple fights because Charlie was not a good loser.

In 1957 the Braves won the World Series and I got to lord that over Charlie, for a year at least. Back then the games were in the afternoon and one day, to my immense surprise and everlasting admiration, my mom let me be “sick” and stay home from school to watch the game on TV (in black and white of course)

The Braves moved to Atlanta in the '60s and I've not had a favorite baseball team since.

A number of years ago I started collecting 1957 Milwaukee Braves memorabilia and I now possess all the Topps baseball cards from that team as well as signed baseballs from the four Hall of Famers who played for them that year: Warren Spahn, Hank Aaron, Eddie Mathews, and Red Schoendienst.

Into the Woods

Our house became a popular gathering spot with my friends because what kid doesn't want a woods to mess around in? Especially in the summer, we'd spend a lot of time out there. We'd play chase and someone had built an awesome tree house and we'd actually have “wars” where we threw rocks at each other. My friend Ray got clonked in the head one time and as my mother bandaged him up her comment was, “You guys already have rocks in your head.”

Another nutty thing we'd do is light fires in the dry grass and then put them out just before they got too big. Anything for excitement, I guess. One time though we came home to find fire trucks out there. A kid down the street had started a fire, but it spread too fast and he panicked and ran away. Neighbors spotted the smoke. He got caught of course and his dad may or may not have lit a fire on his behind.

Fort Reilly

Right on the edge of the woods and our property we built a “fort."

Constructed of an old piece of plywood, some 2x4s, and a bunch of old sheets and bedspreads, it was place to hang out and sneak cigarettes.

Most of our parents smoked like chimneys, but it was "Do as I say, not as I do.”

We used to play poker for smokes, but most of the time the cigs we gambled with were ones we pilfered from our parents.

As we got a little older our parents agreed to let us occasionally “sleep out” in the fort. Of course, very little sleeping took place.

I was especially bad about being able to nod off. Usually, what happened was it would start to get light and I'd sneak off to the house and go to bed. My friends would wake up, see I was gone and just get on their bikes and go home. I deservedly took a lot of mocking over that.

A really bad incident that happened out there involved my younger brother Dan. I had already gone into the house (again) and was sound asleep.

Apparently, when the other guys woke up, they decided to start a fire in a pit we had dug. They couldn't get it going so little brother went in the garage to get some gas.

You can predict what happened next: the gas caught fire as he poured it and in trying to jump away, it spread to his face.

I woke up to screaming. I ran to the kitchen along with my parents and there was Dan with his head in the sink splashing cold water on his face.

My father, dressed in his nighttime attire of tank top undershirt and boxers, tried to go get dressed, but my mother literally pushed him out the door to go to the hospital. He was lucky to get his pants on.

Fortunately, although he was in pain for a few weeks and had some nasty looking scabs, Dan recovered fully with little or no scarring.

Our fort was decommissioned by General Mom Reilly and we had to find somewhere else to hide out.

Tanks for the Memories

One of the things we used to do on our overnight “fort” escapades was go wander around the streets.

We weren't really doing anything bad like vandalism, but rather just looking for some excitement. For example, if we saw car headlights coming at 1 in the morning, more than likely it was a police car on patrol. So, we'd dive into the bushes like we had escaped from prison. If it turned out not to be the cops, we were disappointed because it just wasn't as thrilling.

At some point on one of these ventures we ended up on State Street by the National Guard Armory. Sitting there next to the building was a genuine military tank. It was not a World War II leftover like you would see in front of a V.F.W. or American Legion. I'm pretty sure it was a real working tank that they must have used for training purposes.

The unbelievable thing was that they left the tank unsecured.

We would climb up, open the hatch and go inside. We would look through the slit visors and I seem to recall a periscope we would play with. Hopefully, the guns weren't loaded or operational because I don't even want to think how that could have ended.

This was at the height of the “Cold War” so it seems odd that the National Guard wasn't concerned that some “Commies” might take the tank and topple the Upton Monument or something.

Today, there is a fence around the Armory and most likely lots of security cameras to identify any surreptitious anarchist types who might be up to no good. Not to mention goofy teenagers.

What put an end to these early teen hijinks? Three things: summer jobs, getting driving permits, and interest in girls. You can't really leave work at the hot dog stand at 2 a.m. and head over to climb around on an Army tank.

But teenage mistakes kept getting made.

On my very first real date with a girl I took her to see Alfred Hitchcock's “The Birds,” one of the scariest movies ever. I think it was a coincidence, but soon after that she moved out of state.

I guess it's a good thing to grow up and mature (although some never do). But those teen years certainly provided me with some good stories to tell when I got old.

March 25, 2021 - 4:10pm
posted by David Reilly in Vietnam Memorial, Notre Dame, news.

Thanks to the Class of 1964, the three Notre Dame High School graduates who died in the Vietnam War finally got a plaque memorializing them placed in the foyer of the school more than 50 years later.

Fashioned by VP Graphics, the display remembering Donald Judd ('61) , and Daniel Bermingham and Thomas Welker ('64) can now be seen immediately as you go in the main entrance of the school at 73 Union St. in the City of Batavia.

The story of how the memorial came to be evolved over the past several years.

Dave Reilly and Jim Heatherman, who had attended Saint Mary's Elementary School, Notre Dame ('64) and Saint John Fisher College together reconnected after not seeing each other for almost 50 years. Heatherman had become a lieutenant in the Marine Corps and served in Vietnam while Reilly had gone on to a long teaching career.

Over the course of a number of conversations, Heatherman expressed regret that he had survived Vietnam and had gotten to have a large and loving family, but his classmates Bermingham and Welker did not. Reilly, who had been writing nostalgic articles about growing up locally for The Batavian, encouraged Heatherman to express his feelings by writing his own story.

Heatherman's article* appeared in The Batavian in August 2019. It was read with interest by another '64 classmate, Jim Fix. For many years, Fix had led local tour groups on tours of Washington, D.C., for First Choice Travel, which always included a trip to the Vietnam Veterans Memorial. At "the Wall," designed by Maya Ying Lin, Fix would highlight his classmates and include Judd, too, who also was killed in the Southeast Asian war.

A highlight of the group's time at the Wall was when Fix would have the tour members make stenciled grave rubbings of the names of Judd, Bermingham and Welker as keepsakes to remember them by.

So when Heatherman's article appeared the proverbial light went on in Fix's head. His thoughts were that his classmates and Judd had long deserved to be remembered at their high school (There had been a Donald Judd Memorial Trophy that Notre Dame and Le Roy played for in football in the late 1960s and early 1970s.). So, combining the idea of a plaque with the design of the rubbings from the Vietnam Wall, Jim Fix put a plan in motion.

In the meantime, last Memorial Day Reilly carried out a request by Heatherman, who lives in Oklahoma, to place a Marine Flag on Welker's grave in Attica -- even though Welker was a Navy Corpsman, he was caring for Marines as their beloved “Doc” when he was killed -- and a Navy flag on Bermingham's grave in Batavia. He wrote an article detailing this with photos for The Batavian. This further made up Fix's mind to get the plaque project accomplished.

After consulting with Heatherman (who asked only that “Doc” be placed by Welker's name), Fix sent out an email to his 1964 former classmates asking for donations. As you might expect, the response was overwhelming and more than enough funds were raised.

Working with VP Graphics utilizing his grave rubbing stencils and photos and descriptions from the Notre Dame Mater Dei yearbooks, Fix persevered through the COVID-19 roadblocks and completed his “mission,” so to speak, with full cooperation from the current Notre Dame administration.

It took a very long time, but thanks to some hard work and dedication by their schoolmates the three Notre Dame graduates who in the words of Abraham Lincoln,”...gave the last full measure of their devotion,” will now be remembered by those who visit Notre Dame High School.

Photos courtesy of Dave Reilly.

Previously: Memorial Day 2020: Belated thanks to a Seabee and a 'Doc'

Previously: Marine vet wishes he had 'do-over' to get to know two fallen comrades who were Notre Dame schoolmates

Below, Dave Reilly drove to Batavia Tuesday (March 23) to check out the new Vietnam Memorial for fallen members of Notre Dame High School's classes of '61 and '64.

February 28, 2021 - 8:00am
posted by David Reilly in nostalgia, history, batavia, news.

When folks get older and nostalgia sets in, one strong memory is of the pets they had when they were kids. Dogs and cats of course were the favorites, but rabbits, horses and even pigs were popular, too, especially in rural areas like Batavia.

People of a certain age (i.e.: elderly) might recall Richard Nixon's famous career-saving speech about his dog “Checkers.” Elvis Presley had an infamous monkey he called “Scatter” whose shenanigans were renowned among the singer's entourage. Later in the '90s the Clintons' cat “Socks” seemed to get as much media time as Bill and Hillary.

My family only had a few furry housemates as I was growing up.

My dad loved dogs and had a number of them when he was a young man, including a couple giant Saint Bernards. But my mom was reluctant. She had a traumatic memory of a family dog biting someone and being dispatched in a gruesome way so I think that limited our number.

But, I still recall our pets fondly and humorously for their companionship and animal antics.

Stupid is as Stupid Does

Before I turned 10 when we lived on Thomas Avenue we got a male cat. Because he was a dark gray color we named him “Smokey.” That moniker didn't last long though. My mother kept tripping over him as he plopped down wherever it suited him and you'd hear her exasperated cry of, “Move you stupid cat!” So, very quickly he became "Stupid."

Although he was mostly an outdoor cat, which normally doesn't bode well for the feline lifespan, Stupid stayed with us through two years on Ellicott Avenue and then moved to North Spruce Street, too.

He loved living at North Spruce because in the '50s and '60s our house was surrounded by woods. Woods that were full of mice, birds, moles, and were just generally akin to a giant cat grocery store. We would find carcasses of Stupid's dinners on our porches and patio.

As if he didn't have enough free grub at his literal disposal, for some reason my mother also fed him like a king. She'd send me to a grocery store (I think A&P) on the south side of Main Street between Liberty and Center streets to buy him fresh chicken kidneys, which she would then cook for him. Talk about spoiled.

Although mostly an outdoor cat, Stupid didn't care for cold weather and would grace us with his indoor presence in the winter. One time he was outside, but then we heard him crying at the basement door into the kitchen. When we opened the door, out he came.

“Hey, I thought the cat was outdoors,” my mom said. “How in the world did he get in the cellar?”

Upon investigation we found a broken basement window. Stupid had huge seven-toed front paws that looked like snowshoes and the only thing we could figure was that he batted on the window until it broke. We could never prove it, but the window wasn't broken before. How else could it happen?

Eventually, as sometimes happens with outdoor cats, Stupid disappeared. Whether something happened to him or he just took his aging self off to die in peace we never knew. I think at some point I considered making some kind of wooden marker in his memory, but etching R. I. P Stupid seemed... well... stupid.

Hare Today, Gone Tomorrow

When I was middle school to early high school age we briefly had a black and white rabbit. I do not recall where we got him or why.

His name was Herman and I'm unclear on why I called him that. Although I'm almost certain it wasn't for Hermann Göring, the head of the German Luftwaffe (Air Force) during World War II.

Herman's brief time with us was spent in a hutch outside the back door.

My job was to line his pen with straw, feed him, and clean out the bunny manure. His food was some kind of brown pellets, which to be honest looked about the same coming out as they did going in. We also gave him lettuce and other leafy vegetables. It was always a mystery to me how he could seemingly turn a pound of food into two pounds of poop.

Herman came to an inglorious end one winter night from unknown causes. I went to feed him in the morning and he was frozen stiff. I guess if we wrote an obituary, we could've said no bunny compared to him.

(Above, Skippy, Dave and Jim at Godfrey's Pond in the 1970s.)

Shaggy Dog Story

When I was in high school, one day my grandmother stopped by for a visit and she had a box with something covered up inside.

“I brought you a present,” she said with a big smile. When something moved in the box my mother had the opposite of a smile. “Uh oh,” she muttered.

"Skippy" the dog had arrived.

I don't remember specifics, but knowing my mother it must have taken a lot of begging and whining by my two younger brothers to get mom to say we could keep him. Being in high school I was (in my own mind) too cool to get excited about a dog. I had sports and girls to think about.

Skippy was a full-blown mutt. You really couldn't distinguish any breed that he was descended from and it would be fair to say that he wasn't going to be entered in any dog shows. To paraphrase an old saying, he was a dog that only his family could love.

Back in the '60s and '70s there were no leash laws. So Skippy (and just about every dog in Batavia) was free to roam around town. As he got older, and since he wasn't neutered, this resulted in some dicey situations.

As I have mentioned in some of my previous stories, I had two unmarried aunts who lived together in the longtime Reilly family home on Cedar Street. Sometimes when my brothers and I would walk there from North Spruce we'd take the dog along.

Well, I guess he enjoyed Aunt Kate's and Peg's company (or maybe they gave him treats) because we'd sometimes get a call saying he was lying on their porch.

That doesn't sound like a big deal until you realize he had to cross East Avenue, go through the Eastway Plaza parking lot, navigate East Main Street (routes 5 and 33) and go over the Erie Railroad tracks to get there.

My dad would go pick him up in the car and bring him home while we'd wonder how many close calls he had on his adventure.

Another of his favorite destinations was a farm somewhere to the east out off Clinton Street Road. We'd get a call from the irate farmer telling us that Skippy was out there, "…trying to get at his female dog.” Once again dad would have to go fetch him home, but also take scolding from the rightfully upset owner.

After a few of those incidents Skippy the randy canine had to be tied up for his own protection. We did wonder how many of his progeny were spread across Genesee County though.

Because for most of his life he was allowed to run free, Skippy often got into and ate things that weren't exactly approved by The American Kennel Club. This would result in trips to the veterinarian for intestinal disorders.

One time, perhaps to save us money on medication, the vet told mom to, “...give him a clove of garlic and that should clean him out.”

I don't recall if this treatment cured the dog but about two hours later we had to evacuate our house. If they had haz-mat teams back then I'm not sure even their sophisticated breathing apparatus would have been enough to handle the noxious fumes.

But, generally, Skippy was a good dog and after my brother Dan and I left for college and beyond he became dad's closest buddy. When the fateful day came and he had to be put down, my youngest brother Jim says that was one of the few times he ever saw dad cry.

At various times through adulthood I had a number of friendly cats and one beloved dog. But, it's still enjoyable from time to time to think back on those pets we had in our childhood.

Top photo: Dave Reilly in 2014 with his pal Deuce.

Below: James Reilly Sr. in 1939 -- a young man with his best friend.

Photos courtesy of Dave Reilly.

December 27, 2020 - 8:00am
posted by David Reilly in batavia, history, nostalgia, wintertime, news.

Growing up in Batavia in the 1950s provided kids with a lots of opportunities for winter outdoor fun. There were a couple reasons for this: first, there was a lot more snow to play in.

The average temperature in this area has risen almost a degree and a half in the last 50 years and the average low temperature has gone up double that amount. Even though we receive more winter precipitation, a lot of it falls as rain. You can't really build a rainman or have a rainball war.

Secondly, there are a lot more indoor electronic entertainment options now. I'm not gonna go all grumpy old guy (although I sometimes am him) and criticize kids for phones, video games, etc.. It's just a different time.

All Bundled Up

Back then in order to make it through a snowy cold outdoors day, kids had to dress warmly. This involved a lot of bulky clothes and some help from your mother. I have mentioned the movie “A Christmas Story" in my reminiscences before, but if you picture Ralphie's little brother Randy having so many clothes on that his arms wouldn't stay down, that describes us perfectly.

A bittersweet memory for me is that in 1997 my mother had a heart attack. The doctor told us that it was fatal and she only had a short time to live. As I sat trying to comfort her, I asked, “Mom, what's your favorite memory from when we were kids?” She replied, “ I think it has to be you guys (I had two younger brothers) going out to play in the snow.”

Sledding And Skating

Until age 10 I lived on Thomas and Ellicott avenues, so sledding at the State (Street) Park (now known as Centennial Park) was one of our winter activities. It was a pretty short walk there with our wooden Flexible Flyer sleds and we'd stay there all afternoon until our hands were frozen into our mittens.

I recall that over toward the west end of the park hill there was a tree that for some reason had a raised earthen circle around its base. It wasn't that high, but everyone tried to start from it to get a little extra boost in speed.

In 1957 we moved to North Spruce Street and had a lot more yard room to make snow forts and have snowball wars. Also, in the late '50s and through the '60s we got a LOT of snow.

Like most kids then, we did get ice skates for a Christmas present one year. I never did enough skating to be any good at it, but I do remember going to a rink at Williams Park on Pearl Street. One time my friend Charlie's older teenage sister who could drive dropped us off and agreed to be back at a certain time. Well, she was a teenager so she was late. Very late. By the time she got there we were on the verge of crying because our feet were so cold. I think Charlie blistered her ears pretty good as we drove home to thaw out.

On Jan. 15th 1994 I went to the coldest game in Buffalo Bills' history, a playoff game against the (then) Los Angeles Raiders with a wind chill of -32 degrees. My feet did not get as cold as that day skating in Batavia. Mostly because I was prepared with three pairs of socks and felt-lined boots. Also, because a teenage girl didn't go necking with her boyfriend and leave me there.

When we moved to North Spruce we were the last house on the east side of the street. A couple years later someone began constructing a house on the lot to our north.

Something got delayed and the basement walls were poured, but then it was left open and water got in there. We discovered by climbing down a wooden ladder that there was a sheet of ice there when the water froze. So one winter before it was closed in, we'd go down there and play hockey. Well, hockey as played by several kids who really couldn't skate on a rink about 25-yards long.

Snowball Shenanigans

Snowball wars were usually fun unless you caught one in the face. When we lived on North Spruce Street we used to go to East Main Street and bombard semi-trucks. On the north side of Main between North Spruce and Eastown Plaza there was a hill with apartment buildings on top (I'm not sure how long the hill has been gone, but I only noticed it recently). We'd go up there at night and launch our icy missles at the rear part of the trucks as they lumbered by.

While living on Thomas or Ellicott avenues my younger brother Dan and I used to take hikes out State Street Road to the airport and back. In the cold weather Mom would pack us some sandwiches and a thermos of chicken noodle soup to fortify us on our journey.

One time though snowballs got us in trouble. We got the less-than-brilliant idea to throw them at cars on the New York State Thruway from the State Street Bridge. A State Trooper saw us, turned on his flashing lights, pulled over, and came up the embankment after us. We were too terrified to run (we were probably 9 and 6 years old) and appropriately froze to the spot.

The trooper gave us a good chewing out and told us if he caught us endangering drivers like that again he'd put us in his car and take us to our house. He ordered us to be sure to tell our parents what we had done, but I can't remember if we actually did or not. That might have been one of those cases like climbing the water tower when you told them years later -- when there was no chance of punishment.

Getting the Boot

Another memorable winter incident happened on Cedar Street. My aunts Kate and Peg lived by the sand wash (now DeWitt Recreation Area) and one snowy day my brother and I had been playing somewhere past there by either the Peanut or Lehigh Valley railroad tracks.

On the way home I decided to take us on a shortcut by skirting the icy edge of one of the ponds. Suddenly, my boot sank into the snow and water started coming up around it. I was overcome by fear since us kids had heard that those ponds were hundreds of feet deep. I pulled and tugged, but my booted foot was stuck solidly.

Dan started toward me to help, but I yelled at him to get back fearing the extra weight. I yanked my leg one more time and my leg came free but the boot stayed entrenched in the slush.

I scrambled up the bank onto solid ground (under the snow), but momentarily debated in my mind whether to try to get the boot. I had seriously pictured the ice giving way and me sinking underneath so it wasn't much of a choice. I was getting the heck out of there.

I began running as fast as I could with only a wet sock on my foot through the cold and snow to our aunts' with little brother tagging behind.

As I was running, already my devious kid mind, while glad to be alive, was thinking of a way to get out of trouble. We had been warned many times to stay away from those ponds.

Aunt Kate's face turned white as I came bursting through the door possibly crying (although mostly fake I think) and blurting out a story about how I made a mistake and my boot got stuck in some water and I had to run miles (maybe a quarter of a mile) through the snow in my sock and that I'd never go near there in the winter again, and so on.

I don't think I ever saw Aunt Kate wear anything but what she called a “house dress” and she was certainly not an “outdoorsy” person, but she took Dan and went and retrieved my boot. I don't think I ever asked how, but she lectured me at length about going near the water. I don't think she ratted me out to my parents though.

Driveway Duties

At some point in the late '50s, not too long after we moved to North Spruce Street, my dad had to have surgery, so at age 11 or 12 I became responsible for shoveling the driveway. As I mentioned earlier, we got a lot of snow those winters and it was a constant battle for a kid to keep that passage cleaned out.

We had not added a garage onto the house yet, so fortunately for me my mom would park close to the street so I wouldn't have to shovel too far. I remember that she would give me the keys to start the car up and I would take breaks in there. We probably had something like a 1956 Pontiac and I'd listen to The Tommy Shannon show on WKBW radio with The Rebels playing “Wild Weekend."

Drifting Away

In the rear of our ranch-style house on North Spruce Street we had a picture window in the living room. I can recall several winters where my brother and I were sent out to shovel the windblown snow away from it so we could see out. Also, I remember drifts in the front that went up almost to the level of the rain gutters.

I would be remiss if I wrote about memories of snow in Batavia without mentioning the blizzards of 1966 (one of my previous stories was about my adventures during that epic event) and 1977. So many Batavians recall being stranded for days, getting groceries by snowmobile, and cars being buried in the piles of snow until spring.

Judging by the large number of former Batavians who have moved to Florida and other Southern environs, not everyone shares my fondness for winter nostalgia. However, I still enjoy the change of seasons in Upstate New York, but will admit that I wouldn't complain if it only snowed on Christmas Eve and Day (which it rarely does). Nonetheless, sometimes in the winter I'll “drift” off to sleep thinking of my kid days in snowy Batavia, New York.

Top photo: Dave Reilly (left) with brothers Jim and Dan 1960.

Middle two color images: Before and after photos of little Dave when a sled ride went bad.

Bottom two photos: Two views of the back of 122 N. Spruce St., Batavia, circa early 1960s.

Photos courtesy of Dave Reilly.

November 1, 2020 - 8:00am
posted by David Reilly in news, history, batavia, railroads.

From the mid 1800s until the 1960s Batavia could rightfully be called a railroad town. With four different rail lines going through it from Walnut Street, through the Jackson / Ellicott area and across Harvester Avenue and Cedar Street, there was train traffic 24 hours a day.

Many of the local men employed by the railroads were of Irish or Italian descent. So, on a summer day along the line you could probably smell the aroma of boiling potatoes and corned beef (on the rare occasions when it could be afforded) or garlicky marinara sauce made with homegrown tomatoes wafting from open windows.

There are many former or current Batavians of a certain age (meaning old) whose parents or grandparents made their living working for one of the rail lines in some capacity. I think my grandfather was unique in that regard because in his 30-year career he worked in several varied job positions for three different railroads: the Lehigh Valley, Erie, and New York Central.

James D. Reilly was my paternal grandfather. He died in 1931, 16 years before I came along. He was born in 1870 in Mendon to Irish immigrants Patrick and Bridget Costello O'Reilly. Patrick, who was a farm laborer, and Bridget raised six children in a house about the size of today's two-car garage. The term “dirt poor” certainly applied to them -- all the way down to the earthen-floored root cellar of their tiny house.

Rochester Junction

The house was located very close to Rochester Junction, which was a stop and transfer point on the Lehigh Valley Railroad. From there some passengers would switch trains onto a spur, which went to downtown Rochester to a station now occupied by the popular Dinosaur Barbecue Restaurant on Court Street.

As today's patrons gobble down ribs and sauce-slathered brisket they might picture in their mind the chaotic hubbub of travelers in their suits, bowler hats and corseted dresses rushing to and from the steam-emitting trains.

About 1900 James D. Reilly got a job as a laborer working for the Lehigh Valley. By 1905 he had moved to the position of Towerman and worked in the interlocking tower at Rochester Junction. It was the responsibility of the men in the tower to operate the switching equipment to enable trains to change from one track to another.

Every model railroad enthusiast worth his salt (or coal) knows that each rail company had their own distinctive color scheme for their towers. The Lehigh Valley was light and dark gray, the Erie was dark green, and so on.

The Batavia tower shown in the top photo of the track gang at the Jackson and Ellicott Street crossing was eventually bought and moved to Fairport and placed next to the Erie Canal, where it now serves as the office for a canoe rental company. This is somewhat ironic because it was the boom in railroad transportation that sounded the death knell for the canal in the late 1800s.

When James was a towerman, according to the 1905 State Census and the Mendon Town Historian Diane Ham, it is likely that he was living on railroad property in a small “shanty” with his wife, Catherine Nussbaumer Reilly, whom he had married in 1904, and her elderly father George.

By 1910 James was promoted to foreman of a track crew. It was harder work but more pay. Track maintenance was backbreaking work in the blazing heat of summer and even harder in the freezing and snowy winters, but the family needed the money.

By then his father-in-law had passed away and he and my grandmother had two children, George and Margaret. They moved to a rented house still near the railroad but near what is now Clover Street in Mendon.

Moved to Batavia

In 1911 my father James Francis was born and then my aunt Katherine in 1913, both in Mendon. At this point the Reillys (the O had been dropped from their name) with a growing family had need for better housing. You can almost hear my grandmother saying to her husband, “James, I'm sick of living in shacks with all these kids! We need a house!” So, about 1915 the family moved to Batavia. Their final child, Mary, was born there in 1919.

In Batavia, James continued as a track gang foreman, but with the Erie Railroad. At first the family lived in a rented place on Wiard Street off East Main Street between Bank and Summit streets.

But sometime before 1920 he finally was able to purchase his own home at 27 Cedar St. The house wasn't large, but had three bedrooms and two floors, which must have seemed like a mansion to someone who grew up in what was little more than a shack.

The house was directly adjacent to the four tracks of the New York Central Railroad. Chugging and hissing steam engine trains passed by at all hours of the day and night, plus they lived next to a crossing so whistles had to be blown on every approach.

This cacophony of sound might have bothered some people, but the Reillys were used to it and slept like proverbial babies.

Their next-door neighbor was Marty O' Brien, another Irish immigrant and also a railroad employee. Back in those days, crossing gates had to be raised and lowered manually and that was Marty's job, so he just had to walk past Reilly's house to his work shanty by the tracks. Marty played the violin and would bring memories of faraway Ireland with his tunes.

Cedar Street was the ideal place for railroad employees to live because the tracks of four rails -- Erie, New York Central, Peanut and Lehigh Valley -- all bisected that road at some point. But, since three of the railroads crossed Cedar at street level (the Lehigh had a bridge) traffic could be held up interminably -- horse-drawn wagons and later automobiles.

Union Man

James was a loyal union man and paid dues of $3.50 every six months to The United Brotherhood of Maintenance and Way Employes (sic) who were affiliates with the American Federation of Labor (AFL).

This union membership paid off for him when sometime between 1920 and 1925 he sustained a serious leg injury on the job. Apparently, a section of track was inadvertently dropped on his limb causing a severe enough injury so as to make it impossible to continue on the track crew.

However, the union stepped in to make sure their brother and his family would be provided for by arranging a transfer to the New York Central Railroad. In the late 1800s that railroad had built and staffed a nursery in Batavia for the purpose of growing and providing plants and flowers for all the grounds of NYC Stations between Buffalo and Syracuse. 

James was assigned to that nursery to raise and care for the flowers as it was a less strenuous task for a man with a debilitating condition, but one that continued to enable him to earn a salary.

The End of the Line

Unfortunately, my grandfather was stubborn about his medical care, as it seems many men were in that time, and he refused to see a doctor on a regular basis. In 1931 he developed sepsis (blood poisoning) due to continued infection in his leg.

He passed away at the age of 61 in his home on Cedar Street next to railroad tracks that had been a part of his life for 30 years.

It is a fanciful notion, but it gives comfort to think that perhaps as James D. Reilly passed from this life a lonesome whistle blew on a passing train signaling the end of shift for a hard-working railroad man.

Epilogue: Even though James D. Reilly had passed away, the house at 27 Cedar St. remained a part of the Reilly family for almost 60 more years. In 1939 his wife Catherine, my grandmother, also died there.

Their son George, my uncle, married in the early 1940s and purchased a house up the street at 5 Cedar St. He and his wife, Helen, lived there until the 1980s when he passed away.

James' and Catherine's daughters, Catherine and Margaret (my aunts Kate and Peg) never married and lived at 27 Cedar until 1990. Neither of them ever had a driver's license but they both managed to work at the P. W. Minor Shoe Factory on State Street for more than 40 years.

My brothers and I spent many an hour and night at our aunts' house. We could always count on two Christmases, two Easters, and two Halloweens, courtesy of aunts Kate and Peg who fondly (and embarrassingly) called each of us “Honey Boy."

The New York Central was moved farther down Cedar Street in the late 1950s when the tracks became an interference with traffic in the City of Batavia. You could certainly still hear the sounds of the trains, but it no longer seemed that they were barreling right through the living room.

In 1989 Kate died and soon thereafter Peg went to a nursing home. The contents of the longtime Reilly home were disposed of at auction and the house was sold. It was the end of a 75-year era of Reillys at 27 Cedar St. in Batavia. 

Top photo: Track crew at the intersection of the Erie and New York Central railroads in Batavia circa early 1900s, from the Dan Orr Collection courtesy of the Holland Land Office Museum.

Photo below: James D. Reilly, right, his daughter Mary Reilly and an unidentified man sitting outside a railroad crossing guard shanty in Batavia in the early 1920s. Courtesy of Dave Reilly.

Below: Interlocking tower at Rochester Junction in the early 1900s, courtesy of Diane Ham, Town of Mendon historian.

Bottom, postcard of New York Central Railroad Station in Batavia in the early 1900s, courtesy of the Holland Land Office Museum.

September 13, 2020 - 8:00am
posted by David Reilly in news, batavia, history, education, nostalgia, COVID-19, St. Mary's School.

After attending school (elementary, high school and college) for 18 years and teaching school (fifth and sixth grades) for another 33, I have been a part of opening day 51 times. And that doesn't include the overlapping times when my own two children headed back to their educational journeys.

But nothing in all that time is going to compare what the beginning of this school year will be like due to the coronavirus pandemic.

Taking temperatures, wearing masks, social distancing, plexiglass separating panels, lots of sanitizing, and a whole lot more that teachers and students are going to face including some days at school and other days virtually, all because of COVID-19.

I have never regretted being retired, but I am even more happy about it this year and convey my best wishes to all those who will try their best to make the 2020-2021 academic year a productive one.

Back in the 1950s at St. Mary's School in Batavia, we certainly had a less worrisome time when our summer vacation ended. Some preparations had to be made, but nothing approaching what parents and kids have to do now, even before the virus.

Bow Ties and Buster Browns

There was no fretting about what to wear to impress our classmates. We had uniforms, so each kid looked as plain and mundane as every other one. For the girls, it was a light blue blouse with a dark blue skirt, and the boys wore a light blue long or short sleeve shirt with dark blue pants. The pièce de résistance for the boys was a blue clip-on bow tie. If I had a nickel for every one of those I lost I could have bought a lot of Junior Mints.

I'm pretty sure that the school had a deal with Charles Mens' Shop (which is still in business) to stock the uniforms and each year my mom would buy me two shirts and two pairs of pants. Between roughhousing on the way to and from school and outdoors at lunchtime, by June those pants would have been patched more times than a pothole at Ellicott and Main.

When it came to shoes, things were pretty simple. We'd head to Thomas and Dwyer's Downtown and Mr. Dwyer or Skinny Weiss would find a new pair of Buster Brown's in our size. We hated those goofy-looking round-toed things, but Mom was paying so that's what you got. The girls would arrive on day one with new saddle shoes or Mary Janes. I don't think sneakers were allowed.

Lunch Box and Lunchroom

In the '50s we didn't have backpacks, but choosing your lunchbox was a big deal. This was before everything was plastic and they were made from metal and most contained a Thermos.

Howdy Doody ones were a favorite of the younger kids, while the older boys wanted Davy Crockett or The Lone Ranger. By the way, those metal boxes could come in handy if you had to defend yourself from a bully.

During the first couple years of St. Mary's existence we were housed in the basement of adjoining Notre Dame High because the elementary school was still under construction. Once we got in the new building our lunch habits changed because we had a school lunchroom.

Mrs. Isabelle Suranni, who was a chef at various restaurants in the area, prepared the food right on the premises. Unlike most other lunchroom food I encountered over the years St. Mary's was tasty, especially the spaghetti. My mom worked in the kitchen for a couple of years and whenever spaghetti was served she'd bring some home for dinner.

So, that was about it -- uniform, shoes, lunchbox. Maybe a couple pencils and a box of eight crayola crayons. There was no list sent home of all the things the parents needed to buy.

As far as teacher preparations that were made for school's opening, it was certainly a big deal for me when I was teaching. We'd head back to our classrooms a week or two early to get the classroom ready. Desks were arranged, bulletin boards decorated, name tags made, lessons prepared, and so on.

'Convent'-ional Classroom

For seven of my eight elementary school years, my teacher was a nun -- a Sister of the Holy Cross (inset photo below right from the 1950s). I don't know how many of them had formal teacher training but I'd guess not many.

I could be cynical and surmise that the nuns spent their summer sanding and honing their rulers and yardsticks to use on us little delinquents.

But, since most Catholic schools had 40-50 students in a class, more likely they were catching their breath and recuperating from the previous semester.

Maybe they had nun spas where they would go to get refreshed. Probably not.

I don't recall much about bulletin boards or decorations, but with 50 desks there probably wasn't room for any. There were always a bunch of strategically placed statues though. Some saint was always looking over your shoulder when you were about to launch that spitball.

A Long Year Ahead

I can't imagine having more than 30 kids in a class, but it must have given the nuns some preopening day anxiety. Actually, I could identify with that feeling somewhat because my very first teaching job after graduating from college in 1969 was in a Catholic school, Sts. Peter and Paul in Rochester.

I was also similar to the nuns in that I really didn't have much preparation for teaching. I had, quite honestly, taken the job in order to secure a deferment from the military draft. I had only taken a couple education classes at St. John Fisher and never did any student teaching. Essentially, I was winging it.

My very first day I started out by handing out index cards to my sixth-graders and asking them to write down their name, address, phone number, and parents' names. I had a boy in the class who was from Lebanon named Toufik. 

As I circulated around he raised his hand. “Yes, Toufik,” I said. “How can I help you?”

“Mister,” he replied. “How do you make a T?”

“Oh boy,” I thought. “What have I gotten myself into?

First Days

Only two of my St. Mary's opening days stand out in my memory of boyhood, both of which I mentioned in a previous story.

In first grade, school started on a Wednesday, but because I had strep throat, I didn't arrive until the following Monday. I was a shy kid so I was probably terrified to come in on my own.

A boy named Lenny, the briefest of classmates, had the absolute greatest opening day entrance in my 51 years when he showed up with a cigarette hanging out of his mouth and promptly got expelled. There was an ad at the time which said, “I'd walk a mile for a Camel.” Lenny only got to walk about 50 feet before the black-habited arm of a nun whisked him off the premises forever.

On my first opening day after retiring, I took my boat and went fishing. On the first opening day of my longtime girlfriend's retirement, we took a day trip to the pretty little Finger Lakes Town of Skaneatles.

What will we do on the first day of school this year? I'm not sure except that it won't involve little kids. Or nuns.

Photos and images courtesy of Dave Reilly.

July 28, 2020 - 3:27pm

Photo of David Buckel from the nonprofit Lambda Legal.

David Buckel was an environmentalist. He was an LGBTQ advocate. He was an attorney. He started his life in Batavia. He ended it more than two years ago in New York City in an effort to draw attention to the plight of the Earth in a time when it seems so many people are focused on other things.

His death didn’t garner much attention locally, but we remember today him on World Nature Conservation Day.

Most Likely to Succeed

David was a Batavia kid, born here on June 13, 1957. His dad was an agricultural consultant and his mom was a florist.

Her maiden name was Stroh and her family ran a well known floral business in town. After his mother died, he changed his middle name to Stroh in her memory. He had four brothers, two of whom served in Vietnam.

He was a bright student. At Batavia High School, where he graduated from in 1975, he was a member of the National Honor Society and voted the boy Most Likely to Succeed by his classmates. He was active in sports as a member of the varsity cross-country, track, and tennis teams.

David went on to college at The University of Rochester graduating with a bachelor's degree in 1980. After graduation he began to show his compassion for others by working as an attendant caring for in-home hospice patients.

After earning a Juris Doctorate degree in 1987 from Cornell University Law School, David began his career as an attorney.

While living in Rochester David was introduced by friends to a man named Terry Kaelber. They hit it off, became a couple and moved to New York City.

As might be surmised from his earlier hospice work, David started his career at Legal Aid assisting those in need of help with the law who couldn't afford it otherwise.

In 1995 David began working for Lambda Legal, which helped LGBT (Q, for queer/questioning, was added to the initialism starting in 1996.) youth and he specifically became a director of the organization's marriage project.

Pair of Legal Victories, Pair of Weddings

During his tenure at Lambda Legal, Buckel was one of the counsel responsible for two big victories.

In 1996 a young gay man named Jamie Nabozny was awarded almost a million dollars after suing a Wisconsin school district for failure to protect him from bullying. The court ruling in Nabozny v. Podlesny also established a legal precedent to protect LGBTQ students from being bullied in all school systems.

In 2001 David was one of the attorneys for JoAnn Brandon, who won a lawsuit in Nebraska against a local sheriff for failing to protect her transgender child who was raped and murdered in 1993. JoAnn's daughter, Teena Brandon, had reversed her name to Brandon Teena while transitioning to a male gender identity. Hillary Swank won the Academy Award for Best Actress in 1999 for portraying Teena Brandon, JoAnn's murdered child, in the movie “Boys Don't Cry,” based on the crime.

Four years after the landmark decision, there was a milestone in David's personal life when he married Kaelber in a double wedding ceremony in Canada. The other couple exchanging vows that day were lesbians with whom the men were raising a daughter. She's now a college student, scheduled to graduate in 2021.

Hooked on Urban Farming

In 2008, Buckel retired from Lambda Legal to devote his time and energy to helping preserve the environment. He became an expert in composting, the reuse of organic garbage. 

He spent several years interning at Red Hook's Columbia Street Farm in Brooklyn, where he learned the intricacies of composting peoples' kitchen waste into fertilizer to grow more food. Red Hook had been built on several old baseball diamonds to become the biggest urban farm in the United States.

Eventually, David applied his talent for organizing and planning to become the director of the Brooklyn operation. With the assistance of a large core of volunteers Red Hook was processing 225 tons of compost every year.

Buckel cultivated his workforce of volunteers as well as he did the organic material. He was respected, even beloved by the people he worked with. Several workers said that he changed their life. He ended each work day by thanking the volunteers for helping their Earth.

Buddhism, Trump and the Beginning of the End

As he developed his passion for tending to the environment he also pursued a corresponding interest in Buddhism. With its tenets of inner peace and caring for others it only seemed natural that David would be interested in this way of life. However, the Buddhist methods of protest probably contributed to his untimely end.

After the election of Donald Trump as President in 2016 and the subsequent rollback of Obama era environmental regulations, Buckel's family and friends described him in news accounts as becoming increasingly upset with the trajectory of government actions or inactions.

As 2018 progressed toward April, David began sending emails to his assistant at Red Hook detailing all the things which needed to be done in case of his absence. He also labeled everything at the site, equipment, tools and supplies. His assistant asked him if he was thinking of retiring but he assured him he was not.

Then, before dawn on the morning of April 14th, David Buckel left the home he shared with his family in Brooklyn. He had a shopping cart and headed to a nearby park. He had told no one that he was leaving.

He stopped at a patch of grass in the park off the walkway and apparently built a small wall of earth around himself. He sent an email to the media detailing what he was about to do, poured a flammable substance on himself, and lit it on fire. Within a minute or two David Buckel was dead.

The obvious reaction was shock and sadness. His family, friends, coworkers, former colleagues, and former classmates were bewildered.

They couldn't believe that a quiet, gentle, private man who cared so deeply for others would choose such a public way to end his life in protest. He hadn't even said goodbye to his loved ones.

His family's comment was that they intended to honor his life by carrying on his environmental goals. Coworkers at Red Hook vowed to continue his work.

Lambda Legal issued a statement when they learned of Buckel's death.

Former Batavia High classmates commented on a Class of '75 Facebook page that several had tried to get in touch with David over the years with no success.

They were mystified over his suicide, but remembered him fondly. Former law colleagues were stunned along with everyone else.

Buckel's final email stated that, “My early death by fossil fuel reflects what we are doing to ourselves.”

So, two plus years have now passed since David Buckel's death at age 60.

No one will ever completely understand or be able to give an absolute explanation as to why he chose to make a statement by ending his life in such a horrific way.

But, hopefully people, including Batavians from the community where he grew up, will remember him for the contributions he made to the world and as the good, kind, and helpful person he was.

Read more about David Buckel's life:

A lawyer sets himself on fire to protest climate change. Did anyone care?The Guardian, April 15, 2019

Remembering David Buckel, the pioneering lawyer who championed LGBT Rights, The New Yorker magazine, April 16, 2018

What Drove a Man to Set Himself on Fire in Brooklyn?, The New York Times, May 28, 2018

Self-immolation can be a form of protest or a cry for help. Are we listening?, The Washington Post, May 30, 2019

June 28, 2020 - 8:00am
posted by David Reilly in batavia, nostalgia, news, history.

"Hot town, summer in the city, back of my neck gettin' dirty and gritty" -- The Lovin' Spoonful, #1 on Billboard Hot 100, August, 1966

For every teen there are two coming-of-age situations (well really three, but I can't write about one of them here). The first is learning to drive and getting a driver's license. Over the years safety concerns have changed that one somewhat, but it's still a big deal for most.

The second one involves finding and working at a summer job.

You can ask almost any older person and their summer jobs during high school and college are rife with memories -- good, bad, funny, and often becoming more nostalgic as the years pass by. Drug store, hot dog stand, lifeguard, or mowing lawns -- we all had to start somewhere.

Those jobs were our first foray into the working world, a chance to be independent and have some money of our own. But due to our being so young and inexperienced, they also resulted in some hilarious screw-ups and lessons learned the hard way.

E. coli Anyone?

I got my first job at 16 the way a lot of kids do because my dad knew someone. Dad was a paper goods salesman and one of his best customers was John Castronova who owned The Red Top restaurant.

It was a hot dog and hamburger stand on West Main Street across from Batavia Downs where Sport Of Kings is now. My duties were to wash dishes, clean up, stock coolers, and eventually I got to wait on customers.

One memorable order that sticks out in my mind is when two guys, who obviously had just come from spending quite a while at a bar, ordered “Cannibal Sandwiches.”I had never heard of this but the grill man had.

They wanted hamburgers put on the grill for about 30 seconds and then put on a roll with onions. So, they were essentially eating raw beef. It was as gross as you would imagine and I don't think the FDA would approve.

I only worked about 16 hours a week, but eight of those were on Saturday night from 6 p.m. until 2 o'clock Sunday morning.

I lived at the other end of town so when we got out one of the older guys would give me a ride to East Main and I would walk the rest of the way to our house on North Spruce. I would then spend about 30 minutes in the hot shower at 3 a.m. to get the grease off myself.

I was all too happy to be done with that job at the end of the summer and return to Notre Dame for my senior year of high school.

Factory Foul-ups

Between my senior year and freshman year of college I had a tough time finding a job. I had a couple friends who worked at the Melton Shirt Factory on Liberty Street and they were able to get me some hours filling in when extra help was needed.

What I remember the most about that place was that it was like the fires of Hades in there. The poor women at the sewing machines would look like rag dolls by the end of the day from the heat.

The owner/manager's name was Abe and he had a thick New York City accent. He was not exactly a patient guy and he would yell at the top of his lungs, “Dave, where's the shoits (shirts)?”

At the end of a day in that blast furnace I would, unlike the previous summer at the hot dog stand, stand for 30 minutes in a cool shower.

Apparently I didn't learn my lesson about factories though.

The following summer between freshman and sophomore year my friend Jim and I got a job at a company in the Industrial Center on Harvester Avenue. It was called Ritz-Craft and they built mobile homes.

The very first day Jim and I were assigned the task of unloading an entire railroad boxcar full of lumber -- by hand. Once again our bathtub came in handy as by the time I got home all I could do was fill it with hot water and sit in it for a long time.

That should have been an omen for me as I only lasted a few weeks as a “carpenter.” I wasn't what you'd call a skilled craftsman and constantly made mistakes until finally the foreman had to let me go. Being “all thumbs” was a mild way to describe me.

But, out of the frying pan into the fire I went next. I still needed money so I moved down the way a little into another company that made equipment for pool tables. It was in the former Massey-Harris plant, which once made tractors and other farm equipment.

My job was to run a machine which ground up miscast billiard balls and other table parts so the plastic could be reused. This machine sounded like if a Boeing 747 jet was taking off and someone was throwing rocks into the engines.

I recall that we would start at 8 a.m. and we would get a 15-minute break at 10. I would start and think to myself, “It's got to be almost break time.” I'd look at my watch and it would be 8:15. Those were very long days and a kid was never happier to get back to school like I was that year.

Fortunately, that experience was the last of my factory follies.

Things Go Better With Coke

The summer between my sophomore and junior years, Jim and I were able to get hired by the Coca-Cola Company on East Main Street in Batavia. Even though the first year didn't go so well for me, I was able to come back for three more summers after that.

I had some opportunities to be out in the community rather than being cooped up inside four walls all day.

I'm not sure why I got hired the first summer because a major part of the job was driving and I didn't have a license. The bosses would get really annoyed when they'd ask me to go make a delivery and I couldn't. Plus, all the vehicles were standard shift.

One time a boss asked me to move a truck away from a doorway and, rather than tell him one more time that I couldn't, I decided to try. As you could imagine that didn't go well.

After coming close to ramming two other trucks and the side of the building I was banished to stacking crates. I have no idea why they kept me on. My charming personality perhaps?

To make matters worse, I had a health problem that summer requiring a week's stay in St. Jerome's Hospital. (That's a whole other story -- one night I was served fruit for dinner and one of the nurses was so old that I wanted to get out of bed to help her help me).

Subsequently, I had to withdraw from my fall semester at St. John Fisher College and have surgery at Strong Memorial in Rochester.

So, the next year I made up my mind that I had to get my driver's license and learn to drive a stick shift, so I had at least a prayer of a chance to be rehired at Coke. Which I did, but the driving a standard shift part turned out humorously.

I learned from my almost 70-year-old gramma in her little Plymouth Valiant at the Batavia Downs parking lot. Hey, whatever it takes...

It took some slick persuading and a nervous demonstration that I could drive a stick, but I got my job back and I rode that horse (trucks actually) for the next three summers until I got a teaching job.

Working summers at Coca-Cola could be long hours and I think I originally we were paid $1.25 per hour, but it certainly topped factory work.

The hardest part was loading the heavy glass bottle cases of soda (or pop as it was called in Batavia) onto the delivery trucks at the end of the day.

But, during the day, we might be called upon to drive to Le Roy or Medina or Warsaw to deliver or pick something up, which meant a nice easy ride out in the country.

Crazy Carnivals

Another part of the job might be working a Friday or Saturday night at one of the many volunteer firemen's carnivals in the area. This would entail setting up the Coca-Cola equipment and then mostly just sitting around and taking it down at the end of the night.

A side bonus of entertainment at these carnivals was watching the antics that sometimes occurred at or near the beer tents. We could look on with amusement safely from a distance as security or sheriff's deputies tried to contain some of the overexuberant locals who had overextended their quota of Jenny Cream Ales.

There were some characters at that job, too.

The assistant manager was nicknamed “Clipboard.” He was a stickler for scheduling and neatness. When he would get in a bad mood he would spend the whole day rearranging the entire warehouse with the forklift (we called it a towmotor). The foreman was an ex-military man we called “Sarge.” You've seen movies where the drill sergeant could blister the paint on the wall with his cursing? That was him.

He told us that if he ever saw us drinking Pepsi or buying it in the store we 'd have to answer to him. So, we loved our Coke -- in front of him at least.

Actually, we had a Coke machine in the warehouse that would vend a 6-ounce bottle for 5 cents. And it was hot in there, so for a nickel at a time you could quench your thirst with an ice-cold Coke, right?

Well, you've probably heard the old wives' tale that Coke could take rust off a car bumper. Probably not, but if you drink about 10 of those a day for a while you might be more inclined to believe it.

Eventually, it got to the point where even looking at a bottle of Coke would make me nauseous. Thankfully, we also sold ginger ale and that was a lot easier on the stomach.

Over the course of four summers a lot of things happened while working for Coca-Cola that could be stories on their own. But, probably the craziest incident took place in 1969 about a month before I finished my tenure there.

Bee Unprepared

It was a Saturday morning and I had been assigned to take a truckload of tanks of Coke and dispensing equipment to a company picnic at Hamlin Beach State Park. I was to set everything up and then stay there for the day and then bring it back to Batavia afterward.

I had just passed through the Village of Brockport headed north on Route 19 when I saw a yellowish-brown “cloud” that seemed to be floating over the road.

“What is that?” I thought, “a bunch of falling leaves?” Well, there was no avoiding whatever it was and almost instantly I drove into it.

To my immediate shock I realized that I had driven smack into a swarm of bees! As the blues lyric goes, “If it wasn't for bad luck, I wouldn't have no luck at all,” and the truck and I had showed up at exactly the wrong time.

Hundreds of bees were suddenly covering the windshield and, since the windows were open, in the cab flying around my head. I wasn't afraid of bees but this was unbelievable.

The next thing I knew I was heading straight for a utility pole. There was no way to swerve at that point, so the best I could do was to hit the brakes and hold on. As the truck slammed into the pole I saw an electric transformer flying over the top and I knew this was no little fender bender.

As soon as the truck stopped completely, bees were buzzing all around me and I jumped out the door and ran across the road as fast as I could. In retrospect it was good that power lines hadn't fallen on the truck because that never crossed my mind.

I noticed that other cars had stopped and people were getting out and tentatively advancing toward me, probably worried about live wires that I hadn't considered.

I took stock of myself and was pretty sure I wasn't injured, but I never noticed until later that I hadn't been stung even once! I guess I did have a little luck after all.

As they say, all hell broke loose then. Sirens, sheriffs, state troopers, fire trucks, an ambulance, and eventually utility trucks, responded. The trooper asked me what happened. Why did I lose control? Had I been drinking? Drugs?

So, in response I took him over to the truck. All over the hood, on the windshield, and in the cab were dead bees. Where did the swarm go though? The queen must have moved on and the others followed her I guess.

Then came the part where I had to go into the truck and call in on the radio (after the utility workers determined it was safe of course) and tell what had happened. You can imagine how that conversation went. “YOU WHAT!!?”

After a while the manager came with a different truck and a couple guys who were not having an easy time keeping from laughing. We transferred all the stuff (which had not been damaged) to the other truck and I continued on my way to Hamlin Beach with the guys' voices ringing in my ears, “Watch out for bees, Dave.”

The damaged truck was towed away and I got a respite (except for explaining to the customers why I was late) until Monday morning.

It was a good thing I only had a few weeks left to work because I was chided and teased about my bee encounter every single day until I left. “Hey Dave. Don't you need some calamine lotion? I think you have hives.” And so on. All day. Every day.

Rent-A-Cop Caper

One last job to mention was a part-time one during my senior year at St. John Fisher.

I was living with a roommate in an apartment in the City of Rochester and needed to keep up with my share of the rent. So, I took a job as a Pinkerton Security guard at Rochester Institute of Technology in Henrietta.

Two nights a week from 4 to midnight, clad in my uniform complete with police-style hat (left photo, with toy guns), I would ”guard” a parking lot, the student union or a science building.

One night I was on duty checking parking in a lot by the student dormitories.

Suddenly my car was surrounded by about 20 guys. They informed me that as part of a fraternity initiation they were going to “kidnap” me, tie me up, and leave me in a dorm basement. They stated that after a few hours they would call someone to come set me free.

Some quick thinking was obviously called for by me. I said something like, “Guys, no please. I'm a college student just like you at Fisher. I still have a paper to write after I get off work at midnight" (probably not true). My brain was racing. I needed to get out of this.

But how? Of course the same way you get out of a lot of things -- throw someone else under the proverbial bus.

“Hey guys,”I said, “if you go to the Pinkerton office around the corner, my boss is in there alone. He's always on my case and he's the one who put in all the horrible parking rules that you hate (doubtful). It would be so much funnier if you did this to a boss, especially that guy."

“Yeah!” one of them agreed. “We know the guy you mean. We can't stand him! Right guys? Oh, this will be sweet. C'mon, let's go get him!"

And off they went hooting and hollering.

As soon as they were out of sight, I wasn't taking any chances. I sped out of there to a desolate lot on the far side of the campus and stayed there until quitting time and then went home.

I never did find out if the frat guys carried out their plan because what was I gonna do? Ask the boss the next time I came to work? I had escaped and that was really all that mattered.

So, over the years I had a variety of summer jobs which resulted in some experiences that stick in my mind to this day.

Then, I went on to a long elementary school teaching career, which afforded me July and August off. And guess what? Yup. More summer jobs.

Like a lot of teachers, I painted houses in the summer. No more factory jobs. But, I did encounter my share of bees.

Images and photos courtesy of Dave Reilly.

May 25, 2020 - 6:00am
posted by David Reilly in nostalgia, batavia, Notre Dame, COVID-19, vietnam war, news.

Last August my longtime friend and Marine veteran of Vietnam, Jim Heatherman, wrote an article for The Batavian lamenting that he had not really gotten to know two of our Notre Dame High School Class of 1964 classmates who died in Southeast Asia.

He also expressed sadness that, as with all war casualties, the death of Thomas Welker and Daniel Bermingham caused tremendous grief to their families and prevented them from having and raising families of their own.

Jim's article inspired another of our classmates to take the impetus to try to have a plaque memorializing Tom and Dan placed in the front lobby of Notre Dame. However, Jim lives in Oklahoma and combined with the COVID-19 situation, the completion of the project has been delayed.

Last fall Jim and I got together in Batavia and located Dan Bermingham's grave in St. Joseph Cemetery on Harvester Avenue. As we paid our respects, we agreed that the next time Jim came to the area we would go to Attica where Tom was from and find his grave at St. Vincent Cemetery, too.

So, knowing that the plaque was on the back burner, as this Memorial Day approached, I wanted to finally make a long-delayed gesture from the N. D. Class of '64 to remember our fallen classmates. I ordered a Navy flag for Dan, (inset photo left) who was a “Seabee” -- sailors in Naval Construction Battalions.

Even though Tom was also in the Navy, I got a Marine flag for him. Tom was a Navy Corpsman assigned to a Marine unit when he was killed. Jim had related to me that there is no one held in higher esteem by their Marine comrades than a Navy Corpsman, who are always known as “Doc." Jim had wanted to honor Tom (inset photo right) with a Marine flag, and since he couldn't be here, I wanted to carry out his wish.

As I drove from Rochester to Attica and then Batavia on Saturday, a plethora of thoughts flooded my mind. 1964 was 56 years ago and I unfortunately didn't remember very much about Tom and Dan.

As Jim was training to go to Vietnam as a Marine Lieutenant and I was was entering my senior year of college (we both went to St. John Fisher), Tom and Dan were dying within three weeks of each other in a faraway land.

In 2002 I visited the Vietnam War Memorial in Washington, D.C. -- The Wall -- and found their names, and I have seen their plaques at the Vietnam Veterans Memorial of Greater Rochester in Highland Park South, Rochester.

But, was I being hypocritical for not paying attention to their grave sites until this weekend, 52 years later?

I texted Jim about that very thought and his reply was, “I think that as a teenager you spend 80 percent of your life not knowing or appreciating what is really important. Then, hopefully, as you get older you do appreciate those things and try your best to make amends. I don't think it's ever too late to do the right thing.”

So on behalf of Vietnam veteran Jim Heatherman and the Notre Dame Class of 1964, rest in peace Tom Welker and Dan Bermingham and thank you for your service.

April 1, 2020 - 8:00am
posted by David Reilly in nostalgia, batavia, news.

(Above, 4-year-old Dave, with his first baby brother, 1-year-old Dan. No petting allowed.*)

If you come from a smaller family and have one sibling whose birthday is separated from yours by a bunch of years, you most likely remember that fateful day when your parents told you that a new brother or sister was on the way.

You were set in your routines, you got a lot of attention, you had plenty of room and all of a sudden -- a baby ? If you were a young teenager you might have had the nerve to say something like, “Mom and Dad, seriously? A baby? What were you thinking?”, accompanied by the mandatory teen eye roll.

Regardless of how you felt about this cataclysmic event and how things eventually turned out, there can be no denying that this was a major life changer in your kid existence.

I was born in January 1947. When I was 1 my parents bought a house on Thomas Avenue in Batavia, which is right across from the Holland Land Office off West Main Street. In December 1949 , 2 years and 11 months later my brother Dan came along.

Since I was not quite 3, I don't really recall having any feelings about having a little brother one way or the other. We didn't have a dog or cat, so I guess it was probably OK with me. I couldn't pet him, but other than that life went on.*

As we got a little older we shared a room even though it was a four-bedroom house. Sort of like Wally and The Beav on "Leave It To Beaver." Maybe my parents thought we'd be easier to keep track of if we were in the same space together.

One memory I have of us having the same bedroom is a night my Mom went out and Dad was left in charge. As he was putting us to bed, Dan was whining that his tummy hurt. Dad, like many fathers have been known to do, sloughed if off and said something like “Ah, you'll be fine. Just go to sleep.”

No sooner had Dad's feet begun clumping down the stairs than the prequel to "The Exorcist" began. The blankets, sheets, pillows and little brother Dan were immediately covered in projectile vomiting.

Unluckily for Mom, she arrived home soon after and got to deal with the hazmat-style cleanup. Dan was treated with Canada Dry Ginger Ale and carried off to our parents' bed for the night, and I fell asleep to the pungent aromas of Pine Sol and Lestoil while trying to stifle my gag reflex.

At some point in time asked to be separated and I was allowed to move into my own room in the rear of the house. There I could keep my ever increasing pile of “army” comics (boy do I wish I had saved those) safe and sound from the prying hands of little brother.

In 1955, my parents sold our residence. They wanted a bigger yard, but hadn't yet found one that suited them when escrow closed. So, for two years we moved one block to the west and rented the top floor of a house on Ellicott Avenue.

Since this smaller space only had two bedrooms, Dan and I were back together again. My memories of this time are fuzzy, but I do recall coming down with either chicken pox or measles (this was pre-vaccine) and I had to be quarantined in the bedroom, so Dan must have spent some time on the couch. Or more likely Dad did.

Another recollection I have from Ellicott Avenue is that Mom made friends with the lady downstairs named Midge (there's a name you rarely see anymore). I'm not sure why, but in February 1956 Dan and I were down with her watching TV for the infamous "Ed Sullivan Show" debut of Elvis “The Pelvis” Presley. Midge had a teenage daughter named Louise Ann.

I think she was pretty impressed by the performance, but apparently many were scandalized because in a later appearance Elvis's on-camera gyrations were only shown from the waist up. Good thing there was no Shakira and J-Lo back then. Dan and I being 9 and 6 were noncommittal.

In the summer of 1957 Mom and Dad finally found their big back yard at 122 N. Spruce St. across town. It was the last house on the east side of the street and there were woods behind us and to our north. There were three bedrooms so my brother and I could once again have our own space. Of course, a big play area and woods were a kid's dream.

Although Dan had to switch schools from St. Mary's to St. Joseph's, I was going to be in the sixth grade so Mom and Dad agreed to let me finish my last three years at the Catholic school on Woodrow Road. All was right with the world in our kid brains that summer.

(Above: Dan, left, and Dave with Christmas football gear, pre-baby.)

As it turned out, getting a brand-new house must have stirred something in Mom and Dad, too. One evening, they told Dan and I to come sit down in the living room. They had some exciting news to tell us.

This was not a normal situation in our family, so I'm sure Dan and I were exchanging curious glances.

"Exciting news"? Was Mom getting a job? Did Aunt Kate or Peg finally get a driver's license in their 40s? Were we driving to Buffalo? That was about as thrilling as news got for us.

I remember Mom's mouth moving (Dad had a strange grin on his face) and saying, “Well boys, sometime around spring, you guys are going to have a baby brother or sister!” I looked at Dan with my mouth hanging open. He looked like a fish looks just before you take the hook out of its mouth.

“Whaaaat?” we gasped simultaneously.

“A baby,” Mom said. “You know -- a little sister or brother for you to play with and....”

“NOOOOOO!”, we bellowed. Mom's face looked like Rocky Marciano had just rocked her with an uppercut. She certainly had not expected that kind of reaction.

She recovered nicely though and, realizing that it was too big of a shock, told us that we could talk about it more another time and we should go play. Dad still had that weird grin.

Just go play? Oh no, that wasn't going to happen. Dan and I, who hardly ever had more than a two-sentence conversation, got together to talk over this bombshell.

Once in the bedroom we had a discussion that went something like the following (keep in mind that we were 7 and 10):

"They can't bring a baby here.”

“I know. It's not fair.”

“So, what are we gonna do about it?”

“I dunno. What can we do?”

“Well, I'm not gonna put up with it.”

“Me neither."

There was probably some silence as our little kid brains mulled over our dilemma.

“OK, I got an idea,” I said.

“What?”, Dan asked?

“You know that old building at the sand wash?”


The “sand wash” off Cedar Street, now known as DeWitt Recreation Area, was a favorite forbidden play area for us. At that time is was owned by the B. R. DeWitt Company and they extracted sand from the ground, which left deep clear blue ponds of water, which is why it's a park now.

My aunts, Kate and Peg, featured in some of my earlier stories, lived together at 27 Cedar, right next to the pond area.

We were babysat by my aunts and visited them a lot and we'd sneak over there even though (or probably because) we were expressly told not to. Also, until the late '50s you had to cross the four tracks of the New York Central railroad to access the area. That made it all the more inviting.

On the sand wash property there was an old unused shed, which someone had broken the door to. We would go in there and play, and a few years later it became a good place to sneak cigarettes.

“Well, we could go stay there," I told Dan. "We could bring some clothes and when Aunt Kate and Peg are at work we could sneak in and get food. I know where they keep the key.”

“Yeah, we could do that," Dan said, "and they'd miss us and be sad they brought a baby here.”

I'm pretty sure we had no idea at that point how babies actually showed up.

So it was decided.

But of course it was getting dark out so we couldn't leave yet. So, we headed out to watch TV. On the way, we came across Mom coming to check on us.

“You guys OK?”, she asked softly.

“No, we're not OK,” I declared. “We don't want a baby. It'll cry all day and whose room will it stay in? We're gonna go live at the sand wash instead of here.

"And you can't stop us!” I added, with more bravado than I thought I had.

“Yeah,” Dan chimed in rather weakly. Hey, he was only 7.

“Oh really?" Mom replied nonplussed. “ Well, I'm sorry that you guys feel that way. We're gonna miss you.”

“Maybe I'd better go in the basement and find you a suitcase, huh?

Apparently she had recovered from the original shock at our resistance. Moms always seem to know how to deal with “running away” threats.

“Um, uh ...,” we stuttered, “maybe in awhile after our TV show.”

Well, as you can surmise, we calmed down and went to bed without a peep, albeit still sulking.

The next morning we got up and went to school and nary a word was said further about taking up residence at the sand wash.

One other incident during mom's pregnancy comes to mind and it could be filed under “Not funny/funny.”

She was what you'd call "very pregnant" when for some reason Dan and I got into a fight. I had him down in the living room and was pounding him pretty good. He was yelling bloody murder and Mom came running.

As she got to us, she slipped and fell just when Dad showed up. Fortunately for all, neither she nor the baby were hurt. That was certainly no laughing matter and Dad was infuriated, as well he should have been.

The funny part (in retrospect only) was what happened next. Dad, his face as red as the proverbial beet, came after us with a vengeance. We scrambled quickly to avoid the spanking we most certainly deserved.

For some odd reason our bathroom had a linen closet with a lock on the inside of the door and there was a large space at the bottom below the shelves. In mortal fear for our lives, we scrambled into the bathroom, slammed the door behind us, and crawled inside the closet.

We narrowly got the door locked as Dad stormed in. The "Nightmare On North Spruce Street" quickly unfolded with Dad starring as Freddy Krueger.

He pounded on the door. He shook and rattled the knob. You could picture the foam on his lips. Dan and I trembled with fear.

“You'd better come out of there!" he roared. "When I get my hands on you you'll wish I didn't! It's just getting worse for you the longer I have to wait!” And so on.

After about a minute of this, a cooler head, aka Mom, prevailed. She used an easy ploy to get dad out of there, knowing our Dad drank easily 10 cups of coffee a day for years.

“C'mon Jim,” she cajoled. “I'll get them out of there. Go have your coffee before it gets cold.”

Dad grudgingly left the scene rubbing his hands together in frustration so hard that wisps of smoke might have been visible.

Mom said, “Alright you two, come out of there.” Sheepishly we emerged from our port in a dad storm.

“You guys go to your rooms and if you know what's good for you, you won't show your faces until tomorrow morning. I'll deal with you then.”

Dad had a short fuse but, like a tornado, once the whirlwind passed things calmed down quickly. Thanks to Mom, Dan and I had escaped the wrath of Big Jim Reilly again.

Photos courtesy of Dave Reilly.

(Below, the Brothers Reilly -- Dave, Jim Jr., in arctic attire, and Dan back when you could count on serious snow.)

The rest of Mom's third and last pregnancy passed uneventfully and on April 1, 1958 (yes, April Fool's Day -- the joke truly was on Dan and I) baby brother James Reilly Jr. made his appearance (known through his infancy and to his later chagrin as "Jim Jim").

As I would suspect is the case in most families, Jim's arrival was not the big crisis we brothers had imagined. As it turned out, he was a pretty good addition to the Reillys after all.

Postscript: When I got married and had kids in the '70s and '80s, Dan and Jim got to be concert-going buddies. There is even an epic story of how they went to Long Island to see Pink Floyd in 1980 and drove back the same night narrowly making it through a whiteout near Syracuse.

Sadly, Dan died in a scuba diving accident in 1991. In recent years I have taken over his concert-buddy duties and Jim and I have enjoyed many a good show together.

The “going to live in the sand wash" tale comes up every so often to the amusement of us both.

(The Reillys circa 1964, from far left, Dave, Dan, Ann, Jim, and, in front, "Jim Jim.")

December 8, 2019 - 8:00am
posted by David Reilly in Christmas, nostalgia, batavia, news.

(Warning: Christmas spoilers are contained in this article.)

When people reminisce about Christmas when they were little, different remembrances about the holiday come to their minds. The tree, the dinner, the church, and the presents they received are all standouts.

The best thing about Christmas for me is the magicality of it for kids. When I was young I fell hook, line, and Rudolph for the whole thing. Santa Claus, the reindeer, the sleigh -- all of it. Then, when I became a dad and had little ones of my own, it brought me back to my own childhood to see the awe and wonder on their faces on Christmas morning.

My Santa-believing years were mostly spent at 26 Thomas Avenue where we lived from when I was 1 to 8 years old. My parents, especially my mom, really stoked the imaginations of my younger brother Dan and me with the fantasy aspect of Christmas.

In the days leading up to Santa's visit we were encouraged to write and mail our toy list to the North Pole, first dictating to mom and later scratching out our own missive complete with misspellings. Then, we would walk holding mom's hand to the nearby mailbox to send them off. I guess now kids would text Santa or maybe the Jolly Old Elf is on Twitter.

Putting up the tree is not a great memory though. Going to pick one out at the tree lot was fun, usually combined with stopping for hot chocolate. But, once we got it home it was my dad's responsibility.

Troublesome Tree Stands

Apparently no one had yet invented an easy to use stand and this task was rife with a lot of yelling and epithets. My dad's favorite was “Judas Kraut!” We knew things were really going badly when we heard, “Oh fall down why don't ya!” Usually we'd retreat to our room to avoid this yearly outburst.

Almost worse than erecting the tree was the putting on of lights. First, the snarled wires, which had somehow become entwined like a ball of snakes up in the attic since last year, had to be untangled. Then, those who lived back in the '50s will remember that if one bulb went out they all did. Consequently, an exhaustive and profane process had to be carried out to find the faulty offender. I was never good at science so I'm not sure of why this was electrically speaking, but it sure caused dad to give off sparks.

Once the tree was up and lit (temporarily until another bulb shorted out the whole string) it was mom's purview to decorate it. As you can see by the accompanying photos, this meant applying mounds of silver tinsel. If the old theory of improving TV reception by putting aluminum foil on the antennas was true, Christmas trees back then were capable of picking up alien signals from distant galaxies. There must have been ornaments under there somewhere but who could tell?

Keeping Score on Outdoor Decor

A week or so before Christmas, we'd all pile into the family car (probably a Pontiac) to drive around Batavia and look at people's outdoor displays. My mom would bring a pen and paper and we'd give scores and vote on whose decorations were the best.

Since it was 65 or more years ago now, I can't recall any streets or houses which stood out except for Redfield Parkway. This street is in the western part of the city by the racetrack and the Veterans Hospital and has a median down the middle. Almost every house would put a tree on their front lawn and light it up in different ways. Individually each house wasn't much to see, but taken as a whole it was impressive.

I haven't been in Batavia at Christmas for a number of years, but I think this neighborhood tradition is still going on.

Christmas Eve Day must have been a real challenge for my (and all) moms. The anticipation of Santa coming was almost too much to bear. Activities had to be found for us so we wouldn't go completely out of control. You know how your puppy gets when it's been in a crate all day waiting for you to get home from work? That was us minus the barking and jumping. Well, the barking anyway.

So the day would be spent baking and decorating cookies and getting Santa and the reindeers' snacks ready. Cookies for Santa and carrots for the reindeer were placed on the hearth with a note. One year mom apparently thought it would be cute for me (Dan was too young) to write a poem about Santa.

Santa Claus lives way up north,

On Christmas Eve he goes forth,

To bring presents to girls and boys,

Books and balls and lots of toys.

You better watch out,

And you better not cry,

Or Santa right by your house

Will fly.

If you are good,

Do not fear,

Santa will come down the chimney

This year.

OK, it didn't win a Pulitzer Prize, but it was cute, wasn't it?

The Grip of Insomnia

Like many parents ours had to struggle to get us to sleep on the Big Night. The tactic of telling us that Santa wouldn't come if we were awake only seemed to make our eyes bulge wider. My mom told us that if we were really quiet we could hear the bells of the reindeer jingling. I was positive a couple of years that I actually heard them on the roof, but when I got up and looked out the window there was nothing there but the cold dark night.

To make it even harder to drift off into dreamland my mom had a tradition, maybe from Denmark from where my grandparents emigrated, to hang our stocking on the foot of our bed instead of the hearth. Imagine trying to fall asleep when you thought Santa would imminently be standing right there in your bedroom.

I swore that I never closed my eyes, but all of a sudden at 3 or 4 in the morning I would check my stocking for seemingly the 20th time and it would be full! Talk about magic! Then I had to restrain myself from looking through everything until morning.

One thing I could count on being in there once I learned to read was a Hardy Boys book. I loved them and for my parents' benefit it served the purpose of keeping me busy all day. I would usually have read the whole book by bedtime on Christmas night. Besides the book and maybe a small toy, the rest of the stocking was filled with nuts and tangerines. We weren't wealthy by any means.

Sneaking a Peek

One Christmas Eve, or more accurately early in the morning, I couldn't restrain myself and decided that I just had to see Santa. I tiptoed, probably in my slipper socks, to the stairs and positioned myself where I could see the tree.

I'm not sure how long I sat there, but at some point my dad discovered me and shooed me back to bed. He probably admonished me that if Santa had seen me he would have gone back up the chimney without leaving any presents. Dads are well known to be more blunt than moms about such things.

After all that anticipation, Christmas morning was almost anticlimactic.

The Big Bonanza

Nonetheless, we kids were up at the crack of dawn dragging a half-asleep mom and dad behind us down the stairs. Like in most every other household there ensued a hullabaloo of torn wrapping paper, opened boxes, and Oohs!, Aahs!, and Oh Boys! galore.

Presents for little boys in those days would certainly include cowboy gear, including the dreaded cap pistols with mom's admonishment, “Those are for outdoors only!” Also in the Santa bonanza would be baseball mitts and/or bats and footballs and equipment, including one year my prized red helmet, which I reminisced about in a previous story.

If you look carefully at one of the accompanying photos you can make out a toy gas station. Today it would possibly be an electric charging station for the kids' toy Prius or Tesla.

My parents' gift from me consisted of a construction paper covered packet in the shape of an angel or a bell made at school. Inside I would promise them a bunch of rosaries and prayers (pretty sure I never paid up) with a message that the nun would have us copy from the blackboard: "Dear Mom and Dad, Thank you for all you do for me. Your son, David Reilly.” (Good thing I put my last name so mom and dad wouldn't think some other kid named David made it.)

Round Two -- Cedar Street

After mom calmed us down enough to eat some breakfast, we were lucky enough to embark on a second round of gifts at our Aunt Kate and Peg's house. My dad had two sisters who never married and lived together in the family home at 27 Cedar Street (previously mentioned in "The Blizzard of '66") where they grew up. They doted on Dan and I (they embarrassingly referred to us as “Honey Boys”) and somehow persuaded Santa to make a stop at their place, too. So, the ripping and tearing and opening and shouts of “Yippee!” took place all over again.

Later in the afternoon, usually at our house because mom was the only family member who could cook, we'd sit down to Christmas dinner. This was somewhat of an adventure in itself.

Our Uncle George was a plumber and to be blunt, he kind of smelled like it. So Dan and I would jockey for position at the table so as not to sit by him. His wife, Aunt Helen, apparently had a food issue and while we ate turkey with all the trimmings, mom had to fix her what seemed to be a shriveled piece of some kind of meat. When we got a little older Dan and I would joke that we needed to get it analyzed by a laboratory to see what it actually was.

Once every few years my aunts would cajole everyone to have the dinner at their house. This announcement always led to loud protesting and whining including by my dad and they were his sisters.

They were raised in the Irish style of cooking, which meant boiling everything in water. This included the ham. Just the odor would make us gag. I think there were a couple of years when all I actually ate was those little gherkins that came in a jar. At least they weren't boiled.

Finally, as Christmas night arrived, the big day began to wind down. Uncle George and Aunt Helen headed home in the plumbing truck and my dad had to drive aunts Kate and Peg to their house as they both lived to old age without ever learning to drive.

Christmas Concludes

Little brother Dan conked out somewhere and would eventually be carried up to bed. I would be curled up in a quiet spot absorbed in whether Frank and Joe Hardy would solve the case of “The Sinister Sign Post.” I assume that our parents were relaxing, too, and breathing a sigh of relief that it was over for another year.

Between the ages of 8 and 10 we lived for a couple years on Ellicott Avenue and then when I was 10 we moved across town to 122 North Spruce Street. Of course, Christmases continued on with many of the same people and traditions.

But at some point, like all kids, I realized the truth, and the magic of Santa vanished. Thankfully, the enchantment returned in the 1980s when my children were born and I got to again suspend reality for several years through their wide and happy eyes.

Photos courtesy of Dave Reilly.

September 8, 2019 - 8:00am

St. Mary's School first grade 1952. Dave Reilly was sick that day and is not included in the photo. His infamous pal Charlie is fourth from the left in Row 2.

I'm sure there has been plenty of research done about memory. Why do some people have better memories than others? How do our memories change as we age? Why do some people have vivid memories of their childhood while others' recollections are scant at best?

Of my elementary school experience at St. Mary's School in Batavia, grades 1-8 from 1952 to 1960, I only seem to recall funny or unusual happenings. What we were taught, projects we did, and most day-to-day classroom experiences elude me.

It's the silly or odd stuff that somehow has remained in my brain all these years. I guess that might be some kind of clue about my personality, but that would be for the experts to figure out.

St. Mary's was still being constructed when I started there, so for first and second grade we were housed in the lower floor of Notre Dame High School next door, which itself had just been built.

I started first grade at the age of 5 and didn't turn 6 until January. My teacher was a nun, a Sister of the Holy Cross, and that was the case seven of my eight years at St. Mary's. I do not remember her name or that of my second-, fourth- or sixth-grade teachers either.

I missed the first week of first grade due to illness. Not only did I not get to know the teacher and kids, I apparently also was left out of a group class photo taken on the steps of the school. We didn't have on uniforms, but we subsequently had to wear them.

A Howdy Doody Lunchbox and Terrifying Teens

For some reason on my first day of first grade (Maybe my mom brought me for my grand entrance later in the morning?), the nun sent me to the lunchroom all by myself.

So, there I was -- probably in a striped shirt with a clip-on bow tie and dark blue corduroy pants carrying my Howdy Doody lunchbox -- surrounded by high school kids. I do recall being intimidated by those huge, adult-like creatures and staring at them with a wide-eyed kind of terror.

I still can't believe the sister sent me alone. Knowing how shy I was I bet my mom had to work some magic to get me back there the next day.

Second grade (inset photo, left) is also a blur except for the time I got sick. I must have had a fever and recall shaking with the chills. Nonetheless, I was too afraid to tell the sister. When it came time to go to lunch, the nun lined us up and off we went down the hall.

I must have sneaked to the end of the line and as the class went one way, I went the other. Out the door I flew and on down the street.

It was probably about a mile from the school on Union Street to our house on Thomas Avenue, but despite being ill I made it. Imagine my mom's surprise (good thing she was home) when I walked in the door. “What in the world...?”, she probably said.

It's fortunate that she wasn't prone to any profanity until her elder years. After I was put to bed she must have called the school and reported my escape. I should have saved that skill for high school when I could have used it more beneficially.

The Lifelong Influence of Miss Marguerite Horgan

For Grade 3 we got to move into our now completed school. This was my only year with a secular teacher and it was my best and favorite one. Our teacher was the kind and gentle Miss Marguerite Horgan. Every day she would read to us and I enjoyed that. I like to think that she was a big influence on my lifelong love of reading.

When I became a fifth- and sixth-grade teacher myself for 33 years I made sure that every day after lunch I would try to choose some good example of children's literature and read an excerpt to my class.

The beginning of fourth grade is kind of foggy, but I think the nun who was supposed to be our teacher became incapacitated and as a result the fourth and fifth grades had to be combined.

Anyone who attended Catholic School in the '50s and '60s remembers that we always had classes numbering more than 40 students. I wish I had a class photo from that year because we must have been bursting at the seams with two classes joined together.

At lunchtime we were allowed to go outside to get some fresh air and play.

Fighting Dirty

That year some kind of construction was still going on and there was a big hill of dirt on the Union Street side of the school. This mound turned into a battleground of “king of the hill” between the fourth- and fifth-grade boys.

After about a week of torn and dirty clothes, bruises, cuts, several fistfights and most likely a bunch of parent phone calls, the principal put us on lockdown. Eventually the dirt hill was removed and we got to see the light of day again.

First and Lasting Impression

My only real memory of fifth grade happened on the first day before class even began. As we were milling about in the hall greeting our friends and looking for our classroom we heard some kind of commotion. Voices were rising, kids were laughing, and the queue of children and parents parted like the Red Sea.

But instead of Moses and the Israelites coming through, it was our classmate named Lenny. He had a wide grin on his face and a cigarette dangling from his lips.

Lenny didn't get too far before one of the nuns swooped in like a giant hawk and grabbed the cigarette in one hand and the collar of Lenny's shirt in the other. Away he went never to smoke up the halls of St. Mary's again. It was off to public school for him.

I was a student for 17 years and a teacher for 33 and absolutely no one ever made a more memorable entrance than Lenny.

Sixth grade must have been the year of boredom. One thing we had to do was memorize the Catholic catechism. The nun put a "Jeopardy!" like spin on this activity though by giving us the answer and we had to respond with the question.

A Pencil to Pass Time

To make the long day go by faster, I came up with a game to play. Did you realize that a pencil has six sides? Well, I made mine into a rolling die (as in the plural dice).

On a piece of paper I made a horseracing track divided into lanes of equal length. I would assign a famous horse (Citation, Whirlaway, Swaps) to a numbered lane and then roll the pencil to advance one to six spaces. I don't recall getting caught, but my mother had to have me tutored in math that year, so I guess one to six was my limit mathematically.

Grade seven (inset photo, left, doing homework) went pretty well for most of the year. Sister Mary Lourdes was young and seemed to convey a more relaxed and understanding atmosphere than my previous nun teachers. I really liked her and I think I started to actually enjoy school.

But, at some time in the spring that feeling went bad in a hurry.

One day we were playing outside at lunch and my friends Anthony, John and I wanted to know how much time was left. Not having a watch, we went around on the Woodrow Road side of the school to look in the window of our classroom and see the clock.

When we got back to the room, Sister Lourdes had a very sour look on her face.

As we took our seats she explained that she was horrified someone committed a grave sin by stealing the money we had been collecting for the “Missions” (poor Catholics in Third World countries) out of the container on the shelf by the windows.

If that wasn't bad enough, she said that someone had told her that they saw Anthony, John and David out there by the windows during lunch.

“Did you take that money boys?” she queried. Of course, since we didn't, all three of us adamantly answered “NO!”

Charlie -- Esquire, and a Jury of Peers

Well, the sister must have smelled a great teaching moment in the air because she told the class that since she had evidence she was going to put us on trial and the class would be the jury.

I only remember two things about the trial.

One, my friend Charlie, the costar of several of my previous stories, finagled the job of being our defense attorney. As a precursor to his later getting a law degree from Syracuse University, Charlie won the case. I think the vote to acquit was unanimous. Two, this was mostly because sister's “evidence” was solely the testimony of the informer whom she would not identify.

Afterward the nun tried to apologize and say that she really believed we were innocent, but she wanted to teach the class a lesson. Maybe, but I wasn't having it.

For the rest of the term I was disillusioned and never trusted her again.

Eighth grade was not an enjoyable year for me, or probably my classmates either. Our teacher in retrospect was not well suited or happy in her job and took it out on us on a daily basis. In my stories I try to find humor in my nostalgic remembrances and there wasn't much of that in our final year at St. Mary's.

Inventive, Perhaps, Amusing, No

I do recall one instance when I tried to be funny, but classmate Susan, who sat in front of me, was not amused.

The sister was teaching a history lesson and asked, “Does anyone know who invented the steamboat?” I whispered to the girl, “Stanley Steamer.” Immediately she raised her hand and called it out.

Now, I will give Susan credit, because when the nun reprimanded her for such a ridiculous answer she didn't rat me out. Maybe Susan had mercy on me because I was seemingly already the teacher's whipping boy. I hope I apologized to my classmate for embarrassing her, and if I didn't, I should have.

In June 1960 my elementary school career came to a close and it was on to Notre Dame.

My poor recall of any significant learning in those eight years at St. Mary's is a mystery to me. My hope is that over my three-plus decades of teaching, I provided my students with more substantial memories that they can look back on with fondness.

(Photos courtesy of Dave Reilly.)

June 9, 2019 - 8:00am
posted by David Reilly in baseball, batavia, Sports, news, history, nostalgia.

(Photo circa 1958. That’s Dave Reilly sliding and his infamous pal Charlie making the "safe" sign.)

This year Batavia will be celebrating 80 years of baseball. Through the names Clippers, Indians, Pirates, Trojans, back to Clippers, and since 1998 the Muckdogs, the local team has provided adults and kids with a source of entertainment during the summer.

It also indirectly affected me ending up in the back of a police car about 60 years ago.

In the late '50s and '60s when I was about 10 to 15 years old (before girls), baseball was king with my friends and me.

In the daytime in the summer we would constantly be on our bikes with our bats and mitts riding all over looking for a place to play ball. One of our favorite places was the Little League park on State Street, which was deserted during the day and another field right by MacArthur Stadium where the Indians (as they were called from '57-'59) played.

We had a group of our guys and there was another ”gang” who lived in the stadium area who we would play for bragging rights.

As long as we were near the Indians' field we would go there when the team was at home and see if we could talk to, get autographs from, or maybe even score a broken bat from our heroes. The “heroes” were in reality 21- or 22-year-olds who had slim chances of getting to the majors, but they were still gods to us.

In 1957 the star was Ken Kraynak, who led the league in batting average, home runs, and runs batted in and thus won the Triple Crown trophy. We had an in with him, too, because for the summer he was dating my buddy Charlie's older sister.

In 1959 the “man” was Al Luplow, who went on to spend nine years in the major leagues. Once again, Charlie stood out but this time for the wrong reason.

Luplow was there in the clubhouse the afternoon Charlie mouthed off to some kid and got his arm broken. Al tried to comfort my friend who was screaming in pain until the ambulance got there. At least Charlie got his cast autographed by most of the players, but he never did learn to keep his yap shut.

When we were younger, 10 to 12 years old, we might have been allowed to walk to the game, but one of our parents would usually pick us up afterward.

Batavia Baseball Bargain -- the 'Knothole Pass'

Also, we would most likely sit in the grandstand section and watch the whole game. We were there for the baseball.

Back then, they had a season ticket for kids called a “Knothole Pass.” It cost one dollar and was good for almost every game. We sure got our money's worth out of that.

I guess the team figured they would make up the money by us kids buying the proverbial peanuts, popcorn and Cracker Jacks. I rarely had any money though, so they lost out on me. Also, I hated Cracker Jacks and still do.

In 1960 Batavia did not field a team due to financial problems. I'm not sure what we did with our summer nights that season, but it probably involved whining at our parents that, “There's nothing to do in this one-horse town.”

However, in 1961 the team returned as the Pirates and we returned as teenagers and some of the shenanigans that come with that wonderful age came with us.

Our parents didn't know it (do they ever?), but now we were likely to spend more time fooling around outside the stadium than in it. Also, we would more apt to be in a group of guys and the monster of peer pressure was lurking around to rear its ugly head.

One of our obsessions was trying to get a foul or home run ball that was hit out of the stadium.

But, in those days, minor league teams had no money to keep replacing expensive baseballs. So, they hired a few teenagers to go get the balls and return them to be used again.

Now, I'm not saying that the team intentionally hired mean bullies for that job, but it sure seemed that way to us younger kids. 

The teenagers were faster than us and mostly got to the balls before we could. But, on the few occasions when we actually snagged a foul or homer before them, let's just say that they didn't ask in a polite way to get it back.

We'd usually submit pretty easily, but if not we might go home with dirt on our clothes or a bruise somewhere. I do not recall ever getting to keep one of those baseballs.

Around that time, like many young teens, we began to get daring and try to smoke cigarettes. Of course, even though many of our parents smoked, we'd be in big trouble if they caught us doing it: "Do as I say, not as I do."

Acts of Derring-do

So, we couldn't smoke inside at the game because someone might see us and tell mom and dad. In fact, one time in elementary school I had a candy cigarette (there's a great product for kids) in my mouth outside and by the time I got home, my mom had gotten a call that I had been smoking!

So, if we wanted to sneak a cigarette we'd have to hide outside somewhere. One night, this is what got us into a bunch of trouble.

Behind the center field fence of MacArthur( now Dwyer) Stadium was a stone structure everyone called the Civil Air Patrol Building.

Apparently, during World War II, volunteers used be stationed there with binoculars to keep an eye out for German bombers who wanted to take out the Doehler-Jarvis Tool and Die factory or some other Batavia target.

By 1961 it was pretty much deserted except for men's and ladie's restrooms, which were kept open for people in the park area. 

(Author's Note: I was surprised on a recent visit to Batavia to find the old building still standing, albeit in ragged shape and marred by graffiti.)

My friends Charlie (yup, him again), Jay, Mike, and I were in the vicinity of the Civil Air Patrol Building during a Pirates' game. We were most likely once again on a futile mission to get a home run or foul ball.

At some point we went into the men's room to sneak a smoke. We were such chickens to get caught that we even shut the door. But, since the building was really not in use, there were no lights and this is where someone, maybe me, came up with a completely idiotic idea.

Enter Excelsior

In another open but unused room there were some old, cushioned chairs. They had either fallen apart or been vandalized so the stuffing of the cushions was hanging out.

We must have had a good vocabulary because we knew this straw filling was called "excelsior," a word that becomes important in this tale later on.

We took some handfuls of the excelsior back to the men's room, lit it on fire for light, shut the door, and commenced to fire up our Winstons or whatever brand we had. 

With no ventilation, within seconds the room filled with dense acrid smoke.

Not wanting to suffocate we had no choice but to throw open the door and exit posthaste while choking and coughing. As we regained our breath the gagging turned to laughter at ourselves as we realized how dumb we had been.

This hilarity did not last long.

We went back inside to stomp out the now smoldering straw, but didn't realize that the plumes had been seen by people inside the stadium at the game.

As we exited again, we looked up to see a Batavia City Police car speeding across the grass toward us. It turned out that a Batavia policeman (who shall remain nameless) had stopped at the game on his patrol and had seen the smoke, too.

What would you do if you were 13 or 14 and saw a police car coming after you? Of course -- RUN!

I'm not sure where the other guys bolted to, but I took off for a huge junkyard nearby. I spotted a rusted out delivery truck and hid inside.

I cowered there trembling like a kitten in a dog kennel. After a few minutes I got up the courage to peek out. There stood the cop with an annoyed look on his face.

“C'mon kid,” he said, “and don't even try running again. Your buddies are in my car already.”

Busted, I hangdoggedly trudged to the cruiser.

Meanwhile, Back at the Police Station...

As we sat in the police car sweating, we asked the officer what was he going to do with us?

“You're going to the station and the desk sergeant can decide how to deal with you,” he replied. “You know you could be charged with arson for setting that straw on fire.”

Then big mistake number two happened.

Someone, and it definitely wasn't me it was Charlie who said, 'It's not straw, it's excelsior.”

“Seltzer?”, the cop asked? “What the heck are you talking about? I know straw when I see it, and I'd advise you to shut up before you get in more trouble than you're already in.”

Charlie eventually became a lawyer, but in this instance he was ruled out of order.

Upon our arrival at the station on School Street, mistake number three occurred. As I exited the police car I tried to throw my pack of smokes underneath it.

They clunked off the side of the car and fell on the street just as the officer turned around.

“Nice try kid,” he snorted as he picked them up. 

Once inside, the desk sergeant saw us being herded in and asked the cop, “What were these guys up to?”

“I was at the baseball game and saw smoke coming out of the Civil Air Patrol Building," he reported. “I drove out there and these kids had been in there smoking cigarettes and set a bunch of straw on fire. They ran, but I got 'em,” he announced proudly.

“What have you guys got to say for yourselves?”, the sergeant asked.

Remember, Charlie couldn't keep his yap shut. With aplomb, he unbelievably inserted his foot into his mouth yet again: “Well sir, we were smoking but it was just a little fire. And it wasn't straw, it was excelsior.”

Wow. Fresh blood might be redder than the first cop's face, but that's doubtful.

Perp Walk for Rare Company

Mercifully, we did not get charged with arson. Our parents were called and had to come pick us up.

My parents almost never had company, but on this night a group of people were at our house and I had to do the perp walk through them to my parents' embarrassment.

For the next month my mother had me scrubbing walls, pulling weeds, and generally working from morning until night.

And Charlie's fate? His parents promptly enrolled him in military school in Syracuse instead of returning to Notre Dame.

It was questionable as punishment though; he went on to become a Captain and got to carry a sword around. It also served to add to his already big ego.

All of us had to go with our parents to see the Batavia Police Youth Officer Lewis Snell.

I'm not sure what admonitions he gave or what advice he might have given for our future, but it must have worked on some level because that turned out to be my last time in the back of a police car.

Unless I really go off my old guy wheels, I'm pretty sure things will remain that way, too.

Photos courtesy of Dave Reilly.

Below, Batavia's minor league baseball field as it was when Dave Reilly was a boy, circa 1958.

Below, the old Civil Air Patrol Building as it stands today; the site of the excelsior escapade.

April 1, 2019 - 1:16pm
posted by David Reilly in news, batavia, history, nostalgia.

If you grew up in the United States in the 1950s and early 1960s, or to put it another way, if you're old, the term “communist” had a very negative connotation and the color red was probably not your favorite. To be called a “commie” or a “red” was an unpatriotic insult to most people during that time.

Following World War II, the Soviet Union and China, both communist countries with their respective leaders Joseph Stalin and Mao Zedong became political enemies of the United States. When the USSR obtained nuclear weapons and China supported North Korea against South Korea and the United States in the Korean War in the early 1950s, it was the beginning of the so called “Cold War.”

The world was in fear that nuclear war would break out and the spread of propaganda by both sides became rampant. Spying increased dramatically to try to gain an advantage. The ideologies of Democracy vs. Communism were in a power struggle for world domination.

So, what did all this mean to a kid in Batavia growing up in this era? As you were trying to navigate through your kid life of going to school and watching the news in between the "The Howdy Doody Show" and "I Love Lucy" on your black and white TV, how did the Cold War affect you?

Bomb Drills at School Were Routine

In school (I went to St. Mary's Elementary), one thing I remember vividly is having bomb drills. In the event of nuclear attack, we practiced getting under our desks and putting our heads down.

Later on in life this jokingly became known as the “kiss your butt goodbye” drill. Also, I recall getting together as a school and praying for the new Pope when Pius XII died in 1958 and for the defeat of “godless communism.”

On TV, we went through the news cycle of the Korean War, the arrest, trial, and execution of Ethel and Julius Rosenberg for selling nuclear secrets to the Russians, and the Congressional hearings concerning Senator Joseph McCarthy and his investigations of Americans he suspected of being communists.

There was the “blackballing” of actors, producers, writers and artists suspected of having communist leanings, the forceful Soviet put down of an uprising against the communist government in Hungary in 1956, and Secretary of the Communist Party and Premier Nikita Khruschev's strident denunciation of “American imperialism” at the United Nations General Assembly in 1960.

So how we were affected by all this was that I think almost every kid in Batavia would have considered themselves anti-communist. That's how our parents felt, that's how our teachers felt and that's how our government felt.

In 1959 and 1960 the communist scare came closer to the United States with Fidel Castro's rise to power in Cuba. Originally acclaimed for his overthrow of the longtime Cuban dictator Fulgencio Batista, it soon became clear that Castro was aligning his government with the Soviet Union and that Cuba would be a communist regime only 90 miles from Florida.

Looking Askance at 'Beatnik' Types

Furthering Americans' dislike of the cigar-chomping Castro was his wearing of military fatigues and sporting a bushy beard; 1950's Americans, including the kids, tended to be pretty conservative and looked skeptically on any “beatnik” looking type of people.

So, with all this anti-communism coursing through our American school kid brains, my friend Charlie and I decided to make a political statement.

Looking back on it now, we were probably more highly motivated by trying to get some attention rather than any sincere “down-with-the-commies” convictions.

Charlie and I (I'm pretty sure he went along with it just to humor me) went to work in my basement on North Spruce Street constructing an effigy of Fidel Castro. I can't remember exactly what we used to build it, but I'm positive an old fur “ear-flapper' hat was cut up and glued on the face for the beard. My mom helped, but she was mostly amused at the project. Kids will be kids was probably how she viewed it.

(Actually, adults during that era were known to put up effigies of Castro, too, as this link from 1961 shows.)

Old-school Truly Fake News

The most important aspect of our plan was to find a credible place to “hang” Fidel where the media (i.e. the local newspaper) would be alerted to it. We hoped they would send a photographer and a reporter and, even though we had to remain unknown, once the “Big News” was revealed we would be famous in our own minds.

We could picture the photo of Fidel's faux body hanging from a pole with an attached “Down with Castro” sign in the middle of the paper's front page. Under it would be a headline like: “Batavia Patriots Stand Up to Commie Castro” -- fellow Batavians would see our brazen display and we would be the talk of the town for our anti-communist bravery.

Since I lived on North Spruce Street and we were about 12 years old with no way to transport “Fidel,” we picked the nearest public place with a flagpole -- John Kennedy School on Vine Street.

Of course in lieu of how things turned out with President Kennedy and the Cuban Missle Crisis of a couple years later, in October of 1962, the symbolism would have been extra sweet.

But, as all good Batavians know, the school was named for a former superitendant not the president.

At any rate, Charlie's dad was a car dealer and he “borrowed” some of those colorful triangular flags which used to be hung on poles around the car lots to help draw attention. Carrying these, fake Fidel, and our sign, we headed down North Street in the dark (probably about 8 p.m.) toward the back entrance to the school at the end of Elm Street.

In those days, North Street ended at North Spruce, so there was little traffic at that hour. Nonetheless, about halfway there, we heard a car coming. Thinking on our feet (literally) we carried Fidel between us much the same way many of us later helped our inebriated college friends back to the dorm after a night of drinking.

Holding our breath we tried to appear normal until the car went past and then let out a sigh of relief like somehow we were on a secret mission to Cuba itself.

Hoisting Fidel and Scurrying Away

The school flagpole was on the south side of the building by the empty parking lot. We quickly looped the rope around the effigy with sign attached and tied on the multicolored flags. We hoisted it to the top of the pole and stood back briefly to admire our patriotic handiwork.

Then we scurried away through the darkness like commandos returning to base, or in reality to probably go do our homework.

Our plan was to return on our bikes the next morning like we were just casually riding by. We hoped that there would be all sorts of commotion going on and that we would pretend to be as shocked but pleased as everyone else to see the heinous dictator swinging in the breeze.

Our pro-American hearts must have been thumping as we approached the school in the sunny morning. We turned onto the gravel path and emerged onto the school grounds to see “Fidel” and the flags on the pole and … nothing.

No photographers, no reporters, no police cars, nothing. Cars of school staff were parked in the lot and there was a custodian nearby cutting some grass. 

Completely taken aback, we sat on our bikes and stared. Didn't anyone see “Fidel”? Maybe that was it. Perhaps we needed to stir things up.

We pedaled over to the flagpole and began pointing and talking in exaggerated voices.

No One Pays Attention

“Wow! Look at that! It's a dummy of Fidel Castro up there! That's really something! Who could have done that?” 

The custodian kept mowing, cars kept driving by on Vine Street, a couple people left the school, got in their cars and drove away. No one paid “Fidel” a single bit of attention.

We were crushed, or at least I was. All that patriotic work and surreptitious sneaking around in the dark and no one even cared. Plus, it was too embarrassing to even tell anyone about. I'm not sure what I told my mom, but in retrospect she probably knew how it was going to turn out anyway.

The saddest (or funniest depending on how you look at it) part of the whole episode was that on our way home, Charlie said he'd really like to get those flags back so he wouldn't get in trouble with his father. 

That evening we rode back to John Kennedy and the effigy and the flags were gone from the pole. Nearby was a dumpster and we looked in to see “Fidel” forlornly staring up at us, albeit from one eye as the other has apparently been knocked loose.

Charlie retrieved his flags and as we rode away we made a pact to keep the fiasco between ourselves. Communism and Fidel Castro unfortunately would continue to plague the good old U. S. of A. for many years to come, despite our heroic attempts to raise the ire of the apparently apathetic citizens of Batavia.

January 30, 2019 - 1:42pm
posted by David Reilly in news, Blizzard of '66, weather, batavia, history, nostalgia.

When you live in Western New York, one thing you can expect is people complaining about the winter weather.

It should be noted though that people today have less to grouse about than 50 years ago.

The average temperature has increased 2.5 degrees per year and while more precipitation falls in the winter, less of it is snow.

That hasn't stopped people from moving to or spending their winters in Florida. I guess hurricanes, alligators, snakes and bugs are preferable to gloves, ice scrapers and salt trucks. Do people wear Uggs in Florida? Just wondering.

When you have resided in the North your whole life there are bound to be memorable winter storms that will stir up comparisons among those who endured them. Batavians of a certain age debate the snowfalls of 1966 vs.1977.

Because of circumstances I experienced, the most unforgettable to me was the Blizzard of 1966.

On Jan. 30th and 31st, 1966 the entire Northeast was wracked by a blizzard that blew in from the west. Western New York was especially hard hit due to the cyclonic effect in which winds wrapped around and blew off Lake Ontario and Lake Erie, adding much more snowfall. 

Winds of up to 50 miles per hour whipped snow that was falling, or more accurately blowing sideways, at a rate of one to two inches per hour. The Batavia area was still digging out from a heavy snowfall the week before, which had dropped two feet of the white stuff.

Snowdrifts up to 15-feet high, chain-reaction Thruway crashes, lots of stranded motorists

When the winds finally abated on Feb. 1st and 2nd, Western New York had been shut down to travel and motorists were stranded for up to a week. Drifts were 10 to 15 feet high in some places and heavy machinery was needed to open streets and highways.

During the blizzard a chain reaction accident of up to 100 vehicles had taken place on the Thruway just east of Batavia. Drivers had to be rescued and some taken to local hospitals. Cars blocking the Thruway were supposedly plowed off to the median (although the state disputed this) and remained there until they could be towed away.

When the storm began, I had just turned 19 the week before and was home on a break from my sophomore year at St. John Fisher College in Rochester. It was a tense time for me because there was a chance that I might flunk out. From my freshman year I was on double secret probation or whatever they called it.

There were no emails back then and the only way to find out your grades for the first semester was to go to the administration building and get a copy. They would not give them out by phone either. Of course, I had not revealed this fear to my parents who were footing the bill.

Before I returned to college, my mom had invited my aunts and grandmother to our house for a belated birthday celebration for me.

My two unmarried aunts lived together in the longtime family home on Cedar Street and neither of them drove, so they always had to be picked up and taken back. My maternal grandma lived on North Lyon Street and had one of those cars with the ball on the radio aerial so you could find it in a parking lot. Also on hand were my 16-year-old brother Dan, and my youngest brother, 8-year-old Jim, in addition to mom and dad.

Winter storm turns into paralyzing blizzard

As the day turned to evening, the snow and wind increased by the hour. Dan and I started to get nervous when we noticed our parents peering out at the storm and talking in hushed tones with each other. Snippets of the discussion were overheard. 

“...Your mother will never make it in this”... “What do we do about Kate and Peg ?”... Uh oh.

Dan and I had a whispered conversation of our own that went something like -- “Holy cow! It's really coming down. We could be stuck in here with all these people for a week!”

I know. An opportunity for some real family bonding time, right? No. Hey, we were immature selfish teenagers.

To us, this would be just as bad as those stranded motorists being stuck in the bus garage. We'd have to give up our beds and bedrooms and sleep on the family room floor. They'd be watching game shows and Lawrence Welk on the TV. We'd be cooped up with my aunts, who gave off a faint aroma of mothballs.

We needed to get out of there! But how? And where?

We put our heads together and came up with what we thought was a brilliant plan for escape. Two 50-something women couldn't get the mile or so from our house on North Spruce Street to their home on Cedar Street, but we could. There was food, heat and a TV there. What else did we need?

I don't recall if our parents put up any resistance, but they were preoccupied with figuring out how to provide for everyone anyway. A couple less humans in the house was probably a good thing.

'Arctic explorers' make the 'tough slog' to Cedar Street

So we bundled up looking like Arctic explorers Robert Peary and Matthew Henson headed to the North Pole and ventured out into the maelstrom.

I do recall that it was a tough slog even for healthy teenagers. The snow felt like little needles on your face and no plows had been out at all so we were essentially breaking trail down the middle of the road.

We cut through from East Avenue to the plaza on East Main Street where Your Host restaurant and Lane Drugs were (both closed). There was also a 24-hour laundromat (where my friends and I bought cigarettes for 30 cents a pack out of a machine in high school) that was open so we stopped in there to warm up halfway on our hike.

We were amazed to see that the entire parking lot was full of tractor-trailers waiting out the storm. It was eerie to view the snow blowing across the plaza lights, hear the sound of all the semi engines running, but seeing absolutely no moving traffic on Route 5 or 33.

Eventually, we made it to our aunts' house, called our parents so they knew we were safe, shed our boots, long johns, hats, scarves, coats and gloves, and hunkered down for the duration of the storm.

Aunts Kate and Peg were two of the worst cooks imaginable (they prepared ham by boiling it in water), so we took stock of what was in the fridge and cupboards to find out if we could survive. Mostly, I think we were looking for cookies, cakes, chips and stuff for sandwiches. You know, teenager food.

TV news confirms blizzard 'was a pretty big deal'

We settled in to watch some TV and soon the 11 o'clock news came on. The entire broadcast was about the blizzard and we realized that this was a pretty big deal.

As it got to midnight, we expected the TV station to sign off, play the national anthem, and put up the overnight test pattern as was the procedure in those days. But, to our happy surprise, the announcer said that due to the storm they were going to stay on later than usual and show movies for all those out in TV land who were stuck in the snow. Sweet!

I don't recall what movies were shown, but for sure they were in black and white and even more surely they were no Oscar winners. Maybe "The Blob" with a young Michael Landon or "Bernadette of Lourdes" for all the Catholics who were tuned in.

About 2 a.m. the movies ended and the station signed off. I said to Dan, “Well, let's head upstairs and get some sleep.”

He replied incredulously, “Are you crazy? I'm not sleeping in those beds!”

“Why not ?”, I asked.

“There's probably leg hairs stuck to the sheets,” he replied drolly. “Think about it.”

Fifty years later I still chuckle at that comment.

So, we found some hair-free blankets (we hoped) and bedded down on the couches for the night with the sound of the wind rattling the windows.

(Snowfall from the blizzard of '66 on Cedar Street in Batavia, courtesy of the Batavia History Department.)

When I awoke, I was confused briefly as to where I was. It was daylight and I realized that I didn't hear the wind anymore. I went to a window facing Cedar Street and looked out.

Behold a 'marshmallow landscape' 

My eyes must have blinked several times as I tried to focus on familiar landmarks. But there were none. Everything was white as if Mother Nature had poured bleach over the world.

I was completely disoriented as there was no depth perception at all. The sky: white. The ground: white. Everything: white.

It was then, as I tried to get my bearings, that I noticed some movement off to the south, or left. A small stick-like figure was advancing through the marshmallow landscape. I could discern that it was a person coming up the middle of the street, or at least where there should be a street.

As it got closer, I could tell that it was someone on snowshoes. Dan was now awake and at the other front window. The human snowman was approaching the front of the house and he or she began climbing up and up some more. It was then that we realized that the snowshoer was ascending a drift in front of the house that was at least 10 feet high!

My brother and I simultaneously went “Wow!”

As the Yeti-like creature came down the other side of the drift headed for East Main Street we knew at that moment that: 1. We were going to be there for a while; and 2. This was a storm we would never forget.

Shoveling out, returning to normal

I can't recall how many days we stayed at our teenage refuge, but it was a least a few. Dan and I kept busy during the day by shoveling a path from the house to the street. Our parents called often to check up on us and to ascertain if the street was clear for my aunts to return home.

Cedar Street is a connecting road between routes 5 and 63 so it needed to be travelable sooner rather than later. At some point, huge machines showed up and within a few hours the street was open. We marveled to watch the front-end mounted snow throwers, gigantic loaders and “V” plows do their jobs.

When my aunts returned home my dad had to let them out of the car in the street and Dan and I helped them navigate the thin opening through the giant drifts and plowed snow to get to their porch. They were very appreciative of us caring for their house and we were glad we'd made them happy. It wasn't the last time we had to assist them to the house either, because their driveway was unusable until the spring when the snow finally melted away.

When I did return to St. John Fisher, sweating nervously all the way in the car with my dad, I got the good news that I had indeed passed and would be able to stay. Years later, when I told my parents about my narrow escape from having to leave college, it added that much more to my recounting of my adventure in the Blizzard of '66.

(Top inset photo of Batavia Downs following the blizzard of 1966 taken by Gleason Cleveland, courtesy of Joshua Pacino.)

Photos courtesy of Dave Reilly.

December 29, 2018 - 12:28pm
posted by David Reilly in batavia, news, football, history, nostalgia.

Seeing this year's Batavia High School football team go all the way to the New York State Championship game and Notre Dame, my favorite college team since childhood, go to the NCAA semifinal brought back memories of playing football as a kid.

Short memories. Really short memories. You see, my official football career lasted for one week.

When I was a little kid, even at age 6 or 7, I became a huge Notre Dame University fan. I'm not really sure why.

Perhaps it was being Catholic. Maybe it was because my dad liked Notre Dame, although he couldn't really watch any sporting event without getting mad. He had a sixth sense for identifying which team was going to lose and then spending the whole game complaining that “they were getting gypped.”

I actually used to go to my aunts' house to watch sports to get peace and quiet.

When I was very young I was already cutting out articles from the newspaper about Notre Dame and my heroes Ralph Guglielmi, Johnny Lattner and Paul Hornung. When I was 10 in 1957, I watched every second of the Fighting Irish 7-0 victory over Oklahoma (on our black and white TV), which broke the Sooners' 47 game winning streak.

Around this same time I began to play football in the yard or at the park with my little friends. I'm sure the ball was bigger than some of us could hold onto, but we would run and tackle “like the big guys.” Of course, when I got my prized red helmet for Christmas (as described in a previous story) then it was really “game on."

What I'm leading up to here is that as I played and watched football more and more, I started to fantasize about playing for Notre Dame someday. I would drift off to sleep or get through a dull day at school by imaging myself running out of the tunnel onto that oh-so-bright green field at South Bend, Ind.

I would be dressed in my green and gold uniform and I would run and pass for touchdowns that would have the frenzied crowd shouting my name. The week after that 1957 Irish victory over Oklahoma my parents surprised me by taking me to South Bend to see Notre Dame play Iowa.

That whole experience -- the pep rally the night before, the school band playing the fight song, being in the stadium, the sights and sounds of the game -- all solidified my Notre Dame fandom. Even though the Irish lost the game, I was as hooked as a hungry bass chomping on a lure.

As I got older, I grew taller and a bit bigger than some of my friends. When we would play and they would try to tackle me, I would drag some of them along before they could get me to the ground so they started calling me “Tank.” That only boosted my daydream that I could be a real football player.

So, at age 13 as ninth grade approached, I was headed for Notre Dame High School, which in my mind would be the perfect lead in to Notre Dame University. I passed my physical and as the summer ended I arrived at the school with my heart pounding to get my uniform and walk over to the field on Union Street to embark on my football career.

But as happens in life, fantasy and hopefulness were in for a huge dose of reality.

The head coach was a man who had been our physical education teacher at St. Mary's Elementary School. At some point in the first practice coach blew his whistle and told everyone to gather around in a circle. It was time for a fun little activity called “Bull in the Ring.”

The upperclassmen clapped and cheered and seemingly couldn't wait to get at it. I had no idea what was going on, but I found out soon enough. Two players were called out to the center of the ring and essentially would run into each other until the coach decided that one of them had enough.

My opponent outweighed me significantly and went on in his upper-class years to become a team captain and an All-Catholic wrestler. In a minute I went from “Tank” to “Stank” and spent a long time soaking in the tub that night.

Day two brought two more obstacles: going up against way bigger guys and sunburn. Apparently Coach's view of freshman and jayvees was that they were there to be used as punching bags for the varsity.

With a minimal amount of instruction we were lined up on defense for the varsity to run plays against. At a whopping 135 pounds I was placed at defensive end against a senior who was at least 190. Play after play he would just knock me backward into the dirt like a bulldozer would a sapling.

At the same time, the sun was beating down on my red head and fair skin. I don't remember if sunblock was invented then, but even so I didn't have any. So at the end of that practice I made my way home -- head spinning, mouth and eyes full of dirt, skin like a lobster.

In fact, I was burned so badly, that my mom wouldn't let me go to practice on the third day. I can't say I complained because I could barely get out of bed anyway.

Fortunately, it was the weekend and there was no practice on Saturday or Sunday. That gave me a couple days to heal and rest.

On Monday, I made a gigantic mistake. I had my mom write an excuse note for missing Friday's practice. This was comparable to a soldier's mom writing a note to General Patton.

“Dear General, please excuse my son from the war because he had the sniffles.” What was I thinking? As Coach read the note, he looked up at me with an expression of disgust.

“Really kid (he didn't know my name)? Sunburn? I'll see you out on the field.”

So, my mom had no idea, but her note resulted in me running a bunch of laps around the field in the blazing sun while the rest of the team ignored me like lima beans at Thanksgiving dinner.

The last day of my football career really wasn't a surprise. My fantasies of playing quarterback for Notre Dame University had been ground out of my imagination and beaten into the dust of the practice field. At this point, I was just hoping to survive one more practice.

I made it, but not by much.

The final straw was an innocent enough looking punt coverage drill. We lined up in two lines, the punter kicked the ball downfield and we were supposed to take off and go after the receiver. At the end of my line stood Assistant Coach Tree Trunk Arms. His biceps seemed as big around as a normal person's legs.

As I heard the snap count and sound of the ball off the punter's foot I took off.

Suddenly, it felt as though someone had swung a baseball bat and connected with my helmet. But it wasn't a baseball bat, it was the giant fist of Mr. Trunk Arms. Apparently, he was trying to simulate the contact that you would feel from an opposing team member. Yeah, like having a bowling ball dropped on your head would simulate an acorn falling from an oak tree.

Several seconds must have gone by before I realized that my face was in the dirt. My head was reeling and as I lifted it up my vision was blurry. In the cartoons this is often depicted by a bunch of birds flying around the person's head as they stagger away, and stagger is exactly what I did though I can't recall hearing any bird noises.

To this day I hate to admit it, but I think I was crying. The rest of the practice was pretty much a foggy haze in my brain, but I'm pretty sure neither ol' Trunk Limbs nor any other coach asked if I was OK.

That night, when the mist had cleared somewhat from my noggin, I made a decision. I had been working up to it for a couple days. Not only would I never run out of that tunnel in South Bend, I wouldn't be going across Richmond Avenue to the Notre Dame High School field either. I was done.

I don't remember exactly how I quit, but it was certainly no loss to the team.

A couple of the older players made some half-hearted attempts at shaming, words like sissy and coward might have been said, but I was more relieved than sad. Later on, I did letter in cross-country, track and basketball, so I was able to enjoy high school sports after all.

Of course, my childhood daydreams were just that. No player from Batavia, and there have been many good ones at NDHS and Batavia High School, ever played for Notre Dame University. Not to mention the grades needed to get into that venerable college that I didn't come close to achieving.

In fact, St. John Fisher where I did go just had intramural football back then and I didn't even play. A couple teams asked me, but in one swing Assistant Coach Tree Trunk Arms left an indelible ache that killed any notion of football ever holding any glory for me.

Photo  courtesy of Dave Reilly.


Copyright © 2008-2022 The Batavian. All Rights Reserved. Privacy Policy | Terms of Service

blue button

News Break