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June 6, 2021 - 8:00am
posted by Anne Marie Starowitz in history, batavia, news, nostalgia, mom-and-pop stores.

Memories have a way of making you shed the years and return to the times when you were young. Life was simple and uncomplicated then. It doesn't matter what decade; many of us share a similar memory of a corner grocery store in Genesee County.

They all were a little different in size but carried the same items. It depended on where you lived, and this determined which store was considered your grocery store. At one time, there was a mom-and-pop store on almost every corner.

My memories date back to the late '50s when I was in grade school, and my brothers and I would take our Red Flyer wagon and walk to the Red and White store on Ross Street.

We would load up the wagon with pop bottles that we could return for money. If we had 20 bottles, we could earn 40 cents, and that could buy a whole bag of candy!

The excitement was when you would ask to see the box of penny candy. You could choose from many sugary treats such as Chum Gum, Pixy Sticks, Tootsie Rolls, wax lips, Bazooka bubble gum, and Safety Pop suckers, to name only a few. For a nickel, you could also buy a giant chocolate bar.

When was the birth of the mom and pop stores? One advertisement for such a store dated back to 1841. The ad stated that G. Diamond had a store that sold groceries and liquor. In 1871 Dailey's store was located at 28 and 30 Main St. In 1877, Charles G. Huggins had a store at 64 Main St. called Choice Groceries. Combs and Kerslake had a meat market and grocery store in 1889. Another store, L.C. Lorish Store, was located at 21-23 Jackson St. in 1890.

The Oriental Company at 43 Main St. sold tea, coffee and baking powder. There was a Jones Central Market at 5 Jackson St., J.S. Callahan Grocery at 26 Main St., and Kellogg Grocery on Oak and West Main streets. The Phelps Store was located at 113 Main St. The Flatiron Cash Grocery building was moved from Pearl Street to another retail location on the same street.

In 1921, five Market Basket Stores open in Batavia, 103 Jackson St., 5 State St., 29 W. Main St., 500 E. Main St., and 440 Ellicott St.

Caito brothers had a store at 56 Main St.; they sold fruits and vegetables. John S. Brown of 18 Main St. served customers from 1890 to 1928. Casey Brothers store at 118 Main St. was the longest-running store. They were in business for 40 years.

The city directories for 1939 show there were 25 mom-and-pop stores operating that year. In 1940 there were 23 stores open. The figures jumped dramatically in 1947 to 42 stores. In 1959 there were 22 stores, and then in 1968, there were only 19 stores. By 1975 there were 21 stores, and in 1988 there were just five. Sadly in 1995, only two stores remained.

The names of the stores often changed, but the locations stayed the same for many years. An example would be the store on Oak Street. In 1939 it was called Burch's. Later it became Reinhardt's, then the Short Stop.

Do you remember going to a store on Washington Avenue that you had to walk downstairs to the basement to reach the store? In 1947 it was owned by Regina Murphy and was called Downy's. I remember the store when it was known as Quartley's. Guastaferro and Pelletteries owned a store at 103 Jackson at different times. Johnston Food Store was located at 106 W. Main St. Later this store was called Corrigans.

On Main St., there was Ashes Grocery and Peter's delicatessen. On the corner of Bank and North streets was Lambert's Northside Grocery. That was where my friend Cathy and I, on a snow day, walked in a blizzard to buy Beatles cards in the '60s.

There were two stores on Ross Street -- 13 Ross and 132 Ross. The latter store changed hands many times from John Lowe to Howard Lentz, Samuel Caito, Hart and Hart, Red and White, Cummings, and then to Say's Grocery. You can't forget Perk's Red and White on the corner of Hutchins and Ellicott. Scaffetta's was on the corner of Maple and Evans Street.

Leo J. Happ had a store on Washington Avenue. Pappalardo's was on the corner of Otis and Ellicott. We must also remember Sikorski's on Hutchins and Rubino's, Wandryks, and Nick Abraham's meat market.

I remember Bill's Meat Market at 208 Swan St. Like many others, I would go in there and buy my meat in the '70s. Bill would let you charge your purchases, and his bookkeeping method was unique. He would use meat-wrapping paper to record what customers bought and owed. When you paid your bill, he would cross off your name. Previous owners were Casimer Krause and Edwin Kiebala.

The store at 162 Jackson also had many owners. Sara Brown and Charles McNall were owners of this store in the '60s.

On the corner of Liberty and Ellicott streets was a store that had many owners. In 1937 Rose Maniace was the owner; it later changed hands and was called Bennett's Grocery. It later became known as Pieo Grocers. Salvadore Marchese and later the Riccobonos owned it for many years. Another fond memory I have was going in there as a young girl and watching my father buy Italian cheese for our Sunday meals. Now known as Southside Deli, it has been a landmark in this area for many years.

The Marchese brothers were always associated with the grocery business, and their names date back to 1925. They also owned National Food Company, Big M Store, and Marchese Food Land.

The one store that was a constant was Granger and Company. That was the tall building located at 17-23 Evans St. This was where most of these mom-and-pop stores bought the food items to sell. Granger's was a wholesale grocer and served small grocery stores and restaurants. It was initially a mill where flour was made and also had two roundhouses on the property.

Today, the last roundhouse is a UR Medicine Primary Care office.

As with the birth of the mom-and-pop store, we also have their deaths. One by one, these little landmarks would close their doors, taking with them the memories of family-owned establishments. Inevitably the big stores came to Batavia. Loblaws, Super Duper, Star Market, Jubilee, and Tops were the big names in grocery stores.

Today we have Tops Friendly Market, Save-a-Lot, and Aldi for grocery shopping. We still have corner stores, but larger supermarkets usually own them, not individual families.

I was inspired to write this story about the early stores because my father-in-law worked at Granger's for 47 years. He knew where every mom-and-pop store was located and all of the former owners by name. He had wonderful stories to go along with each store; I only wish I had written them all down.

This article is dedicated to Henry F. Starowitz Sr., the wholesale grocer who kept the mom-and-pop stores' shelves filled with groceries.

Please note that this article only contains the names of the stores for the years: 1939, `40, `47, `59, `61, `68, `75, `88, `95, and 2000. This is just a sampling of the mom-and-pop stores that were in Batavia. I know that all of the hamlets, villages, and towns in Genesee County have their mom-and-pop store memories, too.

This article is from my book "Back In the Day, Snapshots of Local History, The Way I See it."

Photos from the Genesee County History Department and Holland Land Office Museum.

Editor's note: Slight changes have been made to reprint this article.

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.

January 3, 2021 - 1:59pm
posted by Anne Marie Starowitz in nostalgia, batavia, news, history, urban renewal, downtown, main street.

I always have been a follower of Hallmark movies due to their storyline's simplicity and happy endings. What I think that most intrigued me was when the main characters always seemed to go home to save a part of their town, from historic buildings to Main streets.

These stories always take me back to our Downtown. I've written many articles about urban renewal, its history, why it happened, and how it happened.

But it never illustrates the sadness we endured or the memories we cherish.

Watching a Hallmark movie with its predictable ending always makes me think about going home or being home in Batavia.

Many of these movies take me back to the '60s and the daily ritual of walking home from Notre Dame High School. As my best friend and I would cross Union Street to Main Street, our first stop would always be the Red Barn for a little snack. The next stop would be Oliver's for Molly Pops.

It was a simple time, but the memories of walking down Main Street are as vivid today as they were in the '60s.

The big red brick square building on the corner of Court Street and Main Street always intrigued me.

I knew it must have been a hotel, and standing on our tiptoes, looking at the dusty lobby always made me curious about that building.

Many years later, as I was researching the hotel, I returned to that window scene imprinted in my mind, imagining people dancing and eating in that beautiful Richmond Hotel, named after the famous Dean Richmond family.

I think some of my favorite memories were shopping. I love the clothes of the '60s. Favorite places to shop were Alexander’s Clothing Store and C.L. Carr's department store. It was always so much fun to go into the stores and look at the newest styles.

Being a Notre Dame student, we had to wear the ugliest uniforms.

What were they thinking by having the girls wear a bolero? So, the idea of getting new clothes was a big deal.

 Alexander's on the north side of Main Street had a section in the store called The Barn. It was like walking into a teenager’s fashion dream, showcasing all the newest styles.

When I was a freshman, there was a dance called the Christmas Dance, and I remember buying my dress from The Barn.

It was pink, and since this was my first dance (I was 14), and my dad being a dad, he made me add a big black velvet bow to the neckline of the dress. I always thought that was funny since I weighed about 93 pounds.

I also remember in my senior year buying my formal for our senior prom at Alexander's.

I can't forget my other favorite store on the south side of Main Street, C. L. Carr. It was like entering into many little departments that, together, created a building where you could buy almost anything.

I loved their clothes. Somehow, there was a deal with my parents, or I should say with my mom, that I could take home clothes on approval.

That was always exciting because I could pick out my favorite clothes and take them home and show my mom, and hopefully, I could keep one or two of them.

My mother would say, "Don't show your father today; wait a few days, and the day your father asks 'When did you get that new outfit?' you can say, 'Oh, I’ve had it awhile, Dad.' ”

Since we had to wear such attractive uniforms one year, the store sold mohair sweaters that we could thankfully wear over our school uniform. I didn't care that I was allergic to wool. I would wear that sweater, so did my best friend, Cathy. I think she might've had a blue sweater and I had a pink one. I loved that sweater.

I have so many memories of that fantastic store in which you could buy a particular card, vacuum cleaner, a rug, sewing supplies, pots and pans, and have gifts wrapped all year long.

I can remember buying my wedding gown in 1974 with my mom, another memory I will cherish.

It was the way the sales clerk treated you with such kindness and respect that left such a remarkable impression. I picked out our everyday dishes and "good china” at Carr’s.

They also had a travel agency kiosk called Travelore on their first floor where we bought our honeymoon tickets. You really could find everything in that store. 

Years later, I had my first child and couldn't wait to buy baby clothes.

I also would buy gifts for other friends and relatives, and somehow the sales clerks at the store knew if that new baby had already received the gift I had picked out.

When our daughter was in high school, she was one of the Christmas wrappers in the store's basement.  

With their fake snow and predictable storylines, Hallmark movies take me back to my hometown to remember what it was like before it was taken away.

The one thing the wrecking ball couldn't take away are the treasured memories of my hometown Main Street.


1) (Top) Demolition of Downtown Batavia in the name of urban renewal, courtesy of Genesee County History Department;

2) Red brick building -- Hotel Richmond, courtesy of the Holland Land Office Museum;

3) Hotel Richmond lobby, coustesy of the Genesee County History Department;

4) Notre Dame High School class photo of girls wearing boleros, from a ND yearbook;

5) Anne Marie Peca in her Senior Prom formal from Alexander's clothing store, courtesy of Anne Marie Starowitz;

6) Anne Marie Peca wedding photo, courtesy of Anne Marie Starowitz;

7) C. L. Carr store drawing, Pat Burr;

​8) (Bottom) Main Street Downtown Batavia, courtesy of the Holland Land Office Museum.

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.

December 6, 2020 - 2:41pm
posted by Anne Marie Starowitz in Peca family, Christmas 1960s, history, nostalgia, batavia.

I was reminiscing, thinking back to Christmases in Downtown Batavia circa 1960.

I recall a Friday night, and Main Street was decorated with holiday cheer. People from all over Genesee County had come to the city to shop and reconnect with friends.

I had made my list for Christmas, and my first two stops were Newberry’s and W.T. Grant’s. Those two stores carried everything you would need -- from a picture with Santa, a hot dog at their food counter, to a new dress and plumbing supplies. The stores were crowded, and the Christmas music was coming from outside of C.L. Carr’s.

The windows of the Carr’s building would mesmerize young and old with their moveable musical figures. It was a much slower pace in the ‘60s. People working behind the counters of the various stores knew your name and would ask about your family. Genesee Hardware was on Main Street at that time and sold toys. I remember going there to see if the wedding dress for my Barbie doll was still for sale. It was!

Other stores I remember were Thomas and Dwyer and C. F. Knox, shoe stores that were run by families. A winter ritual was driving around the city with my family to see the Christmas decorations. There was always one particular house you had to see every year with the most sparkling Christmas lights.

Your next stop would have to be NY State School for the Blind to see the magical, miniature Christmas village on the school’s snow-covered lawn.  

My memories take me back to my family — the Pecas — and those Christmas mornings with the opening of presents and the five-course meal prepared in the kitchen. One Christmas, our mother gave each of us a photo album she created with pictures of each of us in our album. I remember sitting in the living room with my brothers and sisters looking at our albums. We laughed at how we looked when we were young and couldn’t believe that our mother of six found time to create such a timeless memory.

Another favorite memory was Christmas dinner. We would eat for what seemed like hours. Our family was so big we needed the large kitchen table and the dining room table for a holiday meal. You had, to begin with, our dad saying grace and thanking God we could all be together. The feast started with an antipasto, followed by Italian wedding soup, lasagna, and a full-course turkey dinner. Later we would have a wide variety of choices of homemade pie.  

This Christmas will be different for many. I know we will not be able to see our children and grandchildren. We will be filled with memories of Christmases past and hoping all our families and friends stay safe and healthy and are filled with beautiful memories from yesteryear.

Top photo: The Peca family dressed their best for a Christmas Card photo.

Below, two of Anne Marie Starowitz's sisters, Gina, left, and Terry.

Below, Tony, Sam, Anne Marie, and their dad, with sisters Gina and Terry on his lap. (Not pictured: mom and brother Johnny.)

September 20, 2020 - 8:00am
posted by Anne Marie Starowitz in history, news, nostalgia, Le Roy.

Photo: Miss Anne Marie Peca's third-grade class at Wolcott Street School in 1972.

It was September 1972 and I was about to begin my first year of teaching at Wolcott Street School in LeRoy. My whole life I had wanted to be a teacher but to be able to teach where my mother grew up and where my grandmother still lived made it all the more exciting and memorable.

I have so many memories from that first year. My first week at Wolcott Street School I was in the workroom making dittos (mimeograph copies) by hand when a teacher who I think taught my mother came in and yelled at me and said students are not allowed to use the machine and ordered me back into the high school building.








I will always remember my very first class, of third-graders, and the many rules I broke. I didn’t realize you needed permission to take your class for a walk or you shouldn’t adjust the thermostat in your classroom to 90 degrees to teach the children about what it’s like to live in a desert. My thermostat regulated the heat for the entire second floor.

That year we did the play "Mary Poppins" on the big stage (above is a "ditto" of the program).

I do have so many treasured memories of being a teacher in LeRoy but I also have so many memories living in LeRoy.

One highlight was visiting my grandmother who lived at 25 South St. I loved going to mass with her at Saint Joseph’s Church and visiting Saint Francis Cemetery. We would water all the flowers on the graves of our relatives and it seemed like it was half the cemetery.

Later on, when I was a teacher in LeRoy I learned to appreciate the beauty of the village.

In 1974 I was married and we moved to LeRoy and lived at 15 Lake St. in Mr. Miceli’s upstairs apartment. It was a beautiful two-bedroom apartment with a living room, kitchen and a storage room. The rent was $100 a month and that included utilities.

I always enjoyed walking to school to teach because walking down Main Street was so beautiful, plus we only had one car. I would walk past the village hall and I would wave to Mrs. Fernaays, who I always thought was the mayor of LeRoy.

After school on my way home I would stop at the LeRoy Drugstore to pick up a prescription or a card. My next stop was Peck’s Meat Market to buy two pork chops or a half pound of ground beef. On Saturday, our date night we would walk to the LeRoy Theater and watch a 50-cent movie and then stroll home.

I do remember one thing that took getting used to was a very loud siren that would go off if there was a fire. We lived very close to the village hall and the first time we heard the siren go off, we jumped out of bed and thought we were being attacked.

I will always treasure my time in LeRoy, not just the beautiful village, but the wonderful friends I made, and the outstanding teachers I had the privilege to work with. I was also able to create treasured memories with my beautiful grandmother, Jennie Bellow.

Now when I visit St. Francis’s Cemetery it is to visit my grandparents, aunt, uncle and baby sister’s gravestones. As I sit there I remember that little girl running all around the cemetery watering flowers with her grandmother.

The Village of LeRoy is as beautiful today as it was when we lived there in the '70s.

My memories can’t compare to someone who is a true LeRoyan but I want to thank all of you for letting me be one for a few years!

Images courtesy of Anne Marie Starowitz.

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.

August 30, 2020 - 8:00am
posted by Anne Marie Starowitz in nostalgia, history, Holland Land Office Museum, news, batavia.

I recently spent a day at the Holland Land Office Museum in Batavia and enjoyed the newest exhibits. Like most museums, it has various displays that take you back to a time when the artifacts you are looking at or reading about were used.

For example, they have a room that explains the history of the Holland Land Office building. Another room is the Land Office Room where Joseph Ellicott, founder of Batavia and Buffalo, sold land to our early settlers. There is the Colonial Kitchen depicting what it was like to cook from the flames and coals of a fireplace in the 1800s.

The West Wing is called the Military Room where you can learn about the famous men and women from Genesee County who fought for our country. The East Wing houses an exhibit on local businesses.  

I think of our minds as a museum, storing memories of artifacts we have used over our lifetimes. I guess I am speaking to the baby boomers (born 1946-64) for obvious reasons (because I am one). I have been thinking about some of the artifacts that have been on display in the past.

The old black and white Sylvania television set (once made in Batavia) takes me back to watching "The Beverly Hillbillies,"* my favorite show as a child. We were only allowed one TV show a week when school was in session.

The museum has an old Victrola. Children love to hear the history of our early records or big CDs as children often call them.

Another artifact is a vintage typewriter. Now there is something the children of today have never seen. Remember the carbon paper for the typewriter and if you made a mistake you had to use a correction tape? My roommate actually had a typewriter in the early ‘70s and I had a plastic portable record player.

You can’t forget the three-pound transistor radio that could only pick up three AM radio stations.

There are so many memories and so many artifacts.

I really loved my ball bearing roller skates that clipped onto my shoes, not my sneakers. I would wear the key on a string around my neck.

Can’t forget the balloon tires for our bicycles, a 3-speed English bike, penny loafers, high-top sneakers, madras clothing, long hair for boys and girls. We played outside, used the sewer and manhole covers as bases for kickball.

We played games such a Kick the Can, Red Rover, Freeze Tag, Cops and Robbers and an old favorite, Hide and Seek. 

I wonder if someday a merry-go-round, teeter-totter, metal slide and monkey bars will be on display in a museum or big cardboard boxes from Max Pies  (Furniture store) that were used to slide down the grassy overpass on South Jackson Street. 

Sandlot baseball was anyplace you could find an open field. The list could go on and on. These are our artifacts!

Now the artifacts are stored in our minds in a happy place.

Photo courtesy of Anne Marie Starowitz.

*Editor's Note: This YouTube link plays the second episode of season two of "The Beverly Hillbillies" called "Hair-raising Holiday." It's a hoot!

July 12, 2020 - 8:00am
posted by Anne Marie Starowitz in news, history, nostalgia, batavia, city Parks Program, COVID-19.

It is the 1950s, the first week of summer vacation and the official opening of the City Parks Program. Children would run out the door at 8:50 a.m. to be the first one waiting to meet the new or previous year’s park supervisor.

You know that a great summer is about to begin. You will spend every day at the park from 9 to noon, and from 1 to 5 p.m.

Batavia at one time was divided into parks: Pringle, Kibbe, Lincoln, Austin, Williams, Farrall, MacArthur, and later as Batavia grew and some parks closed and new ones opened, John Kennedy and Lambert Park.

Children went to your neighborhood park and were so proud to say what park you were from. Parks competed against each other in softball and volleyball games. Every Friday night the scores and contest winners would be recorded in the newspaper.

There was a family feeling with every park. Every day there were scheduled arts and crafts projects.

When it was your park’s week for boondoggles (inset image left), the children would have the choice of three, four or eight strands to work on.

The park supervisor sometimes ended up making them for the little ones so they could wear them around their necks as lanyards or a small bracelet.

The favorite craft was the plaster molds. I can still picture the molds being lined up in the sun and the children standing behind the one they picked to make that particular day.

There were so many choices, a favorite was the mold for "The Last Supper." That was probably the largest mold and the most difficult to make.

There was a technique to make this craft. You had to carefully mix the plaster and when it was the right consistency you poured it into the mold. As it dried in the sun, you were hoping your plaster would set. After the plaster dried you would carefully pull back the rubber mold to see if your mold took the plaster.

You couldn’t forget the little tab you put in the back to hang this very heavy item proudly created for your parent’s wall. The last step was to paint your creation. You couldn’t wait to take it home to show mom and dad.

The highlight of the summer program was the park parade. Every year there was a theme and your park had to come up with a float to go along with the theme. Every day you would talk about the parade and the float and how this year your park would beat Kibbe.

The supervisor would keep samples of every craft because they would be judged at the end of the summer event.

Every park had been secretly working on their float that consisted of chicken wire and crepe paper flowers. Everyone had a job. Main Street would close down at the end of August and the street was transformed into a parade of children proudly walking with their float that was being pulled by a tractor.

The store owners would come out of their stores to watch the annual parade. The celebration after the parade was at Austin Park. After the parade, floats would all be lined up to view and every park had a booth. You would stand with your park friends to wait for the results of what park would be the winner this year.

Of course, you always thought your park deserved to be the winner.

It was now time to go back to school and the summer program was coming to an end. New friends were made, memories to last a lifetime were created. When the park kids return to Batavia as adults and drive by “their park,” those wonderful summer memories will come flooding back.

So, this is what we tell our children what it was like back in the day.

As someone who loved going to my neighborhood park as a child and growing up to be lucky enough to be a park supervisor, I commend the Batavia Parks Program for creating summer memories we will never forget.

My years as a park supervisor will always be a cherished time.

The rules for the parks program was to have fun and most of all, be safe. In this time of so much unrest due to COVID-19, thinking back to those summertimes makes you realize how lucky you were to be a Baby Boomer.

Please share your memories, I only touched a few.

Anne Marie Starowitz was a proud supervisor for Farrall Park for three years in the '70s (inset photo right).

Photos and images courtesy of Anne Marie Starowitz.

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

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.

May 24, 2020 - 8:00am
posted by Anne Marie Starowitz in nostalgia, news, batavia.

(Editor's note: Southsider Anne Marie Starowitz reflects on life in her native City of Batavia this Memorial Day Weekend...)

Turning 70 to me has been filled with so many different memories and emotions. First, where did the time go and then the realization that I am 70. Turning a year older this year was different. First of all, we are quarantined and there is a lot of time to reminisce.

As I was going on one of my morning walks on Ross Street, I’m taken back to my early years of walking with my brothers to the Red and White Store on Ross Street pulling a wagon filled with empty pop bottles. We are trying to figure out how to split 22 cents three ways without killing each other. Back then you could pick candy from the penny candy box.

On our walk home, we would decide what we would do today.

Would we go on the raft we built at the end of our street that actually floated? We thought the water the raft was on was a lake but it actually was an area that accumulated water after a long winter but was deep enough to float our homemade raft. Would we sleep out tonight and catch fireflies? Such an innocent time.

Grade school and high school were a little different ride. I compare it to a roller-coaster ride going up the first incline, the excitement of what was to come. That included walking all over Batavia, taking ballroom dancing, swimming at the New Pool, ice skating on the tennis courts in the winter and dancing on the blacktop in the summer. I can’t forget the Park Program.

I am almost to the highest point of the ride as many of us go off to college. In returning, the ride is broken down. I come back to Batavia and our Main Street is gone along with all those wonderful memories. I learned the meaning of what a wrecking ball could physically and mentally destroy. Now our country was in a war -- way over yonder in Viet Nam -- that would take the Baby Boomers into a turbulent time.

So now the roller-coaster slowly starts up another incline and many of us are married and blessed with children. Maybe we bought a new house and began a new job. Our house cost $26,000 and gas was $1.50 a gallon in the '70s.

The ride continues steadily as we sat through soccer games, dance recitals, football games and musical concerts.

We loved watching our children grow up. We all have boxes with hundreds of pictures recording that time in our lives. I wish mine were in scrapbooks.

Now our children have grown up, gone off to college, new opportunities prevail for them and we are now bystanders watching our children leave the nest. I’m still on that ride with my life going up and down.

At this time many of us are thinking of retiring and what to do with our golden years.

Approaching 70 was a time to reflect on what I have done with my life and where I am to go from here. Turning 70 and living though a pandemic makes me realize that turning 70 has been a very exciting and wonderful ride. I’m not ready to get off the roller-coaster just yet.

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 22, 2019 - 1:26pm
posted by Billie Owens in news, Baby Boomers, the '60s, Vietnam vets, history, batavia, nostalgia.

Anne Marie Starowitz, right, and her friend Cathy in July 1968.

Submitted photos and story by Anne Marie Starowitz:

By definition, a Baby Boomer is a person born during a period of time in which there is a marked rise in a population's birthrate: a person born during a baby boom; especially -- a person born in the United States following the end of World War II (usually considered to be in the years from 1946 to 1964).

That is the Webster's Dictionary definition. But it doesn’t adequately define a Baby Boomer.

I am a Baby Boomer along with my high school and college graduating classes of 1968 and 1972. There are a lot of us and our memories growing up during that time are very special.

We grew up in a world that was so different from the one our grandchildren are growing up in. We all heard about going home when the street lights came on, houses with the doors unlocked, and just playing outside.

In the summer we slept out in tents, caught fireflies, and swam at the community pool.

A telephone was attached to the wall. If you were lucky, you would have a long cord so you could stretch the cord into a closet or another room. There was no call waiting and rare was the household with an answering machine.

Fast forward to today's smartphone and see how technology has changed.

I loved the music of the '60s. A few had their very own transistor (AM) radio. You could walk around with it but the reception was usually terrible.

I remember playing kickball in our front yard every day. In the summer, the park program was the place to be. Everyone had their favorite park that was usually located in your own neighborhood. Of course, the highlight was the park parade.

The Memorial Day parade was always a really special event. There would be the fire trucks, Little League players, Boy Scouts and Girl Scouts walking down Main Street. There would be convertibles with our veterans that served in the early wars.

I always remember the Army tanks and jeeps going down Main Street and the feeling it brought seeing them. You also couldn’t wait for the Mighty St. Joseph Drum & Bugle Corps marching down the street.

It wouldn’t be Memorial Day if we didn’t go to the cemetery and walk to every gravestone that belonged to a relative. I would see my aunt and uncles, cousins standing by our grandfather's and grandmother's graves.

In the mid '60s there were tennis court dances and, in the winter, there was ice skating on the tennis courts. Also, in the summer the local churches would hold their annual lawn fete. We always looked forward to them. A Baby Boomer could drink at 18 and the lawn fetes had the best beer tents.

My memories were filled with a time of change. It seemed every generation was associated with a war. My uncle John was in the Korean War; my father in World War II; we were associated with the Vietnam War.

I remember being in college and there was the talk of classmates being drafted. That changed many lives as my college classmates said goodbye to their boyfriends and husbands.

There were protests against the war and I remember marching down Main Street in Buffalo. We wore bracelets of soldiers who were POWs (prisoners of war) or were MIA (missing in action) from the Vietnam War. We never understood why we were over there, and most of all we never understood when our vets were not honored or remembered like the other war veterans once they returned home.

My father told all of us how difficult it was growing up when he did. How many jobs he did and the best story was about the long walk to school in the snow and rain every day and going home for lunch.

Today this Baby Boomer treasures those memories along with my memories growing up during a much slower time, filled with our music, the Beatles, our dances -- the Twist, the Jerk, the Mashed Potato, the Pony, the Swim, the Boogaloo, Watusi and more.

(To view a YouTube compilation of '60s dances, click here.)

I tried to tell our daughters what it was like back then and now I see our daughters telling their children what it was like, their music, the fashion, and the war associated with them growing up.

Technology has changed our world and our children and their children.

All I really remember as a Baby Boomer was we didn't use the word "bored" because we really weren't bored.

Our music was played on a hi-fi system and we actually danced to a band in high school that just might have been your brother’s band.

I wouldn’t change a thing growing up as a Baby Boomer except honoring our Vietnam vets more.

Please share your Baby Boomer memories. They just might be similar to mine.

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.

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