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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 Billie Owens in nostalgia, batavia, news.

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

Story by Dave Reilly. Photos courtesy of Dave Reilly.

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?”

“Yeah?”

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.

(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 Billie Owens in Christmas, nostalgia, batavia, news.

Story by Dave Reilly. Photos courtesy of Dave Reilly.

(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.

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.

Story by Dave Reilly.

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.

October 7, 2018 - 8:00am
posted by Billie Owens in batavia, news, nostalgia.

Above, brothers Dan Reilly and Dave Reilly wearing their football helmets.

Submitted photos and story by Dave Reilly.

When I nostalgically think back to my childhood in Batavia in the 1950s, several favorite possessions come to mind.

My scruffy eyeless teddy bear got me through many dark and scary nights. No visions of venomous snakes or sounds of branches creaking in the wind outside my window on Thomas Avenue could keep me awake with teddy to protect me.

A cheap baseball mitt that looked like a pancake with stubby fingers stands out, too. It had no pocket at all, but I made do with it for years until I could get a better one.

But the treasure I recall the best is my red football helmet.

Just like Ralphie wishing for a BB gun in “A Christmas Story,” the beloved tale by Jean Shepherd, I pleaded and cajoled to get a football helmet. I was hand-springing happy when I opened the box under our tinsel-laden tree and saw that beautiful scarlet shiny gift.

But, as I put it on, I realized that I couldn't see! It was gigantic. It turned out that although I was 8 years old when I got it, it didn't fit until I was 12. But, in those days, there was no returning it. You just made do.

I did love my helmet though and I was so proud of it. But for the first couple years I had it, I could barely hold my head up with it on.

One time my brother Dan, a couple other little boys and I were playing football in the vacant lot on the northeast corner of Thomas and Washington avenues. A photographer from the Sylvania Company who was taking some local photos for the company newspaper noticed us and took a picture. He got our address and promised to mail us a couple copies.

We were thrilled and couldn't wait to see ourselves. But when the paper came, I couldn't believe it. I looked like a red-capped toadstool! It appeared that there was a gigantic helmet with legs sticking out of it.

But, do you think I would play football without it? No way. I'd cinch the chin strap up to the last hole and stagger off to play with my head bobbing like one of those funny dogs people used to put in the rear window of their cars. I might have been the original bobblehead.

I think back sometimes when it's football season and recall the fun times I had with that helmet.

One of our favorite things to do was play in the mud. We'd wait for a real rainy day, one of those days when the air smells like worms and wet dog fur. We'd round up a bunch of kids and then start nagging our moms to let us go. That didn't take long though because what mom isn't looking for a break from cooped up 8 to 10 year old boys.

We'd head for the State Park (AKA Centennial Park) across the street from the New York State School for the Blind and look for the soggiest part. We didn't play two-hand touch either. I mean the whole reason for playing in the mud was to dive and get knocked into it.

After a couple hours of that, we looked like swamp creatures from a scary movie.

One of the most hilarious parts of the whole experience was seeing the reaction of our mom when we squished into the house afterward: “Oh no! Just look at this! You boys are a sight! Get those muddy clothes off right now and don't you dare get near the carpet.

"You have to get in the bathtub PDQ! What in billy bejabbers (my mom's “cursing”) was I thinking letting you go out in this rain! You'll catch your death of pneumonia!” 

We'd skitter upstairs to the bathroom giggling all the way. Later after we got out of the tub, there was enough dirt ringed around the sides to start a terrarium.

Later when I became a dad, I had to learn the same lesson that my mom had: You're probably going to trade those couple hours or minutes of peace and quiet for a splitting headache later on.

Eventually, I outgrew my red helmet and it was put away in a box in the basement. My dad saved everything (he actually saved a half a can of charcoal lighter for over 15 years) and from to time he'd notice it and ask me if I wanted it. “Nah” I would say.

Well, life moves on and I forgot about that helmet for a long time.

In 1989, my aunt died and my father and mother had an auction to sell off her stuff and put some of their own belongings up for sale also. I showed up to see how it was going and guess what? There on a table was my red helmet and my brother's yellow one, too, for 25 cents apiece. Who would want them?

Nobody. Except me.

So, where is it today? In a box in the basement just like it was for all those years. I just can't seem to throw it away. Whenever I see it, I'm transported back to a muddy park in Batavia in the 1950s, having a blast in the red helmet of my youth.

Editor's Note: Dave Reilly last wrote for The Batavian about a bugle he found and tried to get displayed in the Holland Land Office Museum.

Below, Dave Reilly these days with the football helmets he and his brother played in as children.

April 5, 2010 - 11:25am
posted by Linda Olson in music, nostalgia, YWCA of Genesee County.
Event Date and Time: 
April 12, 2010 - 7:00pm to 9:00pm

Come join us on a journey through the 1940's presented by Helen Batchellor.

This event will be held at 7pm on Monday, April 12th 2010, at the YWCA on 301 North Street, Batavia, NY.

Dessert & coffee will be served. Donations are greatly appreciated.

 Please RSVP by phone, (585)343-5808.

(The YWCA of Genesee County is Celebrating 100 Years of Service)

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