For Tuyet, Katrina, KaSandra, and Luc
Albany, New York, April 1968...Spring Break
Springtime in upstate New York is glorious. There are so many vivid and vibrant colors around you that your eyes almost seemed assaulted. And when the sun was at its highest point in the sky the world around you was lousy with the abundance of life. There were so many bees buzzing, birds singing, dogs barking, cats mewing, and kids squawking, that if you hummed the right tune you’d have created a symphony comparable to anything Mozart ever composed. I sat at the breakfast table in the kitchen and looked out at all of this beauty, sipping on my coffee. Yes, I had become a coffee drinker since going away to university. And I really tried to drink it like a man, black and strong.
But there was just enough sissy in me to enjoy the luxury of some sweet cream and sugar. I was sure that Da would forgive me the indulgence and only squirm in his grave a little. But I made a mental note to avoid drinking coffee around Uncle Chuck, lest I be referred to ever more as a “wee girl.” I didn’t think I could live with all of the jibes like, “would you be passing me the salt there Shirley,” or the worst pun ever, “don’t be getting your panties in a bunch Princess!”
“DEAR GOD NOT THAT,” I thought out loud, shuddering and shaking myself out of that unpleasant vision.
“Good morning Ethan, did you sleep well boy,” my mother asked as she walked into the kitchen?
“Yeah mom, just fine” My mother set out a bowl and spoon for my sister’s breakfast. It would be the usual, porridge with butter and brown sugar, toast and jam, milk and OJ.
“Ethan, will you get the milk from the fridge for me please?”
“You bet,” I answered, and got up to do as I was asked. Setting the milk bottle on the table I stuck my tongue out at my sister as she walked sleepily into the room.
“Morning squirt,” I said cheerfully.
“Moooorrrnnning,” she said yawning and raising both of her arms high, her little fists clenched, a real ‘BIG GIRL STRETCH’ for one so small. I sat back down next to my sister and shot her a quick wink.
“Would you like a refill MR. KELLY,” mother teased, a hand on her hip, while she waived the coffeepot back and forth above me.
“Sure Mom and the porridge smells grand as well”
“Nice to have my cooking noticed again,” she quipped.
“This one here just plays with her meals, I have to wrestle each morsel into her mouth!”
“Nuh uh!” Shannon grunted, opening her mouth wide to show us the gross evidence of her healthy appetite this fine morning.
“SHANNON ELIZABETH KELLY,” mother hollered!
“Is that the face you want our Lord to freeze on your insolent gob for the rest of this day?”
My sister quickly closed her mouth and swallowed, covering her face with her hands to keep any flack from escaping her lips. Choking, she reached for her glass of milk in a slight panic, trying to help herself avoid retching. It was almost an Uncle Chuck ‘through the nose episode’, but only almost, DARN IT! I reached over and patted her on the back until she recovered, and there were a couple of tears at the corners of her eyes from the strain.
“Tanks Ethan, my hero,” she said sweetly, batting her eyes at me!
“Not at all dear, not at all,” I replied in my ‘most proper’ gent tone. I looked over to mother who was leaning back against the kitchen counter, sipping her tea and smiling at her brood from over the rim of her cup. She winked at the two of us.
“OK children let’s get on with this meal without further incident, shall we?” She brought over my bowl of porridge and placed a pat of butter on top.
“There you go sonny that should stick to your middle for awhile!”
“Thanks Mom looks good.”
“So, you’re off on your annual pilgrimage to Cooperstown today are you boy,” she asked?
“Yes ma’am, if that’s OK with you of course”
“Not a worry Ethan, so long as you and those hooligan friends of yours are careful, and back by suppertime tomorrow night,” she said.
“Your Uncle Liam and Aunt Deb will be here for Sunday supper,” she added.
“Ah, I completely forgot, Mom can I ------?” She cut me off with a raised hand and a quick turn of her head.
“NO, Ethan, your family has not seen you for months,” she said sternly!
“Do you think that poor man will live forever?” Actually, I was pretty sure that the old codger would out live us all! He was too mean and ornery for Heaven or Hell. “Sorry Mom, of course you’re right, we’ll be back on time, don’t worry,” I said reassuringly. Shannon got up from her seat, wiping her mouth with the back of her hand.
“May I be excused please?”
“Ah, Shannon, you’ve the manners of a street urchin,” Mother sad sadly.
“Yes, you’re excused child, now go wash up and make your bed before you go out into the neighborhood,” Mom continued, watching her daughter sprint out of the room. Actually, Shannon was already out of earshot once Mother had said ‘yes’ so it wasn’t likely that she heard any of the chore assignments.
“Ah, that chiseller has no patience at all,” Mom said tiredly. “She can hardly stay still long enough for a decent chinwag!”
“She is almost as precocious as you were as a cub sonny,” she said giggling softly.
“MY PROGENEY, Lord above,” Mother said, raising her teacup to Heaven and shaking her head slowly.
There was a slight screech from the driveway outside. It sounded like Paulie had arrived a tad early to pick me up for the two-hour drive to the hallowed ground of ‘Baseball’s Hall of Fame’. Kenny, Paulie, Sparky and I had made this trip together every year since Paul got his driver’s license. However this would be the first trip without Sparky, it almost seemed sinful. He had gone off to Ohio State University, it was a doctor he hoped to be some day. And apparently he was uncommonly gifted at biology, since he told us that this year he would be staying in Columbus to spend the break with his ‘fiancée’s’ family. “Oh brother, looks like he’ll be the first,” I thought to myself.
Walking over to the counter I set my dirty dishes into the sink, and peeked out the window. Yep, it was Paulie, or should I say ‘Seaman Paul Michael Pulchoski,’ trotting up to the back door, no doubt in search of breakfast number two. My buddies were the most famous chowhounds in New England, legends really. I’ll wager that there was not a supper table in fifty square miles that they had not visited at least once! There was a sharp rap at the wooden screen door and then Paul invited himself inside.
“Morning all,” he said with that booming, happy voice of his. Paul was the type that made friends easily. People just liked him right away, like a big, goofy footed puppy.
“Hey Paulie,” I answered and walked over to give him a hug and an enthusiastic, but cautious thump or two on the back. Ever since that one summer with his sister Sandy I had been expecting an ass whipping sooner or later. But to my pleasant surprise, she had proven to be quite discrete over the years, which only magnified my guilt in the eyes of the Lord I suspected.
“Ah well, life’s lessons are chosen for us, our part is the learning, that’s the hard part after all,” I thought to myself.
“Hey Peepers,” he replied, thumping me much harder than I expected?
Coughing up a little of my breakfast I choked out, “EASY big guy, save some of me for Kenny to manhandle!” Paul ignored me and walked over to mother and hugged her while she sat at the table.
“Hello Paul, you’re looking well son, how’s your family?”
“Their all fine Mrs. Kelly, just fine, Mom said to say hello.”
“Do you have any bacon to go with this porridge on the stove,” he asked leaning over the pot of oatmeal?
“You know I do Mr. Pulchoski, I’ll fry some up for you straight away, take a seat now,” Mom said getting up from her chair.
“Thanks Mrs. ‘K’,” Paul replied swinging his leg over the back of a chair and sitting down.
He tucked a napkin into his shirt collar making an amusing little bib for himself and waited to be served. I have to admit, the Navy seemed to be working for him, and he looked really good, healthy and strong. They must have worked him pretty hard at boot camp because he was at least forty pounds leaner and in the best shape I had ever seen him in. Good for him, I bet he would make those roughneck hooligans at the ‘PizzaBurger’ think twice before they ever messed with him again, or any of us for that matter. I smiled and brought him a glass of milk and a banana, taking a seat next to him. We chatted for another thirty minutes or so while he ate and then excused ourselves to gather my gym bag containing a change of clothes and a few possibles for our little trip. Shannon ran into my room, as we were finishing and jumped onto my bed.
“Ethan, will you be home tomorrow,” she asked?
“Ethan,” she said coyly, “can I sleep in your room while you are gone?”
“Yeah sure squirt, just leave it dry as you found it ya wee chiesller,” I teased her, and swatted her with one of the pillows. She laughed and then stuck her tongue out at Paul, who then returned the left-handed gesture of endearment. We all went out through the living room towards the kitchen together, and my mother was waiting with a sack full of sandwiches and fruit for the road.
“There you go boys, at least you’ll have one healthy meal between now and Sunday,” she said sarcastically.
“Thanks Mrs. ‘K’,” Paul said peeking in the large grocery bag and removing a ‘Granny Smith’ apple.
“Where does he put it all,” Mom said shaking her head and giggling.
“OK, we’re off,” I said kissing my mother and sister goodbye. Mother hugged Paul as well and pinched his ear. Paul made an attempt to hug Shannon, but she squealed and kicked him good and hard in the shin.
“OWWW, you little sh----- ahhh, sorry Mrs. Kelly, but she started it,” he said, pointing at Shannon who was now hiding behind me.
“On you’re way now boys, on your way,” Mom said tiredly.
“And make sure you drive safely Paulie, remember, that’s my first born in the seat next to you!”
“Oh, and give my best to your mother and dad,” she called after us as we jogged to the car.
Jumping into his ’66 Mustang like Batman and Robin, Paul fired up the motor and we left a little rubber in the drive as we backed into the street, the road trip officially on. I turned around in the seat and watched my waiving mother and sister getting smaller and smaller as we approached the four-way stop at Elm and Spruce. We both stuck our hands out our windows and waived as Paul cruised through the intersection, honking his horn in a farewell salute.
Kenny was waiting for us on the parkway in front of his house, sitting on his duffel bag. He was in his usual spring attire, gabardine slacks, a stylish polo shirt, and freshly polished penny loafers, by far the best dresser of the group. He certainly put the two of us to shame, what with Paul in his Navy dailies and a buzz cut, and me in jeans, tee shirt, sneakers and a shaggy mop of sandy brown hair, at least a couple months overdue on a trimming!
“Dudes, what took you,” he asked?
“No, let me guess, Paul had to strap on the feedbag again!”
“No I didn’t,” Paul said, louder than an innocent man would need to.
“Dude, there’s oatmeal on your shirt goofball,” Kenny said pointing at Paul as he tossed his bag and himself into the back while I held the door open and the seat forward for him.
I jumped in after Kenny and closed the car door. Ken waived to his Dad who was watching us from the bay window, a large Chinese Elm in front of the house casting a morning shadow across the porch. His Dad waived back and then walked away carrying Kenny’s little brother, letting the drapes fall back to cover the window.
“Drive on swabbie,” Ken said, and the ‘three amigos’ were on the road again.
We went through town past the State Capital building and then hopped on Interstate 87 heading south towards Cooperstown, about seventeen miles outside of Oneonta. I reached over to the radio and switched it on, Led Zeppelin’s ‘Black Dog’ blared from Paul’s newly installed quadraphonic stereo system, it was bitchin! I quickly made a mental note, have to compose a list of frequently used words that may be inappropriate for fledgling priests, and do it soon Ethan (hearing my mother’s voice in my head)! We rode along a while just listening to the music and looking out the windows, watching the brilliant colors flash by, drinking in the countryside without any conversation at all. It was Kenny who broke the silence just as the local DJ finished telling all of New York State, ‘that was The Beatles and Revolution, can you believe these guys are really breaking up?’
“Hey, what’s in the bag Kelly?” He didn’t wait for an answer and grabbed the shopping bag from between Paul and I, and started rummaging through it. Finding an apple to snack on he took a loud bite and then pulled out his second course, a homemade chicken salad sandwich. And that was that, the feeding frenzy was on, and by the time we reached the turn off for Cooperstown the only thing left uneaten was the paper shopping bag, and Paul was searching that for potato chip crumbs!
“Man, I gotta take a whiz,” Paul said, fidgeting uneasily in his seat.
“Yeah, me too,” I added.
“That makes it unanimous, I need to piss like a race horse,” Kenny chimed in from the back, wrinkling his nose and grimacing.
“We’ll whip into ‘Jackie’s Place’ just before town and hit the head,” Paul said, he was Navy now, so he said ‘head’ instead of bathroom? We all tried thinking dry thoughts until we got to our destination, ETA approximately nine minutes according to the sailor in the driver’s seat. But then the rain started, of course! By the time we pulled up to ‘Jackie’s Place’ it was pouring, and we were climbing over one another trying to get out of the car and into the restroom. We hit the front door with a crash and ran past Jackie herself and a handful of startled patrons on our way to the potty.
“Hey Jackie,” we said in unison, racing past her in a all fired hurry.
“What the----,” she started to say, but we were in the bathroom before we could hear the rest. The three of us surrounded the toilet like we were at a campfire, fiddling with our pants, Paul had a tough time navigating those thirteen buttons. Then we had ourselves a group pee.
“Good thing we aren’t chicks, we’d have to try this squatting,” Kenny said sheepishly.
“Quit your yapping Einstein, it’s affecting your aim,” Paul snapped! We heard the door open behind us and Jackie peeked in, she was just in time to hear our ‘group sigh’ of relief.
“Good Lord boys were you raised by wolves,” she asked sarcastically? She rolled a mop and water pail just inside the door, “make sure you use this and leave my bathroom as clean as you found it,” she said giggling and shaking her head.
“Now I’ve seen everything, wait till Father hears about this one,” she said laughing harder now.
“SORRY JACKIE,” we all said together, as we finished our business.
“Hey, watch the pants Paulie,” Kenny quipped!
“Shut up doofus,” Paul quipped back, starting the thirteen-button drill in reverse!
“We’re idiots, this will be all over town in an hour,” I said reaching for the mop and pail.
“I wonder what the lunch special is today,” Kenny and Paul said at the same time, punching each other in the arm while I swabbed the deck.
“You guys can’t possibly be hungry already,” I said straightening up and pushing the hair back out of my face.
“Shut up Ethan, we’re on vacation,” Paulie shot back, drying his hands with a paper towel.
I set the mop back in the pail and the three of us exited the bathroom and went back into the diner. As we walked through the swinging doors we were greeted by Jackie and her staff as well as two good-natured locals seated at the counter, arms raised high, in a full on ‘apple juice salute.’
“Well done boys, well done,” Jackie said, barely getting the words out through her belly laugh.
The three of us just blushed and took seats at the counter next to the locals, what a way to start the trip! “Well, at least Uncle Chuck wasn’t here to record this for posterity in Ethan Kelly’s ‘book of dumb ass stunts’,” I thought out loud to myself, there was that to be thankful for. “Oh man, another word for the list!”