Posts Tagged ‘Windsor School’

Memoir 5–Going Steady, Papists, and The Ink Spots

Saturday, May 25th, 2019

I’ll call him Kenny Powers (his last name escapes me), one of the thirteen members of the Thessalonians, a rival social club in the Windsor Terrace/Park Slope neighborhoods of my youth that lay between Prospect Park and the Greenwood Cemetery in Brooklyn.

Kenny stood well over 6-feet, with large hands and feet but, except for perhaps tennis at his school, he demonstrated little athletic skill or interest. An intelligent boy, he introduced us to gadgets and books that we probably never ran across at school. A music lover, Kenny eschewed the growing rock ‘n’ roll phenomenon that delighted most of us and preferred the close harmonies of groups from my older sister’s era, such as The Ink Spots.

The Thessalonians met in the basement of one member’s house on Fuller Place. The club gathered for games, study, service, and dance parties to which they invited neighborhood girls. All of the thirteen adolescent boys’ were Roman Catholics who had attended Holy Name Church before spreading themselves among different high schools–mostly parochial–in the surrounding regions of the borough. I don’t think any of the Thessies, as we called them, attended Manual Training High School, the unfortunately named institution where I was educated. They called themselves The Thessalonians and took their name from the Biblical New Testament letters of St. Paul written to the early Christian church in Thessaloniki, Greece.

Membership in the club was by invitation only and limited to 13–the number of letters in Thessalonians. Unlike many other clubs in the surrounding neighborhoods, the Thessalonians showed little or no interest in athletics.

A smaller club, known as the Valours, met in Michael Fox’s basement on Windsor Place, also for parties and dances with neighborhood girls, but mostly for sports. We played stickball against teams from other nearby neighborhoods, usually with small monetary wagers going to the winners. We played basketball in the PAL (Police Athletic League of the 72nd precinct) and also in Catholic Leagues organized in the school gyms of the neighborhood. The Valours were limited to seven members because Valours had seven letters. We were Michael Fox, in whose basement we met, Christopher Wren, a good friend of Michael’s, Kenneth McCarthy, Robert (Bobby) Buckley, Donald Lyons, Edward Babinski, and me (the lone Protestant in the group).

Valours and Thessalonians were not street gangs; in fact, we often gathered together for parties and co-ed games, but mostly we just “hung out together” focussing primarily on Dominic’s Soda and Ice Cream Parlor on the corner of 10th Avenue and Windsor Place. Dom’s–as we called the soda shop–provided a place to meet for a snack and to listen to the jukebox continuously play the current 100 hits, a place to meet girls our age, and a place to slurp New York’s ubiquitously favorite soft drink, an egg cream.

(Read the Wikipedia entry for “egg cream” https://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Egg_cream┬áto understand the history and singular significance of the drink).

During the years we were mostly sophomores, juniors, and seniors in high school, the two clubs socialized and befriended each other easily. On the corner opposite Dom’s parlor was a tavern and on another corner was a grocery store. One door up from the grocery store was the home of Mary Duffy, one of the girls in the mix of our social lives. The front stoop of Mary’s house provided a common gathering place where boys and girls together mixed and played and ambled to the booths in the back of Dom’s to enjoy the jukebox and our egg creams.

During that time of my life, I became enchanted with Elaine Grant, a good friend of Mary’s, who frequently visited the stoop and shared time with me in a booth at Dom’s. It didn’t take long before Elaine and I were considered “going steady” as the jargon of our adolescence put it. I nightly walked Elaine home along Tenth Avenue to 17th Street beyond Prospect Avenue, holding hands as we walked but disengaging as we turned down 17th Street and strolled to her front door just a few houses down the street. After supper most nights I’d head over to Elaine’s house, and together we’d stroll back to Duffy’s stoop and join our friends.

Elaine and I did a lot of socializing and walking as sixteen-year-olds. We attended dancing parties that included kissing games like spin-the-bottle and were mildly embarrassed when the bottle forced us to kiss in front of the others. I believe she and I, in our separate ways, innocently learned the wonder of liking and being liked by a person of the opposite gender.

However, any romantic crushes that Elaine and I might have experimented with were doomed aforehand. A devout Roman Catholic, Elaine came from a faithful and practicing family in the Holy Name parish. My family, while not Orangemen, were Wesleyan Methodists with a particular disdain for any Roman Catholic that didn’t convert to Protestantism. Many of my parents’ friends dismissed Roman Catholics as papists. My parents echoed sentiments from John Wesley, and they knew of several in our fundamentalist church who had married “outside their faith” and became alienated forever. Though, my folks often remarked–as if surprised–on “how nice” the disdained Catholic partner seemed to be.

I remember my older brother just before being drafted into the artillery during the Korean conflict had developed a close relationship with Marilyn McKenna, the older sister of Margaret McKenna, who had been one of my best friends at The Windsor School (aka P.S. 154). I’d overheard all the discussions my parents had with my older brother concerning his getting too friendly with a “Catholic girl.” When the draft board set a date for my brother to report for duty, I think my mother secretly welcomed the opportunity for my brother to be forced away from the influence of Marilyn.

Even if I tried to deny it, the stance of my parents kept me from any consideration of becoming “unequally yoked” to a papist. Thus, by my senior year of high school, Elaine and I no longer walked hand-to-hand together to and from her home on 17th Street.

Within a week or so, Kenny Powers, who had the politeness of asking if Elaine and I were still “going steady,” became the boy who walked her home.

About that time, my interests had shifted to the neighborhood near the Methodist Hospital and All Saints Episcopal Church, where several of my friends were high school classmates, basketball teammates, and non-Catholics.

I often wonder if Elaine ever became enamored of the music of The Ink Spots. I did.