Sledding on Mersereau and Bowling in Boston
Richard J. Garfunkel
March 13, 2006
In the mid 1950’s weather seemed to be a lot worse. Maybe “global warming” hadn’t started to make its inroads on the polar icecaps and the Greenhouse Affect was more about keeping one’s plants germinating is a small backyard improvised hot box. For some reason I remember snow being on the ground all through the winter. Whenever that first snowfall came our way, the weather stayed cold until a January thaw and then our region would get hit again.
During one rotten winter, when I was about 11, I was playing in front of my house at 500 East Prospect Avenue, Mount Vernon, NY and my gold pinkie ring, which my grandfather had given me, slipped off into the snow. I frantically looked for it, but for the life of me I just couldn’t find it in that 12-inch mound of fluff. I have no memory of what happened next, or for a matter of fact, what I said or didn’t say to my mother. My father would have had no clue about the ring at all. The moral of the story is that when the snow finally melted in March, and as I was leaping down our front steps, I noticed a glint of reflected light in the lawn, and lo and behold, there was the ring. I am still wearing it at this very writing, some 50 years later. It had to be re-sized at least twice. In fact, on one of those occasions, it was done by Leonard Perelman, of Talner Jewelers. Leonard, a wonderful guy whose family once owned the Bromley Stores, and was the father of my old friend Lewis. Later on he and his wife Ruth became close friends of my wife Linda and I.
But getting back to those 1950 winters. In those days when a nor’easter blew into town, school was invariably closed, the roads remained basically unplowed for a day or so, and the Department of Sanitation that was responsible for plowing did not have the sophisticated melting agents that are so prevalent today. In other words the hills were alive with sound of sleighing. That was the era of Flexible Flyers, garbage can covers and for the financially challenged, flattened cardboard boxes. On those special days the best streets in my neighborhood to sled were Prospect, Sidney, Esplanade and Mersereau.
On Prospect and Esplanade where there were bigger houses, long driveways and larger garages no one parked on the street, so sledding was a bit safer. Sidney was a bit dangerous because it was very steep but short and it ran into a few other streets. The real challenge was Mersereau, which was a long straight street, but many people parked on both sides of the street. There were scores of kids around in those days of larger families and Mersereau was teeming with potential Olympic hopefuls. If you road your sled feet first, in the “luge” position you were more conservative. If you steered with your hands and therefore went down the street headfirst, this would be considered the “skeleton” position. One of the bolder youngsters who lived on that street was one Jimmy Stark. His name had an onomatopoetic ring to it. In German “stark” means strong and in German and Yiddish a “schtarker” was a “strong one.” Even though I was not one to duck a fight or open my mouth to many, Jimmy Stark was one I chose to avoid at most times. Well on one of these cold snowy days he took his sled down Mersereau and had the poor fortune to slide out of control and to run his head into the sharp edge of a parked car’s chrome bumper. In retrospect I cannot say that I was terribly unhappy about his misfortune, and to many it seemed like a reasonable case of “divine justice.” Eventually young Mr. Stark came away with a long scar on his forehead and it brought his appearance more in line with his demeanor. I always thought of him as being like Cary Grant’s crazy brother Jonathan in “Arsenic and Old Lace.” Of course this was an impression of mind when I was 11 or 12.
As I can recall Jimmy Stark did not attend the public schools in Mount Vernon and I never saw him ever at AB Davis High School so I assume he was not there. Eventually, years later, I did hear his name and saw him strolling in and around the Commonwealth Avenue campus of Boston University. But if we talked I have no recollection.
One day I went to the Student Union with a close friend named Andrew Mandell, now a local Judge from in and around Bolton, Massachusetts, who hailed from Utica, New York. Andy was a top-notch bowler, who scored at a high enough level to compete in the NCAA’s. He wanted to practice at the basement lanes at the Student Union, and I was up for some of the same activity. As we started to bowl I noticed, on the enjoining lanes, a number of women were aggressively practicing. I didn’t pay much attention to them until the next time I accompanied Andy to bowl. Frankly I would have never thought to bowl on my own. Coincidently the same gals were bowling and I recognized one of the girls right away. She was quite amazing. I’m not particularly small, being close to 6’ 2” and then probably weighing 190 pounds. This young lady had to be almost all of my height and was very large on top. In fact she was incredibly buxom and though not skinny, by any sense of the word, was decently well proportioned. One could have easily characterized her as an “Amazon”. She was pleasant looking and as we bowled I was able to make some small talk and I learned a bit about why they were there. She was in the Boston University’s Sargeant College, School of Physical Therapy and was getting credits for an athletic activity. I never learned her name and I was a bit disappointed that when we went back again the next week the girls were gone. Either they changed times or the class had ended. Boston University is a big place, and one could easily not see a person twice in four years.
Some time passed and one evening I drove down to the Newberry Street area where there was a party in a Washington Street townhouse. I parked and walked into a typical railroad apartment jammed to the walls. The air was so cloudy with the haze of cigarette smoke that one could hardly breathe. In fact it was suffocating. After five minutes and a few drinks I became a bit lubricated and ready to bail out of this noxious den on iniquity.
Then as if by magic, out of the haze and on my way out to fresh air I meet my Amazonian friend from the lanes. I said hello and asked if she had the strength to stay? Frankly with her lungs she would have been polluted twice as fast as any one else. She said “no” and asked me if I had any ideas. I said my car is parked nearby and we could leave and go anywhere she wished. Once in the car, and out of the blue, she said, “Do you have anything to drink?” Amazingly I had happened to have a pint of whisky in the car. (There was 21 year old drinking in Massachusetts, wherein New York the age limit was 18 in those days, and I was over 21 in my junior year.) I am positive that since that evening I have never had an “open” bottle of alcohol in any car I had ever owned. I opened the glove compartment, and handed her the bottle. Without a slip or a hesitation she took the bottle to her mouth took a long straight swig. “Wow!” That was beyond remarkable. I was astounded! I had never witnessed anything like that before, and frankly have never seen that type of boldness since. I took the bottle form her grasp, and without wiping it off took my own gulp. She took it back from me and without a blink of one’s eye; I asked her if she would like to see my apartment. She agreed and before she could rethink her decision I took off like a “bat out of hell” to Beacon Street. In a few short moments I passed by the 1200 Beacon Motel, turned right onto Saint Paul’s and made a short sharp left to 55 Parkman Street. I parked, escorted my new friend into my place and before long we got quite comfortable. I thought immediately of the old Phil Silvers’ line, when he was playing “Sgt. Bilko” and luck came his way, “Thank you G-d.” But funny things how the G-d’s become fickle and the fates quickly change. I suddenly got white hot in the forehead, my temperature soared and I became violently sick. Talk about the sublime turning to the ridiculous. To make a long story short and against every instinct that I possessed I had to muster up the strength to take her to her dorm. I have never felt so inadequate, but it must have been fated. I unfortunately still never knew her name.
I only saw her once again, and there she was, walking arm and arm, with my old nemesis from the snowy hills of Mount Vernon, Jimmy Stark. We passed like ships sailing in the night and I never looked back.