Recently,as I was running a few errands around my hometown of Lindenhurst, I drove by Brunswick Hospital in Amityville.
As I got off Sunrise Highway, and headed South on Broadway, I was surprised to see that the hospital building now lay in fresh ruin due to demolition efforts to clear the site to build anew. I knew the building would be torn down one day, as the hospital closed a number of years ago. I was a bit sad as I drove by as the building has significant meaning to me.
Many years ago, actually July 16, 1969, to be exact, my father Paul Kelly was a patient at Brunswick Hospital preparing for life-threatening cancer surgery. The very day that Apollo 11 took off for the moon, my father was beginning the fight for his life here on earth. During the next few months, my father remained at Brunswick as he fought for his life.
Since I was just five years old, I was never able to visit him in the hospital. Instead Mom would on occasion drive us to Brunswick and park in the parking lot. There in the North-facing window of the second floor stairwell was my dad waving to us. Clad in his hospital gown and robe, I could see my dad waving to us and blowing kisses.
In the mind of a little boy, that stairwell was hundreds of feet high and my father was up in the heavens, rather than the few stories it actually was. Unbeknownst to us, my father was given six months to live.
A number of months later, dad would be well enough to come home, but I could hardly recognize the frail and sick person sitting on our couch that day I came home from Niagara Avenue School.
Over time my father would will his way back and fulfill his dream to see his children grow up, but he would endure numerous physical challenges until he passed away in 2001 at the age of 64.
As I finished up my “to-do” list, I felt compelled to drive to Breslau cemetery
where my father would be the first to trumpet his victory of being the first
one buried in the section that once was the playgrounds of Niagara Avenue
School, the elementary school that I, along with my three sisters and brother
attended. As I rolled up to Breslau, I could see Niagara Avenue School, which is now called the Margaret A. McKenna Building, still looking very much like an elementary school, but showing signs of its middle age.
Along the building façade you notice rust building up in the spots where rain must repeatedly cascade, and the playground is much smaller now that the cemetery has been opened.
Interestingly, I find myself reminiscing about my school years at Niagara.
I started kindergarten in Sept of 1969. I remember the first day of school was a very rainy day. I proudly wore my yellow rain jacket with the yellow hood. Upon dismissal, I accidentally took Kevin L’s yellow rain jacket rather than my own. A rookie mistake for sure, but the jackets were identical, just like the eight to 10 other yellow jackets that the other boys had.
I remember the smell of new clothes and new shoes. Miss Procop was my teacher. She was a wonderful teacher, who seemed to know everything.
During the year I impressed her so much that rather than display my “Shape Man” drawing that was comprised of circles, squares and rectangles, she wanted to give it directly to my mother. My “shape man”, along with the one of a classmate, Kevin S, was anatomically correct, drawn in all his glory.
One day I came home all excited, and had to tell my mother that Miss Procop wanted us to watch a new television show that was designed just for us kids. The show was called Sesame Street and was on a station called PBS on channel 13. It was purely magical to meet the new characters: Kermit, Big Bird, Bert and Ernie and the show host Bob.
I always thought that my dad looked a lot like Bob McGrath.
Another day as I was walking to school, I noticed our dog Marty had followed me. Knowing that school was important and that I couldn’t be late, I told Marty to “go home” and continued on my way. When I got home that day, I asked my mother if Marty came back home. Marty never came home again....
In first grade our class was now in the same hallway as the other grades; we were
joining the big time. Mrs. Jensen was our teacher. Again, I was lucky enough
to have the “greatest teacher” just like I had with Miss Procop. Many of my
friends from Kindergarten were in my class, as well.
I remember brown bag peanut butter and jelly sandwiches for lunch. Often we would get hot lunches. We would line up in the long hallway leading up to the lunch room, get our tray and silverware and pay the $0.35 for lunch. We'd get an apple, an orange or a banana as part of the $0.35 deal.
Not all of the kids would eat the fruit, and Mrs. Padavani would come by and “steal” it from us. She'd amass a small orchard by the time lunch was over. For a first-grader Mrs. Padavani was a bit loud and, therefore, was “mean and scary.”
Either truth or legend, I was told years later that she took the fruit to a homeless shelter.
Second grade was a very memorable year, as well. Like many of you, I imagine you can recall who your top or best teachers were. One of my favorites was Mrs.
We had a fun class, with many of my friends, but more importantly, Julie L was in my class. As vivid as if it happened only yesterday, I remember serenading her to “Julie, Julie, Julie, Do You Love Me” made popular by teen heartthrob Bobby Sherman.
I knew the song inside and out as my older sisters had that record and would play it on our record player at home. Good luck continued as my mother was picked as our Class Mom that year.
In library class one day our librarian read us a really cool kid detective book called Encyclopedia Brown. "This kid is amazing," I think to myself, and I have to read all the cases he solved. Better yet, at the end of class, I successfully guessed the magic question to be the first kid to check out Encyclopedia Brown from the library!
A life-changing event happened to me in second grade. On Halloween morning I was walking to school in my green Parka jacket with the eskimo fur around the hood. Out of nowhere, I felt a thud, and then the oozing of egg on the side of my head and all through the fur in my hood. I got egged! I ran home crying in pain and embarrassment.
When I got home, Mom was going to right this wrong. She took me directly to see our principal, Mr. Maceiko. He was a no-nonsense type with a big baritone voice, and when he spoke, people listened, even the parents.
Since I didn’t get a good look at the perpetrator, Mr. Maceiko decided we would get a look at all of the fifth- and sixth-graders when they lined up for lunch. One by one, we went down the hall, with Mr. Maceiko asking me, “Was it him?”, “Was it him?”
After a while I started getting the cadence down, and I would look at each fifth- and sixth-grader, who at this point looked like 25-year-olds, saying, “Not him, not him, not him.”
I never knew who egged me, but I also learned that I didn’t want to be a stoolie either.
Also, since I was becoming a man of the world, I was allowed to stay up to 10 p.m. on Monday nights to watch the first half of Monday Night Football with Don Meredith, Frank Gifford and Howard Cosell.
As trade-off, I'd have to go to bed after dinner and sleep until dad gets me for the 9 p.m. kick-off. Are you kidding? I was far too excited to sleep any Monday night, so I'd have to fake it when dad “wakes me up” just prior to kick-off. My older sister Mary Beth was on to me, and she was always trying to blow my cover. I became a “master fake sleeper” on Monday nights!
Off to third grade, and now our class was at the end of the first floor hallway. Our teacher was Miss Galluchio.
One day, our class misbehaved so badly we had to write, “I will not misbehave in class” 1,750 times. Worse yet, it was a Friday and we had to have it handed in for Monday morning. This was going to torpedo any chance of playing outside over the weekend. She might as well have said 10 million.
Enter older sister Mary Beth who thought it was a great challenge. She proceeded to finish the whole thing for me! Wow, maybe having sisters wasn’t a bad thing after all?
During the year Miss Galluchio had a big chart on the wall. On the chart running down one side was the name of each of the kids in the class, and across the top was the numbers one to 12 for each of the times tables we had to memorize.
If and when you were ready, then you would go to Ms. Galluchio and belt out 1x1=1, 1x2=2, and when you successfully completed 1x12 =12, you would get a star in the “1” box next to your name.
I was very good at math, and broke out to an early lead. Cruising past the pedestrian two, three, four and five times table, my confidence was high. Quickly six, seven, eight and nine fell. Entering doubled digits, with only 10, 11 and
12 to go, it was shaping up as a two-person race: me and, you guessed it, Julie!
I remember the 11 times table gave me the most difficulty, but I did a good job of simple memorization, then powered through it and got the star.
Now the only thing that stood between math immortality and me was the 12 times table. Since you could only do one times table a day, I had to wait for the next day. The class was abuzz that day, and since I dispatched Julie on the 11 times table the day before, victory was mine for the taking.
Miss Galluchio threw a curveball. Rather than recite the times table on the side of the room at the learning station, I would have to go up to the front of the class to get the final star.
Confidently I ticked off 12x1=12….12x8=96….Oh man I'm almost
there....12x11=132. The class was ready to jump in exhilaration.
Confidently I said, “and 12x12=142!” The class erupts in excitement.
Miss Galluchio has caught my error. I thought 144, but somehow said 142! She said, “Hang on a second. Class let’s be quiet. Tom, can you say the last one again?"
"Ummm, ummmm, it's 144!" The class can’t be held back this time, and I'm the math champion! A great day in elementary history!
In fourth grade we move upstairs. Wow, this is cool. My class is directly over the
classroom from last year, but it's so much more adult, as we're above the younger kids in the school.
Miss Kubick is our teacher this year. She's very tall, very animated and demonstrative, and loves the arts. She lead the school musical production of Oklahoma, which receives a standing ovation from the parents the night of the play.
My dad challenged me to try out for the next play or concert, so I did.
Christmas concert 1973, I had my first solo. I'm one of four singers who have a small solo part - still remember it to this day. Petrified, I sing “The Christmas card you send on Christmas Day will not bring back the friend you turned away.” Whoa, mission accomplished! "No more for me," I think to myself.
In gym we could achieve the President’s Award if we reach the 85 percent level in the 600-yard run, shuttle run, and broad jump and chin-ups. Chin-ups would do me in, so I'd have to settle for the 50 percent award. I'm a fast runner, and confident I would run a good time. Clad in my Lindy Green shorts and white tee shirt, I survey my classmates and know my friend Kevin S is my competition.
Mr. Moshen, our gym teacher, yelled, “Go,” and Kevin is out like a jack rabbit. I decided my strategy is to pace myself and catch him at the end. Surely he'll burn out down the stretch. Kevin is way out in front half way through, and I'm beginning to think I don’t know if I can catch him.
Turning it on now, I began to close the gap, as I'm now the only one with a legitimate chance to catch him. With 100 yards to go, I realize Kevin's going to win. He crossed the line at 2:08, while I came in second at 2:15.
Fifth grade is a change. After having the charismatic Ms. Kubick in fourth, Ms. Graff is my teacher this year. She's an older woman who's a bit of a disciplinarian.
I remember in social studies we had to present a cue card from our learning box and explain what we read. Some of the issues were things such as what it’s like for a family living in India, or the poverty in the inner cities. If you didn’t know your stuff, then Ms. Graff would let you know. I learn to be prepared.
I tried out for the school play this year, and got the part of the Artful Dodger in Oliver. Kevin S is Oliver. In my first scene, I walked on to the stage and passed Oliver, who's sitting alone. I walked by him, looking oddly at him, looking away, and continuing to look back at him a number of more times.
The parents were laughing, and I'm just loving it. So I did the look away and look towards him a few times more, all the time saying nothing. Finally, I said in my rehearsed cockney accent, “What you looking at? Ain’t you ever seen a gent before?”
The parents laughed hysterically. It was so much fun, and the play was a big success. My sister Mary Beth had a smaller role, but she wasn't going to be denied star status. Playing the part of an old woman who dies in her bed, she milked it for every laugh possible, and stole the scene.
At the end of fifth grade, my parents found a house across town, and I'd
attend a different elementary school for one year before I'm reunited with my
friends in the Junior High School.
Fast forward back to 2012, I'm a wonderfully fortunate man, happily married to the woman of my dreams for the past 22 years.
Together my wife Kristine and I have two great kids: Mary Kate, a college senior, and Jack, a fourth-grader at William Rall Elementary School. Often times, we go to the fields of Niagara to play baseball or hold our annual scavenger hunt.
The memories of Niagara Avenue School and its wonderful teachers, along with my parents, sisters and brother, were such an integral part of who I am today. The playground where I had such great memories now is the peaceful resting place for my father.
One day, Niagara may give way to new homes, or for some other use, but, just like the tearing down of Brunswick Hospital, the buildings may go away, but the memories last forever.
Tom Kelly is a Lindenhurst alumnus and resident.