Written by Jack Garland Friday, 22 February 2013 00:00
Friendships often start with schoolyard associations, chance encounters, and, today, via computer. It is a rare occurrence for a friendship to begin as the result of a grudge.
In the late 1940s, one of our neighboring families decided that they detested everyone within sight of their house. One evening, they systematically knocked on the door of every home on the block and announced, “We’re going to move and we’re selling the house to Jews!” That’s all anyone needed to hear.
A short time afterwards, my parents told me that soon I would have some new friends, a boy slightly younger than me and a girl two years older. They mentioned that the family was Jewish, to which I responded, “That’s nice. Um… what’s Jewish?” They merely said that this family goes to church on Saturday and the men wear hats in church.
The Greene family brought a welcome change.
Little “Ricky” immediately became a close buddy. In the years before Ricky started kindergarten at Hampton Street, he often came along for the ride when my mother picked me up at Corpus Christi School.
In the years that followed, we enjoyed many discussions about our respective faiths. Sometimes, on Fridays, we engaged in dueling dietary restrictions. Rick would mischievously propose that we get a roast beef sandwich, and I would counter by suggesting a BLT instead.
Sometimes we would have make-believe adventures. On one occasion the story even had a title, The African Smugglers. This was sort of an Indiana Jones meets The Da Vinci Code saga with a very involved plot. Rick’s front porch was enclosed by a three-foot high wall and made an ideal “boat” on which we two international detectives deciphered clues.
Our travels led to a secret cave in which we were constantly tripping over skeletons. The location for this scene was my cellar with the lights out. Without warning, our imaginations kicked into overdrive and we both became so frightened that the chase (and the story) came to an abrupt end.
A most influential person for both Rick and me was his older sister. For her entire life, Barbara always had an adventurous spirit. One day, as she went door-to-door selling raffle tickets on a chicken for her Temple’s youth group, she came across some neighbors who told her they chose not to participate because they weren’t Jewish. Barbara immediately responded with, “Well neither is the chicken.”
The Greene’s garage had a high loft. For obvious safety reasons, this was off-limits to us, but Barbara established it as a clandestine clubhouse and assigned it the codename, “Up.” It was here at “Up” that she, an astute 11-year old, decided that the three of us should run away from home. As the big day approached, we agreed upon a 6 a.m. departure. On the afternoon before, my parents informed me that Rick and Barbara had come to the door with the following mysterious message for me: “Not if it rains.”
All night, I strained to keep awake and stared at the clock waiting for 5:30. I saw two o’clock, then three o’clock, but the next thing I knew it was a quarter to nine, and I could smell breakfast. Apparently, my fellow runaways had a similar experience, and our escape plans were discarded forever.
During the 1960s, while I worked as a playground attendant at Wilson Park, Rick was employed at the adjacent Mineola Pool as a “change boy” – one who provided change to patrons. Sometimes, while I was patrolling the picnic area, a paper cup would seemingly fall out of the sky. Being right next to the seven-foot wall surrounding the pool, I had no doubt as to the source and launched the cup back over the wall along with an apple core. Seconds later, the cup, the apple core, and a chicken bone arrived. Before long, Rick and I each recruited reinforcements and this game of vollygarbage escalated until we remembered that this was probably not what we were being paid to do.
Rick was not the only member of the family on duty at the pool. Rick’s mom Polly, worked there as a swimming instructor. However, years before the Village Pool was even in the planning stages, Mrs. Greene would routinely load the neighborhood kids into the family’s Hudson Hornet (green, of course), and drive to Sea Cove, a club in Sea Cliff that had a swimming pool. It was there that she patiently helped me overcome my fear of water.
As we grew, our friendship took on new dimensions. Barbara attended college towards the end of the Beat Generation. Rick became a vegetarian, ending all discussions about roast beef sandwiches. I became a member of a rock group and Rick’s parents hired us to play at Temple Beth Shalom. Here were three altar boys playing music at a synagogue and, again, no bolt of lightning.
Ultimately, I migrated to eastern Long Island and Rick to Eugene, Oregon.
In 2003, while planning a trip to Alaska, I thought, “What an opportunity! Instead of flying home from Anchorage, why not rent a car and drive to see Rick?” But when I took a better look at the maps, I discovered that the distance from Anchorage to Eugene is about the same as from Mineola to Venezuela.
Fortunately, Rick and his wife Eleine did manage to spend several days on Long Island in 2007. On the last day of their visit, we made a pilgrimage to Mineola. As luck would have it, the present owners of Rick’s house were in their driveway, recognized us and graciously gave us a grand tour of their home. After so many years, this was a magnificent finale to our reunion, thanks to the hospitality of our hosts, Mr. and Mrs. O’Callaghan. O’Callaghan? That’s right, our story has come full circle; when the Greenes moved away, they sold the house to gentiles.