I played hooky and spent the next day waiting outside a friend’s house in Readville until he got home from school, and convinced him to let me sleep in the back seat of his beat up Pontiac Bonneville convertible until I could figure something out. I’d been there a couple of nights when Diane came looking and found me and convinced me to come and stay with her and her new friends over near Green Street in Jamaica Plain where they shared a flat, then not long thereafter we all moved over to another place in Cambridge, just behind Central Square. I ended up staying there and commuting to school over in Hyde Park High via an unregistered 1965 Chevy Corvair. I bought it for fifty bucks from one of Diane’s friends. It had a leaky exhaust that gave everyone who rode in it a splitting headache from the fumes, so we had to ride around all winter with the windows open, and it was so small I had to let my hockey sticks hang out the window on the way to games.
I’d only sneak home to see Ma and everyone whenever Dad was at work, and I never slept another night under his roof and didn’t see him again until about a year later when they had by then moved again, this time to River Street in Hyde Park, not far from Cleary Square. He hadn’t once looked for or reached out to me from the moment I was out of his sight that night on Bradeen Street which was just fine with me. I just walked into the house one day to see Ma and there he was at the kitchen table, chomping on sardines out of a can, taking them out one by one with his bare fingers dropping them in exaggerated fashion into his toothless mouth as he made smacking noises. He looked up at me and nodded and with his mouth full said “Hey pal,” but avoided eye contact. Good, he was uncomfortable. I was a little nervous and wary about seeing him myself, but I knew I couldn’t avoid him forever so had made the decision to stop by knowing he was home and by now, harmless to me.
“Hey,” I nodded back and that signified our truce.
I started stopping by some nights to see my siblings and would maybe play a few games of cribbage with him as the dialogue between us increased over time and the tension eased, but we never spoke about what had happened that night in the kitchen on Bradeen Street. My father had no passion for playing sports as I did, but he enjoyed games of all kinds, like canasta or cribbage. I wasn’t much for most board games myself, but we both loved cribbage ever since he taught me to play when I was eight. Little did I know that his old wooden cribbage board with the ivory pegs that he’d picked up somewhere during his time in the military would serve years later as our main diversion from talking about the past or thinking about the present as he wasted away during the final weeks he had left on this earth.
So there I was, living with Diane and her friends, Vicky and Steve, who were a married couple her age whom she met one night at the legendary Can Tab Lounge in Cambridge. They’d hang around there on weekends drinking Budweisers from the bottle, eating bar pizzas and listening to great jazz music. They became very close, and it wasn’t long before Diane and her kids had moved in with them. Her husband, Bob, was over in Okinawa serving in the Marine Corps and she partied a lot while he was away. After his discharge he came back, opened a sandwich shop, and poor guy, only in his thirties, died of a heart attack just a few years later.
After that, at one time or another some of my brothers and sisters had rotated moving in there as I had, and Vicky as we’d come to appreciate became a second mother to us. Hell, a real mother. They provided us with a safe place where there was always rock and roll, the occasional but supervised six pack of beer, a lot of laughter and of course Vicky’s famous pasta sauce with pepperoni chunks. She and Steven were two of the most generous people I’ve ever known, and they made a huge difference at times when some of us really needed it most. This was especially true for my brother David when the time came for him to make his own escape from my crazy parents, and he and Vicky became very close and he still calls her Mom and looks after her.
Even though I’d gone back to school, when I was seventeen I decided to quit although I’d almost completed my junior year, and began plans to join up with the Marines in the fall. In my teenage mind it was screw Boston, screw my family. Forced busing had turned the Boston public schools into a very dangerous place and no one was getting an education anyway between the riots in the streets and cafeterias and the rocks hurled at the school buses. And even if I finished school, there would be no money for college unless I could scrounge a hockey scholarship at a state school where if I was lucky I’d earn a third rate associates degree and then what would I do for the next two years to pay to finish up with a bachelors? Would I even be considered good enough to play hockey in a higher division? I just felt like I had to make something happen as it was obvious that stuff wasn’t just going to come to me.
I was on the high school hockey team and in spite of being, I’m sure, one of the scrawniest, but scrappiest, athletes in school history, I was actually pretty good at both hockey and baseball but hockey was what I loved most, and a sport I took to it at once. I’d laced on a pair of worn out hand me down no-name skates at the MDC rink in Hyde Park a mere four years before, but once on the ice it was as if I were a baby thrown into a pool that started instinctively to swim. I’m not sure why, but I could just skate.
I took to it so naturally that I made the varsity roster after only one year of honing my skills on the reedy ponds by the Fairview cemetery in Readville that would unknowingly turn out to be my parents’ final resting place. We’d play all day on the weekends, then under the bridge’s street lights at night during the week with our toes frozen. And we played pick-up games at the MDC rink where everyone threw in five bucks apiece to rent the ice for a couple of hours after making up sides. It wasn’t uncommon for us do this at three in the morning since ice time was so scarce. In spite of just one year on my hockey resume, in no time I became among the fastest skaters with the slick stick handling and shooting skills to match and people actually wanted me on their team along with the other first players chosen. I couldn’t get enough time on the ice.
Chapter 5 to be continued….