I was born John Cristopher Leavitt on September 8, 1943. Where did the name “Cricky” come from? This all started in 1945 when I was almost two years old. My parents and I shared a house with the Frasers on Leroy Avenue in Darien. Alan and Scud Fraser’s daughter, Gail, was my age but couldn’t say “Christopher” which is what my mother called me. Instead she said “Cricky” which unfortunately stuck. But she got the worst of it because I called her “Wudgie” .
Growing Up in Rowayton
Nursery School in 1948
Times with Grandfather in McLean Virginia – Howdy Pardner
Actually in the late 1940s and early 50s my preference was Hopalong Cassidy while Paul was Gene Autry. I liked Hoppy because of his two-gun belt … and I had the same hat and blue shirt as Hoppy. I guess the hat blew off while I was galloping around the fields before this picture was taken. Note the spurs and cowboy boots
I believe this picture was taken around 1951-52. In the late spring my sister Phoebe got very contagious scarlet fever. So I was taken out of Rowayton School for a month and put on a train to Washington. My grandfather and grandmother picked me up at Union Station and drove me to their ‘farm’ in McLean VA. At that time McLean was rural with many dirt roads.
Grandfather had two horses, Sparta (a male Tennessee Walker shown above) and a filly Blue Jean. Grandfather would send me out to the front pasture on Sparta leaving Blue Jean who was fairly wild in the barn. On one ride, when I was out in the front pasture, I heard Blue Jean whinny way back at the barn. So did Sparta because his head and ears perked up. Then Sparta took off in a gallop back to the barn. I held on for dear life. As I was speeding toward the barn, I saw grandfather running from the house waving his arms to get my attention. He yelled “Duck your head when you go into the barn!” Sparta and I circled the barn to get to the front and I nonchalantly ducked my head as we entered the barn.
What a ride. It was like Hoppy chasing after bandits with guns a blazing. Phewy!
My Backyard in 1953
This is Patty Dawson, Steve Miller and Paul Tebo sitting on a rock in my backyard at 28 Bryan Road. Jane Smith’s (not shown) backyard is over the stonewall to the left and Patty’s house is across the road from Jane Smith’s house.
The Magill Sisters Populate Rowayton
The picture below was taken around Christmas in 1952 at my grandparents house in McLean Virginia. We moved to Harstrom Place in Rowayton (from Darien) in 1946. Before this picture was taken my mother’s two sisters Kate Cornbrooks (far right) and Lois Gatten (far left) and their families moved to Rowayton. In the back (left to right) are Rex Gatten, my father Peter Leavitt, and Charlie Cornbrooks. Rex and I managed a Little League team in the late 50s. Charlie was an osteopathic physician and skilled sailor/boatsman. The Gattens lived on Wilson Avenue three or four houses up from the landmark cannon that memorializes Rowayton men who died in the wars. The Cornbrooks lived on Belle Island. That’s Meg Gatten at the far left. That’s Suzie Cornbrooks on the far right next to Kate. I’m standing in the middle center next to mother and Phoebe, Peter, and David (on mother’s lap) are there.
My 2nd Grade Teacher Mrs. Golding
There is only one teacher in my experience that fit the description of “emotionally cruel.” I had had many fine and supportive teachers and mentors from day-one at Rowayton Elementary School through college and graduate school during my 23 year-stint in formal education. These teachers have given me wonderful gifts. Yet this one teacher, my 2nd grade teacher Mrs. Golding, stands out in my memory for the negative impact she had on my life – manifest mainly in my attitude and confidence as a student. The last time that the attitude surfaced was in my senior year in college. I was attending Psychology 101 in early October because I was required to take a ‘Biology’ course to graduate. I was repelled by the treatment of another student in the class by this aberrant professor. I was so bothered by this ‘psycho’ that I did not return to the class until I received a mid-term F in March in the final months of my senior year. I then became brutally aware that, if I did not pass Psychology, I would not graduate from college; nor would I be able to accept the full fellowship to graduate school that I had already been offered. During later reflection on this situation, I recognized that my behavior was linked to a deep-seated hatred for that rare teacher who practiced “emotional cruelty” with students – the male professor was the resurrection of my 2nd grade teacher Mrs. Golding. The class was a large class of over 100 students. In spite of the skeptical chiding of fraternity brothers, I took the only remaining opportunity I had to pass the course by ace’ing the final with the second highest score in the class. For years after this, I had a reoccurring nightmare that I had failed the course and had not graduated.
I don’t remember the details of the treatment I received from Mrs. Golding. I remember only that I was continuously picked on by this teacher. One physical piece of evidence is preserved in my 2nd grade report card (this is why we have mothers) which shows that I was absent for more than a quarter of the school year. I was terrorized and would not go to school, and my mother protected me by allowing me to stay home.
I had assumed that I was the only victim of this terror. However, a few years ago we were visited by my early childhood friend, Judy Beatty, whom I hadn’t seen for forty years. While we were reacquainting ourselves, Judy asked if I remembered Mrs. Golding. Judy was a year older, but we were together in Mrs. Golding’s which was a class of 2rd and 3rd grades held together. She described receiving the same brutal treatment that I had received in that class. This was made even more poignant because both Judy and I had had polio together. I vividly remember playing with her in the front yard one summer night at the ages of 4 and 5, respectively (I can date this by where my family was living – Harstrom Place). About a week later Judy came down with paralytic polio and nearly died. I had a flu-like disease but suffered no paralytic consequences.
Years later I took a research/regulatory position with the FDA division that regulated vaccines. Since I was going to work with poliovirus, I was tested for immunity and discovered that I had an extreme antibody titre characteristic only of someone who had been infected with the natural poliovirus.
Back to Mrs. Golding’s class, imagine Judy in leg braces heading with crutches to the chair in the corner of the classroom where ‘bad’ kids were sent.
Another symptom of the situation in 2nd grade was my inability to comprehend math, namely addition and subtraction (or was it multiplication and division). I vividly recall the week that Mrs. Golding was out sick. The substitute teacher took me aside and gently explained how this math worked, and within a few minutes the mental block was gone. The paralytic shame I felt as a 7-year old had blocked my ability to think logically. I carried the scars of my 2nd grade experience with me throughout my academic life compounded by the fact that I was severely dyslexic and could not read aloud. Even today I read below 200 words per minute.
There is a good ending to all of this. In college I started to use my right brain faculties more and more. I was especially good at calculus despite my inability to do math in 2nd grade. By graduate school, I could envision and conceptualize the biomolecules I was working with like DNA, RNA polymerase, and messenger RNA working together to produce a protein. Things fell into place and several years into Johns Hopkins, I knew exactly what I was going to do. At that point I never looked back and forgot about Mrs. Golding until Judy brought her up again.
There’s no question in my mind that teachers and mentors can play powerful, seminal roles in our lives perhaps – even more important than our parents (outside of the genetics that they pass on to us). But one bad seed can do a lot of damage to a lot of impressionable kids.
Camp Mohawk 1953
Yes, I was retarded…and my handwriting is no better today (thank God for computers).
I was sent (encacerated) to Camp Mohawk in Litchfield in the mid-summer of 1953. Paul Tebo, Johnny Fogel, and Lenny Calendriello were there too. This was my first experience away from home except for my visits to my beloved grandparents, the Magills in McLean VA. This was a maturing experience to say the least.
The first problem I ran into was because I had strange eating habits. For example, to this day I can’t eat anything from the sea even though I went clamming and fishing alot during these years in Rowayton.
I would love to go to Bayley Beach at low tide to dig for steamers with my dad. Throwing a rock and looking for a squirt of water was great exploration at the time. But I digress.
After a few days in this test of endurance, the camp counselors called my parents to tell them that I wasn’t eating. That was not true! I ate nothing but bread and butter. I did eat my first hotdog at a campfire and never ate one again until decades later.
I was in a cabin with 8 or 10 other campers. I think Lenny and Johnny were in my cabin and Paul Tebo was in another cabin. We told horror stories as we drifted off to sleep. Some were damaged for life because of this (didn’t Johnny become an ax murderer?)
The counselors discovered that I was a good swimmer and awarded me with the rank of “Flying Fish”. At the end of the whole ordeal I was a finalist for “Son of Mohawk”. Thank God I didn’t win because I would have been damaged for life. This, of course, was because I was soooo good. Thank God again … I arrived at home after a week of terror.
I found this very nice college graduation picture of Ranny Grinnell along with his obit published for Windham College alumni. Ranny was born 10 days before I was in 1943. In the late 40s through to the mid 50s Ranny and I were good friends. He and his mother Jane lived on Highland Avenue between the Beattys to the south and the Bowlings one or two houses to the north. I’m not sure when his mother and father, Fred, divorced but this happened before 1952, I’m sure because of my ballgame memento that had 1952 on the cover. Divorce was unusual then. Later mother Jane married Bill Dwiggins sometime in the mid-50s.
This was one of the most memorable days of my childhood – when Ranny and I took the train from Darien into New York by ourselves in July or August, 1952. I don’t remember who put us on the train but I remember sitting on the train with Ranny. This was not my first train ride alone because I had taken the train alone to Washington DC to spend a month with my grandparents when my sister, Phoebe, had scarlet fever a year earlier.
Ranny’s father, Fred, had invited Ranny and a friend of his choosing into New York to go to a Yankee game. In those years I was already a devoted Yankee fan and avidly read the sports pages of the New York Times every day to see the stats from the previous day’s boxscore. So this trip to Yankee Stadium was a very special occasion for me.
You can see the evidence of my addiction to the Yankees by what I wrote on the postcard above sent to my parents at the beginning of July the next year. My hero was Phil Rizzuto who was the Yankee shortstop and the second shortest player in the league (Bobby Shantz was the shortest, I believe). I attached myself to Rizzuto because I was the shortest guy my age in Rowayton, except for Lenny Calendriello. I don’t have to Google the early 50s Yankees to tell you who played then and what their numbers were. Yogi Berra (#8) was behind the plate, Bill Skowron was at 1st (#53 I think), Gil MacDougal was at second (#12), Rizzuto at short (#10 which I adopted as my favorite number), Andy Carey at third (#6), Gene Woodling (#14) and Irv Noren (#25) in left field, Mickey Mantle (#7) in center, and hustlin’ Hank Bauer (#9) was in right. The starting pitchers were Whitey Ford, Allie Reynolds, Vic Rashie, and Eddy Lopat. So I was well prepared for this first visit to Yankee Stadium.
I recall Ranny’s father meeting us on the platform as we got off the train – two almost 10-year olds in an era without cell phones and the Internet.
I have a clear image in my mind’s eye of watching the game from the left-center field stands. It was bright California blue sky type of day. The Yankees were playing the St. Louis Browns. The game was tied in the ninth inning and the Browns did not score in the top of the inning. I’m not sure when they brought in Satchel Paige, but he was a remarkable figure on the mound, and he and Yogi Berra are all that I remember. Satchel Paige was memorable to me at that age because of his windmill windup which was unique in the major leagues. Somehow the bases got loaded in the bottom of the ninth and Berra was at the plate. Notwithstanding Satchel’s terrifying windup, Yogi hit a bases-loaded homerun somewhere on our side of the outfield to win the game for the Yankees.
I guess after that we stayed overnight at Fred’s apartment. Paige’s pitching and Yogi’s homerun are at the end of my memory for that day.
The Day the Squirrels Fought Back
In the early 1950s when we lived on Bryan Road, we got 2 baby boy kittens which I named Stop and Go. When they grew up, they lived up to their names as Stop would sleep most of the day on the radiator or sofa, and drool and purr if you patted him. Go, on the other hand, would take a swipe at you if you got too friendly and try to catch birds – occasionally successful. This would strike terror in me and my father would have to run out and try and save the poor bird.
So when our next door neighbor, Mr. Novotny, came out into his back yard to shoot at squirrels in the trees with his bb gun, I was again struck with fear that he would injure or kill a squirrel … and I wasn’t going to let it happen.
We lived at 28 Bryan Road throughout the 1950s and the Novotny’s lived next to us at 26 Bryan Road. The picture shown above of me next to our au pair, Judy, was taken on our front steps at the side of our house which faced the Novotny’s house about 25 feet away.
Mr. Novotny, if I recall correctly, was a school teacher in Brooklyn. He and Mrs. Novotny with their two children would come out to Rowayton on weekends and during the summer. From my perspective, he was an angry, abusive man who often shouted at Mrs. Novotny.
Steve Miller shown in my backyard earlier, who lived on neighboring Crest Road, came over to my house one day to play and we quickly noticed that Mr. Novotny was shooting at squirrels again in his back yard. My bedroom was upstairs adjacent to the Novotny’s house. There was a porch off of my bedroom on which I could observe all that was happening in Novotny’s back yard. Somewhere I had found a very elastic rubber sheet for which I had a specific purpose in mind. So, we cut up the elastic rubber into long one and a half inch wide strands.
Steve and I decided to strike back at Mr. Novotny from behind the tree that had grown up next to the porch off of my bedroom. We collected lots of acorns that had fallen from large oak tree in my back yard. Then we attached the long rubber strands to posts on the railing that surrounded my porch (so I wouldn’t fall off). We had created the perfect retaliatory weapon in a very large slingshot shielded from view by branches from nearby trees. We could see Mr. Novotny in his back yard in a redneck ginny-T undershirt taking aim. At the same time we were taking aim by pulling the elastic back at least by 2-feet cocked and ready. Every time he pulled the trigger we let loose with an acorn at warp speed aimed directly at Mr. Novotny’s head through the trees making sure to remain invisible should he turn in our direction. We were immediately impressed with the power of our weapon of mass destruction. From Novotny’s perspective the acorns seemed to come at him from nowhere slung by the very combative critters he was trying to shoot in the trees.
We had no idea if he ever figured us out and Novotny never let on that he was on to us; furthermore, because we were in great fear of being discovered we hid after each fire so that we never saw whether he was hit or not.
After a short while Mr. Novotny retreated to his house.
This was a victory that I am sure the squirrels of Bryan Road never forgot.
Struggles in School
The first time I recall being aware that I had a reading problem was in Mrs. Frank’s 3rd grade class at Rowayton School in 1951-52. I can recall sitting in the third reading group in a circle in the corner of the classroom with other poor readers trying to read a page from a book aloud. It was very difficult for me to go from one word to the next to complete a sentence … and I was continuously embarrassed about this through grade school to high school graduation and occasionally in college. I was an average to marginally above average student through most of my schooling and, no doubt, my reading disability affected my scores on tests. I also remember in Mrs. Strand’s six grade class being one of the worst spellers and Caroline Hoyt being one of the best spellers. Nevertheless, there were several glimmers of hope.
I started reading voraciously, albeit slowly, in sixth through seventh grade. I read Hardy Boy books and Landmark History books which left images in my mind even ’til today. Perhaps because of reading I was an honors student throughout 7th grade until the last day of school in 1956 at the temporary Junior High in South Norwalk. I was sitting on the school bus waiting to be driven home to start summer vacation when my homeroom/history/social studies/English teacher, Mr. Nartoff, ran onto the bus to congratulate me for getting high honors at year’s end. I often think of Mr. Nartoff, a first year teacher, as the best teacher I had in K-12 although I have fond memories of Mrs. Frank, Mrs. Strand, and Mr. Castilleone (at NHS). It was the combination of reading and the inspiration of Mr. Nartoff’s class that helped me to improve my performance in school.
One morning in Mr. Nartoff’s class a few weeks after 7th grade started in September of 1955, the door opened and Russell Brown walked into the classroom. I guess Mr. Nartoff knew he was coming because without hesitation he directed Russell to an empty desk at the back of the room. Our class was a group of good kids. Two names I remember are Ed Steinlauf and Fred Newberg.
Shortly after Russell took his seat he began to cry very softly. The entire class was riveted to the front of the room where Mr. Nartoff stood so as not to embarrass Russell by staring at him. This was something new for all of us except Russell. Mr. Nartoff kindly and gently talked to Russell from the front of the room trying to help Russell settle in. The class remained completely silent except for Russell and Mr. Nartoff’s encouragement. This began a truly meaningful year in which most in the class looked beyond their own problems and embraced Russell as just one of us … and Russell began to feel that he fit in. To my own knowledge Russell was the only dwarf in the Norwalk school system and he was with us through to NHS graduation in 1961.
Not My Birthday Around 1955
How come I never got into any of these pictures. I must have been camera shy. This is not my 12th birthday party. The uncertainty of the reason for this occasion lies in the observation that the girls are wearing coats; but I can’t imagine any occasion where I would have a party other than my birthday which is September 8th. These scenes are definitely in our house at 28 Bryan Road and these were my friends in the early mid-1950s.
The boys: (back row left to right) Billy Jenkins, Len Calendriello, Paul Tebo, Rick Amon, (front row left to right) Johnny Fogel and Billy Love. I am fairly certain that this occasion took place in the late fall or winter of my 6th grade year at Rowayton School in 1954/55. We were all so mature by that time … except for me.
The girls: (back row left to right) Sue Harris, Patty Dawson, Roussie Flora, (front row left to right) Connie Henry, Joan Kushman, Margo Baumgarten, and Pam Jones. That’s a pastel of my sister Phoebe on the wall was drawn by my mother.
My Dog Freckles
This is my dog Freckles with my brother David. This picture was taken around 1960. Looks like Freckles had had an encounter with the resident skunk which happened occasionally. This must be in the winter because of his shaggy hair. In the spring we would give Freckles a crew-cut so that you could see his black spots which led to his name.
Freckles was a very special dog to me. He had several faults in addition to tangling with skunks. We lived at the very end of Bryan Road so there wasn’t much car traffic. But when a car came to our house to deliver something, Freckles would chase it as it left barking loudly. Also, Freckles never missed an opportunity to angrily attack big dogs that ventured near our property. But his real nemesis was Stefan Schnabel with his deep billowing voice. Stefan had his own name for my dog which was something like ‘Grumbles’ … and Stefan’s disrespect for Grumbles just inflamed the dog’s ire further.
I remember coming home each day after high school in Norwalk. I’d get off the bus at the canon on Rowayton Avenue. I would trek up the hill on Wilson Avenue past the Ladrigans and the Gattens to the entrance to Bryan Road. Then, I would pass Connie Henry’s house where the road dog-legged left and then right in the direction of what became the Bergamini’s house. Then, one more dog-leg left heading north to my house. As I rounded that corner, a little black and white head would slowly rise from the end of the road. Everyday Freckles would lie in the road in front of our house waiting for me to come home from school. His eyesight was poor so he didn’t leap to any conclusions when he first saw the hazy figure coming in his direction. As I got a little closer Freckles would stand up to take a better look. After I took a few more steps, he would start walking hesitantly in my direction. Then, as he suspected that it was me, he would start to trot. When he became absolutely certain it was me, he would run at full speed lickity split until he reached me with dog noises of joy. After he calmed down, we would finish the walk side-by-side to our house. All was good again.
The Parallel Lives of Rowayton Kids
I came to realize how cloistered we all were during our childhood and teenage years in Rowayton. We tended to think that we, with our friends, were the only kids in Rowayton. Our closest friends were our neighbors and/or classmates and most often, as well, we were gender and age matched. One example of our isolation from each other was that I learned at our website RowaytonKids.com that Margo, Pam Jones, Connie, Chris Intemann, Rick Amon, Lenny Calandriello, and Paul Tebo were in Mrs. Sieffert’s sixth grade class while I was in Mrs. Strand’s sixth grade class. This scission started our process of going in different directions … except that Paul and I stayed close friends through NHS because we were neighbors and we were in continuous competition in games and some sports (Paul usually won). But sixth grade was when I lost touch with Margo and Connie, and my only contact with Rick was during two summers when he was home from private school and then the Naval Academy in Annapolis. To further the divide I learned at the website that Margo, Connie, and Judy Beatty went on to Thomas School, and Rick went to another private school, while I went on through the Norwalk school system with Paul Tebo, Len Calendriello, Dick Wilmont, Marcia Smalle, Jackie Wallace, and the others. Brooke Maury also went on to NHS and was in my homeroom my senior year.
Even though we started to go in different directions at such an early age, I never forgot these kids including Patty who was also very important in my early childhood. I’m not sure when I lost touch with Patty, but the delight of being reacquainted in the fall of 2009 confirmed to me her importance in my life. While I was becoming a molecular biologist and then while developing my career as a research scientist, my childhood friends were always there sort of in the background … not unlike John Nash’s imaginary ‘friends’ in “A Perfect Mind” . Maybe this is because, by their example, they inspired me to try to do better than I thought I could … I guess I always thought that they were perfect and I was not.
There’s also a nice feeling of the recent connection with Jane Smith who lived across the stone wall from our house on Bryan Road, and Kathy Wilmot and Laurie Baumgarten, as well, who weren’t far away. Janis Beatty reminded me that I gave her tennis lessons when she visited us in Woodstock CT in the late 1990s. And then, there is Sharon Ballard who I remember seeing occasionally while visiting her neighbor Paul Tebo and playing with her brother Paul Ballard. And of course Teddy and Joan Thompson at the end of neighboring Ridgewood Road stood out because of their blond hair and their great father who played softball with me on weekends in the early 50s. But these kids were all younger and, therefore, we didn’t interact very much. Meg Foster was different because she spent a lot of time at our house, and Chappy and Barty Bradford were always in the background playing with my brothers, Peter and David. But they were not my age, so we lived parallel lives.
“Our parallel lives” also refers to Rowayton kids who were a year or two older like Jeff Rees and Jerry Hayes. I did know Martha Tebo because of my friendship with Paul and she was my only connection to the older kids in town. From my perspective, the older kids were in a different dimension even though we were all there together whether we knew it or not.
The old Rowayton School shown below was built in the early 1890s. Many of us never saw this building. We remember the Rowayton fair, the Sun Rise Service on Easter Sunday, and the sandlot football and baseball games we played on this ground. This field is where I attempted to make a flying tackle of Lenny Calendriello only to bite his left knee. I ended up with five cracked upper front teeth for life, and Lenny ended up with a scar on his knee. If I had known that Lenny was going to be the starting offensive guard for the NHS football team in front of full back Jerry Fishman … I would have kept my mouth shut .
That’s the bottom of Witch Lane coming down on the left and the picture was taken from Rowayton Avenue. Lefty Paul Tebo used to hit baseballs over those pine trees on the upper left which were much taller in the 1950s.
Trip to the Natural History Museum in 1955
We also had a 6th grade trip (1955) to New York City and Museum of Natural History. It was a hot spring day and this was a memorable class trip because of the bumpy bus ride through the Bronx on cobblestoned Bruckner Blvd and back. I vaguely remember seeing some interesting things at the museum. However, I recall even better the nausea we all felt on the way back home. I believe that the next day most of the kids who took the trip were absent from school.
Delivering the Newspaper and Mail in Rowayton
I delivered the Norwalk Hour to 42 residences in the mid-50s. After we got home from school, Paul would bike from his house on Ridgewood Road and I would bike from Bryan Road down to Louie’s at the corner of Rowayton Ave and McKinley Ave. The papers would be deposited on the sidewalk in neat bundles with our names or route number on the package. I vaguely remember that Johnny Wrigley and Dick Wilmont also had routes. Sometimes we would get there before the papers were dropped off, so we would go into Louie’s.
Louie’s was a special place. As I entered the store, I was dazzled by the rack of comic books on the wall to the left. I favored Superman and other action heros while Paul favored Little Lulu. Later Paul learned that his saxophone case was a good place to hide his Playboys purchased at Louie’s. On the right side of the isle there was a cooler with the classic Coca Cola bottles, Orange Soda, and Yogi Berra’s favorite drink (what was it? YoHoo?). I’m not sure what these precious items cost, but we could afford them because of our work ethic.
Back to the paper routes, I’m not sure how long I delivered newspapers – probably about 2 years. Funny, there were no newspaper delivery girls. The only house I can remember delivering to was Connie’s on Bryan Road because she was special. I believe that I delivered up Wilson Avenue, then on Crest Road, possibly Pennoyer Street, and definitely Bryan Road on my bike. At some point I started to tire of the route and distributed the papers by sub-contract with my brother Peter and sister Phoebe. Ultimately I turned the paper route over to Chris Henry, Connie’s younger brother.
The pay-off was about $5 per month (I think). Mother and I would drive to the Norwalk Hour to cash in a lot of change once a month.
In the winter of 1963 before Christmas I applied to deliver the US mail in Rowayton for the two weeks around Christmas. I had to pass a test to prove I wasn’t a complete idiot. I barely passed and delivered the mail for two weeks. I thought I was going to freeze but quickly discovered that by walking the route, you never got cold. So, it was a very positive experience except for Jerry Hayes’ house. The Hayes had a vicious barking dog so I flatly refused to deliver the mail there and they got no Christmas cards that year. It snowed a lot in those two weeks but that didn’t bother me. It was an exhilarating experience walking around Rowayton from house to house…perhaps one of my last in Rowayton.
I spent four or five years in summer sailing school at the Norwalk Yacht Club (NYC) which was on Bluff Avenue in Rowayton before it moved to the opposite side of the cove to Wilson Point in the 1960s. I notice that the NYC still has junior sailing classes 5 days a week for 8-foot dinghies and 14-foot Blue Jays.
I enjoyed these daily classes immensely and discovered that I had a talent for winning races. While Paul was playing little league and pony league baseball in Norwalk, I was sailing. In retrospect it’s easy to see how the Rowayton kids of the 50s started to head in different directions between 1955 and the 60s. We all had our different diversions.
I remember Linda Gloetzner and Bill Lilly attending sailing school. Bill was killed in the mid-60s in Viet Nam, the only Rowayton casualty in the 60s in that war. I made the point of looking for Bill’s name on the Viet Nam Memorial when I visited Washington DC in 1992.
The satellite view below shows the playing field for Sailing School which spanned from Wilson Cove in the north past Tavern Island to a buoy just south of the southern tip of Bell Island. The smaller picture of the dock and looking southeast to Sheffield Island and Long Island Sound shows the perspective from the docks of the old NYC. In the satellite view, the green arrow shows the approximate location of the old NYC, the pink arrow shows the new location of the NYC since the 1960s, the yellow arrow shows Wilson Point Beach where I was lifeguard/beach boy/tennis teacher in the summers of 1961 and 1962, the red arrow was where I capsized in Shelly Trubowitz’ canoe in early March 1964 (and had to swim pulling Shelly’s canoe to Wilson Point Beach), the white arrow shows Tavern Island, and the pea green arrow points to Bell Island. The number of boats moored in the harbor has greatly increased since the 1950s.
The light blue arrow shows the location of our house in the 60s next to Billy Rose’s house for the proprietors of Tavern Island, and Hickory Bluff. The Trubowitz lived next to us on the north side of our house.
I remember the very first day I sailed in a race at sailing school. Since I was new and knew nothing, I had to crew for another student, Johnny Maury, who showed no interest in winning the race. As we floated past Bell Island to the buoy at the head of the channel in near last place my frustration mounted. Never again would I sail with Johnny.
In one memorable race, our starting line was near the old NYC and the first mark was up wind near the point of Wilson Point. I got a good start and was ahead of 15-20 boats. But there was practically no wind. In retrospect, I was probably good at this because of my concentration on the angle of the sail and the direction of the wind. I made a strategic decision to head on a port tack southeast because it made sense that there might be a better chance of catching a breeze further out in the harbor. The other boats followed me initially but then the second boat tacked to the left (starboard tack with the wind coming over the right side of the hull) and all the other boats followed the second boat. The rule of thumb was that I should have tacked to the left also to maintain my lead and take advantage of the wind that they were looking for. But I thought it was a stupid tack because it just took the boats deeper into the cove. The end result was that I found a breeze and they didn’t – I finished the race about 45 minutes ahead of the other boats and received a resounding scolding from the sailing instructors. Nevertheless, I watched the rest of the boats cross the finish line with great pride.
These photos show what dinghy racing (on the left) and Sailfish racing looked like.
In September of 1955 or 1956 I received a Sailfish (shown below) for my 12th/13th birthday. This was the best birthday present I could ever imagine. We launched the boat on the Five Mile River at a small beach that was next to Rowayton Avenue just south of Hartogs’ boat yard (this scene may not be on the Five Mile River though). I believe that’s mother rowing the boat with Peter and David on board. I don’t recall who was on the sailfish with me at the time. This was an early wooden Sailfish which was heavier than the newer fiberglass boats.
It wasn’t long before I started sailing solo out of the mouth of the Five Mile River over to Fish Island to the southwest of the Tokeneke Beach. See the mouth of the Five Mile River below. In August of 1958 I entered an annual sailfish race organized off of Tokeneke which consisted of well over 30 boats from the nearby coastal towns. My sister Phoebe, at 80-85 lbs, was my required crew. This was quite an adventure for me because I was unencumbered by the jaded instructors at the NYC, on my own with my own boat. I remember getting a very bad start in the race in 1958, but we doggedly persevered.
The distant mark was the Green Ledge Lighthouse (shown below) which was always within earshot on foggy days. As we rounded the Lighthouse we ran into turbulent waters…and we capsized. Fortunately, Phoebe was wearing a life preserver, so I was free to right the sailfish, and we were able to continue the race. I recovered a plaque that I received after that first race from my parents house in early 2010 that verified that we came in 7th in the 1958 race even with the bad start. The following year (1959) we finished 4th.
In the ensuing 50 years of living in West Virginia, Pittsburgh, Baltimore, Howard County Maryland, Palo Alto California, and now Woodstock CT, I have yearned to return to the Rowayton waterfront. In my mind’s eye the images are as bright as in these photographs, and I still sense the smell of the Rowayton waterfront.
An 8th Grade Incident
I am reminded of a memorable experience in 8th grade. The guidance counselor came to the class with the results of a standard test we all took. She was going to show us how the test could predict a suitable vocation for all of us. First she described an Executive secretary type and she was spot on for Joan Kuchman. Then she described this high honors student with all A’s. This demonstrated to the class that she had no idea what she was talking about. It was me, but I didn’t hit the bottom until 9th grade. The test gave me 99th percentile in abstract thought. Paul only got 90th .
Tennis at Bayley Beach
I was there when the men of the town built the first two tennis courts at Bayley Beach in the early 50s. I remember them toiling at the task and I wasn’t much help with my plastic pail; yet I was one of the real beneficiaries of the Bayley Beach tennis courts. I played a lot and ended up playing tournaments on the east coast and at college. As a result of my dogged tennis playing at Bayley Beach, I was numero uno as a senior on the Norwalk High tennis team although I was not necessarily any better than best friend Paul Tebo who was a superior athlete.
In retrospect, I greatly appreciated Ward Chamberlin who was especially kind to me in the 1950’s. Ward whose house was just off Sammis Street was a special person in Rowayton. We always had the impression that he was a world class tennis player. Each year in early September we would have the annual Rowayton Beach tennis tournament. My dream was to win the tournament but there was no way to get past Ward who won the tournament every year. Crowds would show up to watch him demolish poor George Shiras and tall, snotty Jack Stewart who were the other good men players in the town. He was especially brutal with George. I was usually put out of the tournament by Ward but he was kind enough to always make sure I got more games off him than George or Jack.
I have to say that I appreciate George Shiras equally. He was always available to play with me and Mike Newman on the weekend. I would go over to George’s also just off of Sammis Street to get him to come over to the courts and play a few sets. I remember meeting his young son Leif. Years later Leif became a world class grass court player who qualified for Wimbledon. Because of the Rowayton tennis courts, I rose to the pinnacle of numero uno on the NHS tennis team. That summer after my senior year, I played Paul Gerkin and beat him 6-2; at the same time, the pro at Roton Point lost to Gerkin 6-love. This was significant because Paul Gerkin was getting his rackets directly from tennis great Jack Kramer and Paul eventually rose to 15th in the world in the 1970’s beating Borg and the likes… Oops! I forgot to mention that Gerkin was only 10 that summer after my senior year in high school.
At NHS I had three other cherished moments that I will brag about here. Keep in mind that I could not have achieved these ‘victories’ without the Bayley Beach courts.
Staples HS came to NHS with hot-shot Kenny Lieberthal playing number one, and there can be no doubt that handsome and flashy Kenny was better than me. He was also sweet on Sue Emrich and so was I – I was not in the competition though. That day while Kenny was looking over his shoulder for Sue between points, I destroyed him in two sets. Knowing Sue, she had decided not to show up out of sympathy for me and my impending disaster. I saw her on the track after the meet and she reticently ask how things went. I said in a matter of fact manner that I had won. She showed a brief moment of delight and I felt the proverbial ‘touche’.
Then there was the ‘malt shot’. The tennis coach had created the ‘malt shot’ to get us to hit the opposition between the legs when they dared to come to the net. If we achieved this questionable accomplishment, we earned a free ‘malt’ at the nearest soda counter. So Brian McMahon HS, in their first year of existence, came to NHS with their tall number one, Bob gag-me-with-a-spoon Hodge, with a very big head that was a better target than his you know what. I nailed him, though, and received a free malt. The problem with the coach’s method of teaching was that we all developed fear of playing at the net … for life, because of the dreaded malt shot.
The final ‘cherished’ moment was when we went over to Darien HS to play a team that had won their last 60 meets in a row. This had even been written up in Time Magazine. These jokers proceeded to treat us like s…. over at Weeburn Country Club. But I got great joy over beating their number one. It was especially gratifying, with beautiful Karen Graf sitting on the sidelines, when my Darien opponent freaked out and hit the ball in anger over the tall fence behind me into the road outside the vaunted country club property.
There were 7 matches in a meet and the team that won 4 or more matches WON. Paul and I both won our matches and teamed up to win the first doubles match. That was it and we lost 3-4 to Darien.
School Bus Antics at the End of the School Year
My wife, Becki, drives a school bus for the Woodstock CT School system. The Superintendent of schools has a name for Becki – “Lead Foot”. We were talking one morning about how riled up the kids get at the very end of the school year. This conversation reminded me of our own antics on the school bus when I was a kid in Rowayton. I don’t recall that there was any school bus service to Rowayton School which was well centered in the town. Most of us could walk or bike to school.
After sixth grade in September of 1955 the RowaytonKids who didn’t go to private school in my class (me, Lenny Calendriello, Paul Tebo, Dick Wilmont, Pat Dawson, and a handfull of others) were bused to junior high in South Norwalk where we had double sessions. I have forgotten the name of the school and whether we were in the morning or afternoon session. The following year we would enter the new West Rocks Junior High School at the northern end of Norwalk.
For several years from 7th grade through 9th grade we were transported on a yellow bus to junior high. Once we got to Norwalk High we used the public bus to and from Stamford. On the school bus I’m not sure what the route home was, but somehow we ended up heading south on Rowayton Avenue toward the canon where a group of us would be let off after rounding the canon to the east side on the corner of Wilson Avenue. Leading up to that joyous last day of school a number of us would conspire to leave the bus out the back emergency door forcing the bedraggled driver to get up and exit the bus to close the door after we had fled the scene. I can remember forcing open the door and leaping out. Then we ran like hell to get away from the scene of the crime. I’m embarrassed to say that this was as bad as we could be. Of course at the end of the summer vacation we had to face the music, and I remember thinking about that. But the bus driver guy never brought it up.
The other dastardly deed we did was on that same turn rounding the canon as we exited off of Rowayton Avenue. We took note of the recklessness of the bus driver as he rounded the canon. The bus would tilt radically to the right. In our mass hysteria, we collectively realized that we might be able to tip the bus on its side if we all moved to the right side of the bus as it veered off of Rowayton Avenue. I vaguely recall that Jerry Hayes was one of the cheer leaders to this potential tragedy (I can see the headlines in the Norwalk Hour about the dead and injured Rowayton kids on a late spring afternoon). We were all shocked when one afternoon … we almost succeeded in tipping the bus over. In retrospect, I think the bus driver was in with us in this noble endeavor because he made no attempt to reduce the speed of his turn.
Life at the Bluff
We moved to Bluff Avenue and lived on the water throughout the 1960s and early 70s.
This photo was taken from our terrace in 1965 at 69 Bluff Avenue. Tavern Island is in the background.
The Bayley Beach Stand
My business partner Sue Gorman (from New Canaan) and I owned the franchise for the Bayley Beach Stand for the summers of 1964 and 1965. This establishment was the launching pad for great achievements in science, medicine, and other scholarly pursuits. As Chip Trubowitz later stated ‘we all rejected going into business after that experience.’
Sue and I had ulterior motives in running the stand which sold hamburgers, hotdogs, and French fries to the beach go’ers. Besides our entrepreneurial spirit, Sue wanted access to Bayley Beach so that she could troll for guys. I, on the other hand, needed more money than my other job made to keep my Austin Healey running and put some away for Europe. In fact, both Sue and I had Austin Healeys (and she also rode a motorcycle). Sue had a newer cream-colored Healey and mine was a stunning 1957 British racing green Healey, the first year they made six-cylinders. The problem was that I had to keep all six cylinders in sync.
We would have our Board of Directors’ meetings at my house on the Bluff and then tool over to the Beach to crack the whip on our staff, Dennis and Ronnie Amon among them.
Sue was the brains behind the business, and kept the books and ordered the food, but I added elegant touch to the business. Because of my unquenchable thirst for iced tea after playing many hours of tennis on Saturdays and Sundays, I always made sure that there was an adequate supply of fresh-made ice tea with lemon, sugar, and fresh cut mint from our garden at the stand. My iced tea became known at the Beach as “Cricky’s Ice Tea”. I guess I should have gone national with this product like Paul Neuman did with his favorites … but I was ahead of my time. I remember that we grossed about $700 one summer and split it 50:50.
As for my other job, I worked at Diamond National in Stamford. DN manufactured matches and ‘foodtainers’. The foodtainers were made from wood pulp and sold for packaging of steaks and hamburger in supermarkets like the plastic foodtainers used today. One of my main activities throughout the summer of 1964 was to test for bacterial growth on steaks packaged in the DN foodtainers versus the emerging plastic ones (it wasn’t going to get me the Nobel Prize but it helped pay the bills). My boss and I would go and purchase the steaks at the supermarket making sure to get a good cut, package them in the lab, and then store them in the refrigerator for one or two weeks. At the end of the ‘incubation period’ we would unwrap the steaks, harvest a small part of the meat for microbe testing…and then I would take the steaks home. Heide Thorsen and I would cook them on the barbie Friday and Saturday nights … yummy, they were properly cured. Then I’d go to work on Mondays to find if we had been poisoned.
Back to the Bayley Beach stand, I learned after our first purchase of supplies that it cost about 3 cents to put a hamburger together and we charged 25 or 30 cents for the end result. So there was a lot of profit to be made on hamburgers, hotdogs, French fries and, of course, my precious iced tea with mint as long as the weather was good on weekends when high tide was optimal.
As an aside, a few years later during the month of July, I found myself sitting in the Casbah of Tangiers drinking ‘minta’, a glass of hot tea stuffed with mint leaves … nothing like mint tea .
The food we served at the stand, along with the free steaks, became my primary source of nutrition because the rest of my family spent a month on the Cape during those summers. Also, the poor Trubowitz had to put up with our parties… but that’s another story.
Bayley Beach was my playground in the 50s and early-mid-60’s. Unfortunately at some point I had to get a life.
The cars should date this picture. The Bayley Beach stand was at the visible end of the pavilion shown in the background. My guess is that this picture was taken around 1959 after the Little league had started up. Brothers Peter and David Leavitt both played in the little league. This picture came out of a box of pictures that my mother had collected, but that could be David. If it is David, then the picture may be 1963 or 64.
Our Family Friend Jerry Beatty
Jerry Beatty was always fun to have around even though he was one of those pesky parents. He was kinda special because of his humor. One of the things I loved to do in the late 40s and early 50s summer Sundays was to play softball with the men over at the field across Highland Avenue from the Beatty’s house. I would beg my father to drive over to the field to see if the men had assembled. Many times I was disappointed so the next step was to go drag Jerry out of his home with his ample supply of softballs and bats, and head back across the street to the field … and Jerry always seemed willing. Soon other men would show up, seeing that we were there, and we would have enough for a game. I still vividly recall being in the outfield and catching my first long fly ball. It was a miracle that I caught it … and I am sure all of the men were surprised as well.
In the spring of my senior year at high school (1961) we were asked to sell tickets to the NHS spring concert (I was playing first trumpet). The only grown-up I felt comfortable approaching about this was Jerry. So I called him up on a weekend day to tell him I was coming over. When I got to the Beatty’s house, the front door was open, but no Judy, Janis, or mother Joanne (they may have decided to flee the scene). So I walked through the house calling for Jerry. He knew I was coming but there was no answer; so I walked through the backdoor into the back yard where Jerry was standing some distance away. When he saw me coming he hid behind the closest tree. As I got closer, he ran behind another tree, and again, and again tree after tree. It was like a scene out of an old-time Buster Keaton movie. In fact Jerry looked a lot like Buster Keaton. Well, I made the sale after chasing Jerry around his backyard. During this whole affair Jerry never cracked a smile.
I was looking through hundreds of photos in early 2010 and discovered these pictures of Jerry, typical Jerry (these were touched up by Barry Lobdell, Janis’ husband). Since these were from the same roll of film, I assume he was being followed by a Leavitt to record his antics for posterity.
Jerry was a successful author, including a series of children’s books called Matthew and Maria Looney books. He also wrote for leading magazines like Colliers. Here are some of the titles of his books.
Matthew Looney’s Voyage to the Earth (1961)
Matthew Looney’s Invasion of the Earth (1965)
Matthew Looney in the Outback (1969)
Matthew Looney and the Space Pirates (1974)
Maria Looney on the Red Planet (1977)
Maria Looney and the Cosmic Circus (1978)
Maria Looney and the Remarkable Robot (1978)
Bob Fulton’s Amazing Soda-Pop Stretcher: An International Spy Story (1963)
Bob Fulton’s Terrific Time Machine: An Adventure in Space and Time (1963)
Voyaging to Nearby Planets in the 1950s
The landing of Curiosity on Mars on Monday (early August 2012) has stimulated my imagination about what it might find. Seeing the hype of animated flight and landing does nothing for me and I think the public is somewhat jaded by these presentations. I doubt that we will hear much about findings for some time. I went to the Mars mission website and asked a computerize Dr. X a question. The good doctor couldn’t figure out the question I asked in multiple ways and gave me the answer to the wrong question multiple times. Then I thought maybe Dr. X wants to avoid answering this question by playing stupid. So I sent an email with the same question which they encourage but I haven’t heard back. I didn’t want to know whether life once occurred on Mars. I wanted to know the likelihood of Curiosity delivering life to Mars from Earth. I know that it is not likely but not implausable considering that some theorize that life might have been delivered to primorial Earth on a meteorite.
My interest in space travel in our solar system began in the early-mid 1950s. I begged my mother to let me buy the space helmet on the right – that could be me. There were some great sci-fi movies back then that stirred my imagination. There was plenty going on to stimulate my interest in space. One Sunday probably in 1954 my best friend Paul and I went to a double feature at the South Norwalk Theater. It was “War of the Worlds” followed by “Worlds Collide” two classic sci-fi movies that I will always watch on TV today when they are shown. I think the 1954 version of War of the Worlds is better than the one made recently by Tom Cruise. Then there was another great sci-fi movie, the original “The Day the Earth Stood Still” which we saw at the same theater. Flash Gordon, Buck Rogers, and Gene Autry’s “Underground Empire” were 15-minute serials shown every week day at 5 PM. Today these serials are less interesting but War of the Worlds was something completely new in science fiction.
Then my father bought a 6-inch reflecting telescope from Japan. I don’t remember him using it that much but I did, standing out on cold winter nights in the back yard scanning the moon’s surface which was vividly clear and detailed and the planets Venus, Mars, Jupiter and the rings of Saturn.
One day my father described the sci-fi novel that our neighbor down the street on Bryan Road, David Bergamini, was pondering which he called “Venus Development”. The plot was to move Venus to a new orbit closer to Earth’s orbit so that it would develop a climate more like earth and be colonized. I already had David’s Life/Time book “The Universe” with terrific pictures showing what the planets were thought to be like. I often paged through that book on rainy days. Bergamini also became noted for his “Japan’s Imperial Conspiracy” published in the early 1970s. There is quite a story behind that book which I will leave for another time. Bergamini was around a lot because he was my father’s bridge partner and dad often proofed his books. The last time I saw eccentric and tempermental Bergamini was when Alan Reffler pushed Bergamini into the pool sending him into a rage which scattered all of the players and their cards. There’s more to tell about Bergamini, but no time here – back to space.
One night I was watching TV in my room while my parents were holding a party downstairs. The show I was watching was interrupted and on came a “beep, beep, beep…” Then Walter Cronkite came on to explain that this was Sputnik sucessfully launched from Russia. Here we are now 54 years later waiting for information on Curiosity’s findings on Mars.
In the late 1950s I was thinking of becoming an astronomer; but I became a molecular biologist instead. This expertise, in reality, was much more practical because of the advent of Biotechnology in the 1970s. Being a molecular biologist has better equipped me to think about the prospects for finding life on Mars; but then I started wondering about the prospect of delivering life to Mars by stowaways on Curiosity. Could a bacterial or fungal spore, or a photosynthetic microorganism survive the trip and then find an ecological niche on the surface of Mars? I don’t know this answer but this is the same issue being pondered by the EPA on Earth with the development of recombinant microorganisms and plants. On Earth these new microorganisms have to compete with natural microbial populations which have mechanisms to defend their niches. This barrier does not appear to exist on Mars but the harsh environment is surely a barrier.
The final question remains. Is there life or was there life on Mars? Curiosity may discover life on Mars and this would be an exciting finding. If life is found, it will be interesting to learn how it differs. Does it have the same genetic code? Does it have any genetic code? How does it replicate? I hope to be around if and when this is learned.
Senior Year at NHS
Seeing this picture of the NHS cheerleaders (taken in the fall of 1960) reminded me of running cross country that fall. I had just started a race. After the start of the race as I rounded the track to head out onto the 3.2 mile course, I could hear the Cheerleaders practicing. Except they were cheering “Cricky, Cricky he’s our man…” Tinny Adams (Cynthia, not “Cindy”) had started this and, boy, was I embarrassed. I think I broke all records for the first leg of the race just to get out of sight . Tinny was my date for the Senior Prom.
From the time I moved to Bryan Road at the age of 5 until the end of Norwalk High, Paul Tebo on neighboring Ridgewood Road was my best friend. When we went to 7th grade we branched out with good friends like Ed Steinlauf, Peter Blank, Alan Green, and Gary Goldstein. Peter and I also went to sailing school at the Norwalk Yacht Club for many summers. In July before 9/11, Paul and I and the four above got together for a mini-reunion in Branford CT at Ed Steinlauf’s house.
I remember Paul’s mother Mrs. Tebo subing for Mrs. Frank in 3rd grade. Connie Henry was there too. When it came time for recess Paul wanted to take the kickball to the play-ground (thinking he would get his way). Mrs. Tebo refused to let him have his way and awarded the ball to someone else. I vaguely recall a small tantrum .
None of us had seen each other since Paul’s wedding to Pam Bruchak (not sure of the spelling) his high school flame (retro word). I believe the wedding was in 1966 in the spring because I spent 3 months on my own in Europe that summer before I went into seclusion for about 10 years (graduate school and postdoctoral fellow years).
Through all of the years with Paul, I was always well aware that he was way ahead of me. He even asked his mother about this when we were on our way to a Biddy Basketball game at the YMCA during 7th grade. I remember her answer clearly. She told Paul “One of these days, he’ll catch up to you.”
Paul’s parents were wonderful to me. I spent many a day riding in the back seat with Paul in their late 1950s Corvair, both of us with heads out the window to escape the cigarette smoke coming from the front seat. Paul’s parents had a very modest life style, and I spent most of my time away from home in their house or in their yard playing games. One year Paul and I played close to 1000 ping pong games … and the score was kept on a large board next to the ping pong table in their basement. Paul won 600+ and I won 300+. When we entered Biddy Basketball at the YMCA Paul was 5’6” (the max for the league) and I was a relative shrimp at around 5’. We also played board games and card games ad nauseum. Everything was a competition which I enjoyed greatly even when I lost.
Well, enough of that. After the wedding Paul and Pam went to Lehigh and he received his Ph.D. in Chem Engineering. After that, his first job was at Dupont in Wilmington. He retired from Dupont, a senior VP of Safety, Health & Environment, at the age of 60 and continues to consult in his field. He and Pam have lived in West Chester PA for most of their married lives. They had two kids, a boy and a girl, both of whom excelled at everything like Paul. We get annual updates at Christmas with photos of their world travels.
Paul and Pam’s Christmas letters prompted Becki and me to produce a Christmas letter of lesser achievements, although we do brag a lot about our kids and Phoebe’s Danielle who lived with us while in high school (that’s another story).
Dick Wilmont went to Yale and I understand (probably from him) that he barely made it through. Dick had to scrape every penny for Yale. He had a girl friend near the end at Yale. After Yale, they married because of her pregnancy and they had a girl. I recall visiting them at Christmas time in their apartment in Stamford after I had entered grad school. The marriage didn’t last very long. Her family was well to do and they didn’t take to Dick; nor did Dick take to marriage. Dick was always an aspiring writer and may still be. He purchased a small house near Montauk Point at the end of Long Island with his family’s help and I believe he supported himself by working on fishing boats. Phoebe interacted with Dick who sometimes visited Otis Landrigan at the bottom of Wilson Ave near the canon. Phoebe moved in with Otis for a number of years in the mid-late 1990’s after her divorce from Bill Frate. Otis had inherited the house and substantial savings from his parents. Father, Art, ran Bayley Beach during my life in Rowayton.
I don’t think that Dick ever wrote that novel.
My Norwalk High School Graduation
I am in the front row center with Paul to my right. Alan Green is to the right of Paul and Fred Newburg and Rick Mayer are in the background. This is June 1961.
My Friends in the NHS Graduating Class
The picture below was taken at a rehearsal of the graduation ceremony. It represents about a fifth of the 500+ NHS 1961 class. In the other sections, it was hard for me to recognize anyone but in this section I am there (purple arrow) with most of my friends including Paul Tebo (aqua blue arrow) next to me and Len Calendriello (red arrow, upper center). I’m not sure but four to the left of Lenny may be Paul Jensen (Bell Island).
Fred Newberg (aqua blue arrow near Lenny) and Ed Steinlauf (red arrow) and Russell Brown (dark pink arrow) were mentioned in a previously. Other good friends from Norwalk were Alan Green (green arrow), Gary Goldstein (orange arrow), Bob Swan (yellow arrow), and Peter Blank (furthest to the right, dark green arrow).
Peter Blank is connected to Rowayton because he spent a few summers in sailing school at the yacht club on Bluff Avenue. Also Peter, Paul, and I water-skied off of Tavern Island often. Alan Green and I crossed paths at Johns Hopkins. He graduated from Columbia Med School and then did an Internship at Hopkins. He later took a position in the Nixon White House and interacted with Egil Krogh during the Watergate era. After becoming a full professor in Psychiatry at Harvard, he is now head of the Department of Psychiatry at Dartmouth.
Ed Steinlauf and Gary Goldstein were with me when I totaled the family Buick in the late fall of 1960. The Buick, by the way, was a 1952 four hole’r, with a visor over the front window, and DynaFlow. We drove to a Staples basketball game one night. When we exited the game, we stepped out into a blizzard. In the whiteout I tried to negotiate getting across the Post Road near the Black Rock entrance to the CT turnpike but I got stuck crossing the Post Road. A car came over a hill and slid about 40 feet into the front right of the Buick. As the car slid toward us, I recall Gary letting out a scream because the car was coming directly toward him. When the car crashed into us, my Buick did a 360 spin like a pinwheel saving us from any real harm. Somehow we were transported to Gary’s house in East Norwalk and I walked back to Rowayton in the morning. Both Gary and Ed went on to UConn and became very successful dentists. Gary’s practice was at Harvard and Ed’s was in Branford CT. A few years after I saw Ed in the summer of 2001, Ed who did not smoke died suddenly from lung cancer.
Bob Swan was a talented musician who has spent much of his career as a violinist for the Chicago Symphony.
Paul got his Chemical Engineering degree at Tufts, then his Ph.D. at Lehigh. Then he took a job with Dupont and he and wife, Pam, moved permanently to West Chester PA. Paul retired from Dupont at the level of Vice President and still remains active as a consultant for large companies on “integrating the principles and concepts of sustainability into their growth strategies to create economic, environmental and societal values”.
The Spring of 1963 – Sophomore Year at Bethany College
In the week of February 24, 2012, a controversy surrounding the identities of the voting members of the Movie Academy arose mentioning one derogotory example who was a nun. I thought to myself, ‘This must be Dolores’ … Dolores Hart. A few days later the news caught up with the controversy and confirmed that the nun was Dolores … a beautiful young woman, then and today.
Here’s a picture of Dolores with one of my favorite actors, Montgomery Clift, in “Lonelyhearts” (1958). My favorite Montgomery Clift movie is “Wild River” (1960) with Lee Remick which portrayed life in Appalachia, much like it existed in West Virginia where I went to college. The second picture is Dolores today, still a beautiful woman.
Thinking of Dolores jogged my memory to an experience in my youth when I was a sophomore at Bethany College in West VA – the ‘small college of extinction’ – my frat brothers preferred saying, derived from a sign-post on the main road which then stated “Bethany College, Small College of Distinction.” Now I see they’ve added the word “National” to the phrase… Hmmm, Small College of National Extinction? Ernie Wetzel also went to Bethany about ten years later. Fifty years in retrospect, it was a fine place to be which prepared me for a significant career in Molecular Biology and Biotechnology. I have recalled the experience in the early spring of 1963 often and fondly but never thought of bringing it up until Dolores came back in my life this week.
Leading up to our spring break that year, I hooked up with some Sigma Nu’s (I was a Beta) who were planning to drive straight through to Ft. Lauderdale for the break; so, spontaneously, I bought in. Up to that point, I had never been South of McLean VA or west of the neighboring Ohio River. I slept through the night on this long drive waking up at sunrise to see for the first time, Spanish Moss magically hanging from the trees in southern Georgia. This was a completely new world for me. It seemed to take forever to get down to Lauderdale. We rolled into town and quickly found a spacious bunch of ground-floor rooms a block away from the beach. Here was the sun, surf, and the beach crowded with frenetic, beer-drinking teenagers and college kids from everyplace imaginable.The town kept things rolling with activities, one after another, like limbo contests, volleyball, etc. The limbo contests were a big attraction because of the contortionists’ talent and the purient perspective at the end of the platform. No doubt, the value of such a vacation was questionable but I am glad that I made the trip, and many others like this and the Newport Folk Festival in 1962 when Bob Dylan came out.
There is not much detail to recall except that before the end of a full week the Sigma Nu’s became homesick for their mamas and girlfriends and decided to head back to WVa. I was enjoying the scene so much that I told the Nu’s I was staying. Afterall, we had rented the place for two weeks and I was going to get the most I could out of it. I guess it was because I had been a creature of the beach scene in Rowayton for my entire life. Some of the Nu’s were worried for me but I don’t recall being the least bit concerned about getting back to Bethany.
One night, on my own, I wandered down the beach to a place where a dance (a hop) was going to get started. I found myself at the front of a crowd when who should walk to the forefront, but Dolores. She was very pretty and full of smiles. She had starred in the 1960 movie, “Where the Boys Are” about the Lauderdale spring break along with George Hamilton and Connie Francis, who sang the song by the same name.
I recall that Dolores sang a song all the while standing directly in front of me. After that she asked me to dance which scared the bejesus out of me. I’m sure that my childhood friends, Connie and Margo, recall that I was a shy kid with two left feet. [ Later when I met Becki, I became a dancing fool at the Class Reunion in Palo Alto CA.] Because of my flaw, I said “no thanks”. I remember a twinge of disappointment in Dolores’ face but she quickly salvaged the situation by moving on to the next victim. I don’t suppose that this rejection had anything to do with her becoming a nun?
Moving on, toward the end of the second week in Lauderdale with other experiences under my belt, I located a note taped to the window of the Elbo Room requesting riders heading north to help cover the gas for the trip. I went to the bar and found the driver whose name I don’t recall. We left the next day from the Elbo Room. The trip was a blurr until I was let off on the NJ Turnpike just north of the entrance to the PA Turnpike. I walked across the highway to the highway restraurant.
What I hadn’t realized was my appearance. I had developed a very very dark tan, more so than I had ever developed during the Rowayton summers, and I probably looked a little schizophrenic because of lack of sleep and the salt covering my body. It was also odd that I was also wearing my tennis outfit, an outfit out of place for NJ emerging from winter. I had a little sign that said “going west” and almost immediately found someone who would take me to Wheeling WVa. Once there, I hitched an 18 mile ride through West Liberty to Bethany. I can remember being let off on the Campus across the street from the “Beehive” where the trip got started two weeks earlier. I sort of stood there for a moment just savoring being safely back. Then, one of my closest friends, Mase, came out of the Beehive and walked across the street head down. When he got to within about six feet, he looked up startled and said “MY GOD, WANT HAPPENED TO YOU?”
Stefan and Marion Schnabel
In early June of 1966, my summer before entering graduate school, I was invited to a barbecue at Stefan and Marion’s house. In a week I was headed to Europe on my own for the summer and they wanted to give me some pointers. I had absolutely no itinerary planned. I was to land in Munich so Stefan suggested that I have dinner at the restaurant Meine Schwester und ich. I landed in Munich and took the train downtown. I was exhausted already so I went to the nearest hotel across the plaza and napped for a few hours. I arose late in the afternoon with no immediate ideas so I took a cab to Meine Schwester und ich. I was delivered to a non-descript restaurant store front on a non-descript side road. It was apparently too early for dinner because there was no one in the restaurant except a waiter who ushered me down a long aisle with single tables on either side. I was seated in the center of an empty Meine Schwester und ich. Reading the menu, the only words I recognized were Gulasch-Suppe so that’s what I ordered. While waiting for my Suppe, I noticed many small pictures on the walls lining the tables. I looked at the one to my right next to me. It was a solitary picture of Stefan staring me in the face. All of a sudden I didn’t feel alone (Stefan was well known actor in Germany, Austria, and Switzerland; his father Artur was known to be the greatest German pianist). After my Suppe I left for the Hofbrauhaus. Then the next day, I started my journey starting with Innsbruck, then Switzerland, southern France, Spain, Tangiers, the Riviera, Italy, Paris, Denmark and then home from Frankurt.
Stefan and Marion lived on Pennoyer Street in a house one or two down from Billy Parks. Stefan played the father of Barbara Cooke, the heroine, in “Plain and Fancy” on Broadway in the mid-50s. Here’s a photo from Life Magazine with Stefan and Barbara on the right after the Amish community erected a barn. His role was major, and he even sang solos. It was a terrific hit. I went to this show, my first, which left me with indelible memories. After the show, we went back-stage to see Stefan in his dressing room. He later (in the early 60s) starred in the Three Penny Opera in German which was also a hit on Broadway.
Stefan and Marion visited us in Woodstock in the late 1990s during a gibbous moon. I remember the conversation because my father and Stefan argued incessantly about whether the “G” was hard or soft. Stefan took the side of “Gee”.
Summer of 1966
When I was in college in West Virginia, I would get haircuts at the local barber who would yak up a conversation on his perspective of the world gained through conversations with his victims - long-haired immature college students. He was pretty sure he knew what it was like out there even though he had never travelled out of state and rarely left town.
In the summer of 1966 I found out what it is like to get out of town. I sold my Healey (I wasn’t going to need it anymore because of grad school) to fund a trip to Europe on my own. After about three weeks, I ended up in Barcelona’s Gothic Quarter where I found a small room in a clean hotel for $1.76 a night. The room in Barcelona was such a good buy I kept it for 5 weeks (to store my stuff) as I fanned out to Spanish cities like Zaragoza, Madrid, Seville, Cadiz, Valencia, and Algaciris and then to Tangiers and Mayorca where I with a young aspiring writer from Columbia met Robert Graves. He lived in Deja on the west side of the island; we slept on the beach down below his house. While walking through the Casbah in Tangiers , I could hear the theme music for the “Untouchables” emanating from a second floor apartment over the sidewalk cafe where I tried hashish while I sipped minta (tea in a glass stuffed with mint leaves) and watched the muslim men walk by hand in hand sometimes wrestling in the street. In those years, we Americans ‘owned’ this part of the world because of our prosperity - a circumstance that no longer exists today.
While in Madrid, I frequented El Prado, a fabulous museum of Flemish and Spanish art. My favorite painting was “The Drunkards” by Velasquez
because of its ambiance. I was also impressed by Goya’s painting of the Duchess of Alba (the intricacy of the lace on the pillows of course; she was dressed by Goya after a complaint from the monarchy). Both are very large, unsurpassed paintings.
I purchased a postcard of the Maja and sent it to my friend Mase who was in the Peace Corp in central Iran. Because of this faux pas, Mase was arrested by the Chief of Police and carted off to the post office to explain the pornography that he had just received in the mail. Mase had difficulty with the local bullies but he held them at bay by convincing them that he would get Elliot Ness to come over and mow them all down if they gave him any trouble. In those years, we owned Europe, the Near East, and northern Africa, and could go and do as we pleased. In fact, it was my uncle (same name) that together with Kermit Roosevelt orchestrated the overthrow of Mosadek and the installation of the Shah for Iran. Before that it was my grandfather, Arthur Howland Leavitt, who escorted T. E. Lawrence at the Paris Peace Conference at the end of the First World War on behalf of the US State Department.
Seeds for the Future
I can recall a summer night at dusk in the late 50s when Paul and I were sitting on the stone wall that bordered my parents’ property and the Fosters’ property. We were having a conversation about what we were going to become. I can’t remember what Paul said but I do remember what I said. I said that I thought that I might become an astronomer.
My father had purchased a 6” reflecting telescope. I would spend chilly nights in our back yard staring at the heavens. With this telescope I could see the rings of Saturn, Jupiter’s moons, Mars and Venus. The best sight was almost standing on the terrain of the moon. This was an era of space fantasy. Did anyone doubt that Sputnik’s beeps were coming from outer space? One Sunday in the early mid-50s, Paul and I took in a fabulous science fiction double feature at the South Norwalk Theater, “War of the Worlds” and “Worlds Collide” (I still enjoy watching these old films today). I was also hooked on the TV serials “Flash Gordon”, “Buck Rodgers”, “Tim Tyler’s Luck”, and Gene Autry’s “The Phantom (Underground) Empire”. And I read many Landmark books about famous explorers like Captain John Smith and Lewis and Clark. I always wanted to explore some frontier; but frontiers are hard to find in our modern society.
I was very fortunate to have the mentorship of people like Ward Chamberlin and Wally Thorsen (girlfriend Heide’s father) who helped stir my creative thoughts. Ward was a daunting figure who commanded respect, especially on the tennis court, and who gave me some time to observe intelligence at work; and Wally for his inspiration and excitement about the new science of DNA and genetics. It was ironic that Wally was also talking about the benefits of vitamin C in the early 60s because I ended up with Linus Pauling later on in life.
It was these latter conversations that stayed in the back of my mind as I tried to find a life. I can connect these directly to my decision to become a molecular biologist and cancer researcher. Seven years later with a Ph.D. in biochemistry from the University of Pittsburgh, I embarked on my struggle to find my niche as a scientist at Johns Hopkins in the early 70s; but my thoughts about growing up in Rowayton never left my mind as I found myself living in Pittsburgh’s Squirrel Hill, then Baltimore, then Howard County Maryland where I eventually commuted to my lab at the National Institutes of Health in a light green Jeep; then later in Palo Alto CA; then my long drive with Becki and Mariah to return to CT and Woodstock of all places. Throughout these forty plus years, I would occasionally find my way back to Rowayton to soak up its ambiance, but there was no other reason to be there.
My work product was my scientific papers, cloned genes, patents, and proprietary thoughts that still germinate in my mind’s eye today. Later my colleagues at Stanford and I contributed a special genetic engineering tool which Stanford licensed to the biotech industry for 17 years, a tool that was actually used in an attempt to treat brain cancer patients at MD Anderson. Perhaps the most fulfilling experience that I felt among quite a few was receiving funding approval from my peers that allowed me to live like a human being while doing these things; and my collaborations with colleagues in many countries and places as well.