2013.11.27 A Morenci childhood


If it had been 4:30 or 5 a.m., I wouldn't have thought too much about it, but it was so much earlier. I think it was only about 12:30 a.m. when my wife came to bed Saturday night and she almost sounded a little deranged.

"Did I ever tell you about all the airplane glue tubes at the park near my school?" she asked.

Every so often she comes up with fascinating stories about growing up in the Bronx and it reminds me that I was just a meek little white boy from the Midwest with nothing to worry about.

The park, obviously, is where the bad boys and girls went to get high by sniffing glue. No, she was not among them, but that reminded her of a dilemma she faced in her neighborhood—having to choose between walking past the drug addicts or walking past Balaban's house.

Balaban, who lived in one of the only single-family homes in the neighborhood, was a local terror that the kids would tease by shouting, "Balaban, the Crazy Man!" as they ran past his house.

And I think he lived somewhere near the corner where Colleen got beat up by neighborhood tough girl. 

"She was dragging me by the hair, really cleaning the street with me."

And then her brother Kevin arrived to save her scalp.

Why the outburst of childhood terrors? Obviously it was a product of our entertainment earlier in the evening, watching "The Hunger Games" in which children are forced to kill each other in a deranged reality show.

I'm not going to ask her for additional details about Balaban, etc. That's her column in some future week and I've already stolen too much. So now it's my turn to talk about childhood terror. Morenci surely had its share of trials and tribulations.

I'm thinking back to our house on East Street South. Well, there was the older boy a couple houses away named Glen Dunlap. No, Glen was the nicest kid around. No problem there. The Keefers had a dog named Smokey, but I think he was OK, too. But there was a terror factor just across the street. Addie Sue Peltz and her cohort, Renée Allen, used to yell naughty things across the street to me and my sister, Diane. Neither party ever crossed the street. I don't know what sort of hair pulling and street cleaning would have erupted if they did.

I suppose the biggest fear in my neighborhood was Mr. Matzinger's electric fence. When I was a kid, Meadow Drive was a farm and the Matzingers had some cattle to keep fenced in. It was certainly a day of terror when I first touched that fence and got knocked to the ground. I'll bet an electric fence was nowhere to be found in the Bronx. Plenty of razor wire, but none with a shock to it.

We moved to the big house on Cawley Road when I was six and I do remember some initial fear. There had been a small fire in the house shortly before we moved in and of course I thought about that while lying in bed once we moved in.

I've written before about Susan Webster's dog that thrust terror into my life. Maybe I should say her alleged dog. I reminded her about it last summer—how we would run from her front porch to her back porch with Pepper nipping at our heels—and she failed to confirm my story. Maybe it was Barb Gardiner's dog. Ownership doesn't matter. It was my first taste of an adrenaline game, where the fun was in the fear. I'm sure Susan, Barb and Jan Fink didn't share my fear. It was just a little mutt that couldn't have done much damage.

A few years later, when I befriended the Bryner boys, a new problem emerged. We weren't about to waste a minute or two walking on sidewalks. To reach their house two blocks away on Walnut Street, I was faced with a choice: Should I run through Crabby Appleton's yard or take my chances with Grumpy Greedy? Or maybe go right between their houses? Crabby and Grumpy were two elderly women who got tired of kids running through their yard. I would make a mad dash, then barrel in through Biddix's yard and climb the fence into Bryners. If they yelled at me, I must have ignored them. Terrifying experience. They were my Balaban. 

Of course there's more, but I don't think Colleen is going to buy my tales of terror and hardship. Morenci in the 1950s? Nothing like the Bronx anytime.