January 5, 2016

My Friends - Part 2: Ithaca Pre-Cornell

I was born in Hudson, New York, but most of my remembered life dates from the time my parents moved into this house at 215 Prospect Street on Ithaca's South Hill:

The House of Parkinson's Disease?
We rented the half of the house on the right, and I lived there from age 7 to 25. The Slattery family owned the house and lived in the other half. The house is on Ithaca's South Hill, and my dad walked up that hill to his job at the Morse Chain Company.

As I mentioned in an earlier post, the toxic chemical trichloroethylene (TCE) -- used by Morse Chain to clean its equipment's metal parts -- had contaminated much of South Hill. A 2011 study I found online indicated that people exposed to TCE are six times more likely to develop Parkinson's.

My childhood chum Joe Slattery, son of our house's owners, developed Parkinson's, too, and he died from the disease in 2013. So... two kids, about the same age, growing up in the same house on TCE-contaminated South Hill.... Just a coincidence?

Ithaca Friends
I had three or four neighborhood playmates in grade school, but those friendships faded when I entered junior high school.

I was painfully shy. During my high school years, I had a  part-time job that kept me from hanging out with classmates after school.

Fortunately there was a Masonic temple across the street from the high school that had a game room with a pool table and card tables for the use of Demolay members. (Demolay is a youth organization sponsored by the Masons.) A group of us joined the Demolay chapter and went through the rituals just to get access to the game room. I spent many evening there while in high school. We used the room mostly to play the card game Hearts. The hours I spent playing this were good preparation for my bridge obsession in later years.

I devised a strategy in my teens to deal with my shyness. I'd select one of the most popular kids and work on seducing him into a close friendship. That way, I could feel socially active simply by following in his wake. I used this same strategy into my adulthood.

Army 21 - Navy 18
I graduated from high school in 1945 and worked the next year to earn money to enter Cornell. The following anecdote actually dates from my freshman year in college, but I associate it with my early Ithaca friends.

For several years before college, a few Ithaca pals and I would take the train (that no longer exists) down to Philadelphia for the Cornell-Penn football game, a traditional Ivy League contest that was always held on Thanksgiving Day.

In 1946, we decided to stay in Philadelphia to see if we could sneak into Saturday's Army-Navy game. We succeeded, and saw what has been described as: "A game no one can forget." Here's the rest of that headline:
It Was 1946. Army Had Not Lost In 3 Years. Navy Smelled An Upset. The Result? Pandemonium.
I was in the mob trying to get a piece of the goalpost that had been torn down after the game. I came away with a sliver of wood that remained on top of my desk at home for years. I inscribed it "Army 21-Navy 18."

Don't ask me for the name of somebody I met yesterday. But I have no trouble remembering that "Doc" Blanchard and Glen Davis were the all-American stars on Army's team.

Here's a photo of the Ithaca boys as we were heading home after that memorable 1946 trip:

Joe Slattery's widow sent me the picture. Joe (217 Prospect St.) is front and center here. I (215 Prospect St.) am in the back, looking over his right shoulder. On Joe's right is Paul Blanchard, the first of the popular stars I hitched my wagon to.  On his left is David Shepard, whose house was a block away from Prospect St. He would disappear and then re-enter my life periodically over the years.

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