December 14, 2010
Q&A with Jon Buller class of '61, children’s book illustrator (part 1)
Where did you live in Levittown, when did you move there, and where had you lived before?
I was born in 1943 in San Antonio, Texas, where both my parents were serving in the U. S. Army. After my father came back from WWII my parents lived for a few years in Brooklyn. We moved into a Levittown Cape Cod south of Hempstead Turnpike in 1949, and then into a ranch at 176 Blacksmith Road in 1951. We lived just across the street from the Old Motor Parkway. That strip of the Parkway has now been filled in with houses and the Laurel Lane School, but through most of the 1950s it remained a strip of vacant land overgrown with weeds and trees where I could play at being Tarzan of the Jungle.
What were some of your earliest memories of Levittown?
I remember my father, when we first moved to Levittown, going on about how we now lived in the country. “You can buy fresh eggs just down the road!” he would tell people who came to visit. I suppose he was thinking of Zorn’s poultry farm on Hempstead Turnpike. I have no memory of the areas surrounding Levittown in those very early years, but I can imagine it was much more rural. But the process of development was pretty intense in the following years, and by the time I graduated from Division the undeveloped areas were few and far between.
Who were some of your first friends in your new home town?
By the time I was in fourth grade, possibly earlier, I was good friends with John Fitzsimmons, Clayton Citrano, Al Greengold, and Jerry Reichert. A few years later Wally Linder joined the group, and a few years after that I met Michael Haag. These friendships were all to last all the way to graduation, and beyond. We took part in the normal juvenile activities of that time — flipping baseball cards, playing wiffle ball and Chinese handball, etc.
One of the earliest of our childhood games, and one of my favorites, was playing Skullsy (see cartoon above). I have read descriptions of this game in books and articles about kids’ games in New York, where it is always referred to as “skelly” or sometimes “skully.” But our local variation was always called Skullsy. It was played with bottle caps that had had the cork lining scraped out of them. They were then filled with broken Crayolas and left in the sun, so that the Crayolas would melt and form a smooth filling. The playing field was a square of sidewalk with nine boxes drawn in chalk. It was a little like croquet, with the object being to shoot the bottle cap with your index finger from one box to another. The last box was in the center and had a skull drawn in it. Once you reached this box you became a skull and could kill all of your friends by hitting their bottle cap three times in a row with yours. In our graphic novel Faradawn I had the animal characters play a game of skullsy while they discussed the fate of The City of Ruins.
Was attending Division Avenue a good experience? Any teachers you really enjoyed?
I remember long stretches of boredom where time crawled, relieved by frequent bursts of sit-com hilarity. As far as Division Avenue’s effectiveness as an educational institution, it’s hard for me to judge, since it was the only high school I ever attended. But I suspect it deserved at least passing grades in that respect, because many graduates went on to good colleges where they were not immediately thrown out. Since Levittown was a town that sprang into being very suddenly, I think a lot of teachers were needed very suddenly and were hired just out of college. I think this must have been good in that there were not a lot of middle-aged burn-outs in the teaching corps, as there must have been in more established systems. I have fond memories of Thaddeus Kalinowski, who was a great character. I remember him explaining to us that his initials, T. K., stood for Teacher = King.
What is the address of your website?
Look for part 2 with Jon Buller tomorrow