September 6, 2011

Why I wish that I had attended Division Avenue High instead of that other school

Barbara and Ken Taylor at Linck's Log Cabin Easter 1963

By KEN TAYLOR, Levittown Memorial 1959

I moved to 60 Parkside Drive, in June, 1955 from Fillmore Avenue in Brooklyn. Everyone thought we were nuts “Moving out to the Country”, also called “The Sticks”, Hicktown, Moosville, and a dozen more nicknames. They couldn’t believe we were leaving the City for the Hills.

The first memory I had was the intense heat in Levittown. A Cape Cod house that trapped the heat in the newly built upstairs bedroom was like a broiler. I didn’t have a flat roof to go up to and cool down and sleep the night away like in Brooklyn, and one night I slept in the rear yard for some relief and woke up covered with mosquitoes eating me alive.

I found my way to the North Village Green pool, and stayed by myself not knowing a soul there. One day, I saw a notice from the Levittown Swimming Association looking for clown divers. As I have done throughout my life, I looked at the challenge and adventure part of it and signed up.

I was taught a few basic clown dives, and told to practice them during the week. I was practicing a “One and a quarter belly flop” off the high board when a girl came over to me and said, “let me show you how to do it”. Her name was Barbara Wittenberg, and she was with the bunch of about 20 kids my age at the pool. She kept doing the dive correctly and I kept during my belly flop perfectly, which made her madder with each flop.

Barbara (my beautiful wife of 47 years and five reunions) then introduced me to the North Village Green “Natives” and years of good times, lots of beers and hiding in the trees from Chuck Kelly the foot cop began.

Towards the end of the summer, the talk of going back to school filled the conversations. I was asked what year was I in? I answered “I’m starting the first year of high school." Then I said the magic words, “AT LEVITTOWN MEMORIAL HIGH”. I still remember the stunned silence from the group, and the look that I was getting like I had leprosy or something.

I learned very quickly that there was a very distinct difference between the schools. Division Avenue High was #1. Everyone wanted to go to DAHS. I was “banished” to Memorial. Why? Well Division didn’t have a ninth grade as yet. That would come the following year in September, 1956, so to go into the ninth grade, I had to go to the dreaded Memorial High. One day on the Green Vic Lawson told me he was also going to Memorial, so I had a friend, an ally to fill the upcoming four years together.

I had to walk to Memorial because I was within the two mile radius from the school. If you were outside the radius you took a school bus. After a month or so of the long walk from the North Village Green to Ranch Lane, I decided to go to Plan B. I borrowed a bus pass for a weekend from one of the kids on the bus. It cost me 50 cents.

I made an identical forgery of the pass with my name on it, the old fashioned way with matching colored yellow paper, and India ink (remember that stuff?) I put the pass in an old wallet with a faded plastic window in it that made the pass look weathered and worn. The tricks of the trade I proudly thought to myself. I could have had a career in forgery.

Then came Monday morning at the bus stop at Parkside Drive and Wolcott Road.

I gave the kid back his pass and waited very nervously for the bus. When it arrived, I stepped up into the bus, getting very close behind the kid in front of me and showed my “pass” as I kept moving down the aisle. “Hey!” yelled the driver, and I froze. “Come up front and take a seat.” I walked back and sat down right behind him. Nothing was said for the entire trip, but he kept looking at me in the rear view mirror. I thought to myself, “I’m caught”.

The bus stopped at Memorial and he turned and quietly whispered to me, “Nice work” and winked. He was my bus driver for the first two years, then I had to do it all again for the last two years with different drivers. Each year I made a new forged pass. Fifty cents. Piece of cake.

But all through the school years, I felt a slight disconnect between the gang at DAHS and myself. Memorial kids and the gang at the South Village Green were not liked. Period. Memorial was considered the snob school, and for good reason. There was an element of just that, and they ran the school. The jocks, cheerleaders and those wealthy kids were one group, and the normal everyday low income Levittown kids were on the other side of the tracks, so to speak.

I felt more isolated at Memorial, than at the Village Green, but it was always there, lingering just below the surface. I felt like I had a sign on my back and sometimes it was a target. I had the big fight of the year in 1959 in the hallway of Memorial because I hung out at the North Green with the crowd from Division, Therefore, I was technically from DAHS. That’s how they thought. I got my lumps, but I also got my shots in too. The Memorial experience taught me how to fight and survive the bad guys.

Don’t misunderstand what I am saying. The gang on the Green was one big family, but when they talked about something that happened at DAHS, I had the same feeling as if you are the last one picked for a ball game. Subtle, but there. I don’t even think it was a conscious thought by them.

I actually didn’t walk into Division Avenue High for the first time, until one night when Barbara was a senior, we went to a “Sock Hop” in the gym. A local band was playing the “oldies” only then they were brand new for us.

I felt the family atmosphere in the gym. Everyone was laughing and enjoying each other’s company. I remember saying to Barbara how I never saw or felt that feeling at Memorial.

I didn’t really understand the impact of not going to DAHS until we started the 20-year class of 1960 reunion, and meeting with the Principal, Mr. Robert Graham in his office at school. This was the second time I had entered Division Avenue High, if you didn’t count walking into the cafeteria to vote.

When we found a classmate for the reunion, the Division spirit came through the phone in their voices, or from the letters they wrote. No e-mail then. They were all 18 years old again, and couldn’t wait to see everyone. A total of 182 out of 202 classmates made the reunion, including 28 teachers. For one weekend we all went home again.

After 50 years, that same family feeling is alive and well. It was there in 1960 as well as 2010 at the 50 -year reunion. What a great testament to the classmates and the school.

The reunions have totally amazed me and I have realized that I had lost four years at Memorial, when I could have had four years of great school memories at Division Avenue High. It’s called the luck of the draw. I lost.


Frank Barning said...

How did Vic Lawson get to Memorial? Did he also forge a bus pass?

Anonymous said...

Pat Stanley Share, class of 1962 - -

Great story, and yes we were fortunate going to DAHS.

Toni Crescenzo Gelfer 68' said...

My brother Jimmy had the Memorial experience, too, but had a sister 2 years younger who went to DAHS..Since, they'd both have friends over all the time..I lived in what my Mom called an "Open House"..He had the advantage of never having the stigma of being from Memorial..Amazingly, he was a Clown diver,also..Small world!