Jeff Peyton, class of 1961, who moved to his new home town in 1949
By JEFF PEYTON
When my family moved from
partitioned like the old hard drives, one side Brooklyn, the other
Both are filled with teeming, sharply distinct memories.
While two teachers have a warm place in my heart, Bob Henebry and Bert
Chapman, they were like all teachers -- defined by a culture that few ever
rise above. Sadly, Henebry and Chapman left
a way to keep connected. There were other teachers who lived in the
village outside of my classrooms. These people did things with me, shared
what they knew with me. Took me by the hand, won over my heart, opened
my mind, changed my thinking and sense of myself.
Like Major Harry Harmon, a
had two daughters. As a military family, they were “not in
more,” but surely hoped to get back home soon. They lived near the corner
of Snowbird and Tanager. Their house inside was plain and unadorned. I
recall walking with Major Harry (I was eight) down to
the dry-baked air of a
and the endless flit and click of toad, butterfly, moth, dragon fly and locust,
we became naturalists. One afternoon, I watched the Major coax a bee off
a puff of clover into his open hand. The knowledge that you could let a bee
walk across your hand and not be stung, as long as your hand remained
open, amounted to super power I had not seen in any comic book.
There was Gene, the Clover Dairy milk man, who let me climb aboard at
7:15 every Saturday morning. I can still summon the damp smell of ice and
milk in the truck and feel the morning air against my face, my arms stretched
across the open door. There was the weight of the bottles and the rare OJ
in the metal carrier, and the clean snap of the milk box lid falling shut, and
the sense of other worlds and people were just waking up inside the houses.
Around 9 a.m., my sneakers green and dew-soaked, Gene dropped me off at
home with a flip of a quarter at me through the truck door.
There was Bill Levitt who lived on Pelican just east of Northside school.
Bill had a small box-like Chevy van which he used for his moving business.
I was his regular assistant and navigator. We went everywhere —
street atlas and kept Bill on the straight and narrow. There was the day we
moved a fridge up three flights of stairs in
There was big Ray and his old Volvo station wagon. Ray delivered papers -- the Long Island Press, Newsday, The New York Times, The Herald Tribune, The
Journal-American. Ray picked me up at 3:30 on Sunday morning, and drove
over to the Meadowbrook Theater where we packed inserts for an hour or
more behind the great brick edifice that protected us from the wind in the
dead of winter. In Ray’s hands and fingers, cracked, hard and blackened
from newsprint, I could read the meaning of work and its corrosive effect
on the body and learned not to take a warm bed and a chance to sleep in for
I worked for Herbert Richheimer and Sons on the trash pick up crew. We showed up
at home improvement sites and filled up the dump trunk. A college friend
and I painted the
the head janitor. Long gone by 1966 were the old-timers, the two Northside
School custodians, Smitty and Mr. Sparks, with his blue eyes and white curly
hair. I can still smell the sawdust-cedar mix they pushed with their brooms
down the hallway. Smitty lived on
to the back field of Northside. Smitty would drop a couple of Kraft caramels
into your hand as you passed him in the hallway.
Across the street lived the big kid of
City cop. Joe wasn’t supposed to live outside the city limits, but, an ex sea
bee, Joe was not afraid to break a rule. Joe played stick ball, curb ball, touch
football. You could call his name and out of his house he’d come. From Joe
I learned how important adults could be when they actually did things with
you, took an interest in you, and joined you in play. Joe lived across from
us for a mere six years, but it seemed like a lifetime.
When Joe’s son, Kevin, contacted my sister after my dad passed in January 2011, Kevin and I re-connected and then he put me in touch with Joe. Joe, 85, is happily married
and still roller skates just like he did at the
that he’s got a pin in his hip from a spill a few years ago. On the phone I
could have been talking to a man in his 30s. From Joe and experiences with
others like him sprang the seeds of play and a belief about education I am
still advancing in my work.
This is part one of a two-part story