BIRTH OF A LIFE’S ENDEAVOR
Bellerose was an average working-class town twenty years following the second world war. Gull Street was a typical street in the lower middle-class community. On the weekdays, the morning sidewalks would be filled with adults rushing to the bus stops on
their way to work and the children trudging off to school. Repeat performances would follow in the late afternoon in reverse. On the weekends, throngs of children would fill the street and front yards burning up energy with playing their simple games. Punchball,
marbles, red rover, ringalevio to name only a few. Parents and adults would be in their respective houses catching up with weekly activities. Entertaining youngsters, baking, watching baseball games on TV, catching up with news over the phone and honey-do lists to name just a few. Bellerose was just one of many south shore, Long Island towns.
Mike and Richie were best friends and lived in the middle of the block on the west side of Gull Street. So did Mr. Williams, the street’s token milk man. Due to some act of fate, Mr. Williams had become the director of the V F W children’s band. It had grown to be large and impressive under his leadership. Mr. Williams had always enjoyed nurturing and encouraging the youth of his community. The milk man . . .
It was June of 1963. Jimmy, a brand, new kid at the corner house of the street, had arrived from Maryland to spend three weeks with his aunt and uncle. New kids were always a serious matter and an object of curiosity. Mike and Richie wasted no time in checking him out.
Mike and Richie spotted Jimmy in the distance and went down to the corner to meet him.
“You new here?” Mike asked
“Yeah, I’m Jimmy” he responded.
“We're gonna get a game of punchball going. You want to play, Jimmy?” Richie asked
“You bet!” Jimmy blurted, obviously excited.
A strong, new friendship had been founded.
The following Saturday was an off and on rainy day. Jimmy was permitted to invite Mike and Richie up to his room in the attic to play board games. Jimmy had a “show and tell” to divulge, as well.
“Come, look at this square table here that’s inside this big closet. The top lifts up and lays against the wall. There’s a platform inside that goes up and down. See, it moves.” Jimmy explained.
“What’s it for?” Mike wanted to know.
“I asked my Uncle Helmut. He called it an old, dumb weight. Said I shouldn’t mess with it so I wouldn’t get hurt,” Jimmy explained.
“Where does it go to?” Richie asked with enthusiasm.
“Got me. Don’t know. I don’t think Uncle Helmut even knows. It’s gotta be a secret passageway!” Jimmy shrugged.
“The next time we see Mr. Williams, we can ask him. Maybe he’ll know?” Mike suggested.
Two days later, all three of them approached Mr. Williams. All three took turns describing what they had seen.
Nothing else had to be done. The three boys had provided the whole setting for the stage. Mr. Williams had listened to them and stood solidly with a smile.
“During the last world war, German submarines would spy on Long Island towns. The people that once lived in the house before your aunt and uncle, Jimmy, had come from Germany, and were thought to be German spies. From your bedroom in the attic, Jimmy, they could see the submarine lights blinking offshore. Messages were in special Morse Code. The German spies in the house would put certain information in a notebook, put it on the platform and add a heavy brick. The weight of the brick would cause the platform to sink to the basement, where the ham radio operator would send messages back to the submarine while they were close and could pick up the signal,” Mr. Williams finished.
All three boys were aghast in amazement.
“Let’s keep it our secret, fellas. You can read all about it at the library, you know?” He then winked.
Mr. Williams was a natural master of his imagination!
Soon, Jimmy would return to Maryland. But, for the rest of the summer, and even thereafter, Mr. Williams would further bait Mike and Richie with related questions. Have you heard about the Manhattan Project? Do you know much about German U-boats? Do you know about the division of Germany at the end of the war? Pearl Harbor? The U.S.S. Eldridge? And on and on it would go - - -
Mike and Richie made regular trips to the library. Mr. Williams had managed to kindle a spark that became a genuine area of life-long interest to each of them.
The years went by rapidly. Life in Bellerose hadn’t changed much. Children still played games in the streets and in the front yards. What had changed were the faces and names. Almost all of them. Not, Mr. Williams, though. His face and body had grown older, but methods and interests were still in place. Each season he would plant his seeds with unsuspecting young folk to help shape their development into adults.
Mike and Richie had grown into more mature games and interests. However, they would forever remember with fondness the games of childhood.
Once high school was completed, Mike went on to college and eventually became an American History high school teacher. Richie went on to National Security Specialties with the United States Navy.
Mr. Williams completed high school, as well. Later in life, he would retire from the Borden’s Milk Company with a smile! However, it is unfortunate that no one person planted and nurtured seeds within him! But, let’s reconsider. Had a seed not been planted with the leadership of the band? The V F W band
was the lead in the Massapequa centennial parade. As you sow, so shall you reap, or maybe, as you reap, you might sow?
Many years later, Mike’s grandson, Peter, and his friend Josh asked Mike about the big, old safe at the rear of the backyard. Mike had cut out a wooden tabletop for it, and it was a part of the barbecue setting. It sure beat trying to move it out of the backyard!
“Grandpa, is there anything in the old, rusty safe?” Peter asked.
Grandpa reacted with a pause and a smile.
“Back in 2001, one of the Twin Towers terrorists was shot down the street. He was trying to escape. Your Uncle Ray and I offered to help him hide. He agreed to squeeze into the safe and we closed the door. He entered his secret passageway to HELL! We never again opened the old, dumb safe after that!
Both boys were awestruck!
“This safe will be our secret. So, don’t tell anyone! You can read all about the terrorist attack at the library”, Mike said as matter of fact.
You know the rest of the story. So, the saga continues . . .