Interesting, isn’t it? If someone had asked me about my most exciting moment when I was a kid I’d have answered in a second.
But as I get older, it gets a mite more difficult.
And not only because my memory is shot.
Although that, I will admit, adds to the confusion.
I suppose if you had asked me that question when I was in diapers I would have said it was the day I spent leaning against the back of the living room couch counting cars going by.
Black ones, blue ones ...
Wow! Two pretty colors. Exciting stuff.
Of course it would have been even more exciting if I hadn’t been color blind. I probably missed a few colors in there. But what the hey? It simplified the count and at 9 months I was still counting on the fingers of one hand, so I didn’t lose much.
And no, Johnny. A mathematical genius I ain’t.
Even when I got past the the diapers stage it was still easy to tell people the most exciting moment I had ever experienced. It progressed nicely from being allowed out in the back yard, to sitting on the front porch by myself, to crossing the street over to the empty lot, to traveling an entire half block up to Pike Street, which the kids used as a play street even though the City of New York never got around to making it official by putting up Play Street signs.
But that’s another story. I’ll get to that one in a minute.
However, one BIG day stands out in my memory. It happened one March morning when I was 8 years old.
Each year as February’s gray skies and bone-chilling cold gave way to crisp March winds and a warm spring sun, the neighborhood kids headed for the candy store to buy bright colored three-penny kites. And each year the air filled with talk of Ward Hill, and of kites soaring into the sky and arcing out over the streets below until they seemed to hover right over New York Harbor.
And each year I asked Mom if I could go with the kids, even though I knew that getting atop Ward Hill meant crossing Victory Boulevard, perhaps the busiest road on Staten Island.
So year after year I got the same answer. “You’re too young.”
But in 1940, the eighth year of my bondage, I again asked Mom if I could go, but this time I was prepared for her.
“Well, if I’m not old enough to go up on Ward Hill, then how come I’m old enough to walk all the way to school by myself?”
Hah! She didn’t have an answer for that one.
And so, one crisp spring day I found myself right in there with the rest of the kids, climbing up, up, up till we reached the heights. And there below me lay the entire panorama of New York Harbor — a vast stretch of water edged by docks and filled with everything from dumpy tugboats and tubby ferries to ocean liners.
Then came the best moment of all, the moment when my kite caught the wind, soared upwards as though alive, and sailed out over the cliffs atop which I stood. At last, I was “old enough.”
Exciting? It don’t get no better than that, Johnny.
Other great days came after that, but that March day on the wind-swept brink of a cliff on Ward Hill I will never forget. I’d like to be there now, watching my kite climb into the blue.
After that day my world rapidly expanded. I remember hiking over Ward Hill down to Pier 13, where I watched our soldiers boarding ships headed for Europe to whip Hitler’s gang. I was so proud of our guys as I watched them climbing the gangways! And soon after that came a trip to the Statue of Liberty, another to the fabled Roxy Theater, and a day with Mom at the Bronx Zoo.
It seemed like every day brought something more exciting. But it’s hard to say which one was the most exciting. You see, there’s exciting and exciting.
It’s hard to compare some things.
Take the time I was running from first to second in a game of three-o-cat stick ball on Pike Street. You’ll remember that the neighborhood kids treated Pike Street as a play street but, since there were no Play Street signs erected, car and bike traffic still passed through on occasion.
Anyway, I dashed out, intending to steal second, but I failed to factor in a teenager and his new Christmas present. I will say. though, it was exciting as I looked up and saw, heard, and felt teenager and bike at the same time.
I don’t know if that counts though. It all passed so fast.
And when I woke up at home, the only excited one was Mom, who was vehemently pointing out to my brother Frank that Roy, his best friend, was one dead kid if she got her hands on him.
And the two-week stay in the hospital was a drag until they used that BIG needle to drain the blood out of the also big lump on my head. But again, it was a passing moment, so what can I say?
At the time, if I remember right, what I said was, “Shoot!”
And yes, I cleaned that up for publication.
Let’s see. What came next?
There was my first close up glimpse of warships when we moved to New London, just a submarine and a destroyer, but to an 11-year-old they looked mighty impressive. I remember walking away that day in 1943 absolutely confident that with such naval might we would win the war with no trouble, no trouble at all.
And then there was V.E. day, when the war in Europe ended with Frank still alive. That was a big day — especially for Mom.
And there was V.J. day, no doubt the most exciting day this nation has experienced in my lifetime.
Unfortunately, I missed it because I was at Boy Scout camp.
The whole town went crazy, Johnny. And I missed it.
We broke up into groups and spritzed each other with the water fire extinguishers, but I’ve got to tell you, it was nothing.
Well, I guess it was something — the bummer of a lifetime!
And then there was that big black snake that stuck his face in my face — nose to nose — when I was traversing a narrow ledge on a cliff face. I let go, of course, snakes not being my favorite people. Fortunately, though I didn’t know it at the moment, I had already passed the 100-foot-high part of the traverse and so I only fell 20 feet onto a grassy slope, off which I could have rolled into said 100-foot drop, but — my-oh-my! — you should see how hard a 16-year-old can grip sod when he’s motivated.
But there is not the slightest doubt in my mind that the most exciting moment of my life happened the night that ...
Uh-oh. Out of space. Oh well, see you next week.