THE NEIGHBORS (WITH APOLOGIES TO SETH ROGAN AND JUSTIN BIEBER)

By JOSEPH TINTLE

Every neighborhood has at least one wild neighbor. Ask Seth Rogan or Justin Bieber. Rogan makes films about nutty neighbors and Bieber is the nutty neighbor.

But right now I’m thinking about a real doozy I once knew. Twenty-two years ago when my son, Kieran, and his friend, Greg, decided it would be a great idea to cover my new car with dirt, I chased them away, cranked up the hose, and started to wash my Toyota Corolla. What resulted was a two-inch wide stream of chocolate-colored water trickling down our newly-paved road.

My neighbor spotted this miscue of mine and came huffing and puffing up the street. She hurled insults at me like former New York Yankees relief pitcher Ryne Duren hurled fastballs — all over the place. I stayed calm. After all, I couldn’t understand why she was so upset.

That same month–July 1993–the Mississippi River had flooded the entire Midwest. People in several states had lost their lives, their homes, even entire towns were swept into extinction. But my neighbor was far more concerned about a narrow stream of dirty water that was ruining the apparent pristine look of our street.

“What do you have to say for yourself, you idiot?” she shouted at me with her gravelly voice.

“Just this, lady,” I replied in a most Christian mannner. “Get off my property and don’t come back.”

Her eyes widened and she turned to leave, never to be seen again.

Perhaps my most interesting neighbor, though, was the one who lived by our family home in Morristown when I was 13. Two days after we moved into the house, she approached my mother and father and said that her cat had been kidnapped and that I had driven it to Livingston, New Jersey, some ten miles away. Now remember: I was 13. In New Jersey, one needs to be 17 to drive.

My father dismissed her ramblings with a laugh, but my mother was not cracking a smile.

Two months later our phone rang at night and this woman was on the other end.

“Joey,” she said to me, “I can see you in your pajamas with my binoculars.”

She laughed hysterically and hung up.

“I told you about her,” my mother said to my father.

To give you an idea where our neighbor was coming from, she also enjoyed hosting barbecues in the fall and often invited the entire neighborhood. Those who did not live near her to witness her antics year-round attended, but after two or three invitations they knew better than to return.

This woman used to pile up the grill with unlit charcoal, toss several hamburgers onto the metal tray, then grab a can of gasoline from the garage. She then laced the burgers and charcoal with gasoline simultaneously and struck a match.

Those burgers sure cooked up fast. She was dishing out a dozen or so within ten minutes. Talk about flame broiled!

One time I was walking through her yard during one of her cookouts and I surreptitiously hung a sign by her grill that read: HIGH-OCTANE BURGERS: 33-9/10 cents. (Such was the price of gas in 1967).

Eventually I decided to get back at her big time. Year after year whenever she’d come out of her house carrying a massive plate of food to her barbecue, I’d dial her house phone. She’d drop everything, go in the house, walk up the steep stairs to her living room and answer the call. Of course, just as she picked up the receiver, I’d hang up. Then she walked downstairs and outside again, and as she took a few steps away from the house, I’d ring the phone again. Up the stairs she went to the living room. And, like always, I’d hang up.

I did this dozens of times and never once felt a twinge of guilt. The expression “Payback is a bitch” did not exist at the time, but it was payback and for her it was a bitch.

Our family also lived near another curious family. One day I was sitting by their driveway and I was doused with a wet substance that came from a bedroom window. No sooner did I realize that I had just been soaked with gasoline than one of the boys living there came charging out the front door brandishing a lighter. I took off and he never got near me. But he’s changed his ways since then. He has become the fire chief of his current home town.

Years earlier we lived in Middlesex County near two notorious brothers, Carl and Frank. Clearly they had issues when it came to associating with people of the Earth. One time they took on the sons of a law enforcement agent and beat them to a pulp. Pulp may be too mild a word because the cop’s kids walked away from the fight having their faces bashed against rocks.

Twenty years later, one of the bully brothers actually was decapitated in a car accident. The remaining brother lived at home with his mother who died one August. Oddly, the son did not report the incident and instead let her body rot on the sofa. It wasn’t until a neighbor “sniffed something funny in the air” that police were called to the home. She had died of natural causes, but her son was too petrified to call the police.

That incident prompted my mother to instruct my father to find us a another house in another town within two weeks because she was pulling up stakes.

My father, a former newsman who knew all about deadlines, did better than two weeks. Six days later he was signing papers for a new home at Kimball-Coleman Realtors in Chatham, N.J. My mother could not have been happier. That is until two days later when she met her new neighbor. You know, the woman who said that my mother’s 13-year-old son — me — had kidnapped her cat and driven it ten miles away.

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A most persistent Little Leaguer

By JOSEPH TINTLE

The year was 1961. Mickey Mantle and Roger Maris were chasing Babe Ruth’s single-season record of 60 home runs. But in Fords, New Jersey, there was another watch going on in the lower ranks of baseball. Deep into the season, Sam Klinger was still trying to get his first hit.

Sam was a part-time right fielder for our Little League team. The problem was that he just wasn’t cut out for the game. Whenever a fly ball came his way and he tried to back pedal a few steps, the ball dropped 15 feet in front of him. When a ground ball bounced his way, he waited for it to stop before he picked it up and underhanded it to the center fielder because he could not throw.

Sam came to our team untested. It was clear to even the untrained eye that he had no clue about playing the game. The first time he drew a walk, he took third base and was thrown out. Sure, we tittered about his lack of knowledge. We howled when he struck out at a ball thrown behind him. And eventually we gave him the cold shoulder when he made an out in an important situation.

But Sam hung in.

I’m sure he must have gone home and cried every time he failed at the plate or in the field. Our lack of camaraderie had to have stung.

But Sam hung in.

He was a quiet boy, a nice kid. But he just plain stunk and his nine-year-old teammates let him know it. One of our pitchers kicked dirt on him. Another dumped water on him.

But Sam hung in.

There was the time when he walked and eventually reached third after two other teammates walked. With bases loaded and one out, our heavy hitter came to bat. He drove a fly ball to center that was caught. We expected Sam to tag and score what would have been the winning run, but Sam thought it was the third out. He trotted back to the dugout where the opposing team’s third baseman tagged him for the final play of the game. His teammates growled after their eventual loss and Sam slowly slipped off in the twilight feeling lower than low.

But Sam hung in.

Two days later, we were playing the Orioles and Sam came to bat. It was our twelfth game and up stepped Sam to hit. None of us on the bench recalled Sam ever connecting with the ball all season long, even during practice. So we sat back and waited for the inevitable breeze. Sam worked the count to 2-2. There was a perfunctory cheer from a few of the parents who felt bad for the kid and it must have jump started Sam. On the next pitch, he hit a ball off the end of his bat and it twisted its way down the first base line.

Happily, Sam could run. A natural speedster, he took off because he smelled a hit. The first baseman that day wasn’t playing Sam deep; he just wasn’t paying attention and he got a late start fielding the ball. As Sam raced past the rolling ball, his teammates stood and cheered.

Then a powerful voice blared across the field. “Don’t touch that ball,” the opposing manager ordered his first baseman. The manager didn’t do it so Sam could get an easy hit, the manager knew the terrain of Woodland Field. To this day the field remains as it was 53 years ago: a choppy, pebble-strewn infield where strange bounces take life.

Meanwhile, Sam reached first, and seeing no fielder had tagged the bag, he raised his hands believing he had his first hit. But no sooner had he celebrated than the ball that was twisting its way toward first base struck a pebble and was redirected into foul territory. Silence. Sam slogged his way back to home plate and struck out.

He never got a hit that summer, but when the next season started there was Sam leading off for another team. Was his manager nuts? Apparently not. Sam had spent the better part of the fall and winter in his basement working on hitting with his father. And as he stepped to the plate on Opening Day, all of us on the opposing team witnessed a transformed athlete. Now, he didn’t go on to become a Little League sensation, but he developed into a more than capable player.

Because Sam hung in.

The Gift that Keeps on Giving

By JOSEPH TINTLE

I like to tell my high school students not to worry, things will work out for them, as they did for me. They think the bearded gentleman, who teaches them English literature and writing, always knew what he was doing as a teenager and always got straight A’s. Nothing could be further from the truth.

In grammar school I was fine. No problems.

Then came the horror story known as freshman year of high school. That’s when I accumulated 11 failures on my report card catapulting me to summer school for Algebra I. Eleven failures, you may be wondering, and you were not left back? There’s a reason for that. At Delbarton School in Morristown, N.J. , we received report cards every month. That’s 10 report cards a year. And apparently I spread out my failures with great aplomb, except for algebra.

I remember sitting at my desk that first week in class and thinking that I’d better pay strict attention to this instructor because “letters” were now involved in math problems. It was a concept I never grasped. As the months wore on, my grades sank from an 88 to 79 to 68 to 66 to 65 and so on. The final grade was well below 70. So off to Madison High School I went for a six-week course in algebra. Sadly, I continued my string of failure. And if I failed summer school, I would not be allowed back at Delbarton.

What to do?

The fellow teaching me that summer was named Mr. Peyser. Good guy, and I actually understood a bit of what he was teaching, but not enough. My average was 68. The last week of summer school, however, he announced there would be a final test. And if those of us not passing right now passed this test, he would pass us for the summer. A great offer, but I resigned myself to the inevitable: FAILURE.

The morning of the test, I arrived early to class. As as I sat there waiting, I heard a distinct rumble outside. Up pulled someone on a motorcycle wearing a leather jacket, and spinning his way into a parking spot. But when he took off his helmet, I knew I had a chance to pass Algebra I. It was Mr. Peyser. I realized then that here was a man I could reason with. Because my algebra teacher actually rode a motorcycle that meant he was a regular guy. And so when he got to class, I presented him with a proposition. It went something like this:

“Hi, Mr. Peyser, do you have a moment?”

“Sure, Joe, what’s up.”

“Look, I know I’m failing your course and, honestly, I just don’t get algebra. It’s the letters and numbers thing.”

He nodded as if he understood.

“If you could just give me a “D” so I can return to Delbarton, otherwise I’ll be kicked out. I not only would appreciate it, I promise I’ll never return to summer school again.”

He smiled and said, “Well, let’s see what happens.”

I took the final that day and I knew I didn’t pass.

A week later, my summer school grade arrived. I had sneaked out to the mailbox to intercept the grade before my mother and father got hold of it. There was the envelope holding my immediate future. I opened it slowly, unfolded the pink paper inside, carefully, winced and …

A grade of “C.”

My parents were pleased and my father gave me one of his speeches about how hard work always wins the day.

I was graduated from Delbarton three years later. But two things gnawed at me during the graduation exercises: not really passing Algebra I in freshman year meant that I was not officially a high school graduate. And that I never thanked Mr. Peyser for his “gift” which made my graduation from high school — and the rest of my life — possible.

Mr. Peyser, wherever you are, thank you.

The most well-read man I ever knew

By JOSEPH TINTLE

As a kid I often read sprawled across my bed on summer evenings, anything from Jack and the Beanstalk, to astronomy, to the encyclopedia, to sports. I’d fill my head with all sorts of facts and figures, anecdotes, oddball characters, inventors, murderers, whatever caught my fancy. By age 10, I thought I was a pretty good reader.

Then I met Andy Mullally.

Andy was the husband of my third-grade teacher, Camille Mullally, who I have written about on this blog. Andy and my father, Carmel, were good friends and each liked to read. They’d tackle all sorts of subjects but in the end, I’d give Andy the edge as the greater reader — by far.  And so did my father.

In 1962, our family was over Andy’s house and he turned to my dad and me and said, “Want to see my book collection?” He had a glint in his eye and I could tell something was up.

Upstairs we went and when he opened the door to one of the bedrooms all I could see was title after title after title. But I had to turn my head sideways because the books did not rest on bookshelves. Instead Andy carefully piled them one on top of the other. Each time he read a book, he’d bring it to the bedroom and gently place it on top of whatever stack was currently building. He stopped when that stack reached the 12-foot ceiling. Then he’d start another stack and stop at 12 feet. This went on for years in that 15-by-12 foot room.

According to his wife, Camille, it was a continuation of a book collection that Andy had begun when he was six years old.

“Andy read everything,” said Camille. “History, ghost stories, boxing, baseball, politics, philosophy, psychology, science, film — you name it.”

The night he was showing my father and me his quirky bookroom, my father asked, “Andy, what if you want to look something up, how do you remove the book without creating the Domino Effect?”

“I don’t remove anything,” he said. “I have a photographic memory.”

But what if your son wants to read something?” my father said.

“Good question.”

(Andy eventually dedicated another room for his thousands of books so his young son, Bill, could access a title without living in fear of bumping into a column of books and being crushed to death by literature’s greatest authors).

Wherever Andy went, he was the Pied Piper of general knowledge. All sorts of people gathered around him to discuss, well, anything. Even kids.

At Camp Coah, a Boy Scout camp on the Delaware Water Gap, a second class scout named Thomas Carasiti once asked Andy at lunch if he would tell a ghost story.

“Sure, but not now,” Andy said, adding ominously, “let’s wait until it’s dark.”

So at 9:30 on an August night, he gathered the members of Troop 53 of Fords, New Jersey, around a campfire and spun a story about a man who was traipsing through a forest looking for his brother somewhere in Europe. The man eventually arrived at a castle, explained his predicament, and gained entrance. The butler took the man’s coat and announced his presence to the owner who was seated at the head of the dining room table waiting to be served.

The owner motioned his guest inside and invited him to supper. The weary traveler sat down and they talked. Then a servant placed delectable dishes of food around the table. Later, the guest commented on the meal saying that the meat dish, in particular, was superb. At this point, one silver plate was still covered and the host asked his guest if he wouldn’t mind lifting the cover. As the guest did, he let out a scream. On the plate was the head of his brother.

I have no idea who wrote that story or how accurate my telling of it is after all these years. But of one thing I am certain: Andy’s dramatic reading that night sent chills down my spine and half the guys in the troop who often moaned and groaned when the scoutmaster shouted “Lights out” couldn’t wait to beat it back to their leantos and throw the covers over their heads.

The next day at the firing range Andy regaled us with stories about Billy the Kid, Wyatt Earp, and Bat Masterson. He could tell you all sorts of particulars about each man. By the way, did you know that Bat Masterson went on to become a sports editor in New York City? Well, I do, thanks to Andy Mullally.

Don’t get the impression Andy was some savant who rattled off facts and figures just to impress people. Not at all. He was the best of conversationalists because he listened to you, too. Even when I was a kid, he sat quietly as I told him about the great escape artist Harry Houdini and how he died with a punch to the gut in 1926. I’m sure Andy knew the story — and more — but he nodded assent as I spoke. And he didn’t try to top me either.

Years later we would meet every second Saturday in December at the St. Patrick’s Guard of Honor Luncheon at Mayfair Farms in West Orange, New Jersey. By then I was a sportswriter and Andy loved sports. Now it was Andy’s turn to ask me questions. He was an insightful boxing aficionado, but he wanted to learn the back story to every fight and every fighter I had covered. I now was able to fill him in on all sorts of information and — get this — he was hanging on to my every word as I had hung on to his so long ago.

So what did Andy get from all of his reading?

“Reading teaches you how to live your life,” he said. “And, remember, while it’s good to educate your mind, don’t forget to educate your heart.”

Fifty-two years later as I teach my English III classes, I’m often inspired by the tales Andy told me long ago, and I try to teach my students as if I’m telling them a story, and one that’s good for the heart as well as the mind. The little techniques Andy used to reel people in to whatever he was speaking about I now use to capture my students’ attention. And for that, I’ll always be grateful.

Andy Mullally died in 2005, and I’m certain that he’s in Heaven striking up his pipe and bending more than a few ears. He was a great man — and a great loss — to all who knew him.

BULLIES BUG ME

 By JOSEPH TINTLE

Almost all of us have dealt with a bully at some point in our lives. I did in high school, and to this day I wonder why I never asked him at the time the reason he had picked on me. But a tiny voice in my head always raises the same point, “You didn’t ask because you were terrified of him.”

Then the frightening visage of the bully comes to mind. He stood five-feet, 11-inches, weighed 210 pounds, had heavy-lidded eyes, fists the size of hams, and a heart the size of a pea.

As for myself back then, I stood 5-feet, 4-inches and weighed 115 pounds. The only time I raised my fist was to staple invoices at the school bookstore. Clearly I was no match for this bully.

I remember the sneaky way he had about him, how he silently stole up behind his victims before the pushing and shoving began. Eventually word of his behavior spread and a caring teacher called me aside. He told me that no one had the right to push me around. The teacher’s advice: Let this bully know I wouldn’t stand for his actions. Fight back. And don’t worry, he added, when confronted bullies back down.

I wondered about this well-intentioned logic. There was a time earlier that fall when the bully spat on me as I got off the school bus. A milky, snotty goo clung to my left jacket sleeve. So infuriated, I instinctively hurled the apple I was holding and it sailed through the bus window. I could hear everyone laugh as the bus drove off because the apple had caught the bully on the side of the head. After that, the bullying got worse.

A week later, I finally decided to take the teacher’s advice and hope he was correct. It wasn’t easy, but I had to do something in my defense.

No sooner did I stand up for myself than I quickly found myself shoved halfway over a third-floor railing and praying the fixture could support my weight – and his. Somehow I talked my way out of the precarious situation. I must have said something clever like “Uncle.”

Years later the bully and I discussed that moment when we met at our high school reunion. To my surprise he was no longer the brute he once was. In fact, he had become a rather decent person.

During our talk he told me that as a teenager from a lower middle class background he had always felt uncomfortable being part of a private school setting. Hearing students boast about their fathers’ huge salaries, palatial homes, and expensive cars only filled him with shame. By contrast, he was raised in a two-bedroom Cape Cod, with a broken-down Plymouth in the driveway, and parents who had to work long hours.

“Nothing wrong with that,” he’ll tell you now. “But try telling it to me back then. Not once did I ever feel that I belonged at our school.”

Another problem for him was that he was regarded by many of his classmates as a “dumb jock.” It was a tag that stuck throughout high school and it hurt him deeply.

“How would you feel if everyone thought you were stupid just because you played sports?” he said. “Hey, I’ll be the first one to tell you that I wasn’t serious about hitting the books, but I do have brains. Own a business now, and I’m doing well. But realizing everyone thought I was stupid in high school, well, now that I look back on it I can see how it ate away at my self-esteem. And so I took it out on everyone – you included.”

For all the times he had bullied me – and others – none was worse than the day in gym class when he began pushing around an overweight classmate whose round, innocent face turned wet with tears.

As the bully knocked the helpless student to the floor, he snatched the back of his gym shorts, grabbed his jock strap, and dragged him around the freshly waxed basketball court. Through it all the bully howled with delight while the rest of us were too intimidated to stop him.

When reminded of the ugly incident years later, the bully swore he had changed. “I really have,” he insisted. “I’ve got kids of my own now, and to think about someone doing to them what I did to others really bothers me.”

As our conversation continued, I began to feel a sense of compassion for the bully he once was. Yet I could still recall how he swaggered down the hallways and gave me a chill when he passed by too closely. What I never realized back then, however, was that inwardly he was feeling much worse about himself than I ever did as a teenager.

“Look, I’m no longer the person I used to be,” he said. “What I did back then was wrong, completely wrong. And I’d like to apologize for giving you such a hard time.”

As he extended his hand, I could not help but think that we should have patched things up a while back. Who knows, we might be good friends today.

Then he looked across the dining hall filled with old classmates and said in a low voice, “Hey, there’s Bob. I have to go talk with him.”

Bob had been the kid the bully dragged across the gym floor long ago.

PROM-ises, PROM-ises

By JOSEPH TINTLE

The high school senior prom was approaching and I had no intention of attending. But two classmates, Jack and Kevin, approached me and said I just had to be at their table because we’d been classmates since seventh grade. The problem was that Jack and Kevin had girlfriends; I had yet to date. In fact, I had promised myself as early as seventh grade that I would never attend the prom. That’s how shy I was.

Even at 17, I never thought I’d outgrow my social shortcoming. My friends pushed and pushed so I eventually caved and said I’d see what I could do about getting a date. I went home and told my sister, Alice, about my predicament and she gave it some thought. A day or two later she told me about a waitress named Carol at the restaurant where she worked. Carol was five-feet, two inches tall, an attractive blonde, and tops in her class, Alice assured me. I was interested.

So one Saturday afternoon I just “happened” to go to the restaurant and my sister introduced us. Carol waited on me, I ordered chicken croquettes, we talked, and I asked her out for Saturday. She said yes. But Friday came and I thought I should give her a call. I didn’t know why, but I did.

“We can’t go out,” Carol said in a firm voice.

“Why?” “Something’s come up.”

“How about next week?”

“I don’t think so.”

Well, Carol and I never went out that Saturday or any other Saturday for that matter, and it would be two years before I learned the reason why she had backed out of our date. By then I had taken a summer job at a nearby school and one day I was speaking with a teacher. She had the same last name as Carol and I asked if they were related. Yes, they were, she told me. So I explained how I had asked out Carol two years earlier and that she had mysteriously brushed me off after accepting the date.

The teacher explained that was probably the day Carol found out she was pregnant by her former boyfriend. A few days later, Carol’s family sent her away to have the child.

The next day I told Jack and Kevin that the date with Carol didn’t work out. They thought for a moment and said they had “the perfect girl” for me.”

“And who’s that?” I wanted to know.

“Her name is Carolyn,” Kevin said. “She’s a friend of my girlfriend.”

Hmm, a blind date. I wasn’t comfortable with that, but the guys were insistent and being their peer I, of course, went along with what they said like any teenager would.

My blind date was set for the following Saturday. Carol was now in the rearview mirror; Carolyn was up ahead and coming around the bend. Carolyn turned out to be wealthy and living in a gated community. No pressure there for my first date as we drove up to her stately home.

As I walked in her house accompanied by my friends and their girlfriends, Carolyn made a grand entrance down a stairwell. How ravishing was she? Well, have you ever been on a date and realized that you were the dog?

It was all downhill from there.

From our initial conversation it was obvious that Carolyn and I had little in common, so I asked Kevin if I could hang with his girlfriend while he entertained Carolyn. He agreed and eventually the night dragged to its conclusion. Jack, his girlfriend, and I dropped off Carolyn at her home. I said good night, turned, and slinked into the backseat. Jack and his girlfriend sat in the front as the car rumbled through the gated community.

As we wended our way to her house we spotted a rather large-figured girl walking on the shoulder of the road. “Hey,” said Jack’s girlfriend, “that’s my friend. Pick her up, please.”

Jack complied and this 17-year-old girl, who weighed about 250 pounds, squeezed her way into the backseat and off we went. We drove another two minutes when Jack arrived at his girlfriend’s house. They bid each other farewell with a drawn-out kiss.

Given my lack of dating experience, I was rather embarrassed and turned to look at our new passenger thinking she’d roll her eyes at the proceedings occurring in the front seat. Instead, she gave me a long look as if she wanted to kiss. I turned and stared out the window, never so embarrassed.

Obviously, I did not make it to the senior prom, but at least I kept my seventh-grade promise.

Why I Hate Birds

By JOSEPH TINTLE

Fords was one of the most interesting sections of Woodbridge, New Jersey, for a young boy to grow up during the 1950s and 60s, and Lafayette Estates was where the action was. Completed in 1955, this housing development featured a thousand homes and a thousand burgeoning families from Brooklyn, Jersey City, and even Hell’s Kitchen. And almost every house had its share of characters. This is the story about one of them.

One afternoon in July of 1960, I was out exploring the woods off Ford Avenue near Route 1. The woods was a 15-acre site with all sorts of trees, bushes, a marsh, a stream and “Snake Hill” where kids who lived nearby often hid out when they got in trouble with their parents. The woods has since been replaced by the Kensington Apartments, an architectural eyesore that rose up 51 years ago.

Now, I’m not a nature lover by any means, but there was a story at the time that a kid had drowned in quicksand just behind Snake Hill. A quicksand pit in Fords, New Jersey? I didn’t think so — even at age eight — but I wanted to make certain.

So I headed out after lunch and spent the better part of an hour investigating when suddenly I was pushed from behind. The next thing I knew Paul Monyer was sitting on my chest. Paul was the neighborhood bully. He was a year-and-a-half older than me, not particularly big, but he knew how to threaten people.

“Tintle, this is our turf, so don’t ever let me see you around here again,” he said. “Otherwise, this is going to happen to you.”

Paul turned to his aide-de-camp, Jimmy McGuirt. Jimmy opened his hand and revealed a baby sparrow. Paul took it from him, looked at me, and glared. Then, with bird in hand, he squished it on my mouth, leaving me with a bloodied face and spitting out a mugful of feathers and a bone or two.”

Panicking, I somehow broke loose, scrambled to my feet, and took off. To this day, I can still hear their sinister laughs in the distance as I was running home.

Honest, Mrs. Cline, President Kennedy is dead

By JOSEPH TINTLE

All of us 57 years of age and older remember where we were the day President John F. Kennedy was shot. Many, like myself, were sitting in a grammar school classroom listening to the CBS announcement over the public address system. Some of us cried, a few laughed, but most remained silent. All I could think of was how I was going to tell Mrs. Cline, who was sitting in her car a block away waiting to pick me up along with her son, John, and our friend, Bill Henning.

As the school bell sounded at 2:50 p.m. I bounded from my seat, grabbed my book bag, headed for the door and dashed down the fire escape. I wanted to be the first to tell her the news.

I dashed across the playground of Our Lady of Peace School in Fords, New Jersey, weaving in and out of sobbing mothers and stunned students. As I passed the Flynn and Son funeral home, I saw Mrs. Cline’s car parked across the street. I looked both ways, crossed, and opened her front door excitedly.

“Mrs. Cline, Mrs. Cline,” I said, puffing a bit. “President Kennedy’s dead …”

“Joey Tintle,” she said in a raised voice, “you and your stories. Now you’ve gone too far.”

“It’s true, Mrs. Cline. He was shot in Dallas. The guy on the radio called it an assassination.”

Just then John and Bill arrived and sat in the back seat. They were quiet for some reason, probably because Mrs. Cline was chastising me.

I did not argue with her. In 1963 when an adult told you off, you just took it without complaint.

As her car moved down Ford Avenue, she tried to make small talk with John and Bill. They mumbled something inaudible and perhaps because they did not mention Kennedy Mrs. Cline threw me a stern glance. A half mile later we arrived at an intersection near P.S. 14. That’s when she reached to turn on the radio.

Uh-oh.

While I cannot quote the newscaster verbatim all these years later, he made  it clear that Kennedy had been assassinated. Mrs. Cline almost drove the car onto the sidewalk as she crossed through the intersection. As she gathered her wits, she lapsed into tears. It was a combination of hearing that the president had been killed, and surprisingly to offer me a heartfelt apology for losing her temper at me.

“Well, he certainly did his job,” she said, referring to the assassin who we’d eventually learn was Lee Harvey Oswald.

We drove on in silence for another three-quarters of a mile and she dropped me off at my home.

Every five years after that I used to call Mrs. Cline and we’d talk about our shared moment in history, and never once did we deviate from our recollections. And she always apologized for snapping at me that afternoon then we’d collapse in laughter.