Among all the kids in New Haven that made up my social circle in the early 1950’s, Barry Rogers was at once, the closest and the worst influence. He was slightly shorter than I, the same age, but my superior as he excelled in sandlot baseball, basketball, football and plotting mischievous deeds. Barry lived about two blocks away on Center Street next to the Big Store. He had two twin sisters both of whom were deaf. His dad worked at the Gulf service station on the corner of Main and Center streets. Barry was always in trouble at school for mis-deeds and by my association with him, I shared a good bit of his bad reputation. Among other nefarious deeds, he concocted schemes for us to steal apples and peaches after dark from the trees of numerous town citizens’ back yards. Not to be excluded among these victims was Father Gettelfinger.
On one particularly hot and moonlit summer evening, Barry and I sneaked into the small, unfenced stand of fruit trees across the alley from the rectory of St. Catherine’s Church. We were stealthily harvesting ripe peaches in the shadows of the trees when we heard the footfalls of someone walking up the pavement. Freezing suddenly, we held our breath as the footfalls stopped. We moved not a hair when after a moment of silence that seemed endless, we heard the voice of Father Gettelfinger. Unsure as to what he had heard in the darkness of the trees, he called out, “Who’s there?” We made not a peep.
Maybe afraid to come into the darkened trees to investigate the rustling noise, he waited another long silence before finally resuming his evening walk slowly up the sidewalk to the rectory door. We lost not a second in our escape from the crime scene leaving most of the loot behind and that was the last time I pilfered peaches from the church grove. But Barry and I had less fear of the dead than of Father Gettelfinger and raided numerous apple trees in backyards of homes next to the church cemetery by sneaking through the tombstones and climbing the fence.
Our friendship had its lapses. On one occasion when Barry made me the object of insults about
my glasses, calling me “Four Eyes” once too often, I dared him to meet me after school. He took
up the challenge and when we arrived at the spot in the alley behind the gymnasium, I threw a few punches that luckily found their target and he retired from the match. I couldn’t believe I had actually come out on top in a fistfight with Barry Rogers. But my heady prowess didn’t last long as a few days later on my daily walk home from school I ran into Larry Hall.
Larry was another of my classmates. He was also the town bully. Larry needed very little pretext to intimidate me with his threats. Being bigger by a head and some girth as well, his bluster was a source of great fear to me although I don’t recall that he ever laid a hand on me.
I was pretty fleet of foot in those days and it saved my bacon more than once.