Grandpa Kenny

by Harry T. Roman


It couldn't have happened this fast, but the evidence is overwhelming. I suppose I should have expected it, but the years slip by, and suddenly you find yourself face-to-face with the inevitable. You and your friends are getting older, and what you remember of youth recedes inexorably into the far past, incomprehensible to today’s youth--but the best memories remain warm and green, captured in fragrant, fuzzy-edged, summer evenings……….


I know Kenny so long, I cannot remember not knowing him. It's a scary thought not being able to remember anything before him; but that's the hand I was dealt, and have played for more than 5 decades now. I'll guesstimate our friendship to have started in kindergarten in Abington Avenue Grammar School in good old Newark. If pressed to put a year to it, I’d say 1954.

Our childhood was mundane, no stand-out episodes or seminal moments. That changed with puberty. By high school Kenny and myself, along with Jim and Dennis were a tight group that walked to Barringer High every day and convened usually at Ken’s house afterwards to sing, goof around, and make up comedy routines and do a little creative "schtick". Ken's fellow guitarist Tony rounded out the group.

We sang often in the St. Francis choir, much to the chagrin of our kindly organ master, as he was at that time totally unsympathetic to having Gregorian chant performed in 4 part harmony-although several 1960s era priests, flush with the spirit of ecumenical experimentation, felt we might be on to something. Our singing style, along with those pioneering priests, did not endure for long.

Ken was and remains a dedicated and talented guitarist, but the old boy couldn't get past algebra for nothing. It was during this academic show-stopping epiphany that he conceived of a master stroke. He would teach me guitar and I would teach him algebra, and thus, both our souls would be saved. I believe I had the better part of the bargain as I can still fumble out a song on the old string-box, but alas, poor Ken probably cannot solve for "x" the unknown. Yet, he plays like a virtuoso still. Life can be interesting in the way it doles out skills and talents.

About this time, we all learned to drive. Our collective ability to wreak havoc on the streets of Newark exponentially increased. Any resemblance between the cars that Ken owned and the rest of the vehicular population was at best serendipitous. Not one of his early models could have been said to have had any color. The paint was so badly faded on all of them, that they can best be categorized as "dull". No other description can suffice. Their running condition was equally suspect.

When they ran at all, their ability to remain as such was a constant concern. They were strictly intermittent, with long periods of rest--generally a neighborhood car that could be pushed back home for a quick nap. I noticed early on that Ken’s cars had a propensity to sweat.

All his car batteries were third hand, and tires almost always bald. Our best record of a tire change, and we had plenty of practice, was just under 2 minutes; and that includes driving off a jack that had become hopelessly jammed. The flat tire was so badly mauled that woven cotton fabric was showing through the blowout hole. In fact as I remember the episode, there was no blowout bang as we had come to expect. The tire just let out a great “whoosh” and began “flap-a-dapping”. Never let it be said that Ken didn’t get his money's worth out of tires. His trunk or station wagon back was always filled with more “baldies”, mounted on battered rims and ready to meet their fate.

There was the time we attempted to fix the radio in his old Plymouth station wagon. Soon after my inspirational removal and temporary fix of his radio, we were passing by St. Francis, when smoke began curling out of the dashboard. A noxious odor quickly filled the already overfilled vehicle. Coming to a panic halt, the doors flew open and a rapid exit of the vehicle ensued, amid coughing and cursing….. aimed at yours truly-aspiring electrical engineer and master electronics wizard. Damn vacuum tubes will get you every time if you don't watch out. A quick and vicious tear out of several wires solved the problem, rendering the old vehicle void forever of any audio entertainment. There is always a price to be paid I suppose. Little harm done anyway as Kenny's car never stayed running long enough to hear a complete song anyway. We sang in the car ourselves most of the time.

A most memorable moment I savor is the time Ken's blue station wagon became stuck on Bloomfield Avenue. Jim borrowed his Dad's welding truck and there we attempted to push start Ken's pride and joy. By now, he had started buying cars that actually had a color, and insisted we use a heavy blanket on the truck bumper to preserve his paint job. So we did, and with a mighty groan, the old welding truck heaved that Ford along the avenue. Ken popped the clutch and amidst a roar that still reverberates in my psyche, a huge cloud of rust colored smoke heralded Ken's explosive ignition. Several then pregnant women claim to this day they went into labor at that very moment. I distinctly remember a tongue of flame emanating from the tailpipe of his trusty “Belchfire V-8” engine as he achieved Worp Factor 2 just in front of the old Stadium Bowling Lanes.

I got into more late night trouble with Ken than any other friend I had. No matter where we went, somehow I ended up coming home late due to a car problem or some other complication. But the years now in-between impetuous youth and fatherhood have worn the edges off those gnarly late-night encounters with my parents.

I am forever indebted to the old boy for putting me back in touch with a girl I now call my wife of 25 years. That’s a whole ‘nuther story folks.

Just a few weeks ago, Kenny e-mailed me to say his son’s wife had delivered a bouncing baby boy, destined no doubt like his proud son to also play the guitar. He tells me he and his son already play mini concerts for the little tyke. Rock-a-bye rhythm is what the little guy will remember.

It’s a long way from those streets of Newark, and our old stomping grounds around Bloomfield Avenue and St. Francis. I’ll bet Kenny is looking back now too, trying to figure out where all the time went. Perhaps I’ll give the old boy a call. Maybe remind him of the afternoon his Mom’s refrigerator chased us down a flight of stairs when it slipped out of our hands during a house move. Or the New Year’s Eve Mass we sang, slightly high on some celebratory beer, our own version of holy water.

Congratulations Ken !

May you have many more little grand kids to tell our stories to.


Email this memory to a friend.
Enter recipient's e-mail: