Wednesday, December 11, 2013
Today’s Ralph’s 62nd birthday.
I didn’t know that until facebook told me. We were in the same class in St. Brendan’s together as kids, part of a class that still reverberates in that school was one of the most unruly in its long history.
Ralph was the clean-cut kid who lived on Delaware Avenue in Paterson (his mother was the kind of person who didn’t approve of kids like me and who put plastic over her furniture to keep off dust).
She had nothing good to say about me when I showed up at his house, and forbade him to see me.
Which he did anyway since we both hung out with Frank and his brother and often met as Frank’s house. They lived two and a half blocks away on Dundee in a neighborhood where everybody lived pretty much within a few blocks of each other and of the school.
I was always getting into trouble and so anybody with me got into trouble also – although it wasn’t until after we stopped being classmates that we got close.
Ralph apparently was born in Newark and moved to Paterson a few years later, in time to attend Kindergarten with me – our teacher was Mrs. Grady, who was still teaching thirty years later when I went back to the old neighborhood.
I often go back, searching out the icons of my childhood, the school, the church, my old house, the houses of my friends including Ralph’s, although after his family moved to the Clifton side of Crooks Avenue, I was unable to pick out which one was his and just sort of strolled up the block in reverence to that time when his mother walked into the house and found it filled with cigarette smoke, spilled booze, and her son’s head slumped on the table after I had just won his savings in a poker game.
She put her foot down and told me to get out, and I did, hearing from him later how she forbade him to ever see me again.
He attended St. Joseph’s High School and had ambitions to go to college – which apparently he did not. When I went into the Army, I came back to his house to find him, but his mother, Ida, was not impressed and said he had gone away to school or something like that.
I learned later, after I had gotten out of the Army and left west on a three-year crime spree I called a magical mystery tour that he had joined the Navy after he got out of high school. He apparently went into electronics after that.
I actually never saw him again, but hooked up via the internet to find that he had started a new life out in Pennsylvania. He had married, divorced, fathered three kids, and had lived a good, if sometimes lonely life out there in the world.
When I spoke with him on the phone about a decade ago, he had not yet met his wife, and seemed a bit down and out, and I felt that old kinship with him – always making plans to come see him when I was out seeing my daughter, but I never did.
Indeed, my message to him via facebook today was to pick up on that old plan.
I never stopped being his friend. He is part of that collection of people who travel around in the back my head, something who never aged, always that Ralph I worked with in the Clifton Theater – where I tried to get him fixed up with girls (when I was done with them), teaching him out to make out with them in the balcony, and to get places I guess he later learned to get to on his own.
He is the boy I played board games with him my basement, and taught how to play poker (I never did say I was sorry for winning his savings – a mere hundred or two), and I guess there were a lot of things unsaid that still linger in the back of my head, even now, which I will have to commit to prayer since for every boy like me who quits school and gets in trouble, there has to be a boy like Ralph, who dedicates himself to those values I have abandoned, the good boy, who befriends the bad boy, and teaches boys like me how to become good boys even if it is a hard road.
Knowing that he is dead, doesn’t change anything. Ralph remains one of my best friends, will for an eternity.