When my dad wasn’t fishing (which was not often) he could be found under the hood of the car. He relentlessly adjusted the shift linkage (to stop the gears from jumping) and washed the engine off with an old paint brush and a can of gas. While this gas bath was unnecessary housekeeping, Betsy’s appetite for oil and leaking valve cover gasket resulted in a covering of black sludge which began to form on the engine as soon as he was finished cleaning it off. Incidentally, Dad was buying 2 gallon cans of “drain oil” (oil which was used then filtered) for two bucks at Western Auto in Pompton Lakes.
During one of these maintenance sessions, he discovered a scratch on the windshield that was apparently caused by a bad wiper blade that had been dragging on the glass. The windshield consisted of two pieces with a vertical divider in the middle and the scratch was on the passenger side. He looked at the damage with disappointment and wondered what he was going to do. At this time I recalled seeing a dead ringer to Betsy parked up at ROMAINE’S JUNK YARD. We immediately walked up on the hill to look at the very clean 1951 green Chevy that was parked there; with the key still in the ignition. We verified that the windshield was indeed a match and went to the house to see if we could buy the glass.
Though I can’t remember for sure, it must have been Al who informed us that it had been owned by a salesman who blew an engine while traveling through Oakand…… and we could help ourselves to any parts we could use. Needless to say, Betsy got a new windshield and we took the wiper arms while we were at it. I always wondered if this Chevy burned oil like Betsy and blew up when the oil ran low.
Another recollection which brings a smile to my face is the fact we enjoyed ambushing cars with snowballs from the hill near Ronnie’s house. We could really fire them from this elevation and when an angry driver tried to chase us, the slippery hill slowed him down enough for us to easily get away. While this may sound perverse to some readers, we really loved this past time; I mean WE REALLY LOVED IT! I guess it was very similar to a live video game with an adrenaline rush when we got chased.
Another memory is of the two copperheads Irv Conklin and Al Mawson killed on West Oakland Avenue not far from Romaine’s driveway. The word spread quickly through the neighborhood and when we gathered to admire the snakes, Big Irv strutted with pride. The snakes were subsequently stretched out and measured, and I remember the bigger one being 30” long.
Another remembrance was of a large sycamore tree with ladder rungs nailed to the trunk. This beautiful old tree grew on a cut bank along the river, just upstream from the corner of Doty Road and Mountain View Ave. Cliff Meima and I went there one day to fish and found an open safe in the water under the sycamore. After retrieving the safe, we began to go through the files; which were obviously soaking wet. The jackets were filled with letters and receipts which were all very boring, but Cliff stayed at and finally hit the jackpot. In one of the files, buried in some papers, were soaking wet black & white photos of a nude woman.
At some point it penetrated our grey matter that the safe was connected to a robbery and we should tell our folks. Joe Woods (then chief of police) came and picked up the safe and we laughed at the reaction the owner would have when discovered the missing photos.
When I got in trouble, which was fairly often, my father would announce my punishment like a judge passing sentence. And the most dreaded words were: “Edward, you’re cooped for a week”! This meant I was relegated to my bedroom, which had neither heat nor electricity, every day for one week. Well, it turns out that during those cherished years, the Ramapo closed for trout stocking each Thursday and re-opened 5:00 AM on Friday morning. And for me, this weekly event was for not just important, it was life’s blood.
One spring, as I serving a sentence in my room, I cooked up a plan that would allow me to fish on Friday morning; with no one being the wiser. The plan, (which I subsequently executed) was to quietly go out my bedroom window onto the porch roof and then climb down the red cedar tree to the lawn below. Next, I would beat feet to the river, catch a mess of fish (which I always did), release them and climb back into my bedroom in time to get ready for school.
As fate would have it, my plan backfired; but in a good way. I began to fish at the white bridge, with plans of working my way upstream to Reed’s pool (which was a bend in the river across from the Romaine house), then quickly head for home. When I got to the aforementioned sycamore tree, I hooked a big one. The fish I landed was an 18 ¼ inch brown, which was the biggest trout I had ever caught. Now I had a serious dilemma. Should I release the fish, which might win the annual trout contest, or bring it home and face another possible week in my room.
The choice was easy. I took the fish home, dropped the subterfuge, and proudly walked through the front door with fish in hand. The BIG V (my mother Verna) jumped all over me, like a bum on a baloney sandwich! “Just wait until your father hears about this”; he’s gonna blah, blah, blah, blah, blah.
It turns out that the one thing THE BIG V hated more than tax time was getting no reaction from my father when she breathlessly recited all of the unspeakable things I had done over the previous 12 hours. This was to be a case in point. Dad was so pleased with the fish that he smiled during BIG V’s rant and commuted my sentence to “time already served”. While it seems hilarious all these years later, I had poor V on the verge of a trip to Bellview.
The fish subsequently won first prize in the fishing contest (pre-Ted Proskey’s Ponds Sporting Goods) and a news paper photo was taken of me standing along side the second place winner, Bruce Morgan, who was twice my size. Bruce had taken his fat 16 ½ inch fish from Milt Pulis’s Pond and decades later we would find out that the photographer for non other than John Oldenburg, my wife Elaine’s father. John had kept the photo all those years, unaware of the fact that the brat in the picture was his son-in-law.
Coincidentally, I had dinner last night with Glenn Speakman, who lived at the corner of Jerome Ave and Lakeview. Imagine how surprised I was to learn that Glenn’s father, who grew up on Mountain View Ave, nailed the rungs to the sycamore tree when he was a kid; some 20 - 30 years earlier.
Glenn also mentioned the concrete BBQ and the working water fountain we enjoyed at the MUD HOLE. I remembered both of these features; but only after he mentioned them. Over a good bottle of Cabernet, we coaxed out plenty other memories of our time in Pleasureland, as well as the names and personalities of some of our neighbors. There were plenty of smiles to go around!