Saturday, June 7, 2014

Happy Birthday, Denny! A Few Poems about Our Childhood

Today is my brother Denny's Birthday--Happy Birthday, Den! To honor his birthday, a few poems about our crazy childhood:

“Seventy-Seven Sunset Strip (Snap! Snap!)”

We’d all sit there on the davenport
A Friday night in my black-and-white childhood:
Mom, me, Denny, Mary Ellen, Kevin, Baby Jimmy.
Dad was gone, working the hated 2nd Trick.

“Bobby, go down to the Deli and buy us some cokes,” Mom said.
She hunted up a buck of change
Then Denny and I would jump on our bikes
And get the goods.

When we got home, Mary Ellen would say,
“Bobby, make us some fudge again!”
This was my calling, and I couldn’t refuse:
Cocoa, cups and cups of sugar,
Milk, a dash of salt, a teaspoon of vanilla . . . .

Seventy-Seven Sunset Strip graced the TV
(the one Dad found on a Farringdon treelawn on trash day
And fixed by replacing the plug).

We heard the song begin, Ed “Kookie” Byrnes and Connie Stevens,
Grabbed our belts to make the snap snap:
“Seventy-Seven Sunset Strip (Snap! Snap!)”—
We’d sing it over and over and over.

Then Denny would holler out, “Kookie, Kookie,
Lend me your comb.
Kookie, Kookie? (Snap! Snap!)”
Denny liked Kookie –reminded him of bad boys,
Like Elvis or Jerry Lee Lewis
Or himself!

The fudge mixture began to perk and boil
And I would stir and stir then
Drop a bit into a cup of cold water,
Waiting for it to form a soft ball.

It took forever, the watched pot, but finally it was ready,
And we started the stirring, each kid taking a turn.
We added the vanilla and a stick of butter
(This, the health food of our childhoods!)
Then beat that mixture mercilessly
With the wooden spoon till our arms ached
Until finally, voila!

It was suddenly fudge!
And we had to pour and scrape it in a hurry
Into the buttered pan.

What kind of mother lets her 5 kids spend Friday night
Drinking coke, eating fudge, and watching Kookie Byrnes?

My Mom, that beautiful 36-year-old lady.
Sometimes, as we watched our show,
She’d let us brush her long auburn hair,

And we, her brood of children,
All so in love with her,
Would sing as we brushed,
“Kookie, Kookie, lend me your comb,
Kookie, Kookie? (Snap! Snap!).”
 [ Robert M. Coughlin / March 4, 2004]

A Poem on the Drowning of Walter J. Zylowski (July 19, 1964)

Pray for Us Now and at the Hour

July 19th, 1964, a beautiful summer Sunday in Euclid, Ohio,
Clear skies, sun shining, mid 80s and humid,
A Lake Erie day if there ever was one!

I had a ballgame that day at Memorial Park—
Playing the Euclid Admirals (we expected to get creamed!).
Dad off to Eastlake to take care of Grandma.

The Indians in New York, facing the great Whitey Ford.
Our secret weapon Luis Tiant with his Vaseline ball,
His sandpaper ball, his hesitation pitch, his endless trickery.

Our neighbor Walter Zylowski was taking his son Buster swimming
Right down the street off East 267th. Frank Mondok and his kids
And Walter’s daughter Jackie were going too, aching for the cool lake.

Walter’s other son Kenny had a big day planned, an outing to Geauga Lake Park
With his cousins and Auntie Vicki. The little lake, the ancient wooden
Roller coasters—cotton candy heaven.

Lake Erie was calm and the water peaceful.
The Mondok kids and Jackie played on the beach, Buster skipping stones
On the flat Lake. Walter was diving off the old, half-sunken pier.

And then it was as if the music stopped, the world stopped.
Where was Walter? Where did he go?
Where did he go?

Maybe 10 frantic minutes later, Denny and Buster spotted him,
Floating in 7 feet of water, just 30 feet off the shore.
With Frank, they swam out and dragged him in.

Back on the beach, Walter, his red hair in a wild swirl,
His normally ruddy skin a shocking blue,
Did not move, did not breathe. No pulse, no nothing.

Buster and Frank started artificial respiration; someone ran up the hillside
To call the police. Denny and Jackie and the Mondok kids
Knelt on the beach and prayed the Hail Mary.

The words were automatic--we said the rosary every night of our lives--
But this time, the final lines,

“Pray for us sinners, now
And at the hour of our death”

This time the lines were real.

[Bob Coughlin / September 9, 2013]

Driving Home From Willoughby, 1959

After Thanksgiving Dinner at Gramma and Grampa’s,
Dad, Uncle Jack, and Grampa located a davenport or bed
For a half-hour’s nap, hypnotized by the turkey, the full belly, the beer.

Denny and Bobby went out to the field between the Sullivan’s and Coughlin’s,
Climbed the wild black cherry, while Mary Ellen and Kev
Played in the piles of silver and sugar maple leaves.
Mom carried Baby Jimmy on her hip, talked with Gramma,
Dried the dishes.

And then, around 7, we hopped into the old Ford,
Mom and Dad in front, 3 kids on the back seat, Kev on the hump,
And Jim stuffed up on the shelf by the rear window
(no seat belts, no rules in those days!).

We’d start the long drive home down Lakeshore Boulevard
Saying the rosary, Bobby leading the prayers,
The Joyful Mysteries, 5 decades of Hail Mary’s,
Sprinkled with Our Father’s, Glory Be’s, and the Apostles Creed.

And when we finished (and we were the fastest rosary sayers on the planet!),
We’d sing every song we knew, full-throated:
Anchors Away My Boys,” to “Row Row Row Your Boat,” in rounds,
To “She’s My Darling She’s My Daisy, She’s Cross-eyed, She’s Crazy.”

And then, after a bit of silent driving, we’d turn south down East 266 Street and home:
By now Jimmy, Kevin, Mary Ellen asleep,
Denny and Bobby groggy,

Mom and Dad spent and quietly happy.
 [Robert M. Coughlin / Thanksgiving 2008]

October in Willoughby, 1958

the two sugar maples
glisten in the crisp pure sunlight

efflorescence of yellow, orange, red
against the cloudless blue sky:
Hayes Avenue looks like heaven

Grampa rakes the leaves into a grand pile:
Denny, Mary Ellen, Bobby play king of the hill,
somersault, stuff leaves into flannel shirts

the radio is omnipresent
blaring out the Browns struggle against the Giants,
Jimmy Brown against Sam Huff

Grampa lights the pile of leaves,
a fragrance that will linger in memory
until death

Gramma calls out for dinner:
roast beef, mashed potatoes, green peas


(Bob Coughlin / October 18, 1991)


Unknown said...

Thanks Bob for sharing these wonderful glimpses into your life... And helping us to fondly recall our own.
Kate Cavanaugh Tibbits

View from the North Coast said...

Thanks, Kate!