My Enemy Grows Older
Mine Enemy Grows Older
At 10:45 PM last Saturday night I embraced Peter Calo. We were attending the 55th high school reunion of the Class of 1949 at "dear old S. H. S." Peter had dropped out of my sight for the past 65 years, when in the 3rd grade at Hart School a watershed moment with the class bully ended my recess fears forever. But that's another story. When I hugged Peter, in the company of homerun hitting twins Adolf and Rudolf Serrichio (that's another story, too), I said to my third grade nemesis, "You're big!"
Peter, you see, was, in my view, the provocateur with the bully behind him as his enforcer. Peter alone, small and thin, would have been just a nuisance; but with bully Chester at hand, big and brutish, Peter was a menace.
Bobby, I now learned sixty-five years later, was in Peter's view, that kid whose house was lined with bookcases filled with books. Twice there in the ballroom of the Italian Center in Stamford CT, Floridian Peter commented on the books which in his imagination filled every corner of 17 Hillside Avenue. Adolf and Rudolf, however, remembered the stacks of comic books kept in an alcove of our sun parlor and wondered if I had kept them, because, if I had, they would be worth a small fortune. But, no, the Howards chose tidiness over treasure: Captain Marvel et al, have gone the way of all pulp. But that's still another story.
I'm glad Peter repeated his childhood wonderment at the bibliomania of our household. I might not otherwise have reflected on Harold and Evelyn's (my parents) obvious intent. The installation of a bookshelf the length of our sun parlor was a big deal. My father, in the depths of the Depression, nevertheless found a way to pay a cabinetmaker to do the job. The shelves held all the volumes of The Book of Knowledge, Saint-Exupery's Little Prince (a favorite), and, during the Second Great War, catalogues of war planes, Allies and Axis.
My parents were intent on making me literate, in the most basic sense of that word, "one acquainted with and immersed in literature." Which, of course, is what many parents want for their children. What makes it a big deal for Bobby is that his parents had a minimum of schooling, probably a lot less than Peter's mom and dad. Harold Howard finished the 8th grade and went to work as a short order cook, to help pay the bills for his mother, separated from his father, and six siblings. Evelyn Howard, we lately realized, thanks to the investigation and subsequent surmises of our second daughter, never went to school in America after her emigration from Northern Ireland at the age of eleven. (Just why, friends, is yet another story, one that second daughter has told in her novel.) Maybe, just maybe, her deprivation fueled her resolute insistence that Bobby must go to college.
Peter, my elementary school thorn-in-the-flesh, reappears (heaven-sent?) and adds a special poignancy to my appreciation for my parents and their good grand design for my young soul. The little devil (Peter) becomes my angel. Or, in the words of the title of a book by Alexander King, a raconteur often on Jack Paar's Tonight Show, "mine enemy grows older." You know, like Ralph Branca and Bobby Thomson, Ronald Reagan and Mikhail Gorbachev, Paul and Jesus.
The lesson I took home with me from my 55th high school reunion confirms the rule never to burn your bridges behind you. Life has a way of turning early assumptions and perceptions upside down. You may just want to go back and visit where and what you were, to put a different caption under the picture in your mind's eye. Embracing Peter Calo not only exorcised an ancient ghost, it gave me new reason to honor my father and mother.
As a footnote, I report that when I told the story about Peter to the twelve year olds in our house, they were nonplussed about the book-lined house, as if to say, "Isn't everybody's house that way?" Evelyn and Harold in the Father's house smile knowingly.