from Neighborhood to 'Nam......and back.

Growing up in a close knit neighborhood during the ‘50s and ‘60s was not unusual, it was the norm. Friendships were long and the bonds were tight. Friends walked to school together; joined scouts together; played sports together; grew up together. They dated and married girls from the neighborhood. . .And, most of them went to war together, not as a group, but as single individuals….and those same friends parted ways for a time. Each moving on to a new phase of their life.

The neighborhood was ‘Kaisertown’, a Polish-American community on the far east side of Buffalo New York. . .the war was Vietnam.

This blog is a collaboration of stories and experiences from this group of men, childhood buddies, all now in their sixties, whose friendships have lasted a lifetime.

These are also recollections from those young men who stayed behind. . ’caretakers’, as you will, of the old neighborhood that was a part of them . . .keeping the memories alive until all returned.


Bogie:  Thought of Teenage years in Kaisertown. . .

Neighborhood (Kaisertown), how do you start to describe your childhood and adolescence. For me it was normal and fun. Everybody that's from there has a lot of stories just like I do, but when you look back we had our tragedies,  but most of the times was nothing but laughter. To skip the early years going to catholic school then transferring to public school, where I considered the start of my growing up, i.e. smoking, drinking and kissing girls. Yeah started smoking at about 10 stealing cigs from my parents and uncle or picking the large butts from the street in front of the bars. Oh by the way there was a bar on every corner and a bakery on the other so you didn't have much chance of being normal, and I'm not blaming the bakeries. Started drinking at about 12 still can remember my first quart of beer was in a tree house on Glen St. with Jimmy Folger and a couple of other guys can't remember their name right off hand maybe Jerry should have started this about ten years ago before we killed to many brain cells. Met with Folger in the park one afternoon (Houghton) and he says to me wanna get some beer tonight, I thought he was crazy, I said were too young to buy it he told me he Knew this guy named Bukowski and he would buy it for us. All we had to do was buy him two quarts with our money. So Jimmy devises this plan go home and tell your mother there's a street dance at Babes could I have a dollar and that I would skip Saturday cartoons at Strand Theater. Ok all most sure there was four of us  Folger goes meets with Buko and told him where we would be, It started getting dark and Buko shows up at the tree house with three bags of beers. I was scared shitless, well about after about half that first quart, I was getting pretty loose. Someone asked Buko what do we do if the cops come and Buko without hesitating says throw the empty bottles at them tell them to get the deposit and go buy their own fucking beer, we were all pissing in our pants laughing.

 That story was just the beginning of happiness filled with alcohol. Listen don't get this wrong but most of us didn't turn out to be alcoholic and get arrested all the time but some did. Beer wasn't the only choice There were the gallons of hard cider we bought by crossing the tracks to Mineral Springs St. in South Buffalo, but a warning to all don't drink this innocent looking stuff in the hot summer sun in the back of the park, if you did don't fall asleep at the picnic benches the cops would come and round everybody up, take us home and tell our parents and that lead to a good ass whipping, so being the smart Polocks that we were we changed drinking location to right in front of school 69 in the bushes. Well everything went well  until one evening Folger goes crazy and starts throwing the empty jugs onto Clinton St. yelling the Germans were coming we all scattered and you know who got caught we didn’t see him for a month. You heard me mention Polocks if you know it or not that nationality is synonymous with alcohol hate to tell you this but we lived in a segregated neighborhood I think John Nichols was the only token non Polock, now there's a ton of stories there more on him later.

Music and dances were a big part of growing up in Kaisertown most of us danced and sang well we thought we could sing it was all air instruments and lip syncing, Johnny Nichols had a good voice so did Larry Chops. We would go down in the basement of St Casmir’s school and sing in the bathroom with what we thought was a good reverberation sometimes we would go up to the auditorium on the third floor turn on the mike  and sing to no one in the audience. We went up once and the old ladies club had a card party going on,  so we started singing anyway and they threw us out telling us they were going to tell the Pastor on us, we never heard anything about it. Like I said most of us danced with the exception of some of the older guys, Bucky, Butcer, Dave Chops (Larry's older brother), Albert Roy and a bunch of other can't remember their name, these guy were like the protectors of the neighbor-hood. When there were dances they were held at Babes Soda shop on Casimir and Spann St. Ryan High school once in a great while at St Bernard school and a few were at the old pool hall on Clinton St. The protectors of the neighborhood would hang around looking for a good fight and most of the time Buffalo's finest would show up to break thing up.

Back to the alcohol again the dances and drinking went hand in hand, I use to play the accordion, didn't want to but being a good polish lad  I was kind if influenced into it. Well to make a long story short I use to go get lessons at Art Kubera's on Fillmore take the Fillmore St bus to Clinton and then home I was 14 and young looking there was a liquor store on the corner of Fillmore and Clinton one day after practice I walked into the store and asked for a bottle of Tango the guy looks at me and says you’re not 18 are you and I told him no that it wasn't for me but my father he said ok after that my Dad was buying a lot of liquor and wine at that store. Where did you get the money to be buying the stuff. Well during the summer we would work at Phiffers Farm for 50 cents an hour and save the money, go on carpentry jobs with my Dad and he would throw a couple of bucks at me, on Saturdays, would be car washing day at Swierski's gas station and hit my Uncle Bill and Matty up for some cash when they were drunk, so after I was 14 pretty much had enough cash for booze when ever .

We have yet to mention wine I use to get deathly sick from that stuff. Well for one thing at 99 cents a quart you might have drank rubbing alcohol and got the same effect. When I was 14 I met up with Tommy Kancar  he was like an older brother to me, we would lift weights together and talk about joining the Marine Corp and basically hang out together, they were older but a good group of guys, Ray Moytka, Jerry Murk, Mark, Bud Tamborski and Levi. Then the friendship between Jerry Kancar (Tom's younger brother) started, along with Bobby Sittniewski. We did a lot of things together but mostly take a lot of walks to the other side of Kaisertown, and it wasn't just for exercise Mr. Smooze Jerry had a couple of girlfriends on that end of town, not all at the same time, the first one was Justine she was a looker and her father owned a tavern (Rays) across from Town edge bowling alley, my thoughts on that was we would go bowling then go across the street and Jerry would be tending bar and we would sit there all night and drink for free. Well that never happened, Justine broke it off with Jerry, and the dream of drinking for free never happened. Don't feel sorry for Jerry he landed right back on his feet and wouldn't you know it the same part of town. Carole (my favorite) was the next and last. Don't ask me about me and Bobby, I had a couple of girlfriends Sandy, Lorraine she dumped me when I came back from Nam, she told me I was a little too crazy, can you believe that, I didn't take it to hard there were girls all over the place, and if I couldn't find one I'd get Jerry and Davy Loncz to take me downtown and get a hooker. It was cheaper that way didn't have to buy them flowers remember their names or take them out to dinner and I was happy, sometimes Jerry and Dave got mad at me for leaving them in the black section at 3 in the morning freezing their asses off. Dave has since passed but Jerry can tell you the stories.

Graduated high school 1964 almost didn't make it got thrown out of shop class in my Jr year and failed that but rebounded in my senior year to graduate without honors. I know what happened they didn't want me there anymore. I told the assistant principle that it didn't matter that my Dad had signed the consent papers so I could join the Marine Corp and I wasn't coming back even if I failed. As I said I signed up for the Buffalo Bills platoon it was a 120 day program, were you would sign up and 120 days later you were on a train to Parris Island, this would start the next phase of my life.

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