Stepping into SMI


For The Recorder

Shortly after my father's funeral we moved from 9 Stewart St. to 79 Wall St. We had a bank roll of $24 and a cigar box full of unpaid bills and a funeral to pay for. I was then admitted to St. Mary's Institute on Forbes Street.

I went to the top floor where there were three units. One was a dispensary, where an RN named Gert Riley took care of all of our physical ailments. Another unit was a classroom, where I first met my present day agent, T. McDermott. Others in this room were Jim Botch, Gooch Covell, Alexander Allen, Dominick Sperduto, Ann Tomlinson, Lucy Thomas, Ann Tamoulios, Bill Pilchen, Catherine Behringer, John Knapik, John MacNamara plus my two all-time favorites Ruth Coniff, who lived on 8 Kimball St., and Millie Lockhart.

Ruth's father was a police officer named Skip who passed away quite young. Millie married a gentleman by the name of Kaszuba who was a fireman. He was a very good looking man. I would call him handsome; he was no Jim Sheridan. But, after all, who was? The third unit was an auditorium.

We used to have minstrel shows, public speaking, debates and once a month, a dance. There were two young ladies who played records by Glen Miller for the dance, as well as the Dorsey Brothers and Duke Eilington. They were contact dances like the fox trot and the waltz. I didn't know how to dance, so I was a spectator. But every so often, they would slip in a record by Count Basie, called "The One O'Clock Jump." The floor emptied and the young ladies each had a male partner and would proceed to do the Lindy hop, named after Charles Lindbergh. It was speed and motion like I have never seen.

These young women had more moves than a Swiss watch. Poetry in motion. Every move, a picture. I don't remember the boys' names but I will never forget the girls: Margie Botch and Florence Allen. Florence had four brothers -- Thomas and Robert who played ball for Jack Caroll or Alex Isabel. I didn't know them, but, her brothers Richard and Alec I did know.

They were scholars with personality to burn. They reminded me of Angelo Petruccione. They could walk into a room full of strangers cold turkey and in 15 minutes they would own the building. It was a pleasure to be in the same room.

This was the day I fell madly in love with Florence Allen, but the affair was so quiet even she didn't know about it. Years later, while working at Mount Loretto, I took a cart of luncheon meals up to the third floor. When the elevator opened there she was, Florence Allen, as a visitor. She didn't have to introduce herself. She had every hair in place, was impeccably gorgeous, and had a smile that would knock your socks off.

She was now Florence Insogna. I could only think of one thing to say: "Mr. Insogna, when you stepped up to the plate on Forbes Street, you hit a home run."

I have been unable to confirm the following, but there is a Trappist Monastery in Gethsemane, Ky. Within were three trappist monks who had been there for 32 years. They had taken vows of poverty, celibacy and silence. So, for 32 years, they had worked, prayed, ate and slept. The three of them got together and wrote the head abbott requesting the right to say one sentence a year, so, that they were still members of the human race.

After much thought the abbott called them in, one at a time, and told them that they could say one sentence a year to alternate with each month. After the first year, at breakfast, it was the first monk's term to speak his sentence as follows: "I like oatmeal." That was it.

Another year passed and it was the second monk's turn to speak. His sentence was: "I hate oatmeal." That was it.

The third year passed and it was the third monk's turn to speak. He said, "I wish you two would stop this constant bickering over oatmeal."

Next week we'll go to SMI on Forbes Street. I'll see you then.

JAMES SHERIDAN grew up in Amsterdam

and is a frequent contributor.