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West End - Goings on in Newburgh, N.Y. known as the West End

Delete this post Submitted by Dan Drennen - Class of 1962 <> on 22/Jan/2023


West End
by D a n  D.  D r e n n e n  Dan & George

Dan & George  Dan & George  Dan & George  Dan & George
Dan Drennen                George Drennen

This book is a recollection of everyday goings on in an area of Newburgh ,N.Y. known as the West End.
At the time we thought we were ordinary kids growing up in middle-class America. As life went on and I compared notes I soon realized we were far from ordinary. Can't change the past, but I can write about it to the interest of some who can relate and some who led exemplary lives and dream of a bad-boy youth. And yes we all had righteous upbringings, strict 2 parent parent families ,good schools and church on Sunday.

1. B A C K  W H E N  L I F E  W A S  S I M P L E

Guided by intuition & the constant need for excitement we would gather on a Saturday afternoon at the Vollars' (a self designated neighbor's house where we were all sure to meet in full). No cell phones ,no beepers , just two fingers in your mouth to form an instrument called a whistle. This is our primal means of communication. Without a plan we just winged it, unless a pre-planned game of baseball or a dip in the local pond ,in which you showed up with a swimsuit rolled up in a towel under your arm. Bikes were the mode of transportation , they weren't fancy 3-speeds ,and absolutely no protective gear. A fall off your bike on a gravel road was routine. Road rash was a badge of honor and spit ,our antiseptic. No time to run home to clean the wound & a band aid, you'd miss out on all the fun, and be heckled " look at candy -ass gotta go home to mommy" as I said, back when life was simple. Our legs were strong and got us to our next destination. We couldn't get their fast enough. We all skidded sideways on arrival to make a grand entrance.

2. T H E  G O L D EN  R U L E

School nights were very routine, homework & plenty of it (2 hrs) My friends all went to public school ,but oh no not us .We had to answer to a higher authority (St. Patrick's). All you heard about Catholic School discipline was all true. Starting in first grade I ducked as a blackboard eraser flew by my head targeting the kid in back of me for talking in class. We learned quickly the rules of St.Patrick's code of behavior. As we graduated to the next class the rules graduated to face slapping & yard sticks. Now we really paid attention & tried to keep a straight face as the Jesuit Brother ran past our desk to discipline a student who didn't no the answer or was not paying attention. Brother Thomas, with clinched fist , except for one knuckle protruding out to inflict more pain would run down the aisle ,standing over the terrified student grappling for the wright answer ,ready to deliver the painful "noogie"to the center of his skull. Friday was execution day. The fore mentioned Brother Thomas would make note of those students who misbehaved (incomplete homework or wrong answers in class) He then marched us upstairs to form a line (the green mile ) outside the upper class doorway. We were then escorted in one by one . In front of the class ,we assumed the position (bent over gripping the front desk). Eyes closed , we awaited our punishment. Without warning we received several stinging blows from a heavy yard stick to the delight of of the 8th graders. Later in 1963 I entered Army basic training in Ft. Dix N.J. I recalled "this is a piece of cake after 7 yrs. at St.Patrick's Institution of higher learning.

3. T H E  W E S T E N D  G A N G

Political correctness was completely unheard of and bullying ? much to early to save us. Nicknames meant you were accepted in our gang. How about a kid with poor pointy teeth ("Shark teeth" ...a kid with a birth defect half his jaw missing (no-chin) another kid with a high pitch squeaky voice .. you guessed it: "Squeekers". And one more ....this kid with sleepy eyes ("sleep walk" . Aside from the cruel ID by today's standards, we branded our buddies for life. We had a tight bond & protected one another with a strong allegiance. We all were as one as we shuffled hands in pockets bent forward down the block occasionally pushing one kid into the street & quickly retrieving him back out of path of a oncoming car...affectionately of course. Summer weekend nights were filled with excitement as we met on the corner on upper Broadway .Sitting on a brick wall in front of Devote's Appliance Store we anxiously awaited for everyone to show up. The dress code ; jeans on the hips, comb in back pocket , pants held up by a garrison belt, white t-shirt with miraculous medal & pack of camels rolled up in the left sleeve & a pair of Keds. Yeah we're ready to hit the streets. WEST - END meets downtown EAST -SIDE .Shuffling down Broadway to the theatre district 15 strong (strength in numbers) wide-eyed , gum chewing ,looking for trouble. We arrive at the Ritz Theater and looked over the Movie Marque to see what's playing. Everyone buys a ticket & heads for the popcorn stand under the nervous eye of the manager "football head " ( his head was elongated like a football ). We will not finish the movie as we are escorted out quietly for laughing & throwing pop corn & candy wrappers off the balcony at patrons below. This is a weekly ritual Football head needs to deal with. Not at all ashamed or Insulted in any way , we spill out into the street laughing & giving the bird over our heads .We continue east laughing & pushing each other only to straighten up on meeting up with the WEST -SIDE Washington Heights gang. Ahh the "Mountain Boys" their leader Butch sarcastically remarks & turns back at his boys & laughs. Are you guys lost? No remarks our leader (much bigger) just downtown for a movie. The challenge fizzles as the conversation turns to girls (a mutual interest). Where all the chicks tonight? There at the Hy-Y dance on Grand Street. We all join forces ,pull out our combs & head for Grand. We were not made to feel welcome at the Hy-Y dances, dress code stuff ya' know. Ok we get it, we 'll just wait outside the chicks can only go so long without a smoke. Right on cue out they come giggling on seeing us working on our hair. Soon after their boyfriends are out searching for their dance partners looking all tough & all .We quickly jump off the wall & puff up our chest & sneer ..they quickly walk backwards toward the dancehall. Anybody hungry ? Yells one of the guys .Let's go to Cy's Diner. We all jump off the wall in cadence and head west to our favorite stop on the way home. On Arriving we head straight to the back for a couple of booths. Greeted by our favorite waitress "Penny" she says "what's your's honey"? as she pulls a pencil out of her hair. We reply "English muffins & cokes all around. She yells to the cook "scorch 15 limeys !" (English Muffins). We then begin to start our routine : putting straws up our nose & making fun of the patrons & cooks toothless smile , till Penny brings the animals their food. Waiting for one guy to use the bathroom so we can sprinkle hot pepper in his coke we start reviewing our night downtown experience & the chicks we didn't score with. Time to head back to the West End, we clown around leaving Cy's pushing each other into patrons & making a general nuisance of ourselves. On our track west on cold nights we'ed stop at the half way point to warm up under the Nabisco Bread Factory exhaust fan. We walk away revived & smelling like fresh bread. It served 2 purposes : warmed our bodies & erased the smell of cigarettes from our hair & clothing. That & a fresh stick of "juicy fruit" gum cleansed us for awaiting parents who frowned upon such nasty habits.

4. D R I V I NG  M R S.  D R E N N E N

As our teen years progressed we all yearned for a "set of wheels". We all drove cars starting at a younger age by simply offering to wax a family member's car and then taking it for a test drive around the neighborhood (see if the wax made it go faster). My older brother George was particularly good at driving cars, heavy equipment left on construction sites & motorbikes left for repair the local gas station where he was employed. Our first real car was Dad's car. You see my mother never drove ,so in order to get "the car" we had to take mom shopping downtown on Saturday. With a large family to cloth & feed that was a 1/2 day of shopping. I would drop mom off in the parking lot .She would walk up thru Schoomakers Dept. Store & beyond. I would grab a smoke ,leaning against the fence looking out at the Hudson River & watch the Ferry boats & Dayliner tour boat make money. Mom would whistle when she was ready for pick-up .With two fingers in her mouth ,her call could be heard for a mile. I'd quickly pop a stick of juicy fruit in my mouth & bring the car around.

5. B R O T H E R S  &  1 S I S T E R

I came from a BIG family (9 brothers & 1 sister) not at all uncommon back then. My older brothers were just a few years older (just a few) Mother started with 6 in a row in Philadelphia. After moving to Newburgh, NY. in the mid 40's and settling into our new home in New York . And what a home, sitting on top of a hill it was surrounded by acres of green grass ,fruit trees & a tennis court. We were let loose to roam the yard as Mom & Dad viewed the inside of his 3 story 7 bedroom house. The count remained six. The new house was gigantic p,entry of room for more kids, but not just yet, that would be 4 years later. Six brothers in a row (Jack, Jim, Tom, Bill, George & Dan), that meant that when I was a teenager at 16 my order brothers were 17, 18, 19, 20 & 21. We grew up in a Norman Rockwell painting (had fist fights, fell out of trees, coughed trying to smoke, swam & fished in muddy ponds, played baseball on hot summer days and stood in single file in line to have our teeth inspected hair brushed & ties straightened before school). "I raised you all the same.... but you're all different" Mother would say with her hands on her hips shaking her head side to side. We were just that. As number 5 & 6 my older brother George & I were in the infamous WEST-END gang. The remaining older siblings had other interest (cross country running, basketball & other competitive sports) Ya' know the things that actually make for a well rounded individual. Bill #4 ,was studious with straight A's in school unlike George & I who just made the grade. Bill obviously matured earlier .He would be found up in his room studying while we ran thru the big house making fart noise with our hands in our armpits & thought was hilarious.

6. R O O M  F O R  O N E  M O R E

As if we didn't have enough kids, the Big house on the hill had plenty of room even after the Drennens kept multiplying . At age 16 ,I was gifted with still another brother "Jim", who went by "Butch" which was good because we already had a Jim in the older brother line-up. Yes he was full grown . He was friends with Jack & Jim and was to be placed in foster care. Jack asked my father if we could take him in. The way the story goes Butch sat on his suitcase in the tool shed while Jack went in the house to talk to my father. "YES ! we'll make room upstairs" Dad said & the rest is history. Going from a small place on the East side to a huge home on the top of a hill Butch fit right in and was welcomed as # 7 in the line up. My parents adopted him and made it official , he was so grateful and to this day loved by all of us.

7. G E T  A  J O B

As time went on an our wants went from mere dreams to reality: our own car, our own money, dignity and most of all, independence. Time to get a job. Out our front door, down the hill, I saw my first job (Spencer's Mobile Station). Ed Spencer could best be described as John Wayne in a Mobile uniform. Big and a straight talker with an unfiltered cigarette dangling off the right side of his mouth. It went up & down as he barked out orders. Former Navy ,he sported a curled up Navy cap ( resembling a white dog dish upside down ) like "Popeye the Sailer man". I put my mechanics skills to work at Spencer's as Ed added more tasks to the main exercise (running out to the pumps at the sound of the bell (ding! ding!) as both front & rear tires hit the bell hose. Not just pumping gas, each customer was treated to a window wash ,headlite wipe ,oil & water level check & tire kick. Then back into the garage to finish any number of ongoing jobs (installing a new muffler, oil & filter change, plugs & points or tire rotation or installation of new tires. That job got me the first real car of my own. The 52' Chevy 2dr. Coupe had been serviced regularly at the station. I knew it well. The owner "Honest John" (a local used car dealer.) offered it for $98. I jumped at the chance , parked it on the side & worked on to whenever Ed went for a few beers at the West End Bar & Grill. Spencer's was, of course just a stepping stone, other opportunities would follow. Israel's Pharmacy had an ad in classifieds for a clerk & deliver driver. I answered ,and with my Catholic school resume I made the cut. I would help behind the counter & deliver scripts to customers around the valley. Many of which were located in the upscale neighborhood of Balmville. The women would hustle out to the car as I pulled up & handed them their little white bag. I later realized I was a drug dealer delivering Quaaludes (mother's little helper" All perfectly legal of course. And I thought they were happy to see ME. My brothers & I could not escape the magnetic pull of the "Mill"" The family business (Newburgh Yarn Mills) a company my father created after Strook, a former company he supervised went the way on many Textile Mills in the northeast back in the late 50's closed & moved south. The Mill was Big & noisy with huge machines that needed constant tending to make the whole process work. One such area of the Mill was the dreaded "Picker House" a crude but necessary first step in the yarn making process. It was here that workers were tarred & feathered (not really) with the itchiest fibers known to man. One would take raw wool & acrylics & sometimes rabbit hair & blend in a big Picker by hand .This blend was chewed,blended & blown into a big room called the Picker House. On completing we would then open the huge door & with arms stretched would attempt to grab all you could & blindly find your way to the hopper for another run to repeat the process & fill the other house. This exercise would continue for a full hot 8 hrs. As if it were not hot enough a misting system kept the humidity high ( a necessary evil to prevent static electricity from effecting the textile process). Less, my co-worker had arms like tree trunks & resembled a tree with only his legs & a massive load of blend in his arms finding his way, purely by instinct to the hopper. I once said, jokingly "hey Less I'm going to knock off early & go swimming, you can finish up" to which he replied "you go ahead Danny ...and I'll go upstairs & sit long side yo' Daddy" He was a joy to work with & did I mention he was a black man ? One of the best men I had the pleasure to work along side. The mill drew many color & cultures all thrown together for one purpose (to toil, sweat & make an honest living to support our families & creature comforts)

8. T H E   S H O R E

Dad never did anything half way and family vacation as no exception. Every summer was an exciting ,fun filled 2 weeks at "the shore" (Ocean City ,N.J.) Preparing for the venture was as exciting as we all packed our beach outfits & boxes of our I favorite food to make the stay just like home. Dad was a master at packing. Everything had it's place in the big trunk. The whole family fit like a puzzle in the Hudson Hornet. Mom packed sandwiches ,juice & milk for the long journey. Dad was also punctual & prided himself in making the trip in record time. After locking up the house he would announce time out as he looked at his gold pocket watch, and off we went. The only stops allowed along the way were when nature called. They were more like pit stops ,I think the car was left running. If you didn't have to go you had better try, or forever hold your pee. As we entered the Jersey border we all pointed at the sand on the side of the road & the smell of salt in the air. Our anticipation grew with every Shore Point sign we passed. We all knew it wouldn't be long now before we were suited up & on the beach. Over the bridge at Summer's Point we looked down at the boats ,Seafood Restraints with waiting lines of tourist & fishermen with there sea polls & buckets on the bridge. Yes we made it, as we pulled to parking area & got out stretched our land legs. Dad got out ,pulled out his watch & announced still another "record time." Ocean City was the official start of summer vacation and we couldn't wait to get the sand between our toes.The first look at the beach with it's white sand & pounding surf was breathtaking. We ran as fast as our legs could carry us across the stretch of burning beach to the cool wet sand & didn't stop until we collapsed in the cold salt foamed surf. Mom & dad & my older brother straggled behind with the beach supplies like pack mules. We stayed in till our lips we blue ,only taking a break to warm up with a beach towel & reapply the Coppertone. The beach was the all day activity .The nights belonged to the BOARDWALK Finishing an exhausting fun filled day at the beach we all helped bring the supplies back to the beach house. Before we climbed up 3 flights to the 3rd floor, we all took a cold outside shower & stacked the beach chairs & umbrellas. The trek upstairs was exhausting but the view of the ocean & the cool salt air on our sunburned bodies was worth every step. Mom & dad prepared dinner while we got dressed for the second half "the boardwalk". Mom was full of surprises. Shopping all year for summer clothes to sport the nightlife that would follow in Ocean City. She would say with a smile "try this on" as she handed us a new outfit to wear to the boardwalk. If it didn't fit the next brother got it. We then all went for an much anticipated night of amusement rides, miniature golf & arcades all overlooking the sea that rolled under our feet thru the boards. The smell of cotton candy, caramel corn & fried pork roll filled the air. The mixed sounds of the arcades & the rumble of the amusement rides added to the excitement. Ocean City was a dry town and family friendly ,which meant we could be left on our own with our older brothers to all hours.

9. B R O T H E R  G E O R G E

Number five, our brother George was one of the original Philadelphia six. He was ,like most teenagers presumed himself immortal. He tested that ,as many of us by taking risk. We jumped off 2 story factory roofs into muddy ponds (not really knowing how deep it was). Climbed 100' water towers & scraped our names on the black metal with rocks. Had fist fights with rival gangs & started up & operated heavy equipment on construction sites after hours. The more unlawful the more we loved it. Strength in numbers gave us the right. I wouldn't say George was the instigator but his wild eyes & sardonic smile suggested we go for it. He had no fear as I can remember, especially when driving us around town. Floorboard or stop as George put it. Back before seat belts & airbags we all braced ourselves when George was behind the wheel. He would turn & laugh at us as he threw us back in the seats by flooring it & then sending us flying forward when hit the breaks. This behavior would be his demise one hot summer night in September as he was driving home from a club in Greenwood Lake with 3 other teens. We can only image what caused the fatal accident but I suspect speed had something to do with it. George & the teen seated behind him would not make it home that fateful nite. The local police would wake my Mother & dad to relay the devastating news that morning. We were all woken by my mother's screams of horror on learning of George's death A silence came over the big house on the hill as days passed. George & his teenage friend were very popular & sadly missed by fellow students. Attendance was very high at the funeral & service . Cars could be seen for a mile leading to the grave site. For weeks after I was greeted with hugs & handshakes by hundreds of students in the halls of our large high school. Mother & dad led us upstairs to kneel in prayer around their bed every nite to recite the rosary for George for days after.

10. U N S U P E R V I S E D

Back in the day (50's) after chores were completed we were set free. Off we sped on our bikes to adventures unknown. By some strange coincidence we were all set free at the same time. Suddenly the streets were filled with kids on bikes popping wheelies and going in circles, idling, waiting for direction from one kid to give the order "let's go to the park". The race was on with the sound of slack bicycle chains hitting the chain guard as the West End gang in a standing position pumped our way hastily to the park. This hot summer day we decided to crawl under the fence at Steinfield's factory and climb up the One hundred foot water tower. Gathering rocks in our pockets to use as tools for scraping our names on the black iron tank on reaching the top. We thought of ourselves as immortal , never giving a thought of falling to a certain death. Gripping the ladder tightly we made our way up the thin steel frame to the top, never ever looking down. Before reaching the very top the ladder actually bowed out slightly leaving you hanging upside down for the last 10 feet before reaching the deck and rail .The inertia pulled your body downward and forced your blood to the back of your head in that position. We tried never to show fear to the other boys. Looking down was breathtaking (literally). Now, with rock in hand we would sign our name on the tank with big letters to be seen hundreds of feet away. It was laboring to balance ourselves up on the thin guide rail while making our mark on the tank. Names being much shorter than made the task easier. Unbeknownst to us, history was being made as our signatures would remain visible for the life of the water tower. Our gang, which ranged in size on any given day from 8 to 15, never wanted for activity. On another very hot summer day in July we met at Harrison's pond. Following a winding dirt path that made its way through the woods we found our way to the swimming hole. An abandoned boat house joining the back of Steinfield's Dye Mill. As surefooted as mountain goats, we climbed up the side of the two-story building ,lined up like paratroopers ,we took turns running the entire length of the burning hot tar paper roof until we were airborne peddling our legs ,eyes closed and holding our breath, we braced for impact. This exercise would continue till the dye was awakened on the bottom, turning the water whatever color the dye drain pipe discharged that day. A environmental nightmare by today's standards. Summers are very hot and humid needing a steady supply of cold soda which most of us did not enjoy at home (milk, orange juice & water only). So to supply this demand we would pay a nightly visit to the local Pepsi Cola bottling plant nearby. Two members of our illustrious gang would pull up on the cyclone fence while the others would crawl underneath and gather cases of Orange Crush & Pepsi & slide them out to the awaiting arms of eager recipients. Trying to look as inconspicuous as possible whistling as we walked, we would each carry a wooden case of the tasting nectar all the way down to Harrison's pond. On arrival we would stock them carefully between the rocks in the cold rapids. After playing a hot nine innings of baseball ,we would hang up our T-shirts on a tree branch and head for the creek. There we pull out an ice cold soda & pop the lid off with our garrison belt buckles. Just another day in the life in middle class America in the West End.

The End
Thank's for Reading

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