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The month of April

Commentary: Easter celebrations

The St. Louis born, Nobel Prize winning author Thomas Stearns Eliot was considered by many to be America’s Poet Laureate. He penned arguably the most famous poem of the 20th century, The Wasteland. The masterpiece is best remembered by its opening lines-April is the cruelest month, breeding lilacs out of the dead land-mixing memory and desire, stirring dull roots with spring rain…. Along with countless others, I wondered how April, synonymous with the return of warmth and sunshine and leaves on trees along with the appearance of daffodils and tulips, could be labeled the “cruelest month.” But when one examines Eliot’s life at the time he wrote Wasteland, one can understand the why. He was suffering through his “black period.” His marriage was failing and both he and his wife Vivienne were suffering from nervous disorders. Thus, those opening lines were meant to convey a sense of loss and longing with spring re-awakening painful memories of things past.

Well, April may have been cruel to T.S., but to the Furnace Street Gang it was majestic. The month brought the heat which melted the last vestiges of winter, baring the soil upon which we would soon be rounding the bases. We dusted off our gloves, grabbed our Mickey Mantle bats and scuffed-up horsehides and hightailed it to Furnace Street Park. Gabby Bielejec and I, as the elders, chose up sides with every kid in attendance, including the little Bobbys-Mihevc and Salvagni-getting picked. And when we weren’t hitting shots off passing cars and nearby houses, we were honing our skills playing wiffle ball in “Gabortsa’s” huge driveway. The roof of the far garage served as the object of our desires-hitting on or over was a homerun.

These daily sandlot games represented pre-season training for Little League; no coaches, no structured practices, no hitting off tees-just choosing sides and getting it on. We took turns pitching, played all the positions and were mesmerized by Brudie Zysk’s knuckle-curve. Games went on morning, afternoon and sometimes after supper until the street lights came on-the universal parentally established rule signaling an end to the day’s activities.

I’ve always treasured a time-worn photo taken in August, 1952 at Hansen’s Field in Little Falls’ Southside of the Hornets and Beavers ( Grasshopper Division); no uniforms-nine year-olds garbed in rolled-up dungarees, T-shirts-smiling faces exuding the unmitigated joy concomitant with participating in our “national” sport. There we were-The Houck and Jantosciak brothers, Billy Ring, Pete Day, Jim Waltamath, Rog Kopp, “Shammy” Krchniak, Bobby Glazier and me. Glazier and I (VFW) would later lock horns with Krchniak’s Holy Name team in some spirited Little League contests, while Jim Jantosciak and Waldo joined me on the Purple and White varsity baseball team. In deference to Eliot, April was sometimes cruel, when its showers rained out games and when I lost my no-hitter against Oneonta with one out to go.

A second reason why I loved April as a kid was Easter. First, for embarrassingly selfish reasons, I couldn’t get enough of the candy. Every year until, I’m ashamed to say, I graduated, my mother created masterworks of art in the form of Easter baskets filled to the brim with solid chocolate bunnies, jelly beans, yellow marshmallow peeps, Whoppers Robin Eggs, Jordan almonds and, I might be mistaken, Cadbury creme eggs. I’ll never forget one of my aunts asking my mother, a week or so after Easter, if there was something wrong with me-why I couldn’t sit still for a minute. Shaking her head, she answered-“He’s still coming down from his sugar overdose.”

On a more serious note, Easter also meant Sunday services at Little Falls’ First Baptist. I’ve written previously about the Rev. Fred Thorne’s inspiring homilies. I can recall one Easter in particular when I ventured off to church in my spiffy new outfit-charcoal gray slacks, cream-colored sport coat, pale blue shirt, pink-gray tie and spit-polished black loafers. Mom and sister DeeAnn also sported new duds topped off by, what else, colorful hats. The church was decorated with lilies, the pews packed and the sun shining through stained glass windows cast a spectacular glow throughout the sanctuary.

“Christ has risen.” With those words, Rev. Fred began a sermon which reminded us of the significance of Christ’s resurrection; as he was reborn, so too would we if we lived our lives in accordance with the tenets of the religion. He encouraged us to obey the Ten Commandments, judge not, be kind to others and charitable to those in need. Following the path of righteousness would not be easy, that there’d be times when our faith would be sorely tested, but if we stayed the course, the reward, eternal life, would be well worth the suffering. He finished the service by leading us in a rousing rendition of that old classic hymn-Up from the Cross.

April might have been the cruelest month for T.S. Eliot, but it will always remind me of happy times; of memories of April Fools jokes, of playing ball with the Furnace Street Gang and the lifelong friendships which resulted, of my youngest daughter Jennifer’s birth, of emptying Easter baskets and coloring eggs, of Pat Boone’s “April Love,” of reveling in the beauty of Mother Nature’s artwork and of the heartwarming words of a beloved pastor.

Ray Lenarcic is a 1965 State University of New York at Fredonia graduate and is a resident of Herkimer.

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