We called him that in high school. After all, he was bigger than most men even though he was still a teen. Was he the tallest boy in our class? I think so. I know I had to look up to him and I was the tallest girl. We know he was strong. Not bench press or beat up people strong but the kind of guy who worked as a landscaper for years. He had kind eyes. You can see from this very old photo from elementary school.
I knew Dan best from childhood because he lived two doors down from our funny farm/musical theatre enclave. He was “Danny” back then. My first memory of the Goodwins is going to The Swan Boats on the train with Danny, his sister Lee, my sisters and our mothers. This was back before we had cars and before it was cooties to hang around with girls. The Goodwins had a stucco house which I thought was fascinating, also a hole in the ground with a lid to put their garbage in. They also had a basement with an old fashioned toliet which had the tank on the top and a pull chain. The toliet bowl looked rusty and was a little scary. Their yard had a stone barbeque with a chimney and forsythia bushes we used for hideouts. For some reason we were compelled to drop pennies into the pipe fence around our yard, like a community savings bank.
I soon relied of Danny and “Chuck” (Harry) Samolchuk for all my activities. We raced Hot Wheels on the fence between the Samolchuks and the Nickersons on Lincoln Street. We rode bikes up and down the Burgess’s long driveway on Norwood Ave with the rest of the kids under the watchful eyes of all of our mothers. Mr. Samolchuk called us all in to their TV room to see the men walk on the moon. I thought I was a boy back then so Chuck, Dan and I, we arranged to have our own Apollo mission. My sister Beth was outfitted with an aluminum pan space helmet, placed in a refrigerator box on top of the Samolchuk’s picnic table then we pushed her off for splash down into the grass. I chose the two boys as allies against my sisters until I discovered alas I was also a girl and began playing games like “which Beatle do you want to marry?” I was shut out of the boy’s club forever. Lee and I wrote a puppet show in crayon which I still have. It starred Lambchops and that blue dog. I’m sure Dan attended along with absolutely everyone we knew. I know my sister Beth did as she flushed our cellar toliet during a scene and stole the show
Dan was an integral part of our neighborhood gang when we put our sexes aside. He and Lee were in charge of the Rex Trailer Carnival for Muscular Dystrophy which took place on Goodwin Acres. By this time the Petersons had moved in around the block and I think Wayne was involved in too.I got to lead people to the haunted house which was in our cellar and included Shirley George who would jump out of the storm center and frighten the younger kids. I was surprised to find that The Goodwin, Theriault and Peterson houses all had the same floor plan. They all had a breakfast nook, no fair! Here’s a photo of a birthday party at Cullinane ranch, Dan is at the left. It’s probably my birthday due to the brown leaves. Note my sister Ruth in the play pen!
As we got a little older the summer evenings were spent playing kick the can with the can forever placed in the clearing between the Goodwin and Burgess properties. It really was thrilling to rescue the captives and set them free. It was the closest I ever felt to being a knight with my horse being my own legs. We discovered flashlight tag and theatre was a naturally progression from dress up.
Dan was not in our dress up/theatre group although Lisa Kadra was. Lisa got us to cross the street from The Goodwin’s to the rope swing across the gullyon Filias Circle. This was the beginning of risk taking and impressing the opposite sex. The Filias boys were older and very handsome. We didn’t see them much. We gradually moved to riding our 3 speed bikes around the oval at the high school hundreds of times a week and playing kickball with the Majenski boys across the street from their house. We would bike down the hill by the high school (which we thought was enormous) until the streetlights came on or until you heard Lucille Goodwin call out “Danny, Lee time to come home.” By now The Vrattos family had moved in as summer residents. They went to school in Boston and were lots of fun. I wanted to get to know them better but I was shy. Luckily they liked theatre too. Because we were tall, Dan and I were always asked to take part in “chicken fights” over on the high school field where the parents couldn’t see. My mother however could smell these events a mile away and was thinking about concussions and disfigurements on a daily basis with three gigantic girls on her hands. I think I only did chicken fights once.
In the winter we would toboggan, sled or use flying saucers down that same hill which is now a new entrance to the high school. I remember when the new edition was built and we thought that was great with a drama room. Now they have an air conditioned stage! I think the Goodwins actually went skiing in the winter because they had relatives in Vermont. Dan’s dad also made a skating rink in their backyard which I thought was fabulous. At that point I had lost my dad and wished I had one.
There was no one who didn’t like Dan. I would have liked to have been better friends with him but I had lots of competition. Dan got the theatre bug eventually and I remember he and Alex Nahatis being two of my biggest fans in school plays. I would go out on stage and I could see them over by that enormous green monster of a light machine stage right at The Memorial School. They would be all smiles when I got laughs and laughing themselves which gave me confidence. I remember the time my vacuum cleaner caught fire in No, No, Nanette. I don’t think it was supposed to. Dan and Alex pulled it off the stage and out of my hands by the cord so it looked like the thing had a life of its own.
By high school I had developed a crush on Dan. We were in all the same classes. He was smart and tall, smart enough to stay away from me because I was desperately lonely and a loner. Dan was more of a people person, he, Don Chounaird, Jim Oker, Chris Crowley, Craig Geary, Rick O’Brien, Jim Maroney were always up to something. I joined the math club to be around them. I joined the student government. I hoped Dan might ask me to the prom but since I was not a dater in high school I knew this wasn’t going to happen. At least he went with another tall gal, Kathy Kelly. I believe Dan and the Super Techa guys were responsible for our really cool graduation set.
After graduation I saw Lee lots more, Dan lots less. Sometimes we would intersect at 7 Central or later in Salem on Pickering Wharf when I had a boyfriend who lived near there. I had a good conversation with Dan at The Elliot Chambers Memorial Fire Anniversary event organized by Jim Maroney. We talked about both having issues with anxiety and getting help for that. We caught up about our families and were looking forward to the 30th high school reunion.
You never know when you’re not going to see someone again. I kind of knew after last reunion I might not see Dan as he wasn’t well. He was a smart guy but none of us are able to outsmart our lease on life. He was a sweet man, a quiet man, who seemed to love being part of the gang. I envied him that as I am still a loner. We may have our 35th high school reunion without him but I hope we can all get together after this life for a game of kick the can or a bike ride in the sky. Dan can start working on the set for our reunion while he’s waiting for us.