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“I grew up on Fanning Avenue, in the Falls area of Norwich. The neighborhood had quite a few kids when I was young, but back then my best friend was Richard ‘Rex’ Quintilliani. Richard lived on Williams Street, and when we were kids, we didn’t have texting to communicate. So if you wanted to hang out with someone, you would go outside their house and yell their name. We’d go over there and yell, ‘REX!’ and his mom would slam the door open and say, ‘His name is not Rex, it’s Richard!’
Rex and I both played NFA baseball. His mother died while we were in high school. (Years later, NFA created a fund for students who needed help purchasing glasses, and it was named for her.) When I was a freshman in high school, Richard’s older brother, Al, was a senior. Since they lived close by, a lot of kids would congregate at their house after school. One of Al’s friends from school was Jack Kane, so I met Jack over at the Quintilliani’s. We hit it off and became very good friends. That was how I met Fred Berberick, too.
Jack and I took a liking to each other. He was a great guy. We used to play football behind the Commercial (Cranston) Building on the NFA campus. Jack was ferocious! He didn’t care how big the guys were, he’d jump into any pile and fight any guy. Jack’s mother, Mrs. Kane, was the sweetest lady ever. The Kanes lived on Oneco Street. Because I spent so much time at the Kanes’ house, his mother bought a bed for me and put it Jack’s room.
There were quite a few guys who lived in the Falls area. Other friends at the time were Bob Buckley, who lived on Williams Street; David Desmond, who lived on Grosvenor Place; and John ‘Stoop’ Walker, who lived on Cedar Street. Eddie ‘Goof’ Silvia was another. We also called him Cactus, because there was sand in the bed at Silvia’s. Eddie did okay — he spent twenty years in the Air Force and got a job at E.B., or Pfizer’s, teaching. Lenny Murray was another one of the guys. There were a lot of them.
Buzzy Wierzbinski, was in the group. He was a fringe guy, not one of the big four, and he lived on Sachem Plains Road. He was a doctor and went into the service. His wife, Jeanine, was a nurse. We saw Buzz for years. He stitched up Jimmy when he had a hole in his head (from connecting with a door knob on an aggressive sneeze). We also called him once when Jimmy was sick with his asthma. Buzzy ended up running the medical system for the state Tech Schools. He went to Yale.
But in high school, Jack and Fred and I, and later on Dick Karkutt, were the big four who called ourselves ‘The Falls Boys.’ Every weekend, we’d go somewhere — Canada, New York, Block Island, Boston. We’d hop in the car and go, just the four of us. I was 15 or 16. They were 19 or 20.
Once Jack went to the University of Connecticut (UConn), I spent most of my time there with him, if I wasn’t at his house on Oneco Street. I was totally unsupervised. Sometimes I would leave my house on a Monday and not go back until Thursday.
I ran free as a kid. One day, when I was about twelve years old, I was down at the diner when a guy said to my father, ‘Hey Buster, I saw you over in Thamesville yesterday!’ The reason he thought he had seen my father was because he HAD seen the Buster’s Catering truck driving around Thamesville. But it was me driving it while my dad was visiting his family up north. My dad didn’t know so he said, ‘No way, that wasn’t my truck! I was in North Grosvenordale!’
The first time Mom (Noreen) met Buster, she was in the rectory at Saint Patrick’s. Father McGurk said to Buster — kind of teasing Mom, who had called out sick but then felt okay to do something after all — ‘Buster, what would you say about someone who called in sick but wasn’t sick?’ Buster said, ‘If my son did that, he’d be in big trouble!’ And Mom thought, ‘Yeah, right!’
In 1955, when Jack was 23, he got his draft notice for the army. Being his good friend, I said, ‘Shoot, don’t worry about it. I’ll go along with you!’ So I volunteered for the draft and enlisted. This move probably happened right at the end of the week. That weekend, Mom was at mass and her friend Anne Marie said, ‘I heard Jake is going in the service with Jackie!’ Mom didn’t believe it until she heard it directly from me.
One of my memories of Jack was the time he and David Desmond were with me at Mae’s Grill, and a girl I had recently broken up with called me. (Mae’s was owned by an aunt of my friend, Dick Karkutt, and they used to sponsor the basketball and baseball teams.) Jack and David were sitting with me when Joan called, and they said, ‘Shoot, you’ll end up going back steady with her.’
‘Like hell I will,’ I responded. We came up with a plan so they could be there as I proved I would not be going back out with her. In this clever plan we concocted, my two buddies would be in the trunk of the car when I was with Joan, in order to ensure she did not convince me to go back out with her, and we were broken up for good.
Before I picked Joan up, we were riding down the road testing the plan, with me saying, ‘Can you hear me?’ in various volumes. They’d respond, ‘Yeah, that’s good,’ when they could hear me okay. I remember instructing my buddies, ‘Don’t make a lot of noise!’
I picked up Joan and we pulled over on the New London Turnpike to talk. Next thing I knew, state trooper, Wilfred Bellifor was at the side of my car asking what we were doing. I told him we were just talking but he was determined to search the car and check the equipment. Joan said, ‘I hope you don’t have any beer in the trunk!’ I said, ‘I don’t, but wait ‘til you see what I do have…’
The cop opened the trunk and Jack quickly put his hands up and yelled, ‘Don’t shoot!’ Luckily, there were no shots fired, and later, the cop ended up asking me, ‘Man to man, c’mon, tell me, did you know those guys were in the trunk?’
Jack was a very loyal friend. I remember he called one night, around midnight, and said, ‘Joe, I met Robert up at the UConn game and he almost decapitated my arm shaking hands!’ I said, ‘Robert you’ve got a strong handshake!’ and Rob said, ‘My father taught us to shake hands and always said he doesn’t want any dead fish handshakes.”
Jack and I were very close. Before we got married, we were inseparable. I spent more time at his house and UConn, than I did anywhere. I was the best man at his wedding. Two nights before the wedding, we had a bachelor party which ended up at Roseland Bar. There was a brawl; Jack got hit in the jaw with a chair and ended up with his jaw wired. He couldn’t open his mouth for his wedding!
Jack was very, very bright. He finished second in his class at Georgetown Dental School. I liked everything about him. He could do no wrong. In actuality, he did a lot of wrong, but talk about seeing someone through rose colored glasses. That’s the way I saw Jack. Jack called Mrs. Kane ‘Moose.’ That’s how Mom ended up with her nickname, ‘Bull.’ I thought their nicknames had to sort of go together. I’m not really sure why, but they were always Moose and Bull.
One time, after Jack became a dentist, I had an abscessed tooth. I called him at about 10 p.m. on a Sunday, and he told me to come down to his office in Old Saybrook. When he saw my tooth and realized it was an abscess, he said, ‘I can’t fool with that, I’ll lose my license!’ But I said, ‘Pull the son of a b*tch! Are you my best friend?!’ He pulled it and luckily, I survived. Having some medical knowledge, and knowing the risk involved with pulling an abscessed tooth, Mom had been quite sure he wouldn’t pull it. She told me beforehand, ‘Go ahead, go down there! Jack’s never gonna pull that tooth. It’s abscessed!’ Later, she said, ‘I should have known he would pull it, because it was Jack.’
When Jack was in dental school, he and Marie had absolutely no money. Michael, Patrick, and Kevin were born in those years Jack was in dental school. Jack was working security jobs at night and Marie was working, doing filing for politicians (such as Thomas Dodd) after the kids went to bed. They really had no money. Still, when Buster died, Jack took a train up to see me and to be there for me. I’ll never forget seeing him walking in the funeral home. Then, when Rob died, we were at Cumming’s, arranging for the funeral, and Jack came running in. Marie had said to him, ‘The last thing they need right now is you.’ But he was there when I needed him.
Even though he died years ago, I still think about him all the time. Jack said to me once, ‘I don’t care how popular you are, once you die, within two weeks, everyone forgets about you.’ I said to him then, ‘Jack, that’s not true.’ And I’ve definitely never forgotten him.
When Jack was older, he ended up in a convalescent home. Dick and Fred and I used to go down there and take him for lunch, across from the Goodspeed Opera House. There was another resident there, this big guy, who was harassing the help. Hearing him bothering the employees, Jack told the guy to knock it off. The guy then asked, ‘Who’s gonna stop me?’ Jack charged at him and the guy jumped out of the way, causing Jack to take a bad fall and break his arm. Jack ended up chasing him all through the convalescent home. Eventually they called the police and the other guy got arrested.
One time we were up in Boston and we came across a group of three to four other guys. Fred Berberick yelled something at one of the guys in the other group. I remember his name was Rodney. So Rodney came up to Jack, who was the smallest of our group, and said, ‘What did you just say?’ Jack responded, ‘I didn’t say anything, but I’m not running!’ Then, before you know it, bing, bang, boom! Jack knocked him out.
When Marie was pregnant with Mary, the four of us went out to dinner at Mabrey’s. All of a sudden, everyone was racing outside because there was a big fight going on. It was Jack. Another time, he got into a brawl at a bar in Hartford because he gave the guy a $20 and the bartender said it was only a $10. He told the guy to give him change for a $20 or he would come over the bar. He ended up going over the bar.
If he had stayed in the normal ranks in the army, he would have ended up in big trouble. He was always challenging sergeants. I would say, ‘Jack, you’re just putting a target on your back.’ But before you knew it, he was in CID (the Criminal Investigation Division). He was the only one in the group who got into CID. There, his job was investigating people for security and background checks. There were 200 people in the company, and he was the only one who took the test and passed it. Over the weekends, he’d go out to do security checks. I used to go with him and he would introduce me as his associate.
Jack’s mother was the sweetest woman that ever lived. His older sister, Theresa, kept him in line. She was always saying, ‘Jack, get your act together, would you please?’ He had a lot of demons. Marie once told us, ‘You are the only other people besides me who really know Jack and love him anyway.’ A lot of people knew Jack, and a lot of people loved him, but no one really knew him the way I did.
Another one of our good friends was Dick ‘Mig’ Karkutt — Mig, like the Japanese planes. He just showed up one day and became one of the four. Many years later, he sent me a four page letter recalling the first time we met. I couldn’t get over the details he remembered. Before he died, he became very reflective. He was always reminiscing.
Dick’s first wedding was an elopement. He and Helen just showed up at the beach and told everyone they were married. Years later he married Marilyn, who was a great lady. We weren’t able to go to their wedding because Grandma Sullivan was dying.
Through high school, we spent every weekend sleeping on the beach or in the parking lot at the spa. We had a lot of good times. When I was at Fort Lee, VA, Jack was stationed elsewhere. We made plans to meet in D.C. We went to a bar and, of course, were drinking. We ended up putting Mig in a garbage can in an alley. He wasn’t behaving! One time at a ballgame we were drinking and on the way home, he was throwing his clothes out the window! We got to Maple Shade and he went out and lay on the tracks by the fire house. He would sometimes stay out all night and tell his wife he was with Jack or me.
One time, he appeared at the house at 5 a.m., gesturing, ‘You got a sandwich?’ He had been out all night. I asked him, ‘Are you sober enough to drive?’ He responded, ‘I’m fine!’ and then he proceeded to take out twenty posts off the side of the highway on his way home. He had to pay for those posts.
When Mig was in his first marriage, he bought a book on how to play poker, and he used to go play with a group of guys every Friday night. One of the guys in the group, was the guy his wife eventually left him for. Before she left, she went to GFox and charged a whole house full of furniture to Dick. She left him with their four kids and only took the cat. But he was pretty easy going, even after she left, and seemed to take everything in stride. I remember seeing him down at the Rose Arts Festival. He was walking around with a thermos of whisky sours. He was a survivor.
After Helen left, Mig learned she had been sharing his book, on how to play poker, with the dentist she ran off with. All those games of poker he lost, Lupien had been beating him because Helen was showing him the book. He seemed to be more angry about the poker book deception than the fact she left him with four young children! Months later, she ended up dropping the cat off at the end of the street. So eventually, he was responsible for the cat, too.
I was a pallbearer at Dick’s funeral. Afterwards, I got a letter from one of the kids. The letter told me Dick and Marilyn had thought so highly of our friendship. She ended her letter with, ‘Thanks for carrying Dad one last time.’
Fred Berberick is a dear friend who is still with us. Needless to say, he is lonely since his wife, Winnie, passed away. But he keeps up a good front. We manage to keep in touch by phone. I am his eldest daughter’s godfather. To describe him, I would say there is no one more honest and ethical than Fred Berberick. After my mother died, his mother, Mary, took my father to task for neglecting me!
From the onset of his legal practice, Fred did many hours of work for us — such as catering contracts, wills, and estate planning — and he never charged a dime. Way back, I told him if he didn’t charge me, I would go elsewhere for legal services. So after he did a lot of work on lengthy contracts, drawn up for work I was doing at the Eugene O’Neill theater and the City of Norwich, Fred billed me $75. I called and said his fee was outrageously high, and he told me to write PIF (Paid in Full) on the bottom.
I had a totally loyal group of friends. We were friends from the time we met, until they passed. I feel fortunate to have had all of them in my life.”
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