Big Roess & We
With apologies to Tim Russert
Big Roess grew up in the first ward of Buffalo. His father owned a candy store and Big Roess helped him run it, along with his brother and sister. This had instilled in him a sweet disposition that showed in his relationship to us and others. Big Roess worked with the Civil Conservation Corp (CCC) along with Uncle Curly Robertson laying out trails and other facilities at Allegany State Park. It was there that he meet a young attractive woman named Margaret Lyons along with her cousin Eileen who lived in nearby Bradford Pennsylvania. Eventually, he married Margaret and Curly married her cousin.
After living in Conneaut Ohio for a short while, Big Roess brought his wife and new daughter, Linda, to live in a 4-bedroom A-frame house on tree-lined Choate Avenue in South Buffalo, NY. Each two years for the next 6 years, another one of us would be born, starting with Jim Dennis, then Bobby and finally Nancy. It was a close-knit Catholic neighborhood, with friendly and concerned neighbors. Our neighbors to the West, Mr and Mrs Schlie, owned a bakery on South Park Ave, and would often give us tasty treats. On the other side lived, Mr and Mrs James Donovan, who also were most hospitable. Jim ran a lawn mower sharpening service and would test the mowers by mowing our lawn for free. There were many friendly people on our street. We remember Mrs Brooks, Joe Deverio, the Murray family, the Scofields, the McEacherns and their three sons Bill, Neil and John, Mr Zent, Spoonley the Train man, the Jones, the Morgans, The Bests and their four children, Maryjane, Tommy, Patty and Johnny, the Marshalls and the guy two doors over that would send us to the corner store for beer, the Munley's, Mrs Maroney the aunt of our three friends Vincy, Patsy & Beverly Courtney who lived with her.
In those days milk was delivered every other day by a milk truck. Many a times we would beg or steal ice from the delivery truck for a refreshing treat. The popcorn man would also come by with his cart each day providing us another treat. Popcorn was 3 cents a bag or a nickel for a box. We usually only had enough money for the 3 cent bag.
We had many pets back then, including two cats Tipsy amd Topsy, a beagle named Buster, a springer spaniel named Daisy, 6 chickens, 8 rabbits, a number of parakeets, turtles, goldfish, and many guppies. Linda, the older sibling, tried to adopt an old rat dying of rat poison, but Big Roess almost killed her for that. It was always traumatic when any of our pets died or went astray. One case in particular, was when Linda and Patty Best tested the theory that cats always land on their feet by throwing a kitten out of the bathroom window. She cried for a month about that poor dead kitty.
There were a number of interesting stores near the corner of our street and South Park, including a delicatessen, a bakery, a Ben Franklin five & ten, a drug store with a soda fountain, a butcher shop and a grocery store. It was very convenient to walk to them. We would often buy penny candy at the delicatessen or the bakery. We remember for a penny you could get a strip of candy buttons, 3 peach stones, 4 cart wheels, a little candy pie, a wax pop bottle of flavored water, a jaw breaker, a piece of Fleers Double Bubble Gum with comic, a bb bat taffy sucker or a licorice strap. For two cents you could buy a box of Snaps frosted licorice pieces. For 5 cents we could buy a cold bottle of Coke to drink there along with a penny pretzel stick. For a penny more we could buy a 12 oz bottle of Pepsie rather than the 7 oz Coke. Paul's pies were sold for 13 cents.
The five & ten was an exciting place where a large variety of toys could be purchased for a dime, including balsa wood airplanes, paddle balls and toy snakes. It was always fun to buy our school supplies there as well. Ink pen points were 1 cent apiece. The older boy, Denny, has treasured memories of working there after school for 5 or 6 years, starting out by scraping chewing gum off the floor and getting paid $.35/hour.
We all attended Holy Family School, which was taught by the Sisters of Mercy. Some of the Sisters that we remember are Sister Mary Gerald, Sister Mary Gaudentia, Sr. Mary Dionysia, Sr. Mary Florence, Sr. Mary Antoinina Sr. Mary Alfonsis, Sr. Mary Lucy, Sr. Mary Isadore, Sr. Mary Rose, Sr. Mary Judith, Sr. Mary Roseanne, Sr. Mary Ada, Sr. Mary Eileen, Sr. Mary Michelle, Sr. Mary Michael, Sr. Mary Caritas, Sr. Mary Nolasco, Sr. Mary Caritas, Sr. Mary Verena, Sr. Mary Jeanne Marie, Sr. Mary Anne Marie, Sr. Mary Dorothy and Sr. Mary Clements. We also remember some of the lay teachers Miss Leight, Miss Evans, and Mrs. Summers. We have fond memories of the priests that helped form are spiritual development. They include Msgr. Nash, Father Walker, Father McCormick, Father Brennen, Father Hogan and Father Schwab.
In the early years we did not have a television nor knew about them. It seemed like a strange concept when we first became aware of them. It was something like a radio. but if you looked at it you could see the people doing the talking! How could that be? The radio, back then was our center of entertainment. Big Roess would gather us around the Crosley radio sitting on top of the builtin bookcase/room divider in the living room. We would listen to the thrilling adventures of the Lone Ranger and Sergeant Preston of the Yukon. On Sunday afternoons we would listen to mystery shows like The Shadow and The Green Hornet. Alternating with these radio programs Big Roess would be in his easy chair reading the sports section of the newspaper while we were engrossed in the hijinks of the KatzenJammer Kids, Lil Abner, Bringing up Father and Dagwood.
Another form of family entertainment was around the dinner table each weekday. Big Roess would relate the exploits of fascinating characters at his job as public health engineer. There was Mike (stinky) Stankowich, Dr Mosier, Herb Neborgal, Sam, Vince, Fred, Mel and a host of other players. We would sit there enthralled, hanging on every word and asking for more.
When we did get a TV set, it was tuned to channel 4 every weekday at 5:30 pm for the Howdy Doody show. "Hey kids, what time is it?". Before the show, we would watch Cecil and Beanie, Mike Miriam and Buttons or old-time cartoons, depending on what they programed a particular year. After Howdy Dowdy, we would attempt to watch Hopalong Cassidy to the inevitable sound "It's supper time - get in here right away - Now!". After supper, Big Roess and mom would join us to watch Kukla, Fran and Ollie - with the commercial "Get the best, get the best, get Sealtest!"
Almost ever Sunday, Big Roess would load us up into the old Pontiac or one of the subsequent Ford's for a picnic, a day at the beach, a Sunday ride in the country or a trip to Gramma's in Bradford. One of our favorite beaches was Sunset Bay. Besides a beautiful beach on the shores of Lake Erie it had an arcade and a merry-go-round, which we all loved. They charged admission to use the beach and bathhouse, but we all changed into our swimming suits in the car with towels draped over the windows and would then sneak onto the beach without paying. Big Roess made it a point to teach us to swim. When each us was quite young, he would support us at the surface and tell us how to kick our legs and crawl with our arms. We each learned to swim quite well because of him. We would like to gang up on him and dunk his head under water. He usually got the best us however, sometimes using the ploy that he had a bum back and we should therefore go easy on him. After swimming we played the arcade games. For a nickel we could play Pokerino - a game machine in which you roll five balls toward an array of holes marked with cards from nine to ace. Three of a kind would win the prize of a ride on the merry-go-round. More valuable prizes were given for higher rank hands.
For picnics we would go to Chestnut Ridge or Emory Park. We would go exploring on trails along a creek while Big Roess would burn hotdogs on the grill, which is the way we all liked them. Mom would always admonish us not to fall into the creek or get Poison Ivy. Big Roess never seemed to care.
The trip to Gramma's was relatively short, 75 miles and lasting about 2 hours, but we all thought it was never ending and reacted to it as a major ordeal. There was always a contest to get a window seat. Of course two people would always be stuck in the middle - usually the two youngest. The middle seat, whether front or back, was especially uncomfortable because of the transmission hump in rear-wheel drive cars. We would also compete for the choice of radio station, which usually wound up being WKBW anyways. WKBW supposedly was a 50,000 watt station but probably was much higher because it seemed to overpower every other station on our old tube radio in the car.
After tiring of listening to the radio, we would start to act up. Big Rôss would always bribed us into behaving by promising an ice cream cone when we hit Springville if we were good. As soon as the ice cream was eaten, we raised hell again. Big Roess would suggest we play a game of either cows or letters to placate us. Cows would involve dividing us into two teams one for each side of the car. Each team would count the cows they spotted on their side of the road. Horses counted for 4 cows. A cemetery would force you to bury all your cows and you had to start over. The first team to reach a hundred won. Letters was an equally fun game. Again two teams would compete to go thru the alphabet by finding each letter on a sign on their side of the road. Since Q and Z are relatively rare the signs advertising Quaker State and Pennzoil were welcome when we approached Pennsylvania. We often argued whether the sign marking a railroad crossing should be counted as an X because of its shape. Big Roess would often quip that a sign advertising eggs should count as X. After we tired of these games, each of us would take turns asking, "Are we there yet?" or "how much farther now?". Our impatience would always be relieved when entering Bradford, Big Roess would point to large containers of oil and ask what are those called. When we chimed "tanks", he would hilariously respond, "you're welcome!". That always cracked us up.?