Thursday, May 31, 2007

Stories from a Kensington Childhood

The boys from Windsor Terrace were tougher than us. With names like Jimbo Drudy, Bobby O’Shaughnessy and the dreaded Billy Powell, we had to watch our backs. Of course we saw them in church on a Saturday night or Sunday morning, but no words were ever exchanged. Just cold stares. The stories about the Irish boys up the hill were never good. And Greenwood Park? Well, you just better stay away from it if you knew what was good for you.

Now back in the late 60’s and early 70’s there was a roller hockey league at East 5th street and Ft. Hamilton playground. Most of the boys who played there were from Windsor Terrace. Sometimes after church on a Sunday morning me and the guys would watch a game from behind the fence near the Prospect Expressway. A lot of red hair and short tempers under those helmets we thought. The games were played in the coldest of weather too. With red faces bellowing puffs of white smoke my feet were cold and my hands numb clutching the hurricane fence. But somehow the sound of the steel wheels scraping rough concrete made a new music I had to learn. I wanted to play this game too.

Learning to skate at twelve was not very easy. And you had to make sure there were enough cars parked on your block to hold on to while you learned. Always making sure there were no cars crossing either since who knew where your heads going to land when you hit the ground. But not long after the first box of band aids was gone and my black and blues healed I soon found myself gliding down the pavement. No longer looking for a Caddilac fin to hold on to!

The games played on East 4th were hard fought, we used car doors to bank pucks off, body checked each other into Plymouth Duster hoods, broke taillights,windshields, mirrors and sometimes house windows. Yes,we were soon becoming a menace to the block. One day as we were skating on the street we saw two figures fast approaching us from way up East 4th. One, quite big, wearing a green and white hockey jersey and the other, kind of skinny, wearing a NY Rangers jersey. They had Hockey sticks in their hands and were fully dressed in hockey gear. They even hadreal hockey gloves. They were Windsor Terrace Boys!

As the figures became closer and crossed Beverly we stood our ground. Two of them and five of us, no need to retreat. The big one stopped right by our net, “hey where’s the puck?” Nunzio, one of our boys, skated and fished it out passing it to the this big kid with sandy blond hair. With a lighting like move and a snap off the stick the kid with the green and white jersey snapped the puck right through the netting. The puck left a black mark on a car trunk behind it. He looked at us and with a sheepish grin said “oh gez, sorry”. The skinny one with the Rangers jersey took a similar shot into our net, but this time the puck hit the netting and fell harmlessly inside the goal. “What the hell you guys playing here for? Why don’t you join the league down at Ave F?" "Playing on the streets is for kids” said the big one. “Here take this” the big one handed my cousin Pete a flyer, it said “70th pct. roller hockey league has moved to Ave F park.” “Thanks” said Pete. As the two players skated down East 4th towards Avenue C we read the backs of their jerseys..........O’Shaughnessy and Drudy.

The rest is just history and I played at Avenue F for years. O’Shaughnessy was my teammate on Ryans Northstars and Jimbo played with my cousin Pete forthe Terrace Cafe Rangers. We formed wonderful friendships with the Boys from Windsor Terrace and even cried together the day we heard Billy Powell was killed by a car on the way to a game by Prospect Park back in '71. Two years ago we had a 30th year reunion at The Billy Powell Memorial Rink. Many of the Windsor Terrace boys were there including Jimbo Drudy and RobertO’Shaughnessy. It was a wonderful experience seeing the guys after 30 years of going our separate ways. Our worries about mortgages, bills, and our children’s future left our minds that day. It was just like 1975 and we were still playing the sport we loved so much as kids growing up in Kensington and Windsor Terrace. After the game we all met at the “Gallery” a local watering hole under the El on McDonald Avenue where our coaches usually drank after the game back in the day.

Phone numbers and e-mail addresses were exchanged and promises to “keep in touch” rang in the air like the bells of Immaculate Heart of Mary on a Sunday morning. Outside the Gallery I made sure to give O’Shaughnessy a big hug before I left. As we said our goodbyes we both had tears in our eyes. I guess not seeing a friend for 30 years can do that to someone and saying goodbye even more. Walking away from the Gallery and all my old friends was hard. But the glory days of 1975 and our youth still remained in an old bar for a few more hours that day in old photos and stories. But as they say, every beginning must have an end. And when the Galleries metal gate came down that night, the Windsor Terrace Boys were just a memory once again.

Ron Lopez