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September 16, 2011     Post-Gazette
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September 16, 2011

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POST-GAZETTE, SEPTEMBER 16,2011 Page 13 00an/2a 00Babb00fnonno by John Christoforo A Nostalgic Remembrance It was September of 1953, and I was ready to start high school. That June, I had graduated from the Joseph H. Barnes Junior High School and wanted to head to East Boston High School with my friends. We lived within walking distance from both schools, and knowing that Dad had taught at Eastie during WWlI, I thought I would have it made. Dad didn't want me to attend the local high school. He thought it would be best if I headed to an in-town school and got away from my friends, so he gave me three choices: Boston Latin, Boston English or death after severe torture. Death seemed too permanent and I had a cousin who attended Latin, but he was the type I classi- fied as someone who wears earmuffs in the summer, and I didn't want to be associated with him. So, English High won out. There were a couple of Eutaw Street kids who were at English and told me about the school. I knew that everyone had to take an entrance exam for Latin, but each candidate for English was interviewed personally. The legendary football coach, Bill Stuart, was my inter- viewer, and I made it. See- ing I had graduated a three year junior high school meant that I would start English as a sophomore. I was happy, Dad was thrilled, Morn started planning menus so I could brown bag it and not eat school food, and Babbononno wondered why I wasn't taking a shop program to learn, a trade. That September, after we returned from Maine, Dad sat me down to discuss heading to an in-town school. The in- town schools attracted kids from all over the city, where the neighborhood or compre- hensive high schools were for boys and girls from just that part of the city. Dad told me that I would meet young men (English was an all boys school back then) that were different than I ethnically and racially. He added that they were no better nor infe- rior to me, just different. Growing up in East Boston, I was accustomed to living with Italian and Irish people but had been exposed to all other nationalities due to Dad being a musician and my getting to know many of his union friends. When I left for English High on the first day of school, Babbononno made sure that my necktie was knotted just right and that my shoes were spit-shined. Mom had made me a brown bag lunch that contained two sandwiches composed of scali bread and Italian cold cuts, accompa- nied by a banana and a nap- kin. Nanna made sure I had a medal around my neck for protection, and Dad told me he would drop me off on his way to work. I was all set to start my high school career. Back then, English High was located in Boston's South End. It was a giant sized building that had seen bet- ter days decades before the 1950s. As I entered, I noticed portraits of the head masters hanging on the walls on the first floor. English High was, and still is, America's oldest public high school. It was opened in 1821 and was free for boys who lived in the city. Boston Latin went back to the 1630s, but was not just a high school and may not have been free, I'm not sure. Once we were herded into the assembly hall, all of this was explained by the head mas- ter who greeted all of us new comers. While Mr. Conway, the head master, told us about all of the famous people who were English High grads, I looked around at the incom- ing 9 a and 10 u graders and the assembly looked like a meeting of the united na- tions. I saw white boys that looked like me and others that were a foot taller with blond hair and blue eyes. I saw Asians in great numbers and other boys who were brown skinned from light tan to dark coffee shades. I was fascinated beyond belief. I said to myself, "This is the real world." After the headmaster fin- ished, all of our names were called out and we were assigned to rooms to fill out registration and sched- ule cards. Fortunately, I ran into several friends from East Boston and the North End who also chose English High. One was a young man named John Penta. John later would become famous for his research surrounding cancer and I believe nomi- nated for a Nobel Prize a few years back. John and I had attended the Barnes together and tried to stay to- gether but discovered home room assignments were set up alphabetically and C and P are pretty far apart. Well, those first few weeks at English were hectic. Get- ting indoctrinated into a new culture was certainly differ- ent. I met young men with -- FOR YOU WHO APPRECIATE THE FINEST -- THE MUSIC FOR ALL OCCASIONS 781-648-5678 last names like D'Avolio, Aiello, Quercia, Capone, Bartollini, Schettino and Valenti, all of whom looked like me and were from either Eastie or the North End. i became friendly with others with names like Sheehan, Fitzgerald and Callahan from places like Jamaica Plain, Charlestown and South Bos- ton. I met kids with names like Goon, Chau, Moi and Wong, all from Chinatown. And, there were the Arabs, Greeks and Armenians from the South End and the blacks from Roxbury and Dorchester. From places like Brighton, Allston, Dorchester and Mattapan came young men with Jewish names. I think we all looked at each other with fascination won- dering who and what we were. I know that many of them were told about the different nationalities they would run into and how to be prepared, just in case. At a reunion din- ner not too long ago, a class- mate who is black asked me if anyone spoke to me about the international environ- ment I would run into going to an in-town school. I asked what he meant and he de- scribed a sit down he had with his father. My friend's Dad told him that he would meet a lot of white boys at the new school. His knowledge of their ethnic backgrounds was accompanied by fears and the way he explained things was, "You will meet some Jewish boys. They are OK. You will meet some Irish boys, but be careful; they might want to beat you up. But, be careful of those Ital- ian boys; they could kill you." My friend stated that when he arrived at the school for the first time, he didn't know who was who and was scared to talk to anyone who was white. We both laughed at this, but I wondered later about similar conversations be- tween parents and sons warning them about other ethnic or racial types they would run into at English High. The ironic part of this is that many of the names I've mentioned and I have remained friends over the years and come this October, we will be getting together for our 55 a reunion. Most are retired and stay at home to babysit their grandchildren. I guess, getting started late, puts me in a different cat- egory. Loretta is 12 years younger than I, and we don't have any grand children yet. My closest friends, Dean Saluti and John Silva, are 10 years my junior and they keep me young. At my age, I'm down to 4 jobs. I teach at three colleges and write this column faithfully each week as I've done for 20 years. Acting and music seem to be part of the past, but that's OK. It's time to go, and I hope you all remem- bered 9/11 and may I add, GOD BLESS AMERICA. The Socially Set (Continued from Page 9) Barbara and Robert DeGregorio at the Nichols House Museum Annual Gala held at the Boston Athenaeum. (Photo by Roger Farrington) We share some photos taken at the festive Annual Gala held at the Boston Athenaeum. A Book Launch and Cham- pagne Reception will take place on Monday, October 17. Titled At Home on Beacon Hill: Rose Standish Nichols and Her Family, the book commemorates the 50 th Anniversary of the museum. The Nichols House Museum is located at 55 Mount Vernon Street. For more information, call 617-227-6993 or visit www. nichols housemuseurru org. Enjoy! (Be sure to visit Hilda Morrill's gardening website, In addition to events covered and reported by the columnist, "The Socially Set" is compiled from various other sources such as news and press re- leases, PRNewswire services, etc.) Irene Wiedman, left, and event co-chair Lee Doyle smile for the camera at the Nichols House Museum Annual Gala held at the Boston Athenaeum. (Photo by Roger Farrington) K J Me h Fullylnsured Lic #017936 anical Heating & Air Conditioning Sales, Service & Installation Ken Shallow 617.593.6211 kenskjs @