By BRUCE FRASSINELLI
(Editor's Note: Bob Urban, whose column normally runs in this space, is out looking for a Mother's Day gift for his wife, Mary. Substituting today is Bruce Frassinelli, a Summt Hill native and life-long journalist).
Several of my grandchildren will dutifully sit and listen to me reflect on highlights of my childhood. I am realistic enough to know that, given the prism of time, some of what we recall from the "good old days" was never as spectacular as we have enshrined it in our mind's eye.
My wife, Marie, recalls the Wednesday night dances in her hometown Nesquehoning as if they were the social events of the year. I similarly remember mine in Summit Hill on Friday nights at the St. Joseph's church school auditorium/basketball court when I would dress up in my black pegged pants, pink shirt, black tie and white bucks.
One of the most vivid memories of the Summit Hill dances had nothing to do with dancing. The young assistant parish priest would work the room to find out what was going on in our lives. On more than one occasion, he would slap around one of my boyhood friends, Frank Santo, when he found out that he was going steady with a Protestant girl. Times have changed, thank goodness.
There are, however, some very special memories based on one-of-a-kind events that only a select few enjoyed, mostly by fate.
It was a hot, sunny September day in 1948, just before I started fourth grade, when I made my one and only visit to the Peanut Gallery on the nationally broadcast Howdy Doody TV Show on NBC in New York City.
Presided over by a middle-aged, former radio broadcaster in buckskin – "Buffalo Bob" Smith (the "Buffalo" was not because of the "where the buffalo roam" variety, but because Smith was a native of Buffalo, N.Y.) – the show became a spectacular hit and eventual cultural phenomenon.
Howdy Doody was the freckle-faced marionette, which captivated the imagination of my generation of kids every weekday afternoon.
It's Howdy Doody time,
It's Howdy Doody time.
Bob Smith and Howdy, too,
Say Howdy-do to you.
Let's give a rousing cheer,
For Howdy Doody's here.
It's time to start the show;
So, kids, let's go!
Singing at the top of my lungs, I couldn't believe that I was actually in the Peanut Gallery with dozens of other, similarly wide-eyed youngsters welcoming Howdy and the whole Doodyville gang.
My mom's brother – my uncle Zeno – who lived in Astoria, Queens, owned and drove his own taxicab. He thought I might like to sit in the Peanut Gallery every kid's dream back then.
I don't know what strings he was able to pull (pun intended), but the demand for tickets was so great that the wait could have outlived the show, which stayed on the air for 13 years (1947-1960). My mom told me later that Uncle Zeno would take TV executives to NBC in his cab, and he got the tickets for my mom and me from one of them.
In addition to Howdy, I loved Clarabell the Clown (played by Bob Keeshan, who went on to star in his own series, Captain Kangaroo), Mr. Bluster, Dilly Dally, the lovely Princess Summerfall Winterspring, and, of course, "Buffalo Bob" Smith, who died in 1998 at the age of 80.
During the warm-up, before the show went on the air live, Buffalo Bob came over to the Peanut Gallery, and we all went crazy, yelling and clapping and calling out to him: "Buffalo Bob, where's Howdy?"
Buffalo Bob, who was Howdy's voice, put his finger to his lips, and we immediately quieted down. "You'll have to promise me you'll be good," he said. "Will you?" Buffalo Bob asked. "Yes," we screamed in unison.
The show itself is pretty much of a blur, but I remember being accidentally squirted with some water from Clarabell's seltzer bottle – one of the show's running gags – but I certainly didn't mind. Clarabell never talked; he would sound his bicycle horn to respond to questions.
When the show was over, Buffalo Bob told us how well-behaved we were.
We all received a signed picture of Howdy and Buffalo Bob. It, along with my baseball cards, marbles and other childhood memorabilia, was condemned to my irate mom's trash heap one day after repeatedly warning me not to leave "this junk" all over my bedroom.