by Bob Stonehill
My years in Sunnyside (1940-1963) before I married and settled down in Jackson Heights were for the most part free of conflict or skirmishes with other kids. Here is one of the few incidents which remains in my memory.
On Halloween, a small group of boys used to come out on the street with socks filled with flour to wield them as weapons. I don't recall any of my buddies participating, but if they did, they did not use these long rock-hard socks as with a vengeance. I do recall one incident, indelible in my mind, of one Halloween when an interloper stormed onto our street swinging with all his might. Over the next 30 years, I would blurt out the name of the one and only assailant who terrorized me, “Dickie Bell,” an otherwise unknown character who came over from 47th Street.
Each weekend, Dickie would ride his bike through the alley alongside my house (“my alley”) on his way to Torsney Park on 43rd Street. On his bike, he carried a baseball glove, a bat, and a radio strapped to the handle bars, the radio incongruously blaring the sounds of the Metropolitan Opera. The sensitivity and sophistication of an opera lover was in sharp contrast with the Dickie Bell I knew. “What a show-off,” I thought.
One day, after 30+ years of recounting this Halloween story of terror, my wife Helene and I were turning the corner from our apartment onto 72nd Street when, lo and behold, there was Dickie Bell in the flesh - his blond hair flowing - helping to carry a piece of furniture into a row house. I stopped in my tracks, and yelled out his name, recalling a scene from “The Last of The Mohicans,” where a challenge is called out to one of the Indians. Of course, I had no real thoughts of challenging Dickie. I just wanted to get his attention before he disappeared in the doorway. I asked, "Do you know who I am?" He turned to acknowledge me, and said, "I know you. You're the guy I used to beat up."
I was devastated that this was how he remembered me. Was it possible that he was so proud of his dominance that he would say that to anyone in his past, or did he really remember Bobby Stonehill from 46th Street? All these years, I had been sure that my reactive rage had been improperly placed. Being such a non-violent kid, I had convinced myself that my memory had exaggerated his attacks. After all, it wasn't as if he had injured or even bruised me. Now, hearing the words from his lips, I knew that my original feelings had been spot on. Now, the thought that to this day he remembered me as his victim really infuriated me. The name, Dickie Bell, cannot be forgotten.