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Dave Komarnicki

Komarnicki's Korner - Page 2

Dave Komarnicki's Recollections of Growing Up in Chester

There's no running away from some memories
Positive News from Chester | Komarnicki Family Portrait
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"I still love beginnings, but I'm still puzzled by some endings." There's no running away from some memories

By DAVE KOMARNICKI, Daily Times Community Adviser, August 9, 2001

With a clenched fist of rolled nickels, I plastered my nose to the Kinney's Shoe Store window, gawking like a one-eyed cat at a seafood store at the white, ankle-high, Joe Lapchick-signatured Converse sneakers on display. I entered the store like a phantom, slid into a seat, plopped my left foot down on the patented Brannock shoe-measuring device and ordered, "6, the Joe Lapchicks in the window," before the salesman could saddle his bench.

He returned promptly with the coveted prize, shoehorn at the ready, but I waved away his assistance and had both shoes unboxed and laced on my feet before you could say Jesse Owens. I walked to the floor mirror on cushioned air, feeling I could catapult to the ceiling with a flick of my toes. Handing over the rolled nickels and not bothering to wait for my two cents change, I hustled home, breaking in my new footgear on the way.I carefully hid the Lapchicks in the closet, already anticipating my run to Smedley Junior High the next morning.

I fared well that evening on my newspaper route, making enough nickels and dimes to recoup half the cost of the sneakers plus the price of two Texas hot dogs for the walk home and, as a gift for Mom, a hand-packed pint of Breyer's peach from Charlie Peck's Ice Cream Emporium. When darkness fell, the urge to bed down in my Joe Lapchicks was too strong to resist, and my memory still holds crystal images from that night's dreams where I leapt 30-foot chasms and broke Olympic dash records.

The next day, after a bowl of Wheaties and morning ablutions with toothbrush and comb, I barreled out of the back door, shot up the dog-legged alley (Deshong Street), cut across the dirt playground of my recent alma mater (Larkin Grammar), crossed Ninth Street traffic like a fate-tempting bullfighter, and even shouted "So's your old man!" to an irate driver who almost bumpered me to Chester Hospital. Tagging the telephone pole at Ninth and Madison, I breezed by Haas Bakery, inhaling the nose-quivering aroma of cinnamon doughnuts. I acknowledged my birthplace on 10th Street with a quick salute; zipped past 11th Street, and - ignoring the "Stop, Look and Listen" sign - ducked around the traffic gate that had descended on the B & O at 12th Street and leapt the tracks in full view of the hawk-eyed gatekeeper whose Irish ire would gladly send me to Glen Mills Reformatory.

After five blocks of swallowing gleeful windswept laughter, I assumed proper deportment as I mounted the rear steps to Smedley Junior High. Just as the metal doors closed behind me, I heard the tardy bell ring and Miss Eaches' insinuating voice chime, "You ended your tardy streak today, Davey. Pray tell, what's your secret?"

Resisting my penchant to trade folly for folly, I kept silent and floated to my desk, third seat window row. I responded only to the beatific eyes and disarming smile of Betty Sheaffer, who sat across the aisle. I wanted to slouch low in my seat, flaunt my first-ever Joe Lapchick sneakers, and tell Betty in a whisper why I wasn't late today. I wanted to watch her with peripheral vision all through homeroom period and listen to her gentle voice as she saluted the flag. I wanted to do things to make her cup her laughter in her hand, get her to look my way and with her smile release the caves of butterflies fluttering in my stomach.

But Betty was not at her desk today, and, after the flag salute, Miss Eaches cautiously announced that Betty was hospitalized with rheumatic fever.

The weekend was crammed with allurements only Chester could conjure: A trip to River View Beach on the Wilson Line; a double "cowboy" feature at the Washington Theatre; swimming/basketball/ping pong/pool at the downtown Y; pick-up games at Deshong Park.

The spring of 1942 was reluctantly closing as my life was beginning to open.

Monday came, bringing with it the last-minute, beat-the-tardy-bell rush to Smedley. As I raced down the streets in my still-new Lapchicks, I blurred the vision of all I passed. Entering the room, I was bursting to share things I saw and felt, but Betty's seat was empty. After the flag salute, Miss Eaches tearfully announced that Betty had died on Sunday of heart fever.

As a class, we attended her funeral the next day. She was dressed in pink and seemed to float as I choked on warm tears. It was two weeks until school ended for the summer. I no longer ran to school, was late every day, and always stared out of the window until the bell rang, just so that I wouldn't see that one empty seat.

I still love beginnings, but I'm still puzzled by some endings.

2001 David Komarnicki, all rights reserved.

"The winds of change are blowing below I-95. Those in charge of Chester today are small on talk and large on action, and a new theme song has emerged. Being a product of the war years, I like the lyrics: "Accentuate the positive, eliminate the negative." Letters: Positive news from Chester

March 05, 2002

To the Times:

In the mid-1940s, Chester City rotated on an axis of economic prosperity. Money flowed like spring water from the subterranean streams of Sun Ship, Sun Oil, Scott Paper, Viscose, Congoleum, Baldwin Locomotive, Westinghouse, and Ford Motors.
Every Friday night, Edgmont and Market streets were filled with a parading populace eager to exchange cash for dreams. Money gushed geyser-like from wallet and purse in exchange for entertainment, food, clothing and all available fineries of life. A positive, vibrant, Norman Rockwell attitude prevailed. Jimmy Stewart and Donna Reed could have filmed "It's a Wonderful Life" in Chester.

By the 1970s, Chester was one of the most depressed cities in America. The factories and plants were dead or dying, and Jimmy and Donna had moved to the suburbs. Crime and poverty were rampant.

Local historians and old-timers continue to debate the pivotal reasons for Chester's gradual decline, but fortunately the current government is more interested in the future than the past. The winds of change are blowing below I-95. Those in charge of Chester today are small on talk and large on action, and a new theme song has emerged. Being a product of the war years, I like the lyrics: "Accentuate the positive, eliminate the negative ..

Mayor Pileggi and his team are orchestrating the song, and it was enough to convince me to move out of the suburbs two years ago and back into Chester City, where I could become part of the positive wind of change.


2002 David Komarnicki, all rights reserved.

"How I wish, at times like these, that I could dig deep like a sand crab and lose myself, in what once was, in order that I might focus better on what is now. For if what was then is so beautiful to me now, what should I be doing to focus clearly the pictures my mind is taking in the present so that I may preserve them for the winters of my days to come?" Komarnicki Family Portrait

To my family--

We act within a measurable point in time. In acting, we reflect upon what once was ... or rather what seemed to have been. For the recalling of times gone by is infused with emotions, and the emotions somehow alter the reality of what actually happened.

My sense of the past, as it relates to family, is nostalgic and admittedly romanticized. The actual pain in growing physically, mentally, and emotionally during the tortuous decade of the thirties has been obliterated by the pleasures of living through it surrounded by the warm patchwork quilt of family. On the wall before me now, a sepia-toned 11 x 14 photograph of the Komarnicki clan breathes life into this lonely room. The taking of that photograph turned out to be a history- making moment, for never before or since did we gather together for any one occasion so well-dressed, unified in smiles and frozen for all time by the deft hand of Kolasinski the photographer.

The Komarnicki Family; Photo courtesy of Dave Komarnicki
Standing (left to right): David, George, Joe, Mickey, John, Danny, Paul
Seated (left to right): Vickie, Anna, Jim, Joseph, Mary

Thirty years have passed since that day, and I praise the name of Joseph, our Pop, who organized his offspring, sheep-dogged us onto a bus, and delivered us all to our South Chester destination. How could it have been known that Pop's primeval urge to photographically record us all together would someday provide so much spirit-satisfying pleasure to each of us?

Like rivers diverging from a central source, the lines of our lives have gone in many directions since then, but that central source continues to unify us. Each of us, I am sure, when reflecting on that moment we posed as Family and when chronicling the years of happiness since, will confess that we owe whatever we have today to the single-minded purpose of our father and mother. Mom and Pop were as powerful as the unifying essence of the atom, the nucleus around which it revolves and without which it would explode. Because of them, life had substance during those bleak days labeled "Depression, " and their unifying spirit has given substance to our lives ever since. Perhaps it was the day that Kolasinski snapped his photograph that I realized that the meaning of the word "I " was part of a larger "we ". . . and "we " was labeled "Komarnicki. To own that name, to wear that badge, during that time, in that place, was good - as good as any feeling worth recording. To come home was to come out of the cold, away from the heterogeneous masses into the smaller mass of family - as inviting to me as the winter den of a bear as he settles into winter hibernation.

I would dig a ditch or work a jack hammer for a week if I could feel again the warmth of the extra coat Mom gently laid over me to hold in my body heat on cold, skin-flaking winter nights. I would swim Crum Creek with feet tied if I could hear again the dialogue of mom and Pop talking room-to-room in Ukrainian.

Filet mignon is tasteless when compared to memory's version of Mom's left-over offerings; Ben & Jerry's pales next to Pop's occasional gift of a Breyer's hand-packed quart carried home from Charlie Peck's store.

In those germinal days of growing up in our overcrowded homes, life always seemed to be an awakening to firsts, to discovery, to anticipation, to a daily wrestling match with raw elements. Meaning in all of its earthly forms was present.

How I wish, at times like these, that I could dig deep like a sand crab and lose myself, in what once was, in order that I might focus better on what is now. For if what was then is so beautiful to me now, what should I be doing to focus clearly the pictures my mind is taking in the present so that I may preserve them for the winters of my days to come?

David Komarnicki
(written in 1975, with minor alteration in 1999)


1975 & 1999 David Komarnicki, all rights reserved.

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2002 John A. Bullock III.

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