Hamden Daily News - Your hometown cyberpaper
Hamden Weather
What We Are | Inside Hamden | Letters to the Editor | HDN Contact Info | Archives | Send Us Money
Search the HDN
Click here for
2007 Municipal Election Results

Inside the HDN
General News
Town Government
In Your 'hood
A Chat in Hamden
Kids' News
Mark Your Calendar
Press Releases

Highville Charter School Story
Part 1
Part 2
Part 3

At Least Think About This New
The Dunbar Hill Report
Guest Column
HHS Newsroom
My Word
Ron Responds
Tony Talks Sports
Victual Reality New
Whitneyville Before Elvis

Neighborhood News
Mount Carmel Buzz
Wanna be a neighborhood columnist? Please click here.

Special Sections
Hamden Milestones
Hamden Landmark Tales
Hamden's 70th Memorial Day Parade
Scenes from Summer Camp
The Angels of Martyrdom,
a novella by Hamden High senior David Amrani

The 7th Annual Brooksvale Fall Festival
Maple Sugaring at Brooksvale
Inside Hamden's Farmers Market
Hamden Snapshots, 2007

Town Stats
Local Obits
Bad Boys, Bad Girls 2008
Red Hot Calls 2008

Local Politics
Legislative Council '07-'09
LC Committees '07-'09
Board of Education '07-'09
BOE Committees '07-'09
Hamden Democratic Town Committee '08-'10
Hamden Republican Town Committee '08-'10
Hamden Green Party

Local Sports Links
Hamden High Cheerleaders
Hamden Hurricanes
Hamden Fathers' Baseball/Softball

Hamden Fathers' Basketball
Hamden Youth Lacrosse
Hamden Youth Hockey Assoc.
Hamden Figure Skating Assoc.
Hamden Soccer Assoc.
Greater Hamden Baseball Assoc.
Hamden Heronettes Synchronized Swimming

Town Links
The Mayor
Town Clerk
Town Hall Departments
School Superintendent
School Department

Hamden Police Department
Hamden Professional Firefighters
Hamden Arts Commission
Hamden Public Library
Hamden Dog Park
Elections & Registrars


Hamden State Reps.
Peter Villano
Brendan Sharkey
Cameron Staples
Alfred Adinolfi

Hamden State Senators
Martin Looney
Joseph Crisco

Interesting Links
Vision Appraisal, Hamden
Concerned Citizens for Hamden Neighborhoods
Hamden Alliance for Responsible Taxation
Hamden Tax Relief
Hamden: Nobody Gets Out Alive
Hamden High Student Web Site
DEP Newhall Community Blog
Newhall Project Remediation
The Cheshire Town Post
Underground Town Hall
New Haven Independent
My Left Nutmeg
Connecticut Local Politics
Colin McEnroe, To Wit
Kent Tribune
The Huffington Post
Drudge Report

Yale Rep
Long Wharf Theatre
Shubert Theater

U.S. Veterans Affairs

Whitneyville Before Elvis

June 21, 2008

The Slap in the Face

By Raymond K. Johnson

My mother was a stickler for good English. When Louise, Lee and I were in grade school many of our evenings were spent with Mom sitting in a chair directly in front of us using flashcards to teach grammar and spelling. For me it was like having an appendectomy without benefit of anesthesia.

Mom knew early on that I was going to need all the help I could get in later years when trying to explain my way out of trouble. Dad didn’t go as far as using flashcards but was quick to correct all three of us -- in mid-sentence -- “It’s ‘he and I,’ not ‘him and me.’” For better or for worse, most of the lessons sunk in; even today I can’t quote the rule for a certain way to say something, but my ears will let me know when something doesn’t sound right.

Mom also delighted in telling visitors stories about things we did when we were little. A couple of them involved me. Maybe these incidents in particular led her to believe I was going to need those speaking skills.

The first story Mom would tell was about the time I ran away.

I was about 4 years old the first time I decided to go off on my own to see the world. The way she told it there was some disagreement between my parents and me and I had made up my mind to run away. I was going to be “a hobo” was what I told Mom and Dad. Neither she nor Dad could ever explain where the “hobo” thing came from. Mom thought it was a great idea and even helped me get my things together.

First I would need a long stick. Then I was going to need a pillowcase to wrap all my clothes in; it would be tied to the end of the stick. That sounded good to me so Mom and I got all the things I was going to need while I was on the road. Clean underwear was the first thing on the list. Socks, a clean shirt, bar of soap and some cookies filled the pillowcase and then she tied it to the end of the stick.

Dad sat on the couch taking it all in and never said a word. I was all ready to leave when Dad finally came up with one more suggestion. I needed an American flag on the stick. After all, it was World War II and even hobos were patriotic. He got a small flag and attached it to the end of the stick and off I went down Francis Avenue, past Yolanda’s house and Kenny DeMaio’s house to the corner of Putnam Avenue. I turned and headed down Putnam towards Paramount Avenue.

Mom, Dad and Yolanda followed at a respectful distance. Some neighbors had seen me march by with my stick, pillowcase and flag and joined the group following me. When I got to Paramount Avenue I turned and walked to Violet Street, turned again and walked down to Francis Avenue. I was back home.

Twenty minutes had gone by. My Mom and Dad and several of the neighbors were just a few paces behind me. Mom asked me why I had come home so soon. I told her I was hungry.

The second story involved my refusal to speak -- to anyone. I did not “play well with others” when I was little. The way Mom told it, the first thing we did in school every day was to stand up, face the flag, place our hands over our hearts and recite the Pledge of Allegiance. I refused to do it. My teacher could not get me to say it and eventually I refused to speak at all. Mom received a note from my teacher indicating this fact and that much improvement was needed on my part.

Mom was not one to beat around the bush. In her own words, “I picked him up and sat him down on the cedar chest in the upstairs bedroom. I said, ‘Speak.’ He sat there mute. I said ‘speak’ again and again and he sat there silent. I looked him straight in the eye and slapped his face and said ‘speak’ a third time -- and he started to talk and hasn’t stopped talking since.’”

I probably heard that story a hundred times over the years and always thought she made the whole thing up. But in October of 2007 I found evidence that my refusal to speak was a reality.

I was going back to Hamden for my 50th high school reunion and would be meeting with several of my friends who had gone all the way from kindergarten through high school together. I was going through a box of old photos and ran across an envelope that had my name on it. I opened it and found all my report cards from kindergarten through the eighth grade. My kindergarten report card contained a note in the remarks column that Miss Pedersen had written to my parents: “Raymond must learn to take criticism and help in a much better manner. His present reaction, that of complete silence, is not satisfactory for his social growth.” In June she wrote, “Raymond has improved considerably.”

The second note was, I am sure, a result of the slap in the face. Until I saw that report card I never knew the name of the teacher who sent the note.

I took the report card with me to Connecticut and on Oct. 5, seven of my friends from kindergarten and I met in our original classroom at Putnam Avenue -- with our kindergarten teacher, Miss Lenore Pedersen. And I told them all the story my mother had told so many times. And I offered up my report card as proof of the event. Miss Pedersen apologized for my getting slapped in the face but did note that it seemed to have worked out for the better.

Raymond K. Johnson grew up Hamden and graduated Hamden High School in 1957. Two years later he enlisted in the Marine Corps, from which he retired in 1979. He now lives in Oceanside, Calif., with his wife, Kay. He is penning his memories of growing up in Whitneyville in this column. Johnson can be reached at rkjohnson1@cox.net.

May 27, 2008

The Monrad Sisters

By Raymond K. Johnson

A recent e-mail in response to one of my stories asked the question: “Did you ever do anything when you were young that you wish you hadn’t?” I’m glad the writer didn’t ask me to make a list.

There was one time, I was about 9, that I can remember thinking, “I wish I hadn’t done that.”

Emily and Anna Monrad lived at 166 Putnam Ave. It was the big white house on the northeast corner of Putnam and Francis avenues. Their back yard was surrounded by bushes and at the back end of the property was a small orchard consisting of four or five crabapple trees. I loved apples.

Our back yard had three trees, all planted by Grandpa Kennedy back in the 1920s. There was a cherry tree, an apple tree and a Bartlett pear tree. The cherry tree was right outside the back door and was a favorite of the blue jays in the springtime. Dad had to fight them every time he climbed the ladder to pick cherries so Mom could make pies. My brother Lee and I had more fun spitting the pits than eating the cherries.

The pear tree had lots of fruit, but pears are kind of mushy and most of them were enjoyed by our parents and grandparents. The apple tree was the best. McIntosh apples, crisp and juicy, and we could climb up the tree to get them. The tree served as a fort, “Safe” when we played hide-and-seek, and the best place to read comic books. There was one branch about 10 feet up that was perfect to sit on, lean up against the trunk and read Superman, Batman and Captain Marvel. When we got hungry, we just reached up and picked an apple. The best time to eat a McIntosh apple is just before they turn red; I could eat a dozen. Now, about those crabapple trees in the Monrad orchard.

The Monrad sisters' house at 166 Putnam. Courtesy photo

Lee, Kenny DeMaio and I used to visit the Monrad back yard every spring to cut shoots from the forsythia bushes for our bows and arrows. This annual event was preceded by a lot of covert reconnaissance -- making sure that Anna, the most formidable of the Monrad sisters, was nowhere in the area. Anna spent a fair amount of time in the back yard and got most of her exercise chasing little children down the street while swinging a large straw broom over her head.

Anna was easy to spot. She was tall, almost 6 feet, and always wore a blue denim ankle-length smock with huge patch pockets on the front. She had long gray hair put up in a bun and a pronounced nose. She was a worthy adversary. Her sister, Emily, spent most of her time painting landscapes. She was a noted artist and no threat to apple thieves. We never knew Emily by any other name than “Miss Monrad.” That’s what Mom always called her.

The one time Anna should have been on guard for trespassers was the day I was walking by the little orchard, minding my own business, and spotted the crabapples. In response to the reader’s e-mailed question, it was at about this point in my young life that “I wish I hadn’t done” what I did next.

What I did was take a long look towards the back door of the house, surveyed the back yard and seeing that the coast was clear snuck into Anna’s orchard and picked a couple of handfuls of crabapples. I took a couple of bites and didn’t really care for them that much; they were kind of dry and really sour. There was a gray dust on the skin that tasted bad so I wiped them on my shirtfront and continued to fill my pockets. Not wanting to push my luck, I headed for home where I ate all the apples without offering any to Lee.

A couple of hours later I got the mother of all stomach aches. It was worse than that. I threw up all the apples and just about everything I had ever eaten. Mom put me in bed and sat with me, holding a kitchen pot, waiting for the next upchuck. She asked what I had been eating and I told her apples. I did not mention my little stop at Anna’s orchard.

I was not improving by the time Dad got home from work. I was turning as green as the stuff that was filling the kitchen pot next to my bed.

The call went out to Dr. Corey. His office was on Whitney Avenue in the little yellow house next to the Brock-Hall Dairy. He came right over to see what the problem was. Dr. Corey was a nice man but Lee and I didn’t care for him that much. The only time we ever saw him was when we were really sick, and because when we were a little younger the first thing he always did was take our temperature -- with the thermometer that didn’t go in your mouth.

Doctors and parents have cute little names for sicknesses that aren’t so funny to the kids who think they are dying. “Oh, he’s just got the bug” was a favorite of Mom’s. Tummy ache, collywobbles, the grippe and 24-hour flu were some others mentioned that evening. All those terms sounded as if they were taken from a Mother Goose story. I was dying!

After poking and prodding, Dr. Corey asked Mom what I had been eating and Mom said I had been eating apples. The doctor looked at me and asked what kind of apples. When I told him they had come from the Monrad’s crabapple tree Mom jumped up and said, “Arsenic or lead!”

She went into detail about how Anna always sprayed her crabapple trees with poison to prevent wormy apples. With that bit of information Dr. Corey called the Country Club Pharmacy and had Nate Hamerman prepare an antidote for my poisoning.

Now that my chances for a full recovery had improved, Mom began the lecture I was all too familiar with.

“Don’t do this,” “It’s for your own good,” and lastly, “I’m not mad at you Raymond, I’m disappointed.” I closed my eyes and mumbled, “Yes, Mom,” and then grabbed for the kitchen pot again.

Some weeks later Mom actually took me to the Monrad’s house, where I met Anna and Emily. I apologized for stealing their apples and promised never to do it again. It was the understatement of the century.


Bill Birney, a reader of “Whitneyville Before Elvis,” had e-mailed me the question that inspired this story. He grew up in Hamden and now resides in Wallingford. I had mentioned the Monrad sisters in an earlier article and he sent me short biographies on both Anna and Emily, and a third sister, Margaret (it was not until I received this e-mail that I knew the names of the other two sisters). All three sisters were spinsters and well-educated. Margaret was a teacher and author, and Emily was a noted landscape artist. Two lived into their 80s; Anna made it to 90 before passing in 1967. She was the head cataloger for the Yale University library from 1918-1948.

Raymond K. Johnson grew up Hamden and graduated Hamden High School in 1957. Two years later he enlisted in the Marine Corps, from which he retired in 1979. He now lives in Oceanside, Calif., with his wife, Kay. He is penning his memories of growing up in Whitneyville in this column. Johnson can be reached at rkjohnson1@cox.net.

May 11, 2008

The Cherry Bomb Incident

By Raymond K. Johnson

Ronnie Grube opened the little wing window on the passenger side of Kenny DeMaio’s 1954 Chevrolet BelAir. I lit the fuse on the cherry bomb and flipped it towards the small window opening. I missed.

The year was 1957, but this story doesn’t start then; it actually starts in 1968.

I was on my way to Vietnam. Mom and Dad looked forward to having my wife, Kay, and our son, Chris, stay with them during my second tour of duty overseas. After a seven-day car trip from California to Hamden, Kay and I spent the next couple of weeks getting her things organized in my old bedroom. When our household goods finally arrived Dad and I got everything stored downstairs in the cellar. He wasn’t too happy about the loss of space, but the washer and dryer we had brought with us meant no more trips for him to the Laundromat down on Whitney Avenue for at least a year. This would be Kay’s and my first separation since getting married in 1966, and that last morning before leaving was quite an emotional one for us.

Our means of communication during the next 12 months was going to be via a pair of small reel-to-reel tape recorders. I would tape my letters and send the tapes home in the mail. Kay and Mom and Dad would record their messages on the same tapes and return them to me.

Things went well for the first few months. Kay had a daily routine that included a stroll around the neighborhood with Chris in his baby carriage. She had made friends with most of the people on Francis Avenue and the surrounding streets.

Alice DeMaio, Kenny’s mother, would talk for hours with Kay and tell her stories about Kenny’s and my exploits when we were younger. Yolanda Umland, our next door neighbor, did the same. Although a little uncomfortable at first, Kay was making friends and was settling into her temporary living situation.

The tapes were a lot of fun at first. Kay would tell me of the people she and Chris met on their daily walks and it made me feel that the decision to take them to Connecticut was the right one.

One day there was some special news. I received a tape from Kay that took me back to my senior year at Hamden High School. Kay told me that on one of her daily walks she had met Ronnie Grube’s wife. The minute I heard Kay say Ronnie’s name I sat up and listened closer. She explained how Ronnie’s wife had introduced herself and invited her in for coffee. The two talked for a while and for the next few days they would stop and chat for a few minutes. After the third or fourth visit Ronnie’s wife told Kay that her husband and I had gone to school together. This was all that was said at the time -- no mention of the cherry bomb incident.

So I recorded the story about Ronnie, Kenny, me and the cherry bomb and sent the tape home to Kay. It is not something I am proud of; it was a stupid thing to do and Ronnie could have been much more seriously hurt. Here is that story.

Kenny DeMaio had completed his driver’s education course and gotten his license. I had also completed the course, but my other grades were horrible, as usual, and my Dad had said “no” when I asked if I could get my driver’s license.

Kenny drove his Dad’s 1954 Chevy BelAir four-door (green with a white top) to school every day along with Ronnie and me as passengers. I always got the middle seat. The fateful day happened just before finals in May 1957. I had a cherry bomb; they were easy to get back then as fireworks were still legal. My plan for some excitement was to light the thing and toss it out of the car in front of the high school just before morning classes.

Kenny was against the idea from the start. Kenny was always the smart one and to this day I wish I had listened to him. As we approached the high school we went under the parkway bridge. Ronnie opened the little wing window on the passenger side of the car. Using the cigarette lighter, I lit the fuse on the cherry bomb, took aim and flipped it towards the small window opening. It missed and fell back right in the middle of Ronnie’s lap.

Ronnie started yelling. I started yelling. Kenny kept on driving -- and yelling. I dropped the cigarette lighter and Ronnie jumped up in an attempt to get into the backseat and out of harm’s way. The cherry bomb rolled off his lap and fell to the seat directly underneath him. And it exploded.

With all the windows closed the sound was unbelievably loud. So were the screams coming from Ronnie’s mouth. The car was filled with smoke. Kenny, Ronnie and I were all screaming but none of us could hear anything. I looked at Kenny and could see his mouth moving but could hear nothing. I looked at Ronnie, the painful look on his face and seeing both hands clutching the seat of his pants indicated that this little prank had gone horribly wrong.

Kenny rolled down his window to let the smoke out and drove into the parking lot next to the school. Our hearing was coming back and now the sounds coming from Ronnie were more like groans. Ronnie was hurt. We got out of the car and began to check ourselves for injuries. Ronnie had absorbed all of the blast and upon closer inspection we could see faint spots of red beginning to appear on the seat of Ronnie’s chinos.

We took Ronnie to Mrs. Donahue’s (the school nurse) office. Kenny and I left as Mrs. Donahue opened a bottle of peroxide and, with a fistful of sterile gauze pads, began tending Ronnie’s injured bottom. I went to my homeroom and sat there waiting for the bell to ring for first period. The classroom door opened and in came one of the messengers from the principal’s office. He handed a note to Miss Clifford, who opened the note, read it and than looked straight at me. My heart sank.

“Raymond, go to the principal’s office,” was all Miss Clifford said. I picked up my books and followed the messenger down the stairs to the principal. I was taken to Mr. Richards’s office, who was the assistant principal at the time. He told me that he had just left Mrs. Donahue’s office where she had removed several pieces of “shrapnel” from Ronnie Grube’s backside. He made it sound as if he had leapt on a grenade -- which was, basically, just what he had done. I was suspended from school for two weeks. Ronnie recovered. I served out my suspension, and it was the last time I ever rode in Kenny DeMaio’s car.

Anyway, I packaged up the tape with this story on it and sent it back to Kay in Hamden. After listening to it, she actually met Ronnie and they had a laugh about that day in 1957. It wasn’t so funny back then.

Raymond K. Johnson grew up Hamden and graduated Hamden High School in 1957. Two years later he enlisted in the Marine Corps, from which he retired in 1979. He now lives in Oceanside, Calif., with his wife, Kay. He is penning his memories of growing up in Whitneyville in this column. Johnson can be reached at rkjohnson1@cox.net.

April 28, 2008

My Dental History

A story about fear and how it took 60 years to overcome it

By Raymond K. Johnson

The brass plate on the front of the building read:

The Carlton Building
1240 Whitney Avenue

Photo/Raymond Johnson

Today the corner lot at the northwest corner of Whitney and Putnam avenues is a small public park maintained, I am told, by volunteers. The little park has a tree, some nice plants and flowers and five benches that are usually occupied by senior citizens passing the time of day.

But when I was growing up that corner was the home of a Mobil gas station. The big sign towering above the intersection proudly displayed the big red flying Mobil horse. Gas was less than 20 cents a gallon and you could buy used drain oil for 10 cents a quart.

The Carlton Building was next door to the gas station. Whoever built that building did a very nice job. The stone façade and the big wooden door with great strap hinges and Victorian-style lights on each side of the entrance were quite imposing. Dr. Daniel Hornstein, who would be my dentist until I left Hamden in 1959, had his office on the second floor.

I was about 8 or 9 when I got my first toothache. Mom took me to get it fixed. Kids don’t like dentists; it’s in our DNA. The long walk down Putnam Avenue seemed to take forever. When we arrived at The Carlton Building, the horrible thoughts running through my head were magnified a thousand fold when I saw the doorway. The stonewalls and huge wooden door resembled something right out of the Middle Ages. It looked like the entrance to a torture chamber. Kids think that way.

Dr. Hornstein was tall and thin and always smiled. Why do dentists always smile? Mom helped me up into the dentist’s chair and Dr. Hornstein started his work.

I don’t need to relive the experience; I’ll just remind you of the state of dental technology back in the middle of the 20th century. The needles were the size of turkey basters. The drilling machine had a foot pedal and was belt-driven; it turned at about 20 revolutions per minute, or so it seemed. The drill bits were patterned after the ones used to chisel the faces of the presidents on Mount Rushmore. And the filling material was some type of metal that had to be pounded in with a little jackhammer tool that delivered a punch much like Joe Louis did to most of his opponents.

While all of this was going on I was crying. Every once in a while Dr. Hornstein would ask, “Did you feel that?” Why do dentists always ask you questions when there is a hand, a drill and enough cotton to knit a pair of mittens all in your mouth at the same time? I thought to myself, “If I answer yes he is going to stick me with the needle again, the one that seems like it is going to come right out of your eyeball if he pushes one more millimeter.”

After about an hour the doctor finally finished filling my tooth. Mom paid the bill and then Dr. Hornstein smiled (again) and handed me a lollipop. This is a dental profession conspiracy to give little kids more cavities. Job security was a big deal back then, too. From that day on I never liked dentists. That is until …

March 13, 2008. I had an appointment for yet another crown (my third or fourth). This time the dentist’s office was in Oceanside, Calif., and my dentist’s name was Randal Leoni. He must be related to Dr. Hornstein. He asks the same question, “Did you feel that?” And he always smiles.

I will admit the technology has improved; the needles are still long but the diameter is about that of a strand of hair. The drills spin at 300,000 to 450,000 revolutions per minute while simultaneously shooting galloons of water onto the drilling site. The water helps prevent your head from breaking into some sort of spontaneous combustion from the heat generated by the drill speed.

A dental assistant (mine was named Irma) sticks a suction device into your mouth and vacuums out all the water. The device is similar to a vacuum you might have seen in a TV infomercial -- the vacuum that can pick up a bowling ball. The smell of burning enamel and bone is disconcerting. The one constant through the years is the paper bib with the little chain clip thing that is put around your neck that never stops something from getting on your shirt.

Dr. Leoni came into the operatory and greeted me with a big smile. But this particular day was different. Astrologers would argue that the planets were aligned; a cleric would pronounce a miracle; and a palm reader might see a line near your thumb indicating good fortune. Maybe they are all correct. But I think it boils down to new technology -- and the fact that Randal Leoni is a damned good dentist.

The series of events leading up to the completion of the crown procedure were similar to those in a “Perfect Storm” scenario. The Novocain shot was perfect; I never felt the needle go in. The drilling was uneventful. I sat calmly in the chair and not once did I tense up to the point where Dr. Leoni had to ask, “Did you feel that?” The impression part where they shove a tube full of goop into your mouth to make a mold was quick and easy due to a new and improved faster-setting goop. All of 45 minutes later I was done and on my way home with one last word from Dr. Leoni, “No eating for one hour.” What, no lollipop?

So here we are 60 years from Dr. Hornstein and his torture chamber at The Carlton Building. Thanks to the new generation of dentists and a little technology, I am confident that if you happen to see me the next time I go to the dentist’s office I will have a smile on my face. Look closely and you might even see Dr. Leoni’s handiwork. It’s the crown on the upper-right side.

Raymond K. Johnson grew up Hamden and graduated Hamden High School in 1957. Two years later he enlisted in the Marine Corps, from which he retired in 1979. He now lives in Oceanside, Calif., with his wife, Kay. He is penning his memories of growing up in Whitneyville in this column. Johnson can be reached at rkjohnson1@cox.net.


Auto Accidents
860 343 3443

email us

Check us out!

Help support the Hamden Daily News by clicking a link below. If you purchase something at one of the advertised businesses via that click, we get a few bucks -- while you don't pay an extra cent.

21st Century Insurance
Anna's Linens
Barnes & Noble
Beau Ties
Beyond Bedding
Big Mans Land
Cheap Trips
Constructive Playthings
The Container Store
Cuban Crafters
Dancing Deer Baking Co.
Green Cine
Kaplan Test Prep
Lane Bryant
National Pet Pharmacy
Nirvana Belgian Chocolates
Office Depot
Sierra Club
Thrifty Rent-a-Car

Talk To Us
Talk To Us
Letters to the Editor
Copyright© 2005 Hamden Daily News
Site designed by Joanne Kittredge

Tip Us Off
Send news tips