Back in the early 60's, long before the three cookie-cutter houses stood at the location that once housed the Oasis (before it was Chicolino's), at a time when Joe Ritter's Texaco station stood at the site of three similarly developed identical houses, when there was a public fishing dock on the spot that houses the Point Lookout Fire Depaltment Emergency Squad, when you could eat dinner overlooking the ocean at a restaurant with the literary-inspired name of Chester Belloc's, when you could get a hamburger, fries and a coke at Bambi's and get change back from your dollar, there was a weekly event in the Summer that occurred at a place we then called Middle Beach and that attracted myself and other scruffy pre-teenage boys as fans and hopeful participants - it was Men's Softball.
From their usual spots at the Civic Beach, one or two fathers would rise, holding a few old bats and balls aloft and thus signaling to others dispersed among the beach-going throng that it was time. And so began the weekly ritual, and off to Middle Beach they would trudge, bats in hand, recruiting players along the way. The names are still familiar to me - Phil Dougherty, of course, noted pitcher and trash talker of his day. (Some still claim you could hear him all the way from the Lido Hotel); Bob Calvett, reliable singles hitter and infielder; the Ostendorf brothers (who curiously were all nicknamed "Bosco", a mystery that persists in my mind to this day), and a dozen or more others with names like Hetterich, Comerford, Grogan and Galvin, to name just a few. These guys had inherited their positions on the sand from a long line of men who had played on Middle Beach before them (but who had since packed it in) - guys who I'm told were pretty good athletes them selves - with names like Harvey Gertler, Joe Slevin, Jack Burns, Bobby McMahon, Bob Wilkinson and my own father and namesake, Bernie Kennedy.
We followed to watch them play, these dads and fathers of friends, to act as umpires and to occasionally snatch an opportunity to pinch run. But of all the names and faces, of all these dads and characters, there was one guy who stood out. He was Point Lookout's
softball answer to Babe Ruth, our own Sultan of Swat - Mr. Howie Meny.
Mr. Meny (of course I never knew him by his first name) was the guy we really came to see play. Other guys could hit singles all day long, and a few, like Mr. Comerford, could hit a pretty long ball from time to time, but no one came close to hitting the prodigious moon shots over the dunes (literally) like Mr. Meny. Time and time again - indeed, it seemed like every time - he'd get up and power one into the stratosphere. And I can't tell you whether he was naturally left-handed or right-handed because it didn't matter. He'd get up left handed and crush one, and the next time he'd get up right handed and hit it in the same spot (which was even harder because the dunes were in right field).
We'd all assemble by first base waiting for our turn to pinch run (myself, the Comerford boys, Pete Stack, the Crowe brothers, John Auletta and a half dozen other kids). Some of the younger players didn't need or want a pinch runner, like the youngest Bosco Ostendorf, who could run like the wind, and others who, while not as fast as he, were too proud to admit it. But Mr. Meny had chronically bad knees. So while he might hit one halfway up the dunes, he'd invariably stop at first, and we'd have our opportunity to be part of the game with the dads, and what a thrill that was!
I can't really say I knew him that well personally (but what kid ever knew someone else's dad that well). To me he was always just a nice man, an uncomplicated man, who loved his wife, Joan, and his boys, Howie and Tommy, and his daughter, Susan, and loved the beach. I remember that he coached a Little League team on which his son, Little Howie (who was not so little) played, and for which his daughter, Susan, kept the playbook. He coached quietly and firmly, encouraging his players, never yelling at them. He'd been a lifeguard when he was young, so it was a natural that he loved the beach. He loved it then and until the day, sadly, he left the Point for the last time.
When I moved back to Point Lookout permanently 4 years ago (after raising a family for 25 years on that big island to the north) I made a point of looking around for signs of familiarity - symbols that tied me more closely to the little town I remembered. There was Merola's, of course, where we assembled after school to play box ball, and which was directly across the street from Pinky's (long gone), where we bought our stickball bats and Pensy Pinkys and where a toasted corn was like idiot's delight. And there was Doxsee's, Point Lookout's only industry, since the victim of the wrecking ball and soon to be developed for more houses on the bay. And old mainstays like Scotty's, where we long ago bought our bamboo fishing poles so we could fish for snappers off the dock, and Ed's (now Ted's).
And then there was Mr. Meny, who I saw again for the first time in Jo Jo Apples. When he smiled and said hello, I remember experiencing those fond memories of my youth in the Point. I saw him many times after that while walking the dogs or riding my bike to the post office. And I wondered when I saw him if he had any idea what memories he conjured in the minds of men like me, who were just boys when he made the dunes of Middle Beach resemble the short porch in right field at Yankee Stadium. I know I'm not the only one. I've mentioned his name to several friends, and they almost invariably recall the same memories.
Fittingly, the last time I recall talking to Mr. Meny was a few Summers ago on Middle Beach. He was sitting in his customary spot, just past the jetty, horseshoes set up not far away. I was returning from a run on the beach and he smiled and told me 1 was looking strong, which I naturally considered a high compliment, coming from the strong man himself. He looked older, of course, and a bit stockier, but tan from the sun and sturdy as ever. I remember thinking that I wouldn't have been surprised if just one more time he could have hit one over the dunes if I'd asked him to. I'm not certain. But one thing's for sure - if Phil Dougherty were still around, he'd have had something to say about it.
- Bernard P. Kennedy, Esq.