Sunday, March 18, 2018

The NPHS Reunion Essay: By Cesare Cardi, Class of 1968

Cesare and MaryAnn Cardi
Like most of those who have been gracious to share their stories, I feel blessed to have grown up in North Plainfield and gone to NPHS. I’ve got good memories like most, like time spent with those on our awesome soccer team, many personal hours with Albert T.; Kathy, my first real girlfriend; the high school dances; the guidance and love Mrs. Abrams had for all of us; and the life-changing support that Coach Rikstad gave me that got me to the Naval Academy followed by 31 years of active service to the Marines and another 15 years of educating the next generation of young Marines.  In June 2018, it will be 50 years since I first put on a military uniform and so, I figure it’s time to fully retire and do something else. I was remarried to MaryAnn in 2010 and baptized that same year. I have learned to live a life that honors my parents and God. I’m no fanatic. I’m still that young Italian boy, but with a fresh outlook on what’s important in life.

Like I was as a kid, I’m modest and hate the thought of someone thinking I was bragging but I think this blog is about catching up, and offering what we’ve done with our lives, so here it goes. I took my sweet time shedding the shenanigans of my youth at the Naval Academy and nearly got thrown out by my sophomore year, but with some rather firm guidance from my Marine Corps advisor, I made up lost ground in the last two years to finish with my honor intact J.  I joined the Marines instead of the Navy, because, frankly, I still could not swim well and wanted to be as far away from the water as possible. Little did I know that all major Marine Corps bases are near the ocean.  Well, I’m here to tell my story, so I survived drowning.  I chose the armor field and was a tank commander, leading organizations of five to 70 tanks. (Hey, I was just thinking that the last tank model I commanded of the three generations of tanks, was called the Abrams tank.  Maybe after Ethel?  Nah!) I had the opportunity with my assignments to be stationed in several continents and I don’t know how many countries. Sounds wonderful huh? Well, honestly, assignments such as Marines get don’t equate to cultural tours of wonderful places you see in National Geographic. As the leader of the free world, I don’t agree with Trump’s use of language, but there are SH’s on this planet and I’ve been to a half-dozen or more of them.  I fought in Desert Shield/Storm as an armor commander of 1500 men and tanks, and came out free of scars.  I’ve been involved in other operations in our southern hemisphere that have been ongoing since Reagan’s time or before that, and were very different than my experiences with tanks.  I helped close down our presence in Panama after we left between 1999 and 2002 and had the opportunity to be the mosquito on the wall when we planned and set up the containment facilities in Guantanamo. A short visit there in the early days was an eye-opening experience. I came to love education because I know for certain that it was the opportunities given to our family from this great country and the remarkable education I have been afforded from high school to college that have made me who I am and allowed me privileges that I would otherwise not have. So, I was also the Director (like a Chancellor) of a few of our military schools in between assignments with tank units.  After 31 years, I reached the maximum time in military service and had to retire from the military so I did not participate in the 2003 invasion of Iraq and operations in Afghanistan.  One of the coolest things that happened in my time was that the ship I was stationed on for nearly a year in the 70’s was sunk as a reef off the coast of Key Largo, Florida, and when my daughter went on a middle school trip in 2003, they snorkeled and organized dive on to the same ship I sailed on many years earlier. She even had a blurry photo shot of the ship with its name…..USS Spiegel Grove LSD 32.

I have (had) three wonderful children, Jason, now 42, Jaime Marie whom I lost to a car accident at the age of 16, and an awesome daughter Kathryn, whom we adopted at birth and is now 26 and recently married.  Between MaryAnn and me, we have three girls and one boy, and eight grandchildren living between Kentucky and Pennsylvania.  For now, we live in North Carolina since I’m still working but retirement will take us elsewhere.

Growing up as a child of the 60’s was no big deal to me.  The peace movement never got to NPHS and after graduation, I was shielded from all that by a military environment.  The closest I ever got to mimicking the social surroundings was when “Saturday Night Fever” came out, I figured I had to be as cool as Travolta so I invested in the clothes and danced like a fool J.  Great times frankly.  Wish I had pictures of me back then. It would make for a great laugh.

I’m not sure why I’ve stayed away from reunions. I haven’t attended those at the Academy either and am still unsure if I’ll get to our 50th. I just recently re-connected with Albert after many-many years so I guess I’m just not great at keeping in touch. I don’t do social media either. Never had the time or inclination to put my life online but I do love interacting with people the old school way; face to face.  So even this writing is a stretch for me.   I’ll close by saying I have many of my classmates in my heart. Every 10 years or so I open my 1968 yearbook and think about the friendships.  I feel blessed that of all places we could have settled when we emigrated from Italy, we ended up in North Plainfield.  God Bless this country.

Sunday, March 11, 2018

NPHS Reunion Interview: Suzanne Dumont Millan, Class of 1969

Are you experienced? Suzanne Dumont, age 16, at a Greenwich Village head shop.
Tell us about your career. 
I taught a variety of English courses to students in grades 6-12 for 33 years.  For most of those years, I taught middle school. But, I retired in 2013 when teaching became mostly about data and there was no more room for any choice of material and creativity.  I loved teaching for the first 28 years, so I guess that’s a win. I never expected to be a teacher, I had been in the business world for two years after high school working for Bell Telephone and Allstate. Two very good solid jobs, but I just realized that world was not for me, so I quit. Somewhere in there, I graduated from Douglass College and got a teaching degree from Kean. Before teaching, I dabbled in film and tv production. But I finally became a teacher somewhere around 1980. Teaching gave me many great emotional and funny times with my students and my colleagues. I miss it terribly but not the effluvia that came with it toward the end. In the final analysis, it was extremely fulfilling.

Where have you lived since graduating?
I live (in what two people have told my husband and me separately) a town that looks like a Norman Rockwell painting – the town of Cranford, NJ.  It’s starting to look a little less that way, so I’ve been slightly politicized into keeping it that way.  I also lived in Los Angeles where I flitted around working for a film company, and a marketing company right near Melrose Place. My apartment wasn’t in Melrose Place but quite like it actually, only with more of a Latino touch and in another apartment with some other people. L.A. is the first place that I learned that the Melrose Place tv show’s tagline, “Where your friends become your family” was actually true. But L.A. was not my “scene” to live there full time. If I were a rich girl, I’d do a few months each year. But, I’m not and I’m pretty “Jersey.” So, here I am 45 minutes from Broadway and the shore and the mountains….love it!

What was your sense of community in your class/in the school at NPHS?  
I was neither in the popular crowd or the scorned, picked-upon crowd. The only two people that even remotely picked on me were Rod Lent and Ned Fitzgerald, but they were just doing it in a teasing, fun way. I was kind of shy, so I was very quiet. I was a late bloomer. I just had my own friends sort of like everybody else did. And then, I also had kids in class who weren’t necessarily my friends, but I talked to and with whom I was friendly.  

What experiences in high school, positive or negative, helped to shape you as a person? 
I think I lived in kind of a bubble because we went to almost an all-white school, But, since Plainfield was basically our downtown, it kept me out of that bubble somewhat. Also, I rarely knew what religion people were. It never seemed to come up. I knew I was a Presbyterian, but I rarely went to church, so I only knew a few more people who were my religion. And I saw a few kids going to St. Joe’s church, so I knew they were Catholics. In fact, I wanted to go there once with a friend and she said “No, only Catholics allowed.” That hurt my feelings and actually angered me. And as far as the Jewish kids went, there was no temple in North Plainfield (I didn’t even think about it until Howard mentioned it to me). I had no clue who anyone was and I just accepted everybody and in that way, I think it shaped me because I had very little prejudice in me.  Also, I think finding the “hippie” crowd was good for me. It kind of expanded my mind, social group and personality, Man! 

Do you have any regrets about your experiences during your high school years? 
I just wish that I had been a little bit more outgoing as I really found out that l had a lot more to say. But, I certainly got to that later. Although, my senior year was a lot of fun, like it was for a lot of kids because if we were doing okay, we did a lot more fun things, like “gypping” school and joyriding, often down the shore.

Now, 50 years later, has your perspective on your high school years changed at all?  If so, how? 
Now I know, there had to be some people who felt left out because of their religion. Also, the handicapped were left out for a long time. So, I think a bit more diversity would have been good. Other, than that, I had a great time at the dances, mostly, l liked school and when I didn’t feel like going, I didn’t.  I had my nefarious ways. Basically, it was sometimes fun, sometimes embarrassing and sometimes boring, just like most school experiences for your average kid. I feel like I was your average kid.

What is your fondest memory of your years at NPHS?  
When they sent buses to the school to take us to Zacherley’s Disco-O-Teen television show in Newark. I got to do a commercial with Zach, see him w/o his makeup, dance on a box to the Critters or Doughboys. It was super fun. I never knew how that was arranged, but I’m glad it was. I had already loved Zach and his movies and got to sit on his lap (before he became too fragile) later on in life several times at conventions.

What was the craziest or stupidest thing you did in high school?  
I and I think Colleen Bersch had to give an oral speech in “Granny” Wilcox’s sociology class. We picked doing something about the “new” music scene. I was always very into music. So, we’re up there reading and discussing some lyrics we had come up with and how they fit into our youth culture society. We did The Who’s “My Generation.” Then we did the Jefferson Airplane’s “We Can Be Together” and I calmly read the line “Up Against the Wall Motherfucker.” I was trying to relate it to the youth I’d met on the streets of New York City who were passing out leaflets saying, “Up against the wall motherfucker…the new Indian is born…this time we win.” And the struggle the youth felt that they were going through because of the war and “the times they were a changing.” I could see some kind of violence was about to come down on the establishment’s heads. I just figured that I could say the word motherfucker because I was just quoting it. “Granny” almost had a heart attack and I could see her face in the back of the room didn’t look well.  But to her credit, she just blew it off and tried to get onto the next speech right away. I don’t remember how Colleen felt about the situation. I’ll have to ask her if she remembers it. Or maybe I was with Karen Hultberg, or both. I’ll have to ask them. I never learned my lesson though because I did it again at a friend’s house and I still do it to this day. However, I did realize it was a mistake to say it in sociology class.

What was your proudest accomplishment in high school?  
(1) Getting home as early as I could to see “Dark Shadows “and “Where the Action Is.” (2) Cutting as much school as possible and never getting caught. I had so many secret, creative ways. If I wanted to convince my mother that I had a fever, I put the thermometer on my Sears Silvertone radio and let the heat from it take it up really high. Then, I’d shake it down to usually 101. There were other ways of getting out of school early after lunch some days, depending on my schedule. (2) Sad to say, I never had a proudest accomplishment, except maybe stopping a kid from being picked on and graduating with decent grades.

Who was your favorite teacher? 
Everyone loved Mr. Blackman and Mr. Sincavage and so did I. They were sarcastic, sardonic and funny. Plus, Mr. Blackman was cute, so that’s hard to beat.  I also liked Mrs. Charters.  Who didn’t? I liked Miss Magod, my senior year English teacher. She was only there one year before she got married and had to put up with Roddy Lent.

However, there was one teacher that very few people had or even remember whom I really liked:  Miss Irene Gordon. She was my 11th grade Spanish teacher. I can’t even find her in the year book. She always wore black and white and everything she had was black and white, pens, car, EVERYTHING!  Kids used to give her black and white tokens. I did too.  They got rid of her really fast because she was a rabble rouser. I heard she wouldn’t do flag salute in teachers’ room in the morning (that was the rumor). She didn’t conform. One day in our class, she kind of expressed that she was an atheist and I heard a wail from the seat behind me and the girl stood up, pointed a finger at her and screamed that she was going to Hell.  I went all the way through East End with this girl and went to a really fun party at her house once. I knew that she belonged to the Pioneer Girls, but I thought they just walked in the woods. She was even quieter than me and Patty Williams. Who knew she was some kind of deeply religious kid. I kind of calmed her down and class went on. I really loved Miss Gordon because I knew she was a rebel. Who doesn’t like an individualistic teacher like that?

What was your worst class? 
I think, strangely enough, Mrs. Klerer’’s 11th grade English class. She came from Greenwich Village and always made us sound like hicks and she was so “artsy.” She seemed very stuck up.  It was the ONLY English class in which I got the grade of a 4! I’m sure that that was because I disliked her and did as little work as possible. It also didn’t help that I sat in front of Roddy Lent and he was always secretly tormenting me in some way, like poking me with a pencil, although sometimes that was good because I was falling asleep. Rod did jump out the window once: end of the day. It was time to go home and he just exited through the window, did a summersault on the ground and ran to a car. She hated him and I loved him for making her angry and I didn’t have to get in any trouble. He did.

Paris, 2016
Suzanne visiting the Père Lachaise Cemetery
at the tomb of French journalist Victor Noir
What is your most powerful or haunting memory during your years at NPHS?
Once I was in a car with my friend Marianne driving with some football players from the class of 1968 after a game.  Their testosterone was peaking and they saw a guy from another team, alone, and they got out and beat the piss out of him so badly that I think maybe even they were scared because they dragged him in the car and sat him next to me and I got some blood on my clothes. Then they had a discussion about what to do with him: dump him home, at the hospital or I think, they dumped him in a wooded area, maybe near his home. That part is not too clear to me, but I was scared to death with this half dead boy propped up next to me in the back seat. They ignored us, like we weren’t there. I felt like a scared little ghost.

How did growing up at a child of the 60s – and all the social baggage and impact that it may have entailed – impact you at the time and in your young adult years?   
I was always fiercely independent and I embraced the hippie, revolution, peace marching scene with all its cool music and some of the drugs (I wasn’t a huge drug taker, but I had my share) with enthusiasm. I went to Central Park, saw Abbie Hoffman and all the “Yippies” (I still have my button), did the peace marches down 6th Ave.  Hated the war and watching it on tv EVERY night. 

The Plainfield riots affected me deeply, especially since the National Guard took Susan Corus and me into protective custody after we had gone to see the now infamous Jimi Hendrix/Monkees concert in New York during the summer of 1967. The bus driver made us get off on some lonely street in the West End of Plainfield and we decided to walk to our respective homes when the National Guard found us and took us to the police station and made us stay all night and we saw A LOT, and as you can imagine, it was not pretty. I wrote a story about it because the thrust of it was that I saw lives that were being led that were not like my sheltered life. It really made me realize that there were other people in this world who had different issues. Don’t forget; I’m only 16. I felt like a ghost…a little white ghost.