St. Agnes was a boarding school for boys, located across the Hudson River, and maybe 45 miles from New York City, where most, if not all, the boys were from. It was run by Catholic Nuns. The boys aged from pre-school to high school. The dorms were assigned according to age and grade levels. All the grades were assigned to one of 5 playing fields. Bordering on the north of the main compound, from left to right were the "Fellows Field", reserved for ages 11 and up: the "Little Side" field, for ages 8 through 10: then a football field, and another field reserved for farming. Below these playing fields were the "Little Flower" field for 6 & 7 year olds, and the "Babies" field for preschoolers. Bordering the upper fields was first a steep slope down to an elevation that was maybe 10 feet lower than the playing fields, followed by a wooded area and some swamps. A little distance into the woods at the north east corner was an apple orchard owned by the Knaps family. This orchard is where my story begins.
At the time, I was about 11 years old and assigned to the Fellows field; the farthest field away from Knaps. You might say that I, like all the Felicianos, showed great leadership qualities. I was a good baseball player; an excellent football player; a terror on the soccer field; and a tough fist fighter. The word "lose" was not in my vocabulary. Generally, all the boys got along and were mostly interested in having fun and finding adventure, and I was more than willing to lead the way.
Like every generation before and after us, Knaps was a favorite place for adventure because of its close proximity to the school. We used to make raids" on the orchard constantly. We didnt think about it at the time but, to get the apples, we would damage the trees, by braking off the branches, and throwing anything available at the tree to knock down the apples. Of course, the owners were not exactly tickled pink at us. In fact, they were down right perturbed. They let it be known, however, that they would give us free apples if only we would simply ask. The apples just didnt taste as good that way, and these raids on the orchards were very adventuresum. Knaps had two sons that would chase us and, during one of these raids, they came out with bee-bee guns and threatened to shoot us. We ran like a bat out of hell, not waiting to hear what the sons had to say. And we stayed away too! for a while, that is.
We decided to set up a military type ambush on the Knaps. I was the General, and I had 10 soldier boys under my leadership. I warned them that we would have to be so-o quiet that you could hear a rat urinating on cotton. The battle plan was to come off the Fellows Field into the woods and take a roundabout route to Knaps. Each of us would then gather up, from the ground, as many apples as possible; the more rotten, the better. I then strategically positioned everyone and had them pile up the apples in front of them. The positioning was such that, when the Knaps came into the orchard, they would be surrounded by 10 heavily armed apple flingers and a General, flinging like our lives depended on it. The ambush was set! Quiet! Shh! All still! Everyone was anxious with anticipation. I sent one boy to throw an apple at the house and quickly get back into position. The Knaps boys came running out with their bee-bee guns, and were really infuriated! We waited till they got to just the right spot. The Order of the Day was, "dont shoot till you see the whites of their eyes!" Finally, I gave the command, "FIRE"! We rained apple bombs at them from three sides. Their bee-bees gun were useless! We threw more apples than Laura Scudders has potato chips, and we were hitting the Knaps like SCUD missiles. They were confused and took off running back to the house like scared jack rabbits. Then I gave the command to "retreat!" We made it back to the Fellows field without incident. Mission accomplished!
After the "ambush", we waited a long time before deciding to go back; nothing big; just for some apples. This time, we had a boy with us that we used to call "Slow Boat". He couldnt run at all! Everything he did was in slow motion! He was so slow that it would take him an hour and a half to watch "60 Minutes". When we chose up sides to play ball, no one wanted him on the team because he was so slow.
Anyway, we took off to Knaps. In retrospect, this was a dumb thing to do, considering how infuriated at us the Knaps were. After all, we did pounce on them like they were targets at the County Fair! Never the less, we got to the orchard, and sent Slow Boat up this tall tree to throw down some good apples that were near the top. Little did we know that the Knaps had devised a plan of their own; a counter attack! And they were probably waiting with much anticipation of their own! ..Probably PRAYING that we would return. They snuck out of the house and into the bushes with their bee-bee guns. They snuck up on us and, all of a sudden, they came out shooting! We all took off like a bat out of hell! "Man, I aint never run so fast in my life!" If they were going to catch me, they would have to look for the dust trail, because I wasnt leaving any foot prints!
We got out of the woods and regrouped, but no Slow Boat! We started cracking up with laughter! " Oh, Oh! Slow Boat is in trouble! .. deep trouble!" "He better call home and get his mom!. She would get here faster than he could run!" We doubled up with laughter! "He better play possum, .. but that wont work , because he would take him too long to close his eyes". ..More laughter. but WAIT! THERE! As we got to the Fellows Field, there was Slow Boat, holding the seat of his pants, and looking like a lost child! ..WHATS HAPPENING HERE? We thought we were seeing a MIRAGE!
We came up to Slow Boat and asked, "how did you get back before us? .. You cant fly!" Well, when the shooting started, he scrambled down the tree and, when he reached the bottom, ..PING! .. a shot hit him in the butt. He took off running like the "Six Million Dollar Man!" He was scared to death, and ran so fast, he broke the law of gravity. It was hilarious! For months, we would crack up over the day that Slow Boat held his butt and shot like a bolt of lightning! But, this was getting too dangerous. The word was that the older Knaps had a shotgun and would shoot at the boys with buckshot. In retrospect, this was not very likely, but the point is we believed it! Needless to say, I never again returned to the Knaps Orchard!
We have all had adventurous experiences at the KNAPS ORCHARDS, albeit not as dramatic as Ben's. Mine happened maybe two years before Ben's experiences. I recall, however one day another boy and I were on the road (which was out of bounds) leading passed the Knaps house. the other kid decided to get real bold and go right up to the door and ask for apples, knowing full well how Mr Knaps must have hated us kids! Incidentally, Pat (the oldest brother) recalls the same exact experience but I think that was just a coincidence. His incident occurred but, I believe, at a different time. Anyway we went up and asked for apples and Mr knaps said, "sure! Grab a bushel basket and take as many apples as you like, but pick them off the ground." He went on to explain how the kids were ruining his trees and that was his only objection to the kids being in his orchard.
From that date forward, I never went back to Knaps for three reasons. First, Mr Knaps was not the mean, vicious, fire eating ogre I thought he was; therefore, the danger and the feeling of adventure was gone! Second, he was in fact a nice thoughtful man who didn't deserve to be treated with the lack of respect and inconsideration we were heaping on him. Third, those were by far the lousiest apples I have ever tasted in my entire life! Only the adventure in getting them made them at all palatable! Now that the adventure was gone, so was the taste for the apples, and desire for them!
SPIT-BALLS TO FREEDOM
Starting in the 6th grade, spit-ball fights seemed to be always in season. For the uninitiated, spit-balls were made with pieces of toilet paper or paper napkins. You would roll a piece in your mouth, wetting it real good with saliva; then you would roll it in your hand into a ball, and the fight was ON! Several kids would participate. It was fun to ambush someone. A good shot would be on the back of the head. One common fight location was in the classroom, while the teacher was out of the room. Sometimes, we would make the spit-balls exceptionally wet so they would stick on the blackboard. Crude and mischievous behavior indeed!
One day, when I was in the 8th grade, three of us got the crazy, and I might add extremely bold, idea to throw spit-balls while the teacher was IN the room. Our plan was to wait til the nun went to the blackboard to write something. .. Three little BRATS! Finally, the teacher went to the board. We seized the chance and fired. Ping! Ping! Ping! ..we hit the blackboard! The teacher turned around in a rage! She demanded to know who did it! "I want those responsible to step up to the front of the classroom right this INSTANT!" Of course, no one moved and no one snitched. The whole class was in on it. She was furious and warned the class, if it happened again, heads would roll! In the mean time, everyone acted like perfect little angles and looking like "who, ME? .. I would NEVER! .. not ME!" But Im sure, deep down inside, most of the students were giggling.
This was FUN! I decided to wait an hour or so and do it again, giggling to myself, "this is going to make her snatch her vail off!" Eventually, she returned to the blackboard to write something, and I fired! But she was suspicious and turned around quickly, catching me while the spit-ball was just leaving my hand. "Oh, oh! Im in deep trouble!" She screamed and scolded me so bad I think I almost made her curse. Finally, she told me, "get out of my classroom and dont come back! Go to the Principals office and tell her what you did!" I went to the Principal's office and she said, "the Coach is out by the Fellows Field. Go tell HIM what you did." This meant a vicious beating. I said to myself, "yeah right! Im a glutton for vicious punishment. Me hold-um up butt, you kick-um. Shall I wash my seat off so you can get a clean shot?" The Coach used to take a paddle; one used to stir kettles large enough to cook for hundreds of people, make you bend over, and beat you til you were black and blue.
By this time, I had more than enough of St. Agnes anyway! I decided to run away and get my freedom at long last. Twice before, I ran away but I got caught and was brought back. I was younger then and didnt really know what I was doing. This time I had made plans in advance, learning from my past mistakes. I knew exactly how to do it. I had my bus fare stashed away just for this very day. I went to the dorm, got my money and my belongings, and "Hit the Road Jack!" Off I went to the Village, caught the bus to New York City, and made it to my house. I told mom about all the bad things they were doing at St. Agnes and how they were going to beat me. She said, "Thats it! Youre not going back there ever again!" That was the end of St. Agnes and my "Spit-balls to Freedom!"
This reminds me of a cartoon I once saw. A field mouse is sitting in the middle of a field, looking up at a hawk who is getting ready to swoop down on him. The mouse has one paw pointing strait up in the air, with the middle finger extended, shooting the hawk "THE BIRD." The caption read, "The Final act of Defiance!" This classroom incident was Ben, shooting the school "the bird," and his "final act of defiance." Luckily, Ben didnt get eaten up like the mouse did!