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By Noel Castiglia… I may be a little forgetful but my early recollections of John were in Bedford Junior High School (BJHS)—maybe sometime in 9th grade. I believe he was in the same [my] class. During lunch a few of us guys went next door to the little stream between BJHS and Peterson’s Barn in the spring. We gathered about 30 garter snakes and brought them back to class to enliven the school day.
By the time we were in high school I remember first hearing John with his accordion. He was really good and I was amazed at how he could play the instrument and move around so quickly, making the music and John’s movement an interesting experience.
In Staples on those weekends during the late fall and winter when there was not so much outside action ([like] hanging out in the evening at Compo Beach with the high school crowd that gathered to drink a couple of beers and contemplate our next escapade), John solved the problem with a rotating poker party. Either at his home down by the Saugatuck River near the bridge or at a classmate’s home like Kit Carson or Orrin McCloud.
I remember one of the early poker nights at John’s where some crème de menthe (it was green) showed up and Orrin was passing it around. After the second bottle and a night of losing at poker I was ready to go home. When I touched base with John to let him know I was heading out, he started laughing. I said, “What’s the Joke?” He laughed and laughed with that deep voice I remember, and said: “You. Your tongue is GREEN! Be careful talking when you get home!” :)
I was never a winner at the poker parties so gradually I dropped out. Digging dirt as a laborer at Fillow Flower after school was too much work to be stupid and lose it gambling… Money could be better spent going to Vista with JD McMahon, John, Marty Caselnova, Hilary Carpenter and Mike Cleary than losing at cards. Or better spent hunting, fishing and free scuba diving with Richard and Lanny Allen. Or hunting with Paul & Peter King.
I remember a night run to Vista with John. I remember getting there and we bought the liquor and beer for the crowd we expected for poker night. But the winter weather was blowing snow across the highway on the way back and I am not sure how he made it to Westport as it seemed we were mostly driving or skidding on the ice off the road.
John and our group would be at the beach for some WPLJ (White Port and Lemon Juice) and beer with our friends and head to the Westnor to recover before heading home. On a long summer evening there always was Bruce Kent’s 24/7 party to stop by and check in to see who was new in this eclectic party group. Or maybe with a Milk Punch after a hot day at the beach with Don von Liebermann, Sandy Frey, Mike Cleary, Marty Caselnova, Vince DePierro and friends from the beach day to cool down at Bruce’s.
John was very bright and very good at English. While we had lost touch over the years when it came to tracking down classmates for our 45th and 50th reunions, John was invaluable. He had honed his investigative skills over the years and was able to find virtually anyone Cliff Clifford, Judy Gault Sterling, Tom Saviano or I could not find. He even found those who were in prison on and off like Kit Carson, and those who did not necessarily want to be found, like Ron Grecula. I enjoyed catching up on his activities since high school and in spite of his illness at the time, John was always willing to help his classmates even though he would be unable to attend the reunion.
John made accordion music so much fun to listen to. For me it has been a privilege to have had fun with John in his much younger high school days when we were carefree and had fewer responsibilities in life. I regret we lived far apart as he was such a good guy and had many interesting views on so many subjects. He would have made a great discussion group partner (not possible now, maybe when I’m gone, too…).
Farewell my friend, until we meet again…
And, John—by the way—this time I will call that hand to make sure you are not bluffing… :-)
July 6, 2014