Thank you all for coming today! I’m in awe at the number of John’s friends. Welcome to you all. Since I am John’s younger brother, Rick, and have known him for the last 78 years, I probably remember a few things about him that you haven’t heard. Since John Conant was always Jack to his family in those days, I’ll use that familiar term.
My earliest memories are of growing up with brother Jack and my parents in Ridgewood, New Jersey. Ridgewood, even then, was a bedroom town for those families whose fathers worked in New York. My dear Dad was one of those commuters who took the Erie RR train to Hoboken and then the Hudson River ferry over to New York. His office was at 65 Worth St. in lower Manhattan…just a ten minute walk from the ferry terminal.
When my folks built their house in Ridgewood there was a large woods on one side and a neighbor on the other. The woods gave us a place to explore and play in as the rest of the road was being developed over the next few years. We shared a bedroom for all the time that we were in Ridgewood. That room with built-in bookcases and the usual kid’s maple desk was our home and playroom. We had our measles and scarlet fever there and this is where we read, played and studied. This was that time long before the Salk vaccine and the threat of a polio epidemic with possible paralysis and death was always in our parents minds. In the early years we could walk through our neighbor’s yard across the street to the primary school on the next street. Jack’s nemeses in school were foreign languages. Our front lawn was used for snow forts and snowball fights in the winter and cowboys and Indians and catch in the summer.
One frightening time occurred when Jack was about ten and I was seven. I was trying to climb the big oak in front of the house and Jack was teasing me as usual. I was probably just the spoiled little kid but I lost my temper and picked up the broken top of a cream bottle and flung it his way in desperation. It was beginners luck but the glass struck him right in the chin and he bled like mad. I was scared to death and that was the last thing I threw at my brother or anyone else. Mom was furious but bandaged my dear brother up and took us down to the Doctor’s office at the end of the street for repair. John still had the scar the last I checked.
The streets were without much traffic and so had a great place to slide when it was snowy or icy. As we got older, our bicycles were our transportation. It was nothing to ride the three miles downtown to the five and ten or the hardware store. Many of the families on Fairmount Road had children and so we had lots of buddies….Jimmy Mignyard and his brother, Bobby (my age), come to mind. Bobby walked with braces on his feet and was much shorter than he should have been. He and I were good friends. Another friend of Jack’s was Bill Miller. Jack also had a couple of friends that my Mother didn’t much care for, but then that’s how mothers are…and how kids are, too. Jack wasn’t likely to get in trouble so nothing came of it.
Jack was a budding naturalist and loved to collect frogs, toads and snakes as well as newts, salamanders and crawfish. The streams at that time were full of all manner of creatures and Jack loved them all. He was a good artist and cartoonist and might have gone far in either field.
He was also the athlete of our family. I was much more inclined, at the time, to work by myself on a project in the garage or cellar, while Jack would be off playing ball. He was good at tennis and played football for a while in High School. What a shame that he couldn’t continue these in later life!
As we grew older cars became very important. Jack was about 16 and it was in the depression when money was very tight. Suddenly there was a Model “A” coupe in the drive and it belonged to Jack. He and I were thrilled but mother and Dad were not! It turned out that Jack had given a man $24 for the car and the gent had delivered it to our driveway! The car was allowed to stay and Jack learned to start it and drive it up and down the drive…at the time he was too young to take it on the road. This was about 1940 and Jack would be off soon to Taft School in Watertown, Conn. where he was to repeat his Junior year (in order to qualify for Taft) and then go on to his Senior year. The Model “A” was a great idea, but he never got to take it on the road.
Taft was a real eye opener for both Jack and myself. Jack was first to go and was shocked to get his first papers back with failing grades for punctuation, spelling and grammar errors. This was new to him but he buckled down and really enjoyed it. He brought his grades up and finished his second year there in good shape.
During his first year at Taft, along came Pearl Harbor and the attack by the Japanese on December 7, 1941. Jack was seventeen on this very day and soon would be completing his junior year at Taft. That summer he got a job at an office in New York City for…and this is hard to believe…$21 per week. He then entered his Senior year at Taft that September and graduated in June of 1943. He, like so many others of that day was drafted into the army. Jack went on to serve in the South Pacific and the Philippines in the Army Signal Corps. And so ends the story of his early years…John was now a man.