MY MATT

After visiting her sister Lilly, my Aunt Rose would stop by our Throggs Neck bungalow to vist my mother.  Often, she would express how worried she was about Lilly  smacking  her son Matty ( born August 1924 ) . ” She won’t leave that boy alone. She is after him all the time and smacks him for everything and anything. ”

As it turned out, my Aunt Rose was underestimating Lilly’s talent as a carrot and stick motivator. If you followed my Aunt Lilly’s suggested regimen and bought into her pep talks, you could begin to think of yourself as special to the point where there was no way you could imagine not measuring up to her opinion of you as the perfect boy.  Thats how she got me to stop sucking my thumb and wetting the bed. It took her only one week to get results, the week my parents were away finding my sister Beth in that hospital garbage can.   My parents had been working on me for a year without  results. Now,  imagine the attention you would get as Lilly’s  son , 24 / 7, fifty two weeks a year! For sure you would see both the carrot and the stick.

Anyway, Aunt Lilly succeeded beyond everyone’s expectations with Matty.  Matt became an exceptional student and an enthusiastic  athlete who totally loved and doted on his parents.  He was accepted at Fordham Prep, a Jesuit Prep school,  on the Fordham University campus which was where Vince Lombardi acquired his work ethic as one of the  ” Seven Blocks of Granite ” for the  nationally  ranked Fordham University football team.

Matty was at the Prep while Vince Lombardi  was at the College.  Same kind of discipline required because Fordham Prep was no country club, with two hours of Latin daily in addition to either Greek or German. Miss two days of vocabulary and watch the train pull away with you standing on the ” dunce” platform. In addition, Matty was a starting  infielder for  the varsity baseball team.

When Matt graduated the Prep  in 1942,  he was primed to be swallowed up by the USA draft, the World War II  being only six months old.

Aunt Lilly approached her brother Vince seeking a draft exemption for Matt as a welder on the ” Liberty “Ships”   he built as General Superintendent of  the East Coast Shipyards,  at Bayonne, NJ.   The problem  was my Uncle Vince had enlisted in Navy at fourteen ( ! )  and didn’t think an exemption would be good for Matt as a man.  So, he turned my Aunt Lilly down. Nothing was ever said to me, but to the mother of an only child I can see how  the turn down could easily have seemed like her brother had handed down a potential  death sentence to her son.

That didn’t faze Matty.  He applied and was accepted for an accelerated 15 month course in Marine Engineering taught at Fort Schuyler..  At that point, Fort Schuyler  was the  Officers Candidate School for  the US Merchant Marine,  and if Matt could complete the course he would become an Ensign in the US Merchant Marine, and then a Lieutenant JG in command of an engine room on one of my uncle Vince’s Liberty Ships….at age nineteen!

I have all of Matt’s letters home to his mom and dad throughout his three year  service  including how the course was so accelerated he had no choice but to study nights under the covers with a flashlight,  after lights out..

At around this time, my Aunt Lilly began referring to Matty as ” My Matt “.  To me, that is the ultimate acceptance by a mom or a girlfriend or a wife ! )  I was too young to appreciate it at 7 years old but I was already being  compared to Matt .  Maybe my mother had some  ” My Richard ” thoughts  incubating .  But,   my little sister was taken from that hospital garbage pail just in time  ( 1944 ) to take that type of pressure off me.

As time went on, Matt graduated and was assigned duty on ships running  Hitler’ submarine s gauntlet in the North Atlantic,  sometimes on convoys all the way to Russia.  He sailed to Murmansk, Rio de Janiero,  Scotland,  England etc.  and once invited me,  at age 8, on board his ship, anchored at Fulton Street,  for a stem to stern solo  tour just hours before weighing anchor and  sailing through the Narrows, outward bound for God knows where,  at what risk.  But, a smile never seemed to leave Matty’s face and, as a young Officer he seemed to be just as  popular with his  shipmates as he was at the Prep and on the baseball field …..and with the girls..

 

matt

 

The summer the war ended , Matt  began working  under a union permit as a wire  lather on apartment houses , reinforcing floors with steel rods tied at intersections to accept  wet poured concrete .  His parents were waiting for a time slot  for him to start at Fordham University.  And, because they didn’t want him to waste time his parents enrolled him at Delahanty Institute in a course for reading building plans and estimating costs.  It was thought he could possibly join my Uncle Harry in his construction business at some point down the line.

For me to tell you that my cousin Matt was my inspirational  and aspirational role model  is a gross understatement.  And, he was some tough act to follow !

He really loved to  play baseball ( we both were Giant fans ),  and every Sunday most of the family, including my mother and father and I,  would go to watch him play short stop for the Throggs Neck Mohawks .  These guys were age 22 or so,   but mature beyond their years because of the war,  They played teams from different parts of the Bronx, and the games were hard fought with lots of betting. And, you could sit right there, up close, and really see and hear a pitched ball disappear into a catcher’s mitt almost as if you were at the plate,  batting.  Sunny, dusty, grimy, sweaty , the way the game was meant to be played and the way ice cream was meant to be eaten.

Matt had dated a girl, Virginia Green all during the war . I had to march in line with my classmates  past her house on the way from daily Mass ( ugh ) to my schoolyard ( Saint Benedict ) and often  she and her mother would come to their upstairs  window and smile and wave to me as I walked past.  I really liked her and I thought she was beautiful and I was looking forward to the day when she and Matt would get married and we three could be friends.gin0001.

But something was going on. Aunt Lilly wanted ” My Matt”  to finish college ( 4 years )  before he got married.  And, Ginny wanted to get married ASAP because she had patiently waited for him all during the war and, though engaged,  all her girlfriends were getting married.

The next thing I knew my parents were waking me up on Sunday night August 23, 1946 to explain to me that Matty and Ginny had been in a terrible accident and that a babysitter for my little sister Beth would be arriving momentarily.  My parents weren’t home the next morning when I got up, so I got dressed and walked up to the candy and grocery  stores at the intersection of Bruckner Blvd. and Tremont Avenue  to pick up a newspaper  bring home  some breakfast rolls.

As I approached the corner,  a little girl pointed me out to a man saying ” that’s his cousin “.  The man came up to me and asked me for the latest news on my cousin and I said all I know is that he was in an accident last night.  Then he said… ” your cousin wasn’t in an accident He was shot by his girlfriend and he’s in critical condition at Fordham Hospital.”  What???!!!.  I didn’t believe it ! Then he introduced himself as a reporter for the New York Daily News.  Very tough news for a just turned  ten year old to comprehend.  I was confused. I ran home hoping to learn what had really happened. My mother was home  and she  told me she didn’t want me up all night worrying,  so she had to tell me  a white lie.  And, that we were all going to the hospital.

What actually happened was that the day before,  Sunday,  my Aunt Lilly wanted Matt to play in the scheduled double header and then go out to dinner with his parents….I assume Ginny was invited but these details are fuzzy.  All Aunt Rose kept saying for years after was …” Why did Lilly need to control him so.?  Why did she need to interfere ? . Why couldn’t she just let the boy have his own life ? ”

At about 10:00pm  Sunday night , Ginny walked the three blocks from her house to Matt’s house, threw a pebble at his 2nd floor  bedroom window and told him she had his bathing suit.( we all had been at Compo Beach, Westport, Ct. Saturday afternoon ). My Uncle Harry was having a beer  at  the Pub just around the corner , on  Tremont Avenue..   My Aunt Lilly was already in bed.

Matty told Ginny he would meet her at the side door which was on a landing which either led down to the basement or up to the kitchen.  Matt opened the door for Ginny and then turned to head up to the kitchen assuming she would follow him.  Instead, she pulled her fathers duty revolver ( he was a policemen ) and shot Matty once through the back and then turned the gun on herself, shooting herself in the head.  It was later speculated that she had enough bullets to have one ready for my Aunt Lilly if she had been present.  But, that’s pure conjecture.

The 45th Precinct was just across the street from my aunts house and it wasn’t long before police were on  the scene.  An ambulance arrived from Fordham Hospital and it had only one bed.  Matt insisted that Ginny be given the bed and he rode the half hour to the hospital sitting up on a metal ambulance  bench.

He was taken to emergency surgery and stabilized.  He kept asking about Ginnys’s condition, but she was already dead and nobody wanted to break the news to him in his condition. For sure,  I know they loved each other .  Then why ???    Nobody had any answers except that Ginny was probably despondent, had probably given Matt a marriage ultimatum at some point during the weekend , and somehow they broke off the engagement.

We were at the hospital almost non stop for three days.  Then,  we were told Matt had caught pneumonia.  These were the days before antibiotics. When I,  my Aunt Rose and my mother took a lunch break at a nearby restaurant,  and were walking  back to the hospital.  Suddenly  we could see my Aunt Lilly staggering down the hospitals steps and sink to her knees.  Her Matt was gone.

Think Romeo and Juliette was sad ?  Welcome to another Tenety tragedy.  The Tenetys had  the 1940s version of Kennedy hard luck.

Whenever I listen to  the song  Bye Bye Miss American Pie and the music stopping,  I think of my cousin Matt and Ginny and the  the sudden end to their lives.

that’s when the music stopped for me.

Richard Gore

 

Matthew Kingston,  August 13, 1924…..August 26, 1946

With his mother Lillian Tenety Kingston at Fort Schuyler, Merchant Marine Academy, Throggs Neck, NY

 

 

 

 

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