Category Archives: Family

Entries mostly about growing up (maybe me, maybe not)

The Cabin John Gardens truck

The blankety-blank computer crashed when I was nearly finished writing this tale.  Everything was gone.  The entire post, all three witticisms, and a glimmer of insight.  Gone.  Created a mental block.  Soon, though, I will retell the tale and perhaps uncork the flow.  I even checked the version history–no joy.

Two years later (so much for “soon”!)…

So: I grew up in a community called Cabin John Gardens in Cabin John, Maryland.  The Gardens was a cooperative that my Dad helped organize.  The history was that the Gardens–100 houses on some 18 acres–had been government-owned worker housing, built during WW II for the Navy’s David Taylor Model Basin up the road at Carderock, MD.  In the early Fifties Dad had a job at the Model Basin when the government decided to sell the property to a developer who would tear down the houses and build apartments.  Dad worked with many of the workers living in those houses, and became one of the leaders of a Co-op formed to bid on the property  (Dad, with a Master’s degree in Naval Architecture, was probably the best-educated person in the mostly blue-collar workforce affected).  The Co-op was successful; each of 100 members owned one share, and the right to live in one house.  There was a monthly Co-op fee to cover debt service and operations; I think it was around $130/month when I was little).

The neighborhood, just south of MacArthur Blvd (formerly Conduit Rd) and just west of the Cabin John Union Arch bridge over Cabin John Creek, was on the site of what had been a classy hotel back in the day (starting in the 1850s).  The resort had some well-known Gardens–hence the name of the Co-op.  The Gardens was a little cut off from the rest of Cabin John (the township); most of the town was north of MacArthur and closer to the Model Basic.  There was a Community Center in the Gardens and a lot of community spirit.  People helped each other out, watched each others’ houses and kids, did things together (singing carols, shoveling snow, celebrating the Fourth, and so on).  The community center had a social hall, a kitchen, and a workshop with some power tools and workbenches.  The houses were tiny: 2- and 3-bedroom ramblers, no garages: so the workshop provided a place for activities that basements and garages support in other communities.  (One Christmas season we helped a neighbor construct a model train layout on some 4×8 sheets of plywood.)

There was one resident with a truck that was available for community use.  (I speculate that the Co-op either bought  the truck, or provided the owner with rent relief; but I don’t know.)  It was an old black pickup and it served many uses.

My brother Guy and I were paperboys in the Sixties, Guy delivering the Washington Post while I carried the Evening Star.  So we knew how newspapers got into the Gardens.  The truck was involved in getting them out.  During the Sixties Gardens families saved paper for recycling.  (The Co-op contracted for trash removal and probably paid by the ton.)  There was a place in Washington DC (in Georgetown, I think) that bought newspapers, and the Co-op figured it was better to make money than to pay money to discard it.  Every so often, on Saturdays, some adult drove the truck with 3-5 boys around the Gardens to pick up used newspapers.  (Guy and I were often in that crew–we lived across the street from the truck’s usual parking spot.)  We’d start off riding in the truck-bed, and ride on top of the cargo as the truck filled up.

This was long before bungee cords; we boys served as the restraints holding the paper from blowing in the wind.  Once the truck neared full, we’d hold the truck sides and each other to stay on top of the job (so to speak).  When the pickup was complete (not long; just a hundred houses) the truck would head for the dropoff–with boys still holding the paper down in the pickup bed.  I still don’t know why that seemed like a good idea, but it made sense at the time.  Thrilling and a bit scary; the drivers did not always know the way and there were occasional U-turns to get to missed turnoffs.  We’d ride to the collection point; the truck would be weighed (with crew) and we’d unload the paper; a second weighing provided the net weight and the driver collected the cash for the load.  We’d head home; I think we usually stopped at High’s in Glen Echo for ice cream cones on the way back.

The truck was often used for hauling building materials to families doing renovations.  And Dad used it to haul dirt.

We lived on a corner lot (Ericsson Rd and Froude Circle) and, on the Froude Circle side, the land sloped down from the house to the street.  Dad decided to level the yard, which required a retaining wall about three feet high at the lowest point.  And it required a lot of dirt to fill in the slope.  As it happened, the Navy owned some land on Brickyard Road near the Model Basin and were clearing it for construction–and they invited workers to haul away the fill.  So Guy and I, perhaps my brother Lou as well, would get shovels, climb in the truck, and head out to the site.  There we’d fill up the truck bed, Dad would check that we weren’t overloading the suspension, and we’d head home.

We kids were a little sorry to see that property cleared; up till then we’d used it as our Christmas tree hunting ground.  The trees were all scraggly, so we’d bring home two or three and let Mom pick the best-looking one.  But that’s another story.

We gradually got the yard leveled.  Dad showed us how to use a string-level to measure the surface and maintain a reliable slope for drainage.    Even left a trench for a pipe to carry downspout runoff to the street.  I don’t recall how Dad made sure the retaining wall was sturdy, but when I drove past decades later it was still in place.  (Dad’s father was a self-employed building contractor working throughout the mid-West, and Dad said he learned his construction skills from accompanying his dad.)

That community truck made a lot of trips–and a lot of memories.

Happy birthday, Guy

[Note: I drafted this in response to my sister Meg’s email with memories of our brother Guy Michael Church.  This year is the 40th since his death from acute anemia…two days before graduation from the US Military Academy at West Point, five days before his planned wedding to Tricia Reznick, a month before deployment to Germany as an officer in the Army.  Guy was 20 months older than I, one year ahead in school. I have six younger siblings.]

Happy birthday, bro.  And thanks for writing, Sis.

I seem to recall writing of him for T(A)AM (Lou’s The (Almost) Anything Magazine, a family newsletter). Guy was a West Pointer, as I’m sure you know. I have a ticket stub from a post-Army-Navy game dance. The band (says the ticket) was Ruby and the Romantics. That group’s signature song was “Our day will come” (link:; Guy’s date was Trish who was not yet his fiancée. Nice song, then. Now seems so unfair.

[In a separate posting, Meg mentioned to youngest sib Jimmy that Guy had taken a test (for his martial arts class) that consisted of elbowing his way across a field. Jimmy responded “Wow!”]

Jimmy, the Akido martial arts style used elbows—contrasted with karate or savate. Dragging oneself across a football field by the elbows toughened them up. The concept seemed to be, “Get really close and do real damage”. Guy took the course with some of his summer job co-workers, at American University building and grounds (which seemed mostly a way to pay jocks in the off-season; it was a fairly rowdy crew). The instructor, a fairly small fellow, later became a well-known karate teacher. The crew at AU said the instructor’s dream was to teach karate to the Ohio State football team—with all that muscle mass they would be able to break not just bricks but tree limbs, and wipe the floor with any other karate school. That crew told me that Guy had used the training successfully in an altercation in Ocean City. (Guy told me he made it up; there were a lot of tall tales swapped in that group. I was never entirely sure.) Guy found the job; I joined him for the second and third summers before college. Moving furniture is good for the soul. Being a high school boy on a college campus in summer was good, too. We played word games while carrying boxes—holding our own with the college student-athletes on the crew.

Guy was in the stage crew at Archbishop Carroll High. One year (probably his sophomore year) he celebrated St. Paddy’s day by using stage powder paint to color his hair green. (I think he washed it out before going home, but maybe not.) I remember him jumping up on a table at a pep rally and doing a dance called “The Monkey” (picture a monkey climbing a rope, hand over hand). One of his stage crew friends, watching, told me “Now, that takes guts! You’ve got a lot to live up to!” (I was also in stage crew and drama, following him.)

Guy was in the drama club at Carroll, played a role in “Stalag 17” but I can’t remember what role. As a freshman at Mackin High he had a role in “The Caine Mutiny Court Martial” playing the officer-author character. The role I really remember was as Cromwell in “A Man for All Seasons” (I played Archbishop Cranmer). During a break at one rehearsal Guy declaimed the “Silence” speech from the trial scene, stalking forward from backstage, out to and beyond the edge of the stage, ending the speech standing on the railing of the iron stair leading down to the orchestra pit. He had good balance, timing, and a whole lot of self-confidence.

Guy and I delivered newspapers, starting very young.   Guy delivered the morning Washinton Post, I did the Evening Star, but very early Sunday mornings we sometimes walked together where the routes overlapped. I remember walking through pouring rain with him, wearing ponchos (Boy Scout gear, of course), chatting, trying to keep the papers dry and mostly succeeding. Guy said “Nice night for ducks”, I responded “God help sailors on nights like this”, and Guy answered “I expect He does”. Funny what sticks in your mind…cheerfully-shared adversity, I guess.

At a Troop 496 Camp Roosevelt summer camp one year, when Guy was Senior Patrol Leader, Dad came to my tent during siesta and asked me to check that Guy had a spare summer uniform in his pack (he did.) I found out why that evening. The troop held a first annual “Order of the Fly” ceremony, with Guy as King Fly, Dad as MC. The ceremony was patterned after the much more serious Order of the Arrow [Scouting’s Honor Society] Tap-out ceremony. As each candidate was brought forward he faced a series of senior scouts with “fly” designations—and the last was the “letterfly” (accompanied by a smack with a soaking wet towel!). The surprise was, with the last “Let ‘er fly!”, along with the candidate, Guy got soaked with a couple buckets of water. It was hilarious (and the last bit only worked as a “first annual”). A couple of other senior patrol scouts did the honors, with Julian Rocha’s assistance.

When Guy and I were learning to ride bikes, we first learned to stay up after being launched; and needed catching (or crashing into convenient fences) to dismount. Dad told us that whichever of us first learned to mount and dismount without assistance would get a trip to Glen Echo Amusement Park as a reward. Guy won, and I felt that life was unfair—Guy (then) was enough taller that he could straddle the bike and keep it upright for launch. A few inches shorter, I had to use the pedal to mount, and that took longer to master. (Dad took both of us to the Park, and Guy got extra rides as reward. It seemed fair to us both.)

Dad got Guy a car, senior year in high school. A little, used four-door, four seater Fiat with seats that reclined all the way flat. (WAY cool.) We put a green “racing” stripe on it, but failed to account for the curvature of the hood. (My fault, I think.) The curved surface produced a curved stripe. Nonetheless, it was a cool car. Guy and I double-dated to a drive-in movie (link:, parking just out of sight of the VW bus with the rest of the family. Every so often a sibling would come over and offer us some popcorn (or some other excuse). (We actually did not need the reminders! Out of sight was definitely not out of mind.)

Meg, I remember going over the GW bridge on that trip to Boston. I think Mom was more green than Guy.

Guy loved dancing. He and his friends (including girls from Ursuline Academy in Bethesda) would get together and try to create new dances to the latest rock and roll. The Ursuline connection (I think) was: one of Guy’s close friends was Mike Cisar in St. Jane de Chantel parish on Old Georgetown Road, quite near Ursuline. The de Chantel teen club held dances (mixers), and Guy and Mike met some Ursuline girls there (including perhaps Marion and Mary Ellen) (link: not likely!). It was more a group than a set of couples. They sometimes got together at our Cabin John house; Meg and Jeannie may remember being pulled into the dancing.

Guy also loved to sing. He sang the Simon & Garfunkel song “I am a rock” often enough that, some years later (when we were in college) one of the Ursuline girls asked me “Is your brother still a rock?”

But, in the sense of that song, Guy never, ever was.