Friendship: He was Dick and I was Johnnie
by John H. McHugh

originally from the Manchester Herald, 5/3/1988
reprinted from Old Manchester II ... The Storytellers, published 1995 by the Manchester Historical Society

To the editor:

Dick Cobb and I went to Bunce School starting off in first grade. We became close friends.

Dick and I fought each other, as boys usually do, wrestled each other, called each other names. The next day we played baseball, Hill-E-Over, and a game of caddie. We forgot the previous day's disagreement.

We had turns, like the rest of the kids, ringing the school bell signaling recess or lunch time. Indoor plumbing had just started at Bunce School. Olcott Street was gravel.

Our teacher, Mrs. Martin Lord, brought in cans of soup which were heated on an electric hot plate in the cellar beside the furnace. We could buy a bowl of soup for about three or four cents. We kids took turns stirring the soup while studying our lessons. Our reward was a free bowl of soup. One November day after school, Dick and I took our shoes off and paddled in the (Hop Brook) Tar Brook. When we decided to put on our shoes and go home, Dick couldn't get his shoes back on. We started walking home, Dick with his shoes in his hand, until we stopped at a neighbor's and borrowed a shoehorn so Dick could get his shoes on. When we arrived at my house (site of Spencer Street Friendly's), my grand mother gave me a wallop and a tongue lashing while Dick ran fast down Hillstown Road.

While we were in Barnard School (now Bennet Junior High School) we brought our lunch. In good weather we ate our lunch in the Quadrangle. Bad weather we would eat in the tunnel or the room provided. Some days during the lunch hour we would go upstairs in East Side Rec and swing on the ropes or play basketball until the custodian kicked us out.

Our lunch period was one hour long. We would take walks up Main Street going in and out of stores until we reached Woolworth's, where Dick would buy 5 or 10 cents worth of candy that we could eat on the way back to school. Sometimes we would only get as far as Magnell Drug Store for a vanilla ice cream cone. We only had a few cents between us.

Dick and I played in Miss Shea's orchestra, Dick on the Drums and I on the violin. I don't think Dick ever took lessons but he was good.

Dick and I tried to be cowboys, riding the young bulls till we were thrown. This would take place when my folks were not home.

In Manchester High, Dick was in many sports, including baseball, football, basketball and track. He excelled in all. If he came home on the Silver Lane bus, he would stop in and give me the results. If his dad picked him up, I'd find out the next day on the school bus.

Near the end of the school year, in June, we would eat our lunch on the run going up Mt. Nebo to Globe Hollow. If it was full we would take a dip and run back in time for the afternoon classes. One time I got off the bus, and got a pint of heavy cream as my folks had a dairy farm. Dick continued home and changed his clothes and picked stawberries. Those were the biggest feed of strawberries we both ever had. We also had a watermelon fight when they ripened, and apple fights.

After High School, Dick went on to college and then into the service. I married and bought a home across from his parents on Hillstown Road. Dick's dad was a farmer. When he cultivated his strawberries he would come right across Hillstown Road and do mine. I said, "Mr. Cobb, you don't have to do mine." His answer, "I have to turn around somewhere, Johnnie."

After the service, Dick returned to Hillstown Road with his bride, Bunny. Dick and Bunny bought the house next to me. There, history started to repeat. Their children and my children played, fought, danced, and loved each other. All the years living side by side, we never had an argument over children.

When the winter snows came, Dick always plowed my driveway so I could get to work. The only thing he would take for plowing was a thank you. I could borrow his tractor or truck any time. When my son needed medical attention, Dick drove him to the M.M.H. emergency ward and stayed with him until he was released.

Many times Dick went into the hospital these past years. I visited some. Now I say to myself, not enough times.

Dick plowed and cultivated his garden for years but he could never get rid of the path that ran between our houses. As soon as he left, a new one would appear.

At Dick's mother's birthday, she's 101 years old now [in 1988], I asked her if she remembered the argument Dick and I had as to which one of us had the dirtiest face. She laughed, and said yes. She settled it. We both had dirty faces.

In all the years we spent going to school, being friends and neighbors, Dick never realized I was white and I never realized he was black. He was just Dick and I was just Johnnie. Friends for 64 years.

Until we meet again, Dick, save me a seat on that School Bus in the sky.



(Ed. Note: Richard "Dick" Cobb, 69, former Manchester High School athletic director, died April 20, 1988.)