Charles-David Joseph ‘Chick’ Matacia-Lehrer
CHARLES-DAVID JOSEPH ‘CHICK’ LEHRER, b. October 09, 1940, Atlantic City, NJ; son of ANTOINETTE ‘ANN’ MATACIA and CHARLES JOHN ‘CHOLLY’ LEHRER; m. (1st wife) FILOMENA DOLORES ‘PHYLLIS’ PIEJAK, September 01, 1962, Passaic, NJ; b. October 28, 1940, Passaic, NJ; m. (2nd wife) NANCY BONAR, September 04, 1983, North Hollywood, CA; b. February 06, 1959, Los Angeles, CA.
The Chelsea Heights Gang
What ever happened to the Chelsea Heights Gang?
One Cool October
from ‘Leaving Chelsea Heights’
by Chick Lehrer
It was October 9th and Ronnie van Hest was admiring the new red bike I had just received for my fifth birthday: “That’s a real cool bike, Chickie; real air-filled tars!”
Not too many kids had bikes with tars like that in Chelsea Heights during the fall of 1945. Following Ronnie’s lead, I took off my gloves and felt the front chrome-covered handlebars; they were more than cool, actually it was quite chilly outside that October in Atlantic City and the bike was freezing cold.
“No Ronnie, not cool… cold!”
Well, he tried.
Ronnie was my best friend, a year ahead of me in our two-room school house out in Atlantic City’s poor white working-class neighborhood of Chelsea Heights, and I was happy to be with him this day. School was a real drag: and I wished he were by desk-mate; instead, I got the fearsome Ruth May Clethero.
One of the most forthright girls in kindergarten, Ruth May was so beautiful, that I was afraid to speak to her, or even look over her way, though we sat only inches apart. I’ve often wondered just why our teacher, Miss McClellan, paired us up. Ruth May was surely a special torture I had to endure.
“Bang Bang, take that you two Jy-ups” Skippy Mc Mahon fired away at Ronnie and me with his cap pistol as we sat on our bikes.
“Bang, Bang; hey you guys, you’re supposed to drop dead on the ground!”
Well, Ronnie and I were not about to play dead in Mrs. O’Brien’s driveway for Skippy or anyone else on that day, because its concrete surface was even colder than my handlebars. I just pretended I did not hear the plea of Skippy to play his war games. Ronnie was not so laid back:
“Hey, Skippy, why don’t you just get outta here and skip on home, kid?”
As Skippy bit me on the cheek, I wished Ronnie had not said that.
I went inside my house crying: “Waa, Dougie bit me mommy, waa.”
Mom’s Southern manner of speaking cut in: “What’s a matta with you bo-eh? Well, I’ll be a dirta nyme; why did Dougie do evah thy-ut?” Mom got the mercurochrome. Now the pain really began to set in as she painted the vile chemical onto my cheek; but then matters got worse as my Sicilian grandmom got into it:
“Madre-mia! Why you cheek-a bleed-a, chiudu? Tutti gozzi!”
The Art of Teaching the Young
from ‘Leaving Chelsea Heights’
by Chick Lehrer
During the War Years through 1946, Mom worked as a nurse in the extensive open wards of Haddon Hall, while Dad drove daily to Cape May to work on the radar facility which he helped build there. In those days, before the construction of the Garden State Parkway, the drive to Cape May was accomplished over a simple a two-lane road with long rickety bridges whose loose planks jumped up all over the place when one drove over them. So, Dad’s daily trips to work were quite a trial of the nerves.
It was during that period that I was cared for during the day by my African-American au pair, Billie Epps. It was rough being away from my mom all day, and in fall of 1945 when I was sent to kindergarten in the two-room Chelsea Heights Schoolhouse, it was even worse: being a first child, I had been pampered and over-protected from the get-go.
In early January 1945, my brother, Ernie was born. I had been sent to live in the Armbruster family’s house during the week mom was in the hospital and for at least a week more after that. It was during that time, in the cramped quarters of the Armbruster residence, that I first slept in the same bed with an actual girl: Helena Armbruster.
Things felt a lot better during the school year 1946-47 when I went through 1st grade. I think the canceling of the desk-partner concept by our teacher, Miss McClellan, was a contributing factor, because my desk-partner had been Ruth-May Clethro, a real guy-killer and increible distraction who tended to disrupt my concentration on school work.
I have fond memories of those school days, the huge furnace in the front of the classroom being stoked every so often by the janitor, and especially of the times when we got to hear our one record: Jasha Heifitz playing Antonin Dvorak’s Humoresque. Indeed, we were treated to the sight of our one painting, from time to time, too: The Blue Boy. Many years later, when I stood before Thomas Gainsborough’s gorgeous painting at the Huntington Museum in Pasadena CA, I realized how far I had come from those Chelsea Heights days.
Although all was going well for me personally, disaster struck Chelsea Heights itself in 1946 with the return of hundreds of GI’s from the Pacific. In response to the influx, the city built three series of cheap veteran housing in Chelsea Heights. Freddie McMenamin’s uncle lived in one of them with his wife and two kids, so I got to see the interior on several occasions. They were just awful crappy barracks: I do not know how those poor families survived in those little rat holes, reeking of pee and poop from the horrendous plumbing.
And the kids from those depraved families slowly began to infiltrate the little two-room Chelsea Heights Schoolhouse. By the time I was in 2nd grade in 1947-48, it became obvious that something was very, very wrong. I told my Dad that in my classroom, only a few of the students could read. The new kids from the veteran houses, in particular, were way behind me; and our teacher, Mrs. Paulsgrove, had to give all her attention to those 2nd and 3rd graders who were having such grave problems. The result was that I was rarely called upon to read.
So, that is when Dad decided to send me to Our Lady Star of the Sea Parochial School, or as kids in Chelsea Heights kids called it, ‘Star da Sea’. In the fall of 1948, I was enrolled in the 3rd grade there.
Let’s put it this way, the Dominicans designed the Inquisition to drive the Jews, Conversos, and Moranos crazy in Spain; and the Sisters of Mercy designed their educational system to drive little Catholic kids insane. Personally, I think they should have stuck to the nursing business, which is what brought them to America in the first place. When they came over from Ireland, every Sister of Mercy was supplied with a huge chip on each shoulder: one for the English People, the other for the Episcopal Church. At OLSS Parochial School (aka Star da Sea), we never heard the end of it from day-one: St. Patrick ruled there!
So, there I sat in the OLSS of the 1940’s and early 50’s with a German surname: Lehrer, which not a single one of those good Irish sisters could pronounce. As a result, they Irish-ized my surname to Lear. I was Master Lear for all the years I spent at OLSS Parochial School.
My dad, Cholly Lehrer, was actually only 1/4th German, but due to the very early death of his half-German father, Joe Lehrer, when Dad was 5 years old, he was brought up primarily by his Irish mother and her two ultra-Irish brothers. To be sure, Dad knew how to pronounce his German surname, and could even speak a bit of German, but, despite that, he thought of himself as an Irishman. So, needless to say, my chances of escaping the Irish nuns of ‘Star da Sea’ for Richmond Avenue Public School to be with my pals Skippy and Ronnie, were reduced to zero.
Indeed, my brother Ernie and I were both brought up orthodox Catholics and fully equipped to face the Devil, the Communists, and the Protestants via the Baltimore Catechism which we memorized in full at OLSS. There were breaks in that indoctrination, though, but that is when an unwary student could easily pick up a detention or two. I will give one example which is ingrained in my brain for all time. I have chosen a neutral name for the nun in charge:
Sister Mary Vaccination Needle: “Alright, class stand up, breathe; and, you Master Lonergan: open the windows as fully as possible….We are waiting for you Lonergan…Lon-er-gan will you quickly raise those windows before my blood begins to boil?”
Master Lonergan: “Yes Stir”.
Sister Mary Vaccination Needle: “Did I hear you correctly; what did you just say Master Lonergan?”
Master Lonergan: “Yes Stir”.
Sister Mary Vaccination Needle: “I thought so.. that’s a detention for you Lonergan. In the future, and this goes for every one in class, I would like to be addressed in the following manner: Yess, SSiss-terr. Now get those windows open Lonergan!”
Master Lonergan: “Yess Ssis-terr”. But Stir, it’s snowing outside and freezing!”
Sister Mary Vaccination Needle: “That’s another detention for you Lonergan”. “Did I hear you two snicker Masters Lear and Dwyer?”
Masters Lehrer and Dwyer: “No Stir.”
Sister Mary Vaccination Needle: “How dare you contradict, Masters Lear and Dwyer; both of you young men take a detention. Now class, let us open our mouths clearly and enunciate properly as we sing America the Beautiful…Oh, but before we begin, I must tell you about my favorite phrase, one that always reminds me of the beautiful church built in St. Augustine, Florida by the Spaniards in honor of Our Lady. It is covered with a wonderful plaster made of ground-up sea shells called ‘alabaster’. And you will hear this new word in the following phrase: (Sister Mary Vaccination Needle begins to sing with an unusually unpleasant vocal quality) “Thine ala-bastard cities gleam, undimmed by human te…Are you laughing Lonergan?”
Tommy Lonergan was doubled over in laughter which he could not bring under control; suddenly he farted, the class began to pick up on it, and what had begun as just light snickering on the part of the class, slowly crescendoed into howls of uninterrupted laughter.
As I remember it, Sister Mary Vaccination Needle stood there shaking her fists and shrieking to no avail throughout the ruckus:
“Silence class, Si-lence, Sci-ence! Holy Mother of God give me the strength..Silence..Si-lence…Sci-ence.”
Eventually, the laughter quieted down, and Sister Mary Vaccination Needle handed out a week of detentions to all the boys, the girls getting but a single days’ worth. Tommy Lonergan was sent to the blackboard on that day, and every day afterwards for a week to slowly print hour after hour: ‘I must learn to control my emotions and my bowels’.
By some miracle, Dad told me near the end of 8th grade at OLSS, that I did not have to attend Atlantic City’s Catholic high school, Holy Spirit, if I did not want to. He felt that I had had enough Catholic Education. Perhaps God spoke to him during one of his daily 7:00 pm visits to church, while he prayed for the repose of the soul of his Irish mom, who is said to have made the wrath of the good Sisters of (no) Mercy seem like a walk in the park.
The index of one of Chick’s many online productions for the International Double Reed Society: The Double Reed Archeologist contains 96 of Chick’s editions of Concertos, Sonatas, and Chamber Music.