Henry Rendino was such a good-looking kid — warm skin that was almost the same color as his blondish hair and big green eyes . . . always loved green eyes. I’m not sure when I first became aware of him. He probably went to my elementary school, P.S. 12, though I think he was about three years ahead of me. But I can remember when I fell in love with him.
My cousin Joy was two years older than me, and my frequent companion at intermittent times in the days before she went off to high school. She and I started going to St. Helena’s Church basement on Saturday afternoon to roller-skate. For a nominal fee, one rented skates and proceeded to skate around to music as one does at any rink. And there he was skating with his girlfriend, Eleanor Guy, a dark-haired pretty girl who had a turn in her eye. He wore a brown leather jacket, which accentuated his hair and skin color. His pants were pegged, common among young Italian boys, though not particularly to my taste.
He and Eleanor skated with his left arm around her waist and the other clasping her hands in perfect sync with each other and the music. They never smiled or chatted. They just skated. I would watch them go round and round. “Gee, wish it was me in his arms,” I mused to no one. I must have been in sixth grade at this time, about 11 years old.
Later, perhaps a few years later, Joy and I would go out on a Friday night — that’s how I know it was later. My mother would never let me go out at night until I was at least in eighth grade. We started going to B & K’s Ice Cream Parlor. A lot of guys hung out there on Friday night. We called them “endsfrays,” which meant friends in Pig Latin.
We sat in a booth and I would have my usual coffee ice cream with coffee syrup. I don’t remember what Joy ordered. Finally, one time after a few flirtatious encounters that were thrilling, he came over and sat down with us, with his green eyes and pegged pants. He began to talk and, oh, could he talk. By this time I was also aware that Joy liked him too, although there were plenty of other “endsfrays” to choose from. But Henry preferred me. Looking back, I know why he did. He was bright. I remember him talking to me about inanimate objects. “How did we know these ‘things’ really don’t have feelings?” I think he sensed in me the same kind of keen interest in all things that exist in this world. Joy wasn’t dumb, but she just wasn’t interested in matters of the mind. Her head was into things of a more primitive nature, like “endsfrays.”
Our relationship blossomed. We saw each other whenever we could. It didn’t take long for my mother to find out. B & K’s was located at the bottom of the subway station steps where my mother emerged every day on her way home from her job as a switchboard operator at Macy’s. As soon as she did know, she strenuously objected. “His mother is living with a man she isn’t married to and has a child with him.” In those days it was called “out of wedlock” and considered shameful. In these days it would be called common.
I knew he didn’t live with his mother and instead resided with his sister and her husband. The brother-in-law owned an Italian restaurant called the Allegro on Westchester Avenue, a large place where Henry sometimes worked. I tell you this because he always seemed to have money.
Somehow I managed to continue being his girlfriend despite my mother’s objections, which, of course, I thought were ridiculous and narrow-minded, quite beneath my mother’s liberal stance on all other issues. On my birthday he gave me a gold cross. Boy, did that cause an explosion in my family! My sister Joan had a fit that I was allowed to keep that cross.
To make matters worse, he asked me out to a movie and dinner downtown, of course on a Sunday afternoon. We went to one of the big houses of the day — Paramount, Roxy, or Capitol, I don’t remember which one or what we saw as we sat in the balcony and spent the entire time kissing. Then he took me to a popular restaurant of the day called Tuffinetti’s, and I remember exactly what I had, tomato soup, which was served in a kind of elegant teapot type device that allowed me to serve myself, and scallops. I always had scallops whenever I went out to eat. I guess this was really my first date.
Since this happened so many years ago, I’m not sure exactly how it ended. Did we just drift apart as our lives took different paths? I suspect he probably moved, maybe went back with his mother. Whatever happened, it did end and I didn’t have another boyfriend until college, but it was lots of fun while it lasted.
Oh one thing: I was watching television once, probably when I was a young mother, when his face appeared on the news and they called him by name, Henry Rendino. There was something happening in Queens that day and he was being interviewed. He talked a lot as usual. He looked the same, but gone were the pegged pants.
Phyllis Italiano was a teacher and school administrator in both public and private settings. She retired from the Yonkers Public Schools in 2004 and lives in Springs.