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Kitchen table diplomacy
Sitting down with a friend and solving the world’s problems over coffee and cigarettes
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I had a friend, her name was Judy. She was my buddy’s mother. An odd relationship at best, you might say.

You might think that, but I didn’t. From her standpoint, it was a love/ hate/love situation. (She loved me as a harmless kid, hated me through my rebellious teens, and loved me once again as I finally matured). By adulthood, the influence I’d had on her son had been tempered by time, and had now just become comic memories.

My friend, (and her son), was a long drink of water named Billy. We called him “G-Legs.” He had a younger tag along brother named Christopher, but we knew him as “Small Change.” Our buddy was “Hairy.”

Just like “Hazy Davy” and “Killer Joe,” we all had street names where I grew up. But what I find funny in retrospect is that those names came off the streets and into our homes.

Living and growing up in the ‘50s and ‘60s in New Jersey was not for the faint of heart, or for that matter, politically correct. Which by the way was a term that hadn’t been coined yet.

Let’s face it, if you smelled bad, you were dubbed “Stinky.” Happened to be obese? You were the “Whale.” We took no prisoners, and offered no quarter.

Parents were a different matter, though. It was pretty much Mr. Him and Mrs. Her. We were not offered a lot of leeway on this, and would never have expected it.

Respect for your elders was not only required behavior in our parts; it was certainly hazardous to your health if not extended.

Matter of fact, thinking about it, I didn’t call Mrs. Hartney Judy until I was 40 years old. We were at the bar enjoying a cocktail at Glenn’s (Hairy’s) wedding. I was 50 years old before I called her husband Tom, and still feel like I’m walking on thin ice in doing so.

Judy died about a year ago; she had been in ill health for some time. I’ve heard it said that death comes as a blessing for those who have suffered. I have no idea if that is true or not. I do know that her loved ones helped her bear that pain.

This was not Judy’s first brush with death; she’d been on his doorstep many years prior, when her heart had actually stopped on the operating table. She rallied, she fought back, and she was what we in Jersey call a “trouper.”

Billy and I were two-fifths of the local basketball team from childhood through High School. That’s how I met Mrs. Hartney. She was a fan. She was a mother who took an active interest in her children and their friends. For me that was special.

As I alluded to earlier, I was not always the friend that mother’s would choose for their child. She was fine with me back in the days when I didn’t bitch too loudly when Billy and I had to baby-sit “Small Change” even though we had other plans.

But then my name went from Tommy to “Mud” in the time it took to spell “Ketchup”, but that’s another story. Somehow or another all was forgiven and I was let back into her kitchen, her sanctuary.

Remember Jack Nicholson in Easy Rider? Well you should have seen G-Legs (all six foot eight of him), with a football helmet on his head on the back of my motorcycle heading upstate.

We were six sheets to the wind, with his knees protruding into the other lanes; Judy was probably fingering her Rosary and cussing me for all she was worth in the same breath.

I later sat in her kitchen on many an occasion, where we’d talk, and solve the world’s and my world’s problems over coffee and cigarettes. She was Bel Airs (yeah, she saved the coupons). Me? I was Marlboros, and got only a cough for my expense.

What I did get there at her kitchen table was an ear. Totally unheard of at that time, and probably still the case. Whose friend’s mother actually sits down with her child’s friends and listens to their problems?

It meant a lot to me. I miss her.

E-mail Tom at