Who was this Marcus “Mike” Brough? I visited him often. He lived across the street when we lived on Kenilworth court. Mike was tall and very thin and wore thick glasses. He read a lot. Like many young men, he slept late and drank milk by the quart from a large glass bottle that was waiting on the porch each morning. He seldom went out. Mike wore slippers instead of shoes and was rather ahead of his time as a 1940’s hippie. He was gentle and quiet.
One day we walked over to Sandaler’s store on 7th Avenue, and he bought me a double-dip chocolate cone. I don’t recall what he had, -- we just walked and didn’t say much. We passed Danny Aldinger’s house on Melrose, whose mom and dad ran the movie theaters. I was to see them often in the years to come. And then we passed Franklin School, where I would attend kindergarten in the fall of 1944. Miss Ethel Holmes was principal, and my teacher would be Miss Bertha Bingham, who had taught there since at least 1920! (I have her notes as PTA Secretary at that time!)
Unfortunately, that is about all that I can remember about Mike, because he was one of the last men called up for active duty during the war. I remember missing him, because he listened when I talked and, as I said, adult males were hard to come by for a pre-schooler like me in those days.
A few years ago, one of Mike Brough’s classmates called me, because they’d never been able to contact him for their class reunion. I don’t know why they would call me, unless perhaps someone remembered that my sister Joan had known him. She dated about every lonesome boy who ever lived in Clinton back then! Joan (pronounced Jo-Ann) also worked at the new DuPont Plant, with people like Marv Ohsann, whose energy and staying power I continue to marvel at, as he still meets for coffee with another stalwart, Warren McEleney, each day before the two of them go off to work! Ellen O’Neil McEleney is a longtime friend of the Herrity children from our days together on 4th Avenue. Recently, when I asked her about Warren and Marv still working, she said, “Oh Gary, they don’t know any better!” -- She’s a darling, who has the exact same 4th Avenue attitude and personality that she had while playing there so long ago with all of us.
You see, Warren McEleney married our next-door neighbor Ellen O’Neil, who tells an interesting story about her own youth, which is typical of how families thought back in those days. All of our parents then kept “big secrets” of little things that were in no way worthy of such secrecy. It might be a story about some black sheep uncle, a time when dad got drunk, or something as unremarkable as who had been adopted.
Ellen remembers needing a passport, many years after she was married, and she discovered that she had no birth certificate on file at the courthouse. Come to find out, she was adopted, and no one had ever bothered to tell her of it! Not a soul, although many people knew! During this period, her mother reluctantly delivered the details, when she was quizzed about the missing birth certificate . Then Ellen, who wasn’t the least bit concerned herself, pondered how to tell Warren about this newly-discovered piece of history. When she finally did, he replied rather matter-of-factly, “Oh, your Uncle Jack Warnock told me all about that the day we were married!” -- Our family, and most others, had similar stories of silly secrets that always came out sooner or later.
The warm memories of my early youth cling to me like a favorite blanket, and those people from the war years are special people who stay fondly wrapped in my heart. Like many others, the memory of Mike Brough remains there after all these years, for some mysterious reason. The woman on the phone had been his classmate at Clinton High School in 1938 when W.J. Yourd was the principal. She wanted to find Mike. I said, “You have happened upon the right person. Actually, I do know a bit about him. He was a good and shy person; educated and physically weak. I looked up to him, and he was my friend when there was hardly anybody on the block to talk to a small boy. “
No one from his class had known what became of Mike Brough. He’d been a very quiet boy, who likely blended into the woodwork of any class he attended. He was just a name on their list. Sadly, he is also a name on the list at Riverfront Park, where the War Memorial is located. Mike Brough was killed in a tank near the bitter end of the Second World War. He was a real hero, who I knew personally, and I sometimes go to touch his name on that piece of granite by the river. Mike is one of many such “forgotten men” of Clinton who proudly gave their all, and are listed there that we might remember…. and whisper “thank you” from time to time.