by John C. Schoeni
Kathi Prisaznick, who lived across the street from our house on East Nelson Avenue, was my best friend, playmate and neighbor in our early childhood in Alexandria. Thanks to Facebook we became friends again after 57 years. And we took up where we left off as if it were yesterday. Back in the late 1950s when I was 11 years old, the Prisaznicks, to me, were a wonderful family and great neighbors. Johnny Prisaznick who worked at the Fruit Growers’ Express at Potomac Yards was the patriarch of the family. He drove the black Studebaker always parked in front of the house. It had the trademark frame in the middle of the windshield and the frog-like back. In those days you could always see Johnny and most of the other neighbors using a manual lawn mower on Friday nights and Saturday mornings. The grass cutting was hectic during the first spring cutting or after a rain. And it wasn’t easy on a dry lawn either. The matriarch of the family, the lovely Edna Prisaznick, was a homemaker and our Avon representative.
When I was a little shaver I got interested in the little bottles in different shapes, the order forms and the Avon brochures, without wanting to wear makeup myself. It led me to be excited about pretending to be an Avon representative in my make-believe world. Some people thought it was strange because in those days, boys were expected to play with soldiers and trucks, and girls were expected to play with dolls and small plastic ovens so they could pretend to bake and prepare to really bake when they became homemakers, which was also expected.
David Prisaznick is Kathi’s older brother. David had the pride of the neighborhood – a shiny green Schwinn bicycle with all of the chrome accessories. A younger tyke, George, brother of David and Kathi arrived late, in 1958, so I don’t remember too much about him.
But what I remember most is my pet, Pete the rooster. Like many stores in those days, when Easter rolled around, G. C. Murphy’s dime store sold baby peep peeps – chickens, dyed red and green in their eggs before they hatched. I pleaded with my mother for two and she bought them for me for Easter. But I overheard the clerk whisper to my mother that “don’t worry, lady, they usually die in their early chickenhood.” Sure enough, one did. The red one. However, the green one got bigger, slowly lost his greenness, turned to white, and grew into an adult foghorn leghorn. Pete would climb up my brother Bill’s legs and walk up his arm onto his shoulder and stand on top of his head. My brother bought chicken feed at the farm store every few weeks for us, my father built a chicken coop in the backyard, and we brought Pete the rooster inside to perch on sawhorses in the basement when winter came.
We figured someone in the neighborhood, being in the “city” zone, would report Pete when he crowed every morning at 5 AM to wake up everyone. Surprisingly, no one did. Mr. Butler next-door said he enjoyed feeding Pete when the rooster came over. Mrs. Musick who lived two doors up said she enjoyed reminiscing every morning about her childhood on the farm.
Pete reminded my father of his father, Charles H. “Buck” Schoeni who had five chickens in his backyard at 518 South Fairfax Street. Neighbor Ed Fennel said Buck used to come out into the yard with a big bag of feed and call for those chickens as if there were a flock of poultry. Ed came to the fence and looked into the yard and heard Buck yelling, “Chick chick chick, here chick chick chick chick,” as if, said Ed, you’d have thought Buck had a huge chicken farm when the chickens were right under his feet. Ed also made home brew, a few bottles of hand crafted beer. Ed said Buck was always contrary and when Buck tasted some of the home brew he always said “a little sweet, Ed.”
One day my beloved playmate Kathi unlocked the fence, came into the yard and walked up the driveway to see me. When I came out of the house all I saw was the back of Kathi low running toward the gate followed at high-speed by Pete the rooster ready to peck her legs. Rumor has it he did get a peck or two in on her tender young legs, but it mostly frightened Kathi, and I thought I had lost my best friend. But all was forgiven and all she really remembers is the sting of the mercurochrome. So it has turned into a fond memory, so I hope.