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For their own good
Fifty years ago, they were screwed-up kids sent to the Florida School for Boys to be straightened out. But now they are screwed-up men, scarred by the whippings they endured. Read the story and see a video and portrait gallery.
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Getting a chilly blast from the past
By Joan R. Benovic, Special to the Times
Published January 20, 2008
"Joanie, come on. You have to meet him. You just have to."
Alice grabbed my arm and literally dragged me to her sun room. And for what? To meet yet another man she had dredged up from somewhere for me?
"Alice, stop, please. Let go, for heaven's sake. I've only been divorced for a few months, and I'm getting tired of you pushing me to meet men. I never realized you knew so many single ones. What do you do, scout the obits for dead wives?"
"Joanie, just say hello, and if you don't like him, you can ignore him the rest of the evening, okay? But I have to tell you, he's from your part of the world."
Before I could ask what she meant by "your part of the world," I saw him. Yes, he was from my part of the world. I recognized him immediately.
He was still the tall, handsome man I loved in high school. The sparkling blue eyes I remembered were a little on the tired side, the blond ponytail replaced by thinning but carefully coiffed snow-white hair, the lanky frame filled out, but still no pot belly for Eddie. The face was remarkably smooth and youthful. I wondered how he did it. I was glad I had kept my figure. I was no longer the slim young girl I had been, but my mirror told me not bad.
The first time I saw Eddie in the hallway at Wesleyville High School in western Pennsylvania, I couldn't wait to find out who he was. He was the new kid, and I knew he was my type.
Turns out he was a jock and I was a klutz, but that didn't stop me. I tried out for the track team knowing that the football team was practicing on the other side of the field. I actually did make the team, though only four of us showed up. I ran around the track keeping my eye on the blond ponytail. The coach wasn't too enthusiastic about my performance, especially because I slowed to a walk when I came near the football players. Every boy waved and whistled at me except the new kid. Finally their coach spoke to my coach, and I was booted off the team. But no one could keep me off the bleachers after school.
I eventually did meet Eddie, and we became an item. We spent as much time together as we could. Most of our classes were together, except shop and home ec.
Senior year, our parents made plans for our future, but Eddie and I only wanted to get married, get jobs and settle down. My father had a fit.
"You're going to college," he roared.
In my house, what my father said was law, so off I went to the University of Pittsburgh. Eddie's folks couldn't afford to send him to school, but he was determined to work and save his money so he could join me on campus in my sophomore year.
Things didn't quite work out that way, but we saw each other almost every weekend and during school holidays.
It was Christmas Eve a few months after we entered World War II when Eddie told me of his plans to join the Air Force. I was in my junior year at Pitt and was taking an accelerated course so I could graduate early.
"I'm afraid I'll be drafted if I don't join up. You understand, don't you, Joanie?"
No, I did not understand. I was making plans to marry Eddie as soon as I left school, and now he was leaving me.
I cried, and he tried to console me.
"This war can't go on much longer. I'll be home before you know it. Please, Joanie, don't cry. At least we'll have Christmas week together. We can go away for a few days. It'll be just the two of us."
"I'll always love you, Eddie, always."
"And I'll never forget you, Joanie. You'll always be my girl."
"Joanie, this is Eddie Martin. Eddie, Joanie Rowe."
"It's nice to meet you at last, Joanie. Alice has told me so much about you. I understand we both come from Pennsylvania."
He had no idea who I was.
Joan R. Benovic retired after 48 years working for the Pinellas County School District.