The Gentle Giant of Our Neighborhood
by Bob Jandoli
I was five years of age in the summer of 1954, we lived on Nutman Place in West Orange. The street was full of kids of all ages, from five years to fifteen years. There were around twenty-five of us, and just about every day in the summer the neighborhood was our playground. Touch football, stick ball, stoop ball, and at night (of course, right before the street lights came on) it was time for hide and seek.
At each end of our street were two cross streets. At the top was Rollinson Rd. and at the bottom was Valley Rd., which was a very busy street because it was a direct thoroughfare to three nearby towns. At the base of Nutman stood a two-car detached garage, which legally belonged to the corner house facing Valley Rd. The owner of this home never used the garage, so he rented it to a local mechanic. The mechanic’s name was Charlie Mobach. Charlie was a huge man, who stood around 6 ft 6 and weighed well over 200 lbs. He was big, but he was very quiet and seldom spoke to us kids. He would be very busy working and repairing cars that belonged to the local people in the area. The garage smelled of gasoline and oil and the floor was completely black from all the oil changes Charlie performed. Charlie himself was covered from head to toe with grease as well and he never really could wash away the black soot from his hands. Back in the old west, Charlie would have been the town blacksmith, so we children imagined him to be ours. Although we found him to be so interesting and we stood in awe of this gentle giant, we feared him. So we kept our distance.
We would get very excited each and every time a vendor salesman would venture up our street. The rag man, the knife sharpener, the peddler of fruits and vegetable, and, if we were up early enough, the milkman. Now remember this was still the early 1950’s and most of these peddlers still rode via horse drawn wagons. Even the milkman had an enclosed type truck that was pulled by a very old horse. The milkman would fill up his tote with around six bottles of milk, step off the truck and walk to his next six homes for delivery. Amazingly the horse would walk up and meet him at the last house where he would refill his tote. This synchronized process occurred every morning until the horse was replaced by a motored truck.
It was a particularly hot day in that summer of 1954, and me, along with my brother Wally, my cousin Sammy, and two other boys from the neighborhood, were sitting in the shade of one of the only trees on our street. We were tossing a ball to each other and waiting for the milk truck to come by so we can pet the horse -something the milkman and our parents told us not to do – but of course, we were your typical boys and we never listened. So we waited for the milkman to leave the horse alone while he made his backdoor deliveries. Then, we made our move. We were petting the horse, when Sammy, who was about seven at the time, decided to jump on the truck and hold the reins, just to simulate he was the milkman. Wally somehow thought it was funny and threw a ball at the horse’s face. Wrong move!! Very wrong move!! The horse reared his front legs and took off running down the street, pulling the truck with Sammy in it. Sammy was too small to see where he was going. We started yelling and screaming in desperation until the milkman came running out and started chasing the truck. All of the parents who were home jumped into the fray and pursued the runaway milk truck. It turned into a neighborhood mayhem with a dozen adults and kids running down the street after the panicked horse and my terrified cousin. The horror of it all was that the horse was heading for Valley Rd. and the heavy traffic – he wasn’t slowing up and it seemed Sammy was doomed. It was about fifty feet. before the corner, when out of his garage Charlie Mobach heard all the screaming and came dashing out. He acted fast, and as the truck passed him, he ran behind it, grabbed the back bumper and pulled back with all of his strength and stopped the truck, stopping the horse and saving Sammy. We all yelled and cheered for Charlie’s heroic deed. But realized what we did and knew what was in store for us “when our fathers came home”.
But something else happened that day. Our relationship with Charlie grew. And as we passed him from that day on we would say hello and he would have something funny to say. I believe it was good for all of us. It was the very first exciting thing that I experienced in my life. And many more followed. From this one experience we knew Charlie was a caring man and looked after the neighborhood kids. That day, and every day after, he became “The Gentle Giant of our Neighborhood”.