pizza pies, subs. peanut brittle. These much-loved Freehold gems were just as popular back in the 1960s, and in the new novel Blind Guys Break 80, Fred Reiss offers a vivid and poignant look at how much has and hasn't changed over the years.
Blind Guys Break 80 tells the story of Cloudy, a middle-aged loser who wants to earn his father’s respect by improving at golf. As he struggles to find his true swing on the course, Cloudy discovers his blindness in golf and life can only be overcome with his Mother’s love, the guiding spirit of Freehold, and Herb Alpert and the Tijuana Brass.
While the story is fictional for the most part, those familiar with Freehold will enjoy the insider references to the historical town. Reiss, a California-based author, is able to offer such authentic detail about Freehold because from the age of nine to 17 (1964-1972), he grew up in Stonehurst, which started as a single-family development with 256 homes in Freehold. What inspired him to write the novel is a story of its own.
"My parents came to me in a dream and said, ‘Tell our story,’" Reiss said. "My Mom was always happiest in Freehold, and she never got over leaving her Freehold social life. My father's company relocated, so we had to move to Connecticut. My Mom always referred to our place in Connecticut as 'the house,' but she always called our Stonehurst house 'home.'"
According to Reiss, everyone in Stonehurst moved in at the same time, so all the neighbors knew each other, and everyone had at least two or three kids in the same age range. And years later, he feels his years living there shaped who he is today.
"Freehold gave me that Jersey edge," he said. "Sorrento’s subs, Fed’s pies, Jersey Freeze, Stewart’s Root Beer, garage bands, great '60s music on WABC with Cousin Brucie, classic cars, teen nights, catching lightning bugs in summer, going off the high dive at the Stonehurst Swim Club, Asbury Park before the riots and white flight. People were close and tolerant of other kids because neighbors were tolerant of their kids."
He added, "Growing up in the 60s, when Moms were always home and Dads were done at work after eight hours. That shapes you. That childhood was rocket fuel I’ve drawn on my whole life. Very few people had it, except the ones who lived it, and it wasn’t about being a kid. Even the adults I met years later felt that way. After I did my Mom’s eulogy, an old Freehold neighbor came over, eyes beaming and said, 'When you said the parties with Herb Alpert and The Tijuana Brass, you brought it all back. So many wonderful years!' And he was right. I’d never be the guy I am now without Freehold in my heart."
While Freehold is home to even more people these days, the home Reiss remembers was slightly different than the Freehold of today.
"In Stonehurst, every new house had a gas lamp post in the front yard and they burned 24 hours a day. Can you believe that?" Reiss said. "Most are gone now. Nearly all the lantern tops were knocked off by footballs thrown by kids. I don’t think all these homes would have lamps burning gas all the time now. Today, contractors wouldn’t build a Stonehurst. Instead of the 500 homes with half-acre lots, they’d cram in 4,000 townhouses. Throw in a Walmart, Home Depot and storage lockers. It never would have been our neighborhood. The developer really planned out a great development."
That development gave way to some seriously tight bonds and friendships that aren't so easy to come by with today's hustle and bustle.
"This will give you an idea of how tight the neighborhood was," Reiss said. "We had a crib death in our family. When we were at the burial of my brother, Matthew, our neighbors went to our house and took out the crib and the baby items, returned them to Britt’s Department Store and got a refund by simply saying, 'Their baby died.' They wanted to make it easier on my mother when she came home."
And for the Reiss', coming home meant good old-fashioned quality family time.
"Back then, there was no such thing as a home office, it was home," Reiss said. "When Dad came home, he always came home at the same time every night. He put his keys down, washed up and he was done. No going upstairs to work on the computer or talk to the boss. Time to be home with the kids, throw the ball with his son and talk to his wife over a drink."
Writing Blind Guys Break 80 gave Reiss the opportunity to relive his years in Freehold and the happiness he and his parents, who are deceased, experienced when they lived in Stonehurst.
"When I finished this book, I hung my head, smiled, looked up to them and cried," Reiss said.
Anyone looking for a moving yet humorous tale that offers a look into life in Freehold can purchase Blind Guys Break 80 as a hard copy or as an ebook at Fredforyourhead.com. Reiss also created a series of humorous YouTube videos he made chronicling his visits back to his hometown, which are available at youtube.com/watch?v=KtBEgEjkFyU, and youtube.com/watch?v=DnPFtnMFMzg.
Reiss urged anyone with photos of the Stonehurst days to send them to him at email@example.com.