1980-1981 – A Late Start | Life on Bedford Avenue

1980-1981 – A Late Start | Life on Bedford Avenue

January of 1980 was cold in Brooklyn, New York as usual. John and Linda Sheridan were living a relatively quiet life on Bedford Avenue between Avenues U and T in Sheepshead Bay, Brooklyn. The thought of becoming parents was on their minds. They began trying to have a child in 1979 and paid attention to Linda’s feminine cycles. Sometimes when her cycle was late, John would announce it at the Sunday dinner table in front of close family members hinting that she might be pregnant. Linda blushed and hated when he did that. “What a jerk!” she thought.

Likely in the beginning of March, a little soul was conceived betwixt Linda and John. They were in love and visited the Brooklyn Botanical Gardens as the spring flowers and foliage began to flourish around their 3-year wedding anniversary on April 23rd. John had been excited to find out that Linda was pregnant. Once it had become a reality he was overjoyed. Linda was quietly excited. It was an uneventful pregnancy. She had no sickness nor cravings to speak of. They didn’t know if they would be having a boy or a girl. If their child were born a girl, Linda felt she would be born on December 6th (Linda’s Aunt Solveig’s death anniversary) and that the girl would be named Ariel Solveig in her honor.

In May, Mount St. Helens erupted in Washington state. Linda heard that the ash from the eruption was blowing all the way across the country. John was excited as The Empire Strikes Back, the first sequel in the original Star Warstrilogy hit theaters as well as Stanley Kubrick’s rendition of Stephen King’s The Shining. And baseball fans all over the country, such as John, were relieved when Major League Baseball (MLB) narrowly managed to continue the season without the players walking out on strike.

In the summer Astros pitcher Nolan Ryan reached 3,000 career strikeouts while Phillies pitcher Steve Carlton became the major leagues’ left-handed strikeout king. Billy Joel’s album Glass Houses topped the charts and AC/DC’s highly anticipated first album with new vocalist Brian Johnson was released, Back in Black. John Lennon and Yoko Ono began recording their upcoming album Double Fantasy

A bronze plaque dedicated to New York Yankees recently deceased catcher Thurman Munson was unveiled in the team's monument park on September 20th. A few days later, Led Zeppelin fans the world over were hit with shocking news when beloved drummer John Bonham was found dead following a day of very heavy drinking. John Sheridan turned 30 years old on September 30th. That same day, the New York Mets game was attended by only 1,754 fans, making it the smallest crowd to ever attend a game at Shea Stadium. If he knew about it, John might have teased his Met-fan friends as he was first and foremost a Yankee fan.

In November, 350 million people worldwide watched TV's popular soap opera Dallas to find out who shot the character everyone loved to hate, J.R. Ewing. Linda’s mother Elsa loved watching the show. At the time everyone seemed to be wondering “Who shot JR?”. 

The maze action video arcade game Pac-Man was released in December. On the night of December 8th, the much-loved former Beatle and musical force in his own right John Lennon was shot and killed in front of The Dakota building on the Upper West side of Manhattan. This news affected an enormous number of people throughout the world. A few days later 100,000 mourners attended a public vigil for Lennon in Central Park.

Even though Linda’s due date had been December 5th, her unborn baby seemed determined to enter this world a bit later. Perhaps it was the strangeness surrounding the news of John Lennon’s murder, which occurred under 20 miles away from where the Sheridans were living in the south of Brooklyn, that made her unborn want to hang out in its mother’s cozy amniotic fluid a bit longer. Sunday December 21st was a usual day until the evening. While relaxing at home shortly after an early dinner at Junior’s Restaurant in downtown Brooklyn, a very pregnant and three weeks overdue Linda went into labor. John drove her to Methodist Hospital in Park Slope, Brooklyn. The baby’s head was too big to come through the birth canal. Add to that the lateness of the pregnancy and the medical team decided to do a C-section. Since she had eaten within the previous 24 hours, Linda had to have a spinal before the C-section. This was not too painful but being paralyzed from the waist down for the next 12 hours was highly unpleasant. Her anesthesiologist smelt like cigarettes, which turned Linda’s stomach. Linda used her Lamaze class training to breathe through her contractions. A woman in the next room was screaming through her labor which made her nervous. This was a teaching hospital with many people around. At 12:38am December 22nd, she and John heard the words, “You have a son!” Their firstborn had finally arrived.

Not long after I, baby John Henry Sheridan, was surgically removed from my mother’s womb, I was being cradled in the arms of my new father. We were both glad to meet each other face to face, or so I assume. I think my mother needed a moment or two before holding me. Linda, feeling helpless with her body paralyzed, pulled John aside and told him with new motherly intensity, “If there’s a fire, take our baby and run!” Fortunately, there was no fire.

That Wednesday my mother’s family was celebrating Christmas Eve in the Norwegian-American style at the house where she grew up on East 33rd Street between Avenues S and Fillmore in Marine Park, Brooklyn. Linda was slowly recovering from childbirth and still in the hospital. John attended the gathering at his mother-in-law’s home with a grin from ear to ear. Aunt Pat later told my mother that she’d never seen a man so happy as John was that night. 

The night before Linda came home, the hospital provided a very nice dinner to her and John: filet mignon with a candle and little glass of wine. We three came home and stayed at Linda’s mother’s place for about a week before going home. Elsa decided to have a smaller second Christmas dinner for Linda’s sake so she too could enjoy the holiday with the family. John kept working nights, as was his routine, throughout this time.

~ ~ ~ 

In the chilliness of January 1981, I began to live my life as this new human being who was called John Henry Sheridan. While Americans were being introduced to the exciting new television soap opera Dynasty on the evening of Monday, January 12th, my family was quite in the throes of adjusting to our new life as a trio. We were living in a 2ndfloor apartment on Bedford Avenue between Avenue U and T in Sheepshead Bay, Brooklyn, NY. The apartment was cozy with brown carpeting and wood trimmings. The little front yard had many green, leafy plants and a short concrete walkway beyond which was the two-way street Bedford Avenue and it seemed enormous. And with just a short walk down the block we could find many wonderful stores and surprises along busy Avenue U.

I was a happy-go-lucky baby. From earliest glimpses of consciousness, I felt special and well-loved. Perhaps I received some extra attention since I was the first grandchild on both Mom and Dad’s sides of the family. I was often surrounded by warm and friendly grown-ups.  I felt enveloped by love as well as books, TV, toys and even friends of a similar age. My first childhood friend was a boy two years my senior named Donny Loughlin, the son of Dad’s good friend Ginger. He had strong red hair and a friendly demeanor. 

As I was developing from a newborn into an infant the world at large was going through some growing pains of its own. On March 30th the new president of the United States, Ronald Reagan, was shot and wounded during an assassination attempt on his life in Washington D.C. And less than two months later, an assassination attempt was made on the leader of the Roman Catholic Church, Pope John Paul II. As if those events did not rock the world enough, in a report dated June 5th, the Center for Disease Control (CDC) reported the first cases of what would soon come to be known as the AIDS virus.

In June Dad’s sister Dolly married her soulmate, James which was a big festive event involving an all-star cast of so many of my early childhood loved ones. Aunt Dolly and Uncle James were two jolly souls who were regular faces throughout childhood and to an extent beyond. Dad’s side of the family was rooted in Brooklyn extending not much beyond Long Island. The Sheridans did not have strong ties to Europe beyond identifying their stock as Irish, German, and Polish. Mom’s side of the family however had both a fairly strong Brooklyn root as well as direct and living ties to Norway. In early summer, Nana[1] and Bampa[2] visited Norway and I went along as far as the airport. 

Dad was determined to not only be the best father that he could be, but to also be the best uncle-figure as well. It seems that as a child Dad would have liked to have had more of a fun and indulgent older male presence. Perhaps he felt disappointed by his own experience of lacking a such a male role model with whom he could enjoy fun activities with. So, he made efforts to involve his cousin’s children as well as my best buddy Donny in fun activities. Uncle Johnny as he was known to some, would provide an atmosphere of the safe and reliable adult male who could make fun things possible in their lives. In the summer while I was still unable to walk, he took little Donny to the batting cage as well as Nelly Bly Amusement Park to ride the kiddie rides.  

Sometime in late July during Iron Maiden’s Killer World Tour, some of the members of the heavy metal band visited a local Brooklyn music shop called Zig Zag Records just two blocks away from our home. On August 1st, the cable TV world debuted the first-ever broadcast of the brand-new music network, MTV. “Video Killed the Radio Star” by The Buggles was a telling and popular video. On September 10th Iron Maiden lead singer Paul Di’Anno made his last appearance with the band. They had hired a new singer, an energetic young fellow, Bruce Dickinson.

I would meander around the living room of our apartment in my baby walker drinking from my milk bottle and playing ballie with Mom. Perhaps it was in some such circumstance that I first felt my eyes magnetized to the TV screen by small blue humanoid creatures living in mushrooms. On Saturday, September 12th, The Smurfs animated television show first aired on American TV. Dad turned 31 years old on September 30th. He was on the slimmer side of his various body shapes. He had a thin moustache and a full head of somewhat curly and disheveled dirty blonde hair. He was working the night shift as a junior pressman at the Daily News. While he was making “good money” he did not love the job, even disliked it. Among other things, the topsy turvy schedules of Mom and Dad created tension in their relationship. During the era, it was not uncommon at all to believe that working long hours in a job you’d rather not be doing was worthwhile so that you and your family could “move up” in the world socially and materially, sometimes even at the expense of health and happiness.

On my 1st birthday my family had a little party for me at our small upstairs apartment on Bedford Ave. There I was baby John Henry in beige overalls being bounced up and down in the arms of one of Mom’s best friends Jeannie, a woman who would become like a beloved aunt to me throughout life. Jeannie and Nana played with me as I tried to walk a few steps without falling. We were biding time trying to keep the mood light as the adults anxiously waited for Dad to return home. “How could John be late for his son’s first birthday party??” they wondered. Perhaps they wouldn’t have been so impatient if it wasn’t him that was responsible for supplying the birthday cake. Before too long Dad came back. Turns out while he was down at the Flatbush and Nostrand Avenue junction picking up the birthday cake at one of his favorite spots, Lords Bakery, he got held up choosing a painting from a vendor which he wanted to buy on this significant day. 

Dad, in his blue jeans and a blue button-down shirt, brought out the white-frosted cake with a single candle on it and four colorful letter-candles spelling out “JOHN”. I sat in my highchair triumphant in having passed an entire 365-days circling around the sun as this little human being. Everyone began to sing “Happy Birthday”. As I took in the whole scene I thought, Wow, what a big deal am I!

Then it was time to open presents. I sat on the floor in my little red blow-up chair with a black-horned demon head at the top. I wasn’t sure what I was supposed to do but sensed that all the attention was still on me. So, I did what any reasonable child would do, I picked up a yellow plastic hammer toy that I had just received and put it in my mouth to see what it tasted like. The adults offered me my bottle of milk in their adult-way. No, I don’t want my bottle. I know what that tastes like. I’m busy tasting this new thing.


[1] I use the name Nana to refer to my maternal grandmother, Elsa Deisz Gjelsvik.

[2] I use the name Bampa to refer to my mother’s Uncle John (Johann Andreassen) with whom she grew up with in the same household. While not actually a blood relation to me, he was effectively my maternal grandfather figure as my mother’s biological father was not in the picture. Apparently, the term “Bampa” came from my youthful mispronunciation of the word “grandpa”.

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