From New Jersey to Connecticut
Though I was born in Denville, New Jersey in 1957 my fondest childhood memories were formed during our years of living in Connecticut. The best way I can describe my childhood growing up in Connecticut was like living the real-life movie “Sandlot” which featured a group of close boyhood friends doing what boys across America were doing in the 1960s, playing pickup baseball on neighborhood streets and makeshift sandlots from morning to night (at least it seemed that way). My parents grew up in Morristown, New Jersey but moved to Connecticut in June 1960 when I was 2 1/2 years old. My father whose name was Robert C. Griffith obtained a degree in Mechanical Engineering (years later on another Robert C Griffith would do the same – that comes much later) and was offered a lucrative job with General Dynamics in Groton, Connecticut for a whopping $8,000 per year. My Mom often said that was big money back then and they couldn’t turn down the offer. As hard as it was to move away from the only place they both ever knew, Morristown, they packed up everything including two children my sister Joanne who was 3 1/2 and myself and moved away from their families and started a new life in New England.
For me, it was the best decision they made as our life in Connecticut was and still is very dear to my heart. I don’t have much memory of Groton, Connecticut but there is one incident from Groton that I have been told about over and over again and it concerns cowboy boots and poop. As I was told around Christmas time we were going to visit my best friend Johnny Giddle, actually at 2 1/2 how many friends do you have anyway. Though I was happy about going, I was not happy that I had to first take a nap before the visit. Well, I guess in protest of napping I decided to show my displeasure by “pooping my pants”. It doesn’t stop there, I then promptly took my “poop” and smeared it all over the wall, my crib, and into the grooves of my brand new cowboy boots. Needless to say, it did not go over too well with my parents and I’m lucky I survived that day and lived to see my 3rd birthday.
In June 1961, we then moved to a nearby town called Montville when I was only 3 1/2 years old. We moved into a small suburban neighborhood filled with new homes being built. Like many suburban towns in that area being not far from the Groton Navy Base and General Dynamics that also employed Navy personnel, the neighborhoods were filled with Navy families who were from different parts of the country. My best friend at that time was Bubba Hilby whose family was from Mississippi. Our birthdays were only a day apart, so our moms would give us joint birthday parties. Life for us was typical for families growing up in suburban America, having fun around the neighborhood playing with my friends, nothing exciting to write about. One fond memory I have from Montville is of a dog we owned called “Cocoa”. He was a brown boxer that patrolled our yard watching over us. I remember he once got into a fight with another dog. While the other kids all jumped up on a flatbed truck parked next to my house, I decided it was up to me to break it up. I ended up having both dogs bite my knee, ripping open my skin. Because of my heroic efforts, I earned a trip to the doctors where I had to get a tetanus shot. I ended up punching the nurse because, well shots at the age of 5 or 6, were not very fun. Unfortunately, Cocoa ended up disappearing one day. He either ran away or was stolen. We never found out what happened to him as we spent months searching for him and never found him. For years I thought of him wondering whatever became of him. If I saw a brown boxer somewhere I would call his name to see if it was him, but it never was, and Cocoa was gone forever. It was the first of many experiences I would have in my life with losing a dog, something I never got used to.
Other memories I have from Montville was getting punished for playing with matches in the woods behind my house and peeing on my neighbors’ front lawn. I also remember a boy named David Creamer, who I can best describe as the neighborhood bully. He would act like your best friend one moment and then punch you in the stomach for no reason except that he could I guess. My Mom tells me I once threatened to run away from home. I packed my bags and stormed out of the house only to turn around to see her waving goodbye to me. I made it to the top of the hill and I guess I decided the world for a 6-year-old boy was too big and scary. I then turned back around and headed back to my safe place, home. With that, my Tom Sawyer adventures were over as fast as they started. Next up, the greatest place in the world to grow up in – Niantic, Connecticut, and where tragedy ends it all.