I call my nephew Johnnie Wikiera, “The Polish Rooster.” He’s the pitcher for Franklin Towne Charter High School in Bridesburg and when he’s on the mound he kicks back dirt a few times like a rooster ruling his hen house before delivering his pitch. As his favorite aunt, I would sit on the bleachers and yell “cock a doodle doo!” but apparently that didn’t go over too well. Now I get a text about how the game went and sympathize with Pete Rose on being banned from the ballpark.
On June 12, I needed help on The Tot Cart, serving up tater tots served with toppings like beer cheese, bacon and pork roll. I asked Johnnie if he wanted to make a few bucks.
Foghorn Leghorn jumped at the chance and shadowed me for the day. He did great talking to customers, pumping ketchup for moms with babies on both hips and recommending his favorite tots (beer cheese and bacon with a squirt of hot sauce).
Hours later, as we drove back to Philly via I-95 north, both our phones exploded with texts and calls.
Anthony Cheever, just 19 years old, was shot and killed in Campbell Square Park in Port Richmond. Police reports say a group of teens and young adults pulled up to the park and just started shooting into the crowd, possibly in retaliation for an incident that happened prior to that day. Cheever was in the wrong place at the wrong time.
My nephew wrestled with Cheever at the Police Athletic League and they played baseball together with the Port Richmond Tigers. Not best buds or close friends, but they crossed paths. I wondered if my nephew wasn’t working with me that night, would he have been hanging out in Campbell Square? Would a bullet hit The Polish Rooster?
Almost 30 years ago, in 1988, Sean Dailey was killed on the streets of Port Richmond. He was just another kid who was in the wrong place at the wrong time and met death by baseball bat and gunshot in the back.
That summer, our parents wouldn’t let us off our block let alone to hang in Campbell Square for fear of more gunshots. Thankfully, between the Kozlowskis and Pomykaczs on Thompson Street, our above ground aluminum pools became the rec center and park. Five porch houses apart, if the kids weren’t in Eddie Pomo’s pool, they were in Patty-Pat’s above ground lake and we were safe.
Fast forward to the present and a coincidental circle of life.
Cheever wanted something better for himself, go back to school, or learn a trade. He worked the graveyard shift at Wawa on Richmond Street. Every weekday morning, he’d get a fresh pot of coffee on for a Wharf and Dock Builder union guy from the neighborhood. At 4:30 a.m., Cheever would make sure this guy had fresh coffee before heading out to work. This guy talked to Cheever about taking the test and becoming an apprentice for Union 454. That union guy was Ed Pomo — the kid I grew up with on Thompson Street whose parents let us all swim in their backyard the summer Sean Daily was killed.
How do we protect our kids from gunshots in the park?
Campbell Square is not a warzone. It’s the home of Pierogi Fest, Polish American Stringband concerts and Parks on Tap. It’s where the community has Easter egg hunts and Christmas tree lightings. There are tree plantings and Elvis impersonator concerts.
But it also turned out to be Anthony Cheever’s graveyard.
You can have the best kid in the world, but being in the wrong place at the wrong time and the social norm of pulling a trigger instead of throwing a punch can’t be fixed with tater tots, fresh Wawa coffee and backyard swimming pools, can it?