Growing Up Frehley

by Charley Frehley

  • Chapter 1
  • Chapter 2
  • Chapter 3- "The Early Years"
  • Chapter 4- "The Accident"
  • Chapter 5- "Adventures In North Carolina"
  • Chapter 6- "Adventures in North Carolina (Cont.)"
  • Chapter 7
  • Chapter 8- "More North Carolina"
  • Chapter 9- "More Adventures!!"
  • Chapter 10- "The Frehley’s Arctic Adventure"
  • Chapter 11- "Music, Music, Music!!"

    Other side of the Coin Next Update, Perhaps

    Hi Ace and KISS fans

    So many of you have been asking what it was like growing up with Ace? What our family life was like - did I know Ace would be a legend. I will try to answer all those questions by recounting some of the wonderful memories of our childhood. If you are expecting an expose - don't. I'm just going to tell you what it was like "Growing Up Frehley."

    Hey, and don't forget to buy one of our CDs.

    Chapter 1-

    Our saga begins at the very beginning of the Twentieth Century. Our father, Carl Daniel Frehley was born on July 4, 1903 in Bethlehem, Pennsylvania. Remember that at this time, electricity had only been in common usage for about two decades, and young Carl had more than a passing interest in this new miracle of science. He was the kid who you would always find taking things apart and putting them back together again. And I'm sure it's certainly no coincidence that Brother Paul ended up with those very same genes in large measure. Whereas young Carl was probably busy taking apart motors or switches or whatever he could get his hands on, Brother Paul loved to take apart his electric guitars, usually redesigning them in one way or another with more pickups or BIGGER PICKUPS. Then of course there was the artwork that followed. But you'll hear more about that in upcoming chapters. So, young Carl's fascination with electricity eventually became a major interest in his life, to be rivaled only by one thing, and that would be none other than music. As talented as our father may have been with electricity, he was amazing on the keyboard. He studied piano for many years, intending, as he had once told me, to make it his profession. However, this was not meant to be. Though he never stopped playing until well into his seventies, his studies at Lehigh University, in Pennsylvania, would be in Electrical Engineering. Unfortunately, he never finished his degree because his mother became ill, at which time he returned home to care for her. Our father was Dutch, and if you know anything about the Dutch, know that it's really hard to get information out of them. Our father was no exception. I learned very few specifics about his early years. Mom always said he didn't like to talk much about that part of his life. I do know that the had a brother who passed away at a young age after swimming in polluted water, which I'm sure was in abundant supply in a steel and coal mining town like Bethlehem. He loved to ride bicycle allot and fish, and in later years, when he eventually moved to New York City, he became a really good bowler and pool/3-cushion billiard player. He once told me that he bet the owner of a bowling alley that he could beat him. The owner, who was an accomplished bowler, ended up bowling a 270. Carl, obviously, a rather fierce competitor, missed a perfect game by one strike. Since our father didn't marry until he was 38 years old, he had allot of time to hang out with the guys at the local bowling alleys and pool halls.

    Our mother, Esther Anna Hecht, was born on June 11, 1920 in Norlina, North Carolina. It was a farming community of mostly German immigrants. My grandfather, Robert Hecht came to America around the turn of the century. He had given up a life with his extremely rich family because he was being forced into a marriage he did not want. So he took up farming, fathering eight children, our mother being the youngest of the litter. "Come on, eight children! You can definitely call that a litter." Life on the farm was always hard. There was always plenty of work for even the youngest of children. Before school every morning, our mother would have to go out to the pasture and bring in the cows and milk them before leaving for school. She was always an excellent student, also studying piano like the man she was destined to meet years later. Once a tornado passed very close to their farm. She described to me how frightening the experience was, explaining that after it had passed she saw pieces of straw that had been driven into fence posts by their incredible speed. She once told me a very strange story about my Uncle Max, who passed away when he was just a teenager from an illness. Max had a girlfriend who he was very much in love with. It seems that on the night he died, his spirit visited his girlfriend while she lay in bed. When she got up the next morning, she told her mother that Max had died the night before. There was no way she could have known. I remember being pretty spooked by the story when she told me- I still am. When the depression hit in 1929, the effects were devastating for the farming community. Our mother recalled having to go to the bakery and buy moldy bread, because that was all they could afford. After graduating high school, with honors, she continued working on the farm until the age of 21, when she simply had enough of the drudgery of farm life. So as they say in the song, "How you gonna keep'em down on the farm?" In this case, "No Way!" So following in the footsteps of her sister Ida, who was married and living in New York, she headed north for the Big Apple… Where she would meet the man of her dreams............

    Chapter 2-

    Last time, as you recall, we left young Carl in New York, demolishing even the very best bowlers that he could find. And Esther, tired of the toil and drudgery of farm life was on her way to that magical town, New York City. During this period, Carl was working for a company by the name of , Morgan Laundry, where he was putting his engineering skills to work. Little did he know that his life long love was speeding ever closer to the town he called home. When Esther arrived, she immediately looked up her older sister Ida, who was living in Ridgewood, Queens, a suburb of New York City, with her husband Willy. Esther soon found a position as housekeeper with a well to do family in Forest Hills, Queens. The other job she told me she had was at the University Club, an exclusive Men Only club which still stands right across the street from the Citicorp Building in Midtown Manhattan. She worked there cleaning rooms for a time, never realizing that every day was bringing her closer to the chance meeting. So, as fate would have it, on February 28, 1941, a local Catholic Church happened to be holding a dance. And for our two would-be lovers, it must have seemed like a great day for dancing, because both, of course, showed up. At this point, let me inject one very important fact. When Esther was thirteen, she met a young man who she liked very much, and his name happened to be Carl. From that day on, Esther always said that she was going to marry a man named Carl. "Why do I hear Twilight Zone music in my head?" Anyway, my Father, Carl, related the story of how they met at a big 50th Anniversary Bash we had for them in 1991. But remember the Dutchman, so it was short and sweet. He told us, "I asked her to dance and she said yes. Then she told me that she had always dreamed of marrying a man with a name like mine. So, I said OK!" At which point I said to him, "So Pop, I guess you really didn't play hard to get, did you?" He cracked up! Mother had told me that their first night was wonderful and that they stayed up almost all night just talking and getting to know each other. Aunt Ida continued the story, when it was her turn, at the anniversary party. She said, Esther came in the door and said, "I met a man.... I met a man...and his name is Carl!!!!!" Well her sister Ida knew very well what that meant. Then she continued, "Esther started dancing around the room singing a very popular song of the day, which went, Casey would dance with the strawberry blond and The Band Played On!!!" Well, she was obviously hooked. So, after a nine month courtship, nothing implied there, considering their first born didn't arrive on the scene until 1945, Esther and Carl Sealed the deal at Emmanuel Lutheran Church, which stands at the corner of 88th Street and Lexington Avenue in Manhattan, with Ida and Willy and her brother Walter and a few friends in attendance. The other cool story surrounding the event was told again by my Aunt Ida. She said Carl always prided himself on never having been fooled. So I stayed up till 4AM, the morning of the wedding preparing to fool Carl. I took a large oatmeal box and attached it to the ceiling in my apartment where we had the wedding party. Carl kept saying, "I'm not getting under that box", because he had on a brand new suit for the occasion. But finally, I caught both of them under the box, and when I released it, out poured a bunch of rice and all kinds of wedding keepsakes that I had tied onto long ribbons. So, I really got to fool my new brother-in-law." All this fun and frolic took place on November 30, 1941, only seven days before the ill fated Pearl Harbor was bombed and America entered the war. Mother told me that during those years, they would stockpile canned food, especially tuna fish. Something she never forgot in later years when we were in elementary school. Looking back, I'm surprised the three of us didn't turn into tunas. As the war ended. Esther and Carl produced their first born, my dear sister, Nancy, in August of 1945. I followed some four years later in December of 1949, and brother Paul in April of 1951. Having us was relatively easy. Raising us, now that was the problem!!

    Chapter 3-"The Early Years"

    Let me take you back to a time, which really seems to be light years away from where we are today. It was certainly a simpler time, an age of innocence that I doubt we'll ever see again. The war to end all wars, as it was mistakenly referred to, was coming to a close, the final act being a nuclear assault on two Japanese cities. Now we had the Atomic Age to deal with. Yet it seemed rather peaceful compared to the horror and turmoil of the war years. Esther and Carl brought my sister, Nancy, into the world in August of 1945. From what I heard, she was a real hell raiser, a term she probably would strongly challenge, since these days she is very much devoted to the Lord through her work in her local church in Michigan. She has a beautiful singing voice and sings solos in all three services on Sunday mornings. It would seem that you can't keep us Frehleys away from an audience.........must be the genes!

    Mother once told me that when her mother stayed with them for a time, Nancy would go into the bedroom where grandma was napping and jump up and down on the bed, making grandma yell and scream. I'll have to check with her husband to see if she has broken the habit yet. Ha, ha! She was the first, and certainly our father's princess. When she was an adolescent, our parents tried to get Nancy involved in modeling. Then had lots of studio quality photos taken, but she didn't pursue it much beyond that. They probably recognized what a jungle the modeling business was... no place for their princess! Then I came along in December of 1949. I remained the youngest for a mere 13 months, and here's where things get tricky. It's cool to be the first, and it's cool to be the youngest. Unfortunately, brother Paul came right on my heels, giving me very little time to work that youngest child number. I then became the much dreaded, MIDDLE CHILD!!! If any of you know of a middle child support chat room, please e-mail me quick..."Just kidding!" But truthfully, it did take a terrible toll on me, the effects of which I have only recently been able to fully overcome. So, by April of 1951, the "Frehley Tribe" was complete. I have vague recollections if lying in a cradle, of some kind, in the kitchen, in our apartment on Marion Avenue, in the Bronx. We grew up in a pretty small three-room apartment. Paul and I shared the bedroom with out parents, and it was very cramped, but we always seemed to manage. However, now that I'm married with children, I realize that discretion is not always the easiest part of lovemaking. But like I said we managed. Paul and I spent all our time together in the early years. As we grew, I always had that 13 month head start on him, which meant to me anyway that I could always kick his ass with no problem...and, "I did!" In my own defense though I must remind you that I was that forever-frustrated middle child, not the first and not the youngest. I lived in this weird no-mans-land, where it became really hard for me to feel like I was being noticed. Kids need a lot of attention, and that ended up being in rather short supply in our home because our mother had so much work to do just keeping up with cooking, cleaning and laundry. Our father was doing his engineering full time and then some to cover the bills, so Paul and I were left to our own devices much of the time. Back in the 50's, toys weren't very sophisticated. Paul and I often made up our own toys and games using things around the house. For example, we would take our winter jackets, you know the ones from the rotating pictures we had on our website, and wrap them around our waists, securing them by tying a big knot with the sleeves. Then we took a handkerchief from our fathers drawer, he always loved that, and fed it through somehow so that we could hold on to both ends. That was it! Now we were ready to play "Dodge City"!

    The jackets magically transformed the lower half of our bodied into horses, and the handkerchief became the reins of the horse. A little smack on our butts accompanied by that little "click, click" sound you make with your mouth and a hearty "Giddy Up", and we were off to Dodge City!!!! Oh incidentally, Dodge City was very, very far away. I told Paul it was 50 times all the way around the entire apartment to get to Dodge City. So, off we went into the blazing sunset, happy and secure in a time when ones imagination was a cherished possession, and sometimes, it was all you had.

    Chapter 4-"The Accident"

    The road of life is filled with many twists and turns. There is also the occasional fork in the road, where a decision must be made sending ones life in one direction or another. There are also many types of road hazards, which can create a variety of problems in our lives. When I was only three years old, my life slammed into a major pothole, which, as I mentioned in Chapter 3, I have only very recently been able to fully overcome. I was sick with a bad cough. Mom was keeping me in my crib and treating me with medication and a vaporizer. It was late afternoon, and my father was coming in the door from work. In my youthful exuberance, I probably started jumping up and down in the crib in anticipation of seeing my dad. In the process, I managed to knock over the vaporizer into the crib. Of course, all the boiling water went right down to my feet where I was standing. Mother rushed into the bedroom and grabbed me up out of the crib. I don't remember the pain or the hours of screaming that followed, but the event is as fresh in my mind as if it had happened yesterday. My feet eventually healed, although, another type of scarring lingered on for many years. The shock to my nervous system, that the accident delivered, caused me to stammer when I spoke. When I began school, about two years later, the speech pattern was still with me, and unfortunately, became a chronic stutter for no other reason that all the laughter it would bring out in my classmates. Every day in school was a real struggle, and often, a devastating blow to my inner spirit, and has continued to affect my life in a profound way until very recently.

    Through all of this, remember, I still had the comfort of being able to beat the crap out of my younger brother, Paul, and at this point let me just clarify that I'm really making reference to the "play fighting" that Paul and I would engage in all the time. This is the kind of stuff little boys do. I never really hurt him, except occasionally by mistake, probably out of fear that somehow he'd find a really inventive way of retaliating. It was a constant competition! I've already described one of the inventive games Paul and I created from stuff around the apartment. Another biggie was "Playing Fort". We would take over the entire living room with this game. First, we would set up the card table in the center of the room, and then we would find as many umbrellas as we could. The card table became the center of the fort, while the umbrellas provided extra space on all sides. We then covered the entire thing with sheets or blankets, and, like magic, we had our fort. We would then find a couple of flashlights and play for hours, hiding in and crawling through this amazing structure we had created.

    Music was always an important part of our household and and our lives. We were always a church going family. Both Mother and Father were very involved in our church. One wonderful part of that experience for Nancy, Paul and me was all the beautiful music and singing we were exposed to from the time we were born. I truly believe that very early exposure to music directly affects an individual's ability to understand music later on in life. We always had a piano in our apartment for as long as I can remember. Our father always played the most beautiful piano pieces for the family. Mother would play often from our church hymnal, and Nancy began studying piano in her teenage years. She was breathtaking on the keyboard. I real chip off to old block, as they say. In just a few short years, she was playing amazing Mozart piano sonatas like a real professional. I took up piano at the age of twelve, but stayed with for only two years. My destiny, along with brother Paul, was to pick up the guitar...and never put it down!

    Chapter 5-"Adventures In North Carolina".

    Every year, as the weather began to warm and school was finally over, Paul and I would start counting the days to the summer's "Main Event"! Our father would always get two weeks off from his job at Hoffmann Electric Company, and that meant only one thing! It was time for VACATION! For two city kids like Paul and me, this was truly a special time where we could get away from the hot asphalt streets and the dirty summer air, which was always made worst due to the fact that back in the fifties, apartment buildings in the city usually burned coal. On a smoggy day you could see smoke rising from chimney after chimney until one big cloud hung over New York. So, the prospect of two whole weeks in the country was "the best". Paul and I didn't even mind the fact that we had to get up at 5 A.M. for our traditional "early start"! Actually, we usually had a lot of trouble sleeping the night before anyway. So, when Mom got us up, we had no trouble dressing quickly and lending a hand carrying down to the car all the items that had been so carefully prepared the night before. Dad would always stay with the car, carefully packing the trunk so that everything fit just right. Within an hour or so, the five of us would be on the road to "sunny" North Carolina!

    There were always plenty of pillows in the back seat for us, since sleeping was always part of the 400-mile journey. But before any sleeping, we would always stop for breakfast in one of the rest stops on the New Jersey Turnpike. Vacations were to only time we would ever eat out for breakfast. There was just something about eggs and home fries and orange juice out on the open road. The anticipation of the upcoming days filled us with this indescribable energy that made everything seem so special. It must have been "magic". So, after this incredible breakfast, Mom and Dad settled into the long drive ahead. They would always drive 100-mile shifts and then switch. The three of us in the back would usually dose off, because you can only take so much of highway scenery after a while. As the day began drawing to a close, we would reach our first destination, which was Richmond, Virginia. This was where our Cousin Helen lived with her husband, Sterling, and their two sons, Steve and Tommy. We always stayed the night and had a great time. They had a house with a big backyard and lots of stuff to play with. We would always play a game of croquet the next day before we left on the final leg of our journey, about 80 miles or so, which would bring us to Norlina, North Carolina by dinnertime. Our first stop was always at our Aunt Louise's house. Aunt Louise was Helen's mother and one of Mom's older sisters. They had a big two-story house, which we had been told was built some years back by family members, including our father. The story went that Dad, on vacation at the time with Mom, decided to stay beyond his allotted time to help with the electrical work on the house. Unfortunately, his boss, back in New York, was less than impressed with Dad's family devotion. I think that's about the time that Dad got the job with Hoffmann Electric. So, after the great dinner that Aunt Louise always provided to welcome the weary travelers, Paul and I and the rest of the clan settled into our upstairs rooms, bubbling with anticipation of the days ahead...

    Chapter 6- "Adventures in North Carolina (Cont.)

    Has a rooster ever woken you up? Well, if you grew up in the city, probably not. "It ain't pretty!" At least with an alarm clock you have some flexibility. With a rooster, it's not like there's a dial on his butt that you can turn to set him to a reasonably hour, and if you pound on his head he doesn't give you nine more minutes. Well 5 AM isn't even close to a reasonable hour when I'm on vacation. Yet, such is life on the farm. Just a quick funny rooster story I just heard last week! Some dear friends of ours built a house about ninety miles north of New York City. At their house warming party, our friend Linda told us that their new neighbor (recently having moved in from none other than the Bronx!) had called the police on them. It seems that the rooster that one of their daughters, Nikki, had brought home at the end of the school year, the result of a school project, was obviously doing what roosters do in the morning - and very loudly. When the police arrived, they politely explained to the fuming former Bronxite, " Look pal, now you're living in the country! - get used to it" (I give him six months!) Maybe this rooster business is a Bronx Thing!!!

    The truth is, Paul and I were so excited to be on vacation and on the farm that it didn't matter when we got up. Usually by the time we got down stairs to get some breakfast out of Aunt Louise, who was such a dear woman, much of the farm work was already underway. Both Aunt Louise and my Uncle Conrad, whom we called "Uncle Conny", were hard working people, well tanned with strong arms and strong backs. Waking before dawn, Aunt Louise would be out in the pasture bringing in the cows, which she would then milk. Then the chickens, goats and pigs had to be fed. Paul and I would watch this feeding ritual frequently. It was fascinating to watch how Aunt Louise would talk to her animals and how they would respond to her, like they were really trying to talk back. Anyway, after doing all of that, she still had plenty of energy left to make the two "City Slickers!" a really nice breakfast. When you eat on the farm, "YOU EAT ON THE FARM!". Breakfast can be an eating experience that seemed more like a Bronx dinner but on the farm, there was lots of work to be done between breakfast and lunch, so it was no time to be shy around the table. I always loved breakfast, but even Paul, who back in those days was not exactly known for his huge appetite, would really dig in!

    After eating, the adventures would begin. Uncle Conny always had at least one and sometimes two huge German Shepard dogs. They were usually chained up during the day and ran free at night, so they could keep an eye on things like possible predators that might be interested in a last night chicken dinner. One look at these dogs and you'd know who would probably end up "the dinner". I don't recall Paul and I ever going over to the dogs while they were chained up. Without Uncle Conny around, it was probably hit or miss whether the dogs would lick us or bite off some very important part of our bodies! But as evening rolled around and Uncle Conny would set them free, they would run around us and be very friendly. I just remember how big they seemed. Our Dad always made sure that as soon as we arrived, he would have Uncle Conny reintroduce him to his dogs first hand. Dad loved dogs, but there was no place for one in our crowded Bronx apartment, so he had to get all his dog loving in during the two weeks that we became farmers.

    Without a doubt, the coolest place on the farm was the barn. This was a really old barn, with weathered red paint, just like you see in picture books. It seemed so mysterious! Paul and I would open the tall sliding door and venture inside. There was farm equipment everywhere. The floor was covered with straw, and there were flies, "Everywhere!!!". Sometimes we would bring fly swatters with us to see how many we could whack, but it always ended up a loosing battle. We always had a ball climbing on the farm equipment and making believe we were really farmers, plowing the fields and bringing in the hay. It was a magic time for Paul and me. Sometime I wish we could go back and do it all over again.

    Chapter 7

    One thing you need to learn really fast when you hang out on a farm that has a lot of cows is, "Look down when you're walking!" Cows don't go to the bathroom; they just GO, wherever they are at the time. And if you happen to be "there" at some later time... Well, needless to say, "You only make that mistake once!" The farm was really big. Fields stretched in all directions. There were usually cantaloupes growing to the left of the house, reaching all the way to the interstate highway that was built when I was very young. Paul and I would head out in whatever direction looked good that day. We didn't really care where we ended up. Sometimes we would come across Uncle Conny out in the field checking on the crops to make sure they were growing right, and sometimes he had his tractor with him! Unlike the stuff in the barn, this one really worked. Of course, both of us would start begging him for a ride, as if he didn't have enough to do. But hey, we were on vacation and what's a visit to a farm without riding on a real live tractor. He would always give in, if only to shut us up. The tractor wheels towered over us. Uncle Conny always wore this straw hat with a wide brim to shield his already well-tanned face from the sun. In turn, each of us would climb up onto the tractor by using the wheel axle as a step. With a good strong pull from Uncle Conny, we would be in the driver's seat. Well, actually on Uncle Conny's lap, which was in the driver's seat. But, when you're a kid, and way too young to drive a car, getting to drive anything is a major deal! So, there we were, driving down the straight and narrow path, following row after row of endless whatever happened to be growing in the field that year. Sometimes it was watermelons or corn or tobacco, it didn't really matter, 'cause we were in the "driver's seat".

    Sometimes late in the day, Uncle Conny would take a drive into the town of Norlina to visit Engle's Service Station, just down the road from the center of town. Everybody needs a hangout, right? In Norlina, this was it. We usually got Uncle Conny to take us along for the ride. He had his own gas pump near one of the sheds. It had a hand pump that you would use to bring the gas up from an underground tank to the top of the pump, which was made of glass. He would pump away until the gas level reached the gallon mark he wanted, and then gravity did the rest. When his early 50's Chevy pickup truck was ready, Paul and I would hop onto the back and stand, holding on the roof of the cab, while Uncle Conny headed for town. I can still feel the wind in my face as we sailed down that two-lane asphalt road into Norlina. There were crop fields on both sides of the road with an occasional house. But, the coolest thing about the trip was the famous right angle curves. It seemed that one of the farmers didn't want to have the road cut straight through has fields making them an odd shape. So, the road was built around them. First the road took a generously banked right angle left, then about a quarter mile later, to the right. Then after what to Paul and me seemed like a roller coaster ride, the road proceeded straight into town. And, of course, we got to do the same thing on the way back home! Sooo cool!!!

    Engle's Service Station was a plain building with a big potbelly stove in the center of it and chairs that were by late afternoon filled with some of the local farmers. While he socialized, Paul and I would usually load up on candy and stuff. We used to buy Super Bubble gum, which you couldn't get in New York in those days. I also remember Orange Crush, the sweetest tasting orange soda I ever had. There was also Mountain Dew, with a picture of a Hillbilly on it and the words, "It'll tickle your innards". The soda has since gone national, but they dropped the slogan. I don't think a lot of city folks know what "innards" are, unless, of course, they watched "The Beverly Hillbillies" on TV back in the 60's. When Uncle Conny's jaw got tired, we headed back home through those awesome curves, pockets full of candy and the wind in our hair! This sure was livin'!!!

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