It doesn’t get any more “Forks in the Road” than the intersection of Turrill Street and Hillside Avenue in Oswego. That was the home of Bill “Badeye” Gorman, his wife Wanda and their seven children: Barb, Joe (David), Nancy, Jeanne, Teddy, Mary and Mina. Members of the Gorman family still live in the homestead. It used to sit behind Jack and Benny’s diner, where there is now an ice cream parlor located.
“Badeye” worked for the City Recreation Department and Wanda for many years worked at Buckland’s grill, right across the street from the Gorman home. She also worked for a time for my dad at Sully’s diner, located near the former Friendly’s restaurant on West Bridge Street.
“Badeye” was also a construction worker and at one point worked on the blasting crew that dug the water tunnel deep into Lake Ontario in the mid 1950s. Three men died on that project when part of the tunnel collapsed. Luckily, “Badeye” Bill was not one of them. No one is really sure how he got the name “Badeye,” as he was in no way sight impaired. It was just one of those Oswego nicknames that somehow stuck. It probably came about when he was playing baseball, and swung and missed.
Years ago, at the corner of Hillside Avenue and Bridge Street, where McDonald’s is now located, was Buckland’s Grill. It was a legendary college bar, as was Nunzi’s on the lake on warm spring days. Friday was Buckland’s biggest day, where a line often formed around the block just to get in. The drinking age back then was 18 years. Wanda had her own stand in Buckland’s, where she dispensed her famous Wanda’s hamburgers. She herself became a Buckland’s institution. They were just the best. This concession was located inside far southeast corner of the crowded bar, and on Friday afternoons she fed the hungry, largely college throngs who turned out for the 25-cent bottles of beer.
Once you became her customer, she knew you and remembered your name. She knew almost all the college kids from near and far by their first names and she was as good a listener as she was a short-order cook. She often traded barbs with her patrons, all of whom held her in very high regard. One of her favorite sayings was, “Tell it like it is!” Another of her favorite sayings to her own children was “Get the h--- out of the house and go and play and don’t let me see you until suppertime.”
Back in those days, the crowd in Buckland’s was shoulder to shoulder. Inside it was hard to find a five-foot square of space to stand in. I guess that must have been before fire occupancy limit laws. No matter. When your cheeseburger was ready, Wanda could shout above the crowd loud enough to be heard and the fries came gratis with the 75-cent burgers. You could literally have a burger, fries and a beer for a buck.
Wanda and “Badeye” were a prominent presence in Forks social life. Wanda had a witty, saucy mouthed way about her that for whatever reason was endearing, not off putting. Maybe it was her quick wit and broad sense of humor. Maybe it was her salt of the earth humility, coupled with lots of wise cracking and wise advice to her college aged customers. For a whole host of reasons, everyone loved Wanda. Her maiden name was Kitney and she had one sister, Alma, who married local contractor Joe Castaldo, and several brothers, now deceased. Together, the Gormans had 14 grandchildren and 10 great grandchildren.
Bill “Badeye” Gorman was the son of Lena Gorman who lived on West Bridge Street. There was a parking lot next to her house on the east side and the next building was Pullen’s bar (Tables for Ladies), a Forks in the Road icon. I can remember Wanda, Lena and my grandmother Emma Dashner and their other compatriot Mabel Woods in their senior years playing cards in the back room of Pullen’s or enjoying a pitcher of beer and dancing together in the back room of Wood’s tavern a few doors down. Wanda enjoyed a good time. Her personality was pronounced, and her memory lives on indelibly in many thousands of Buckland’s patrons who had the good fortune to taste one of her juicy cheeseburgers. And Wanda, that’s telling it like it is!
John T. Sullivan is a former Oswego Mayor and the author of three books, “Forks In The Road” parts I and II and an autobiography “Pee Not Your Pants — Memoirs of a small time mayor with big time ideas,” available locally in the river’s end bookstore and online. His column appears exclusively in The Palladium-Times on the first Monday of each month.