Wednesday, January 13, 2010

Come take a virtual walk with me.

Come take a virtual walk with me.
It will seem slow to you but will pass fast for me.
I will talk of the time before we met.
First we should go to Cornelia Street in Brooklyn.
I was born in the house at 319 in July 1918.
All the houses on that street were alike and attached to one another forming a single row.
At each end of each side of the street was a corner store.
One was a saloon, another was a fruit and vegetable market.
The street was between two avenues, Knickerbocker and Irving.
Knickerbocker was a busier thoroughfare lined mainly with retail shops.
There was Bruegel’s candy and ice cream store and Shuman’s shoe shop on one side, Tischbein’s meat market and a newspaper and magazine store on the other side.
Then there was Blasius the undertaker’s place; it wasn’t a store and the entrance wasn’t on the street level. You had to climb a stone stairs, with an iron railing on each side, to get to the entrance doors. There were big glass windows on both sides of the stairs with big gold lettering spelling out the word “UNDERTAKER”. To me, a small child, it was foreboding.
There were two stores on Knickerbocker Avenue that I liked for their aromas. One was Koster’s coffee, tea and spice store that also had a stock of cookies. There were rows of big cubic boxes with glass fronts displaying all kinds of cookies. The coffee was ground in a machine inside the store providing another memorable aroma..
Another was Sackelos’ candy shop where they made hand-dipped chocolates. One of my mother’s friends lived in a flat over the store. Mom would always stop at the candy store after a visit and buy some chocolate-covered crackers or caramels.
We lived on Cornelia Street until 1923. I remember the names of some of the kids on the street.
There was Charles Laub who gave me my first ice skates a few years later. He was a good kid. The McGraths lived in the house next door to us; there were three girls, Mary, Nippy and Angie. I never did know Nippie’s real name and I’m not sure that Mary is the correct name of the oldest girl.
Then there were the Geists down the street on the same side, a big family, about 8 kids. The boy my age was Gussy. Another boy was Bobby Burton who also lived on our side of the street. Bobby was a chubby one with blonde hair. He was an only child. He had a wooden train set that he kept in a Shredded Wheat box and I kept nagging my mother to buy shredded wheat because I thought the train came with the wheat. Caroline Bickel lived across the street, I liked her, she was fun. The Bickels moved to Hicksville on Long Island. Jack Loomis who lived next door to Caroline didn’t stay long. His family moved to Michigan. There are other names I recall, Wenzel, Mehrling, Lagatuta.
My memories of Cornelia Street are not many, after all, I left when I was only about 5 years old. I remember my dad trying to teach Buddy and me how to “bellywhop” with an old wooden sled. He ran, holding the sled with two hands, and then lowering the sled to the snow covered street and falling on it and expecting it to glide along on the snow. But the sled was old, with rusted runners, and failed to glide. My father went forward off the sled onto the snow. I believe he cut his nose a bit and did not appreciate it when we laughed. I remember when Buddy came home from school with a bloody finger. A door had closed on it and cut it badly enough that Mom took him to the doctor who applied three stitches to close the wound. I was impressed. I vaguely recall falling down the front steps when on my way to Bruegel’s candy store. My mother’s friend, Adelaide had just arrived and, after seeing me fall, suggested I go back into the house for treatment. I brushed myself off and continued on to the store. I had one of many childhood bruises when I did return to the house.
I went off to kindergarten at P.S. 151 with Buddy who was starting the 5th grade. My teacher was Miss Bossinger who would take the class to Irving Square Park that was across from the school. The Principal’s name was Miss O’Grady, a stern old lady. I hated that school; the toilets were outdoors and very unpleasant. That was the only time Buddy and I attended the same school. When we moved after the spring term, he went on to P.S. 106 in Brooklyn and I went to P.S.77 in Queens.
We didn’t move very far. Putnam Ave. runs parallel and next to Cornelia Street. 1662 Putnam Ave. was, and probably still is, between Wyckoff and Myrtle Avenues, two blocks from Irving Avenue. But it was literally on the other side of the railroad track, a single line that was used mainly by trains hauling rubbish to an incinerator nearby. When we arrived, there was an abandoned brewery property, that included a storage yard for the old horse drawn wagons, at one end and on the other side of the street. The brewery was demolished later and replaced by 5-story apartment houses. In the meantime, the 14th St./Canarsie subway line was being installed under Wyckoff Avenue. It was a busy time.
Needless to say, the construction projects provided lots of opportunities for fun and adventure. One day we got into the brewery and rode on the rollers that had been used to move cases of beer bottles. Someone found out about what we had done , so they disassembled the conveyers.
In the space between the apartment houses and the backs of the stores along Myrtle Avenue, there was a short row of 6-family houses. Our side of the street had two different types of buildings. There was a continuous row of 2-family houses occupying about half the length of the block. The other half had a continuous row of 6-family houses. Both of these rows were actually single buildings with no breaks between the individual dwellings. There must have been a space separating the two rows but I do not recall it. I do recall the space between our building and the next one. It was called an air shaft that was a space from basement level to roof to allow outside air and light into the middle room of the flat and the others above us. There was a window in that room facing the air shaft. Our window was across from the one in the flat next door. These airshafts were common to all of the buildings. When the window was open, we could converse with the kid in the other flat across the air shaft.
There was a public garage at the Wyckoff Avenue end of the street and a clothing store at Myrtle Avenue. Our address was across from the kitchen of the Little Garden Restaurant that fronted on Myrtle Avenue. Sometimes, in summer we would peek into the kitchen to watch the cook chop onions real fast. The outer wall of the kitchen provided us with an opportunity for playing a type of handball. The backs of two other Myrtle Ave stores also faced our building. One was occupied by an optician, Mr. Greenspoon and the other by Mr. Lamazov’s housewares store. Mr. Greenspoon did not like it when we played behind his store and sometimes he would throw a cup of water on us.
. From 1923 until 1930 we lived on this rather busy street; it was crowded but orderly
There were Germans, Irish, Italians, Greeks, Catholics, Protestants and Jews.
.The language of the street revealed some prejudices but produced no violence.
The street was our playground; we had a variety of games involving a rubber ball, they were mainly derivatives of baseball. Football hadn’t made it yet. We played with marbles in the dirt and with checkers on the sidewalk; both in kneeling positions. For the ball games requiring teams, we just selected the available boys according to their apparent ability with the selection being made by two self-designated leaders. There were no “Little Leagues” and parents were too busy to get involved. On rainy days, we would gather on a “stoop” with a protective awning to exchange picture cards or just talk.
In winter, when there was enough snow, we would construct forts or igloos, throw snowballs at one another or at the girls. We could also use our sleds in the street; usually the auto traffic was reduced by the weather. There were not nearly as many cars and trucks in those days. There were horse drawn ice-wagons, milk-wagons, fruit and vegetable wagons as well as handcarts.
1662 Putnam Avenue, like the rest of the houses in the row, was set back from the sidewalk to make room for the stoop. There was a wrought iron fence on each side of the stoop. On the right at street level was a stairway leading down to the entrance to the cellar. Each house was about 25 feet wide and three stories high. There was a vestibule between the outer and inner doors. The vestibule walls were decorated with mailboxes and doorbells for each family. You rang the doorbell and waited until someone inside responded using a pushbutton inside that allowed you to open the inside door. The now accessible hallway was divided by a stairway to the upper floors. We lived on the lower floor. There was a hall alongside the stairway leading to the doors to each flat. These doors opened to another short hallway to the kitchen. The bathroom containing a sink, bathtub and toilet was a small, narrow room on one side of this hallway. The kitchen contained another sink, a pair of laundry tubs, a 20 gallon water tank with a side-mounted gas-fired water heater and a cast iron stove in which we could burn wood or coal. It included an oven and had several lid-covered openings. The single kitchen window faced the backyard but the only entrance to the yard was in the basement. We rarely spent any time there.
The dining room was next to the kitchen, separated from it by a doorway. This room had two windows that also faced the backyard. We had a round oak table that could be expanded by inserting two matching panels. There was also a china closet and a sideboard that held some dishes and table linens. There was also a fireless cooker which was a rectangular chest with two square hinged lids each of which covered a cylindrical chamber. There were several pots that fit into these chambers and two ceramic disks which after being heated on the stove and inserted at the bottom of a chamber, would provide sufficient heat to a pot placed on top of the disk to cook a stew. Each lid had a hole in the center to allow vapor to escape. It was a unique device; I don’t remember anyone else saying they had one.
There were three other rooms in line from the dining room to the parlor in the front of the flat. The one next to the dining room was my parents’ bedroom. My brother Calvin’s bed must have been in that room. The one next to that was also a bedroom where Buddy and I slept together in a double bed. We had a dresser and there were clothes closets along the wall for coats and hats.
The parlor was next. It could be closed off from the rest of the flat using sliding pocket doors. It was a very cold room in winter with those doors closed. On occasions, we would put a portable kerosene heater in it to warm it up. There was an upright piano in the parlor that my mother played. Mom had a great voice; she took lessons for a few years. but did not take advantage of it.
I enjoyed going to school (PS 77Q); it is now an intermediate school with a new building and a new designation (IS077).
I respected my teachers, when I recall them, the memories are pleasant.
There was Miss Krug who thought I was having too much fun learning.
and Miss Forest who took me to a Broadway show as a reward for getting the only 100% on an English test. She also taught me to appreciate classical music
Then there was Mrs. Moulthrop whose love for her students lit up a classroom. She taught geography. I remember her telling the class about her son who adored the Taj Mahal and was able to actually visit it.
Mrs. Moulthrop helped me to improve my handwriting by providing a couple of pages of her own handwriting and a supply of thin paper to copy it on. Miss Powell, an English teacher presented me with a special new pen as a reward for the resulting improvement..
I think they knew I liked them, I must have let it show.
When my family moved from Putnam Ave to 79-28 Charlotte Place, I was allowed to attend PS77 because I had good grades and was entering the final eighth grade.
Charlotte Place was a big change. The house was a 2-family one made of wood. The roadway was unpaved, a condition that was changed shortly after we arrived. Although our address was not part of it, the development known as Liberty Park was an impressive array of single family houses. It occupied a large area bordered by a busy thoroughfare (Cooper Ave.) and a group of Jewish cemeteries. Our Uncle Henry, Aunt Rose and
cousins Edna and Anna had moved from our previous street to their own home in Liberty Park earlier. Strangely, another family, the Grosches, sometime later also moved from Putnam Avenue to an address very close to ours on Charlotte Place. They became next door neighbors.
A sad but valuable experience presented itself to us when we moved. The family in the lower floor apartment next door had two children ,Geraldine who was about five and Edward about two when we arrived. Geraldine had developed hydrocephalus when she was two and a half that enlarged her head and rendered her blind. When the weather permitted, she lay in a baby carriage on the porch. We kids spent lots of time with Geraldine. She was quite bright in spite of her condition and able to carry on a conversation. She was not in pain and did not complain. We discovered tragedy and learned compassion from that experience.

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