THE OLD NEIGHBORHOOD
Funny thing about being grown up, you can be two places at the same time. While I'm here in Olean living my life, having my fun, enjoying my family, I can visit my old neighborhood in the Bronx whenever I want to. Of course, the Bronx I visit is circa 1965, but it's easy for me to get there. A thought, a picture, a food, a mention and wham! There I am on Allerton Avenue walking to Ferrandina's corner grocery to buy a box of Ronzoni #9 spaghetti for tonight's dinner. And it had better not be #8..."too thick," my father would complain.
So how was it, growing up in the Bronx 1952 to 1968? Truth is, I had nothing to compare it to. It was normal for me. Everyone I knew grew up there, too. I remember stereotypes: it seemed every house alternated between Italian Christmas lights and Jewish menorahs. Everyone over the age of--God, I really had no concept of age back then!--the age of 60, let's say, spoke broken English. Except for one old lady, Mrs. Kuse. She sounded like an old American lady, known to me for standing out because of that one otherwise normal attribute.
I knew certain shades and finishes of concrete and the various uses that each was suitable for. I recognized where I was by looking at the cracks in the pavement. The God of Cement kindly put cross lines every few feet so that those of us who walked, played, rode, sat, reclined, spit, bounced, skated, biked, scraped, scratched and chalked would have lines of demarcation to keep track of our territories and projects.
There were brick row houses, all property lines skirted with boxwood hedges. The occasional Madonna in a planted bathtub. And roses. It seemed that the old timers would plant roses just to keep the kids out of the yard. Bloodied arms or legs after losing the toss on who was going to retrieve the errant pink spaldeen ball was all part of the day.
And when the sun went down the street lights turned on. White light in the early years, then the bright and harsh pink flood of the new sodium vapor lights alternating on every street and sidestreet every fifty feet. Time had no meaning to me, to us. It was one, endless childhood played out on the streets all year long. Winters were colder than they are today. Summers were definitely steamier. And the kids were much, much happier.