TRAVELS WITH GERALD
I attended school for grades six, seven and eight in the elementary program at All Hallows Institute in the early 1960's. All Hallows was a private Catholic all-boys school whose program was among the major placements in the ever-competitive world of college prep. Distance from my northeast Bronx house on Tenbroeck Avenue to this southwest Bronx school just a couple of blocks from Yankee Stadium maps out at about seven miles, but to those of us growing up in the City, distance was not measured in miles but in time. The navigation through grid-like neighborhoods with their sometimes sudden one-way streets, unexpected congestion and maddening double parked delivery trucks made mileage meaningless. Places were always half an hour away or five minutes away or an hour away—never seven miles.
By the time I was in eighth grade I had had years of city self-navigation under my belt and the long commute to and from school was nothing special. As a twelve year old I would walk six blocks or so to Pelham Parkway and catch the #12 bus for the trip up Fordham Road all the way to the Grand Concourse. The Concourse was a giant city thoroughfare eleven lanes wide, and I got to ride it from 188th Street all the way down to 164th on a big-windowed city bus twice a day. I gave myself an hour—maybe a little more—for each one way trip between home and school, and most often I traveled alone. But while no one else from Tenbroeck Avenue went to All Hallows, a few other boys traveled the same route for at least part of the way. We identified each other by our little-man sport coat and tie outfits and most particularly by the blue and white school insignia on our ever-present two-handled school bag. One boy with whom I often shared a bus seat was Gerald Civetta.
As we changed buses at the top of Fordham Road we sometimes would walk down to the next stop instead of waiting at the crowded stop at the corner. There were stores of every variety for us to visit as we walked, and if we had a few extra dimes or quarters from the day’s lunch money unspent, we would seek treats in the big Woolworth’s store. One day Gerald fulfilled a secret wish there and bought for himself an entire pound of M&Ms. The bulk candy was scooped into a brown paper bag and weighed carefully by the clerk. Gerald took the bag and guarded its contents like a miser. He ate a handful or two as we waited for our bus home. It wasn’t until we were on the bus that he finally let me have one. Then two, then my own handful. In just a few stops we both had had our fill of the endless M&Ms and we started playing with them. Shooting them off the bus seat with our fingers like so many marbles, then pitching them out the open window of the bus. He still had some to stash in his school bag by the time we got off the bus, but neither one of us wanted to see chocolate for quite awhile!
Another time, Gerald kept telling me how he had sent away in the mail for labels with his own name on them—the kind our parents had as return address stickers for bills and greeting cards. He had found the small order form in a comic book and filled it out and mailed it away himself. Gerald had plans. He was going to write letters to all his friends with his own return address label on the envelope. He was going to label all his books, his school bag—everything he owned would be personalized! When the book of 1000 labels arrived in the mail a couple of weeks later, they had misspelled his name: GERALD GIVETTA was printed a thousand times! His name was Civetta, but the company had misread his childish handwriting on the order form. I still laugh at the thought of it! And poor Gerald—he had spent his money and didn’t know what to do. He didn’t want to throw them away, but he didn’t want to mark his belongings with the misspelling either. And any attempt to change that "G" to a "C" with an ink pen just made things worse. And of course I would call him “Givetta” all the time just because that’s what any twelve year old boy would do.
Gerald lived right near Pelham Parkway, and I would get off the bus with him at the end of the day. He was well into his second helping of after school snacks by the time I walked the few blocks home to Tenbroeck Avenue. His living room held the very first color TV that I had ever seen. I remember stopping at his house before going home one day and seeing the 21 inch, almost-round tube glowing bright with orange-faced people. It wasn’t at all what I had expected or hoped it would be. Black and white TV shows were much sharper, clearer, and familiar. And the people weren’t orange. We waited a while longer for color TV at our house.
I’ve never had any contact with Gerald after our school days so long ago. After writing down these memories of him I searched the Internet for his name and found but one entry—his obituary. Gerald Civetta died in 1998 at the age of 48. The death notice listed no cause. Unlike me, he lived his adult life in the Bronx. His funeral was held at St. Lucy’s Church in the neighborhood where we had both grown up and where we had sometimes traveled the roads together. We can't ask more of our lives than to be remembered by the people who knew us well and by some who knew us but briefly. And I remember Gerald.