Sunday, April 6, 2014

Going Back in Time to the Old Neighborhood

One day, while fiddling around searching for soomething or another, I stumbled upon a Facebook page started by people who lived in my childhood neighborhood. The page had almost seven thousand members and I was intrigued enough to read what was being posted. Although I was late to the party, I immediately recognized many of the subjects and pictures people were sharing. I hadn't thought about so many of these things for years and it really took me back in time.

There were posts about the old stores on Knickerbocker Avenue, the main street that ran through Bushwick. Both sides of the street were lined by stores and you could buy anything you need within that 10 block stretch. They were naming all of them and I started contributing a few that I remembered too. Circo's Italian bakery was by far the favorite of just about everybody who lived there and it's probably the only original store that is still there today. The pasteries are just as delicious as I remembered them and we enjoyed them on every holiday after a big meal. There was Morris Toy Store, where my mother bought us all our Christmas presents before Toys R Us ever existed. And Moe's Record Store where I bought my first 45rpm and many more records thereafter. There were clothing stores, hardware stores, grocery name it, it was there.

There were posts about all the restaurants too, and there were plenty of them. Most of them were German or Italian restaurants reflecting the immigrant population that settled there in the decades before and after I was born. My favorite restaurant back then was caled Villa Maria because their food had an authentic, homemade flavor to it. My family didn't eat out often, but if we did, we would always end up there. I remember I would always order the roasted half chicken with the side of sauteed spinch in oil and garlic. I ordered that mostly for the spinach, but the chicken was good too.

It's amazing what people remebered. Their posts went on to mention movie theaters, bars, churches, schools, and with many of their posts came pictures of the good old days. We lived a very short distance, not even a half block from Knickerbocker Park and I have fond memories of my father bringing my brother and I there every weekend and pushing us on the swings when we we just three or four years old.

On top of that, because we run out of things to post, there were topics like old television shows that went back even before the 50's and we watched in reruns. Some posted about old toys. I posted some very old commercials with the jingles. Others mentioned the old street games that occupied us all summer, like hop scotch and skellzies. We sat on stoops (the front steps to our houses) and listened to transitor radios. It wasn't a fancy neighborhood, but everyone loved living there.

And to make things a little exciting, we also had mobsters living amongst us. The mafia was alive and well and living in Bushwick. Every now and then we would hear about a mob hit. I remember seeing bullet holes in the window of the furniture store down the block from me. There was a big deal about the whacking of Carmine Galante, at Joe and Mary's restaurant on Knickerbocker Avenue in 1979, the unofficial boss of the Bonanno family. There were other murders too. I onced asked my mother about these "mobsters" and she said we had nothing to worry about, they only kill people who have dealings with them. So that put my mind at ease.

Now for the people I used to know. I wasn't there to reconnect with anyone, just to reminisce about my childhood. But I happened to post a pictire of my old house and address on Willoughby Avenue, off Knickerbocker. A couple of people came out of the woodwork saying they also lived on Willoughby Avenue and just a couple of houses away from me. One of them I knew very well, but unfortunately she didn't remember me at all. She didn't even remember my mother, who as you all know, is no wallflower! Her house was next to mine and occupied mostly by members of her family, all of whom I remember with some pretty specific details. My house was occupied mosty by my family, the only one she remembered was my cousin, Paul, because he was friends with her cousin John.  Her name is Cathy. I posted several of my memories of her family and she was amazed by it. But what I didn't post was my recollections of her.

Cathy and I were friendly back in the day. She had just moved into the house next door and didn't know anyone. We chatted, but we were a couple of years apart, her being older. There were two other girls on the block, both named Carol. One of them was friendly with me too. However, when the two Carols made friends with Cathy, none of them were friendly with me any more. I guess those couple of years made a difference back then. None of them spoke to me because now they had their own click. I'll be the first to admit I would not have fit in anyway, but it's funny how, out of 6,500 people, she would be reaching out to me. Anyway, she started dating a nice, quiet clean cut guy, named Walter, who also lived on the block. One winter, during a snow storm (when I used to love snow) my cousins and I were outside playing in the snow. Along comes Cathy and her two friends, Carol and Carol, and they decide it would be fun to pummel us with snowballs. We tried to defend ourselves, but we were taking a beating and decided to go inside to warm up and dry off. I really don't think that was "friendly" fire, but they must have been bored and knew we were easy targets. Kids will be kids. But I do recall being hurt that these girls would just stop talking to me altogether when I had done nothing wrong.

Cathy eventually married Walter and maybe she lived happily ever after. Maybe we will pursue our dialogue about the past during the next few days or she will let it drop. In any case, I am enjoying my trip back in time and being reminded of so many details I had long forgotten.

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