Born In The Bronx
t's only now, as an adult, that I realize how much my Bronx childhood of the fifties andsixties shaped my life - its attitudes, preconceptions, and ideals.
I felt very secure in my Bronx neighborhood. I lived near Yankee Stadium on Gerard Avenue between 165th Street and McClellan Avenue from 1945 through the early 1960's. My world was mostly bound by the two sides of that block until I could "cross myself" and go out into the larger neighborhood. In those early years, my block was filled with hundreds of kids, mostly of Jewish, Irish, Italian and Greek heritage. (We all played together in the early years, but from the time I was about 8 or so, the parochial school kids kept to themselves a lot more - but that's fodder for another story.)
We played all the inner city games on our block that most Bronxites are familiar with. The ones I remember most are: skully, stoop ball, ringolevio, doubledutch, potsy, and statues. We tossed marbles and played lots of games with chalk. We also took old cardboard shoe boxes, cut different sized holes into them, labeled the holes with numbers and tried to roll marbles into the holes.
Seasonal food and candy were a big part of our lives. It wasn't until a few years ago that I found out that what I had always called "Chinese apples" in the Bronx were really pomegranates. We ate those, and figs, fruit, ice-cream, and, most important of all, penny candy. There were the strips of pink and white dots (2 for a penny), Tootise Rolls, Red Hots, licorice twirls, and twenty or so other different delights. We drank Cokes, seltzer (the real stuff in the pressurized glass bottles that got delivered once a week), malteds, and egg creams. And, for a special treat, we had Charlotte Rousses. When I was getting 25 cents a week allowance, they cost 25 cents, so it was all or nothing on those sweeties. We also hit the neighborhood butcher shops for slices of baloney and salami.
In my neighborhood we were lucky enough to live near a fabulous park and playground, across River Avenue and the elevated subway tracks. Mullaly Park was spacious, winding and lovely. The playground, directed by the wonderful Miss Meaney, contained a concrete-bottomed swimming pool which seasonally also served as an ice-skating rink and a surface for bikes and roller skates. In the same area of that playground, just outside the pool, stood the playing board of my favorite childhood game, knock-hockey. I was great at that and took on all comers for a few delirious months until I was ousted from my perch by a bigger kid. Those short days of victory were heady though.
The school I attended, PS 114, played a major part in shaping my life. Most of the students there were second-generation kids whose parents were just starting on the road to "middle-class" life. Laboring under the 1950's reaction to McCarthyism, the school instilled the American ideal in us through the use of hundreds of patriotic songs, and enforced memorization of parts of documents such as the Preamble to the Declaration of Independence, the Constitution and The Gettysburg Address. I can still recite most of Paul Revere's Ride, another gem learned during those years.
Every morning we solemnly recited the Pledge of Allegiance. I remember the excitement at school and in my teacher's voice when Alaska and Hawaii were added, bringing the number of states to our present-day fifty. We studied the history of our area, the Algonquin and Iroquois Indians, for example, and learned to churn butter, like the Pilgrims. We learned to read with Dick and Jane. We wore white shirts and blouses to our Monday assembly programs, where the principal, Miss Hatton, read psalms to us and we all sang the patriotic songs we had learned in our individual classes. Some of these were: High Towering Mountains, I'm Proud to Be Me, and This Is My Country. Miss Hatton also played a different classical piece for us every week. Some that I remember are: Asa's Dance and In the Hall of the Mountain King, and we had to remember the composer's name.
I had an excellent primary school education in the P.S. 114 of those years. When I left P.S. 114, I could read, write, spell, and do mathematics well enough to take on whatever was to come in those areas. I owe it to that school and those teachers for enabling me to do that, with their daily drilling of flashcards for math, and the wonderful classroom libraries that we were allowed to use at will.
I came out of those years believing in the American Dream, wearing a positive attitude towards my future, and always cognizant of Superman's Credo: "peace, justice and the American way." I'm a lot different now, of course. But I wouldn't change my Bronx childhood for anything. It gave me a solid basis for tackling life, an appreciation of the differences among ethnic groups, and an education that I would put up against any other of the time. I've lived in Manhattan for a long time now, but when people ask me where I'm from, I always say "the Bronx", and I always say it with pride.