Recently, my last living aunt sent me a photograph. It was a group shot of a bunch of kids, set in front of the scarred facade of a federal housing project. It looked somewhat familiar, and my suspicions were confirmed when I read the hand-written caption at the bottom of the picture. You see, the picture was taken in 1948, when I was 3 years, 3 months of age, and my brother, Gene, was 2 years, 5 months of age (approximately). We are in the second row from the top; he is first and I am second from the left. I have no idea who the others in the picture are, except (I think) for the little boy second from the left in the bottom row. I think his name was Eddie McElroy, but of course I can’t swear to it, and I have no one to ask.
Looking at the photograph, I was drawn back to a time nearly 60 years ago, to a world quite different from the one we live in today. I was curious, so I went onto Google to see if I could find some images of my early life in Brooklyn. Lo and behold, I found more than I ever dreamed possible. Searching under “Images,” I found this picture of my old elementary school, P.S. 67. address in those days was 110 Monument Walk, in the Fort Green Housing Project of Brooklyn, NY. It was a huge complex, built to house all the returning servicemen from WWII. The rents were government-controlled and our dad worked in the nearby Brooklyn Navy Yard. There is an old saying that goes something like, “Ignorance is bliss,” and nothing could have been more applicable to us in those days. We were totally colorblind when it came to race. I had friends of every ethnicity and religion; they were all the same to me, and I to them. Our playground was an asphalt-coated area between apartment buildings. There were a few swings, a jungle Jim, and some “seesaws” (teeter-totters).
The Myrtle Avenue “El,” the elevated subway line, ran right past my living room window. Across the street was Monument Park, a grass and concrete attraction that had us crossing against traffic at least once a day to get to the other side, where we could watch the firetrucks (accompanied by Dalmation dogs) leave and return to the fire house. Our toys in those days were homemade slingshots made from wire coat hangers and rubber bands (with which we shot ball bearings at the prisoners of the nearby Raymond Street Jail), pink rubber balls called “Spaldeens,” which I’m certain was a bastardization of the actual manufacturer’s name, Spalding. We also had little plastic rockets, in which we put explosive paper strip “caps.” When we threw the rocket up into the air, it would come down and strike the asphalt nose first, activating a metal rod that would explode the cap. Great fun! The same caps were also used in cap guns, six-shot revolvers that made a nice “bang” each time we fired them.
P.S. 67 was already old, it seemed, when I attended it back in the early 1950s. I don’t believe the grass nor the wrought-iron fencing was there when I attended class, and I know there were no yellow school buses.
We walked the short distance across the dead-end street circle to class. I do remember that there were metal “ash cans,” containing the remains from the combustion of the coal-burning furnace that heated the building, lined up where the bus is now. In the rear of the school was a concrete playground, below ground level, and bounded on three sides by high concrete walls. One day, there was a big commotion by the rear wall. It turned out that there was a nest of black widow spiders in one of the drain pipes.
The first library I ever visited was also located right across the street from our apartment. I didn’t realize how lucky I was at the time, but having that library there was probably instrumental in developing my lifelong love affair with the written word.
When we moved from Brooklyn to New Jersey in 1955 (I was 10 years of age), I was fortunate enough to once again have a library within easy reach, directly across the street from our rented house. It was there that I was first introduced to a typewriter. I believe it was an Underwood; it was black, with a horseshoe of exposed keys that magically deposited letter-shaped ink blots on whatever piece of paper the library secretary (her name was Laurie) was typing. I dogged her for months, begging her to let me type, before she finally relented and permitted me to try. I was hooked! Even today, I cannot write without a keyboard. Talk about imprinting . . .
It wasn’t until we had moved to suburban Oradell, New Jersey that we were finally made aware of just how “deprived” we had been in our previous life in Brooklyn. (We hadn’t been, of course, but our new friends perceived it as so, which made it hard to dispute publicly.) But things were definitely different from that point on. No more riding the subways, nor hiking many city blocks uptown to the St. George Hotel to watch folks swim in the indoor pool. No more Ebbets Field, either. It was gone, along with its former occupants, the Brooklyn Dodgers. But we had our memories—even then—and we certainly have them now . . .
(TO BE CONTINUED)
NOTE: Joe Perrone Jr is the author of the highly-successful Matt Davis Mystery Series: As the Twig is Bent, Opening Day (a 2012 Indie B.R.A.G. medallion winner), Twice Bitten, and Broken Promises. All four are available in paperback and E-book from Amazon.com. As the Twig is Bent and Opening Day are also in audiobook from Audible.com, with Twice Bitten and Broken Promises currently in production. If humor is your cup of tea, consider Joe’s rip-roaring, coming-of-age novel, Escaping Innocence: A Story of Awakening, set in the tumultuous Sixties. It, too, is available in print, E-book, and audio book editions.