For displaced, misplaced, and nostalgic ex-Bronxites

A Reluctant Returnee to the Bronx


by Leslie Neyer-Kapel

W

e came from the Bronx; we were coming back to the Bronx.

After living in Los Angeles for one and a half years, my dad decided that he needed to go back to the Bronx to be with his aged mother in her last years. I was not agreeable to this plan. After living in sunny, green California, concrete sidewalks and tenement living were not too glamorous to this budding teenager at the time, especially being a star-struck kid.

But as parents of old always said, "you'll do what I say", so we packed up and went home to the Bronx.

We arrived to stay with my aunt and uncle until we could find an apartment. They lived at 1056 Sherman Avenue. Funny thing, we left from their apartment one and a half years before to start our trek across the country.

I guess it was inevitable that we got an apartment in 1056. We had come full circle. I was still angry about returning to the Bronx, and decided that I would be a brat and not make any friends, not like my school, and not talk to my father. The plan was to make his life miserable. But the good old Bronx held surprises for me unknown at the time.

The apartment was on the third floor. It was a small one and my parents promised me that we would get a bigger one when one was available. Boy, was I spoiled rotten.

My first day of school was in February, 1958. I left the apartment building, turned right, proceeding to walk to Jordan L. Mott and Miss Preiss's 8th grade class. Now remember, I was first coming into the class the second semester. Turning neither to the right nor the left, determined not to make eye contact with any of the kids walking on the other side of the street, I walked on.

As I was walking towards Larry's Candy Store on 166th Street and Sherman Avenue, two boys crossed over and each one fell in beside me. I tried very hard to ignore them, but they were insistent. And cute! They said that they had heard I was the new girl on the block and that I had came from California. This seemed to impress them. Little did they know that California was only a brief interlude in this Bronx girl's life. They broke my resolve, and when I started talking to them, they knew immediately I was a born and bred "Bronxite". They proceeded to be my guide. As we passed Larry's they informed me that this was the place to hang out. At the other end of the block was Mr. Cohen's deli where they would go after school for a snack, until the Cohens chased them out.

As the walk took us closer to Mott, the other kids who had been walking on the other side of the street crossed over and stepped in line with us. That was it! Here were the kids I would bond with who would become a part of my life, and they would allow me to be a part of their neighborhood.

Teenage life was different in the Bronx than in California. There was no grass, flowers or palm trees outside my door. But there was Joyce Kilmer Park on 161st Street and the Grand Concourse where, by the way, when the weather warmed up, we somehow, accidentally on purpose fell into the fountain.

In California we would eat our lunch outdoors in a pavilion courtyard; at Jordan L. Mott we would leave school and buy a slice of pizza from the pizza truck. This was to hold us for the long walk home to Sherman Avenue for lunch. Then we would get to go back again after lunch and buy ice cream from the truck outside of the school for a snack. Some of the boys would go home and watch "Yogi Bear" for lunch.

In Los Angeles, you did not see kids hanging out in the streets, but in the Bronx, we were forever sitting on the "stoop". When it got too cold, or it rained, we would stay in the lobbies until the super would chase us out. The secret was to make friends with the super's kids, which we did.

We kids were lucky to be living on Sherman Avenue. Moishe and Elsie Rosen were one great set of parents. They had an open door policy; kids were always welcome. After school we would go to their apartment (while they were at work of course) and watch American Bandstand, smoke, dance and play cards. Okay, we would have some beer, once in a while.

Living back in the Bronx was becoming more exciting and stimulating than living in bucolic, boring California. Remember, this was still in the fifties. Like the time some of the Sherman Avenue kids played hooky from school hanging out in Moishe and Elsie's apartment while they were at work. All of a sudden, someone heard a key slip into the Schlage Lock, the tumbler tumbled, and the kids went out the fire escape pronto. It was only the second floor. These unsuspecting parents never knew. May they rest in peace.

By now, the Bronx provided such exhilaration for me that "California Dreamin'" was no more. I loved going to the "Y" dances on the Grand Concourse and joining the drama club. Visiting other neighborhoods, like going from Sherman Avenue to Highbridge, was like going to another realm.

Summers were the best in the Bronx. Those long, hot walks to Cascades Pool, dancing upstairs to the current tunes on the jukebox, and meeting other kids from other blocks were truly a teenager's dream. I even learned how to swim in Cascades pool.

Then there was the walk home, a quick dinner and back down to sit on the stoop, with the transistor radio, ready to spend hours singing, dancing, flirting and trying to have good old Bronx fun.

Eventually I made it out of Junior High 22 and would go to Walton High School on Jerome Avenue. I went with two of my girlfriends from Sherman Avenue. I would ride the subway everyday for two years with these friends. Then, once again, my parents told me that we were moving again, out of the Bronx.

By then I had met my future husband who lived in Astoria, Queens, but he did live the first nine years of his life in the Bronx. He lived on Morrison Avenue and went to P.S. 77. We probably stood on the lines in the school yard at the same time. It was a sad day, but I was off to begin life in the big unknown. I was ready to take what I had learned in the Bronx and put it to use elsewhere.

I'm convinced that the Bronx is not only an address, it is a state of mind!




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