For displaced, misplaced, and nostalgic ex-Bronxites

I'm From the Bronx


by Aileen Williamson

I

was born Irish-Catholic in Pelham Bay General Hospital in 1962 and brought to my firsthome in the Bronx on Pelham Parkway South, near what used to be Mother Butler School.

At age six, we moved to the Monaco Arms apartment building on Williamsbridge Road. Gram and Pop lived next door in the Woodmanston-1551 side. They had moved there, I believe, around 1947 from the St. Luke's parish neighborhood.

Most of my fondest memories were of that neighborhood. I went to St. Dominick's through sixth grade and then on to St. Francis Xavier for the last two. I can remember being able to walk from the school bus stop up on Morris Park Avenue at the age of eight or nine. I dreaded passing the Ice Cream trucks along the way in between Van Nest and Pierce Avenues for fear that the Ice Cream Truck kids were going to push me into the hedges as they so often had done. Must have been that little Catholic school girl uniform. It shouted, "pick on me!"

My mother would watch from our 5th floor window as she could see me coming down Williamsbridge Road from the point where I either made it past those ice cream truck kids, unscathed or not. Thinking back, I am thankful to those kids for making me the tough person that I sometimes needed to be. Once I got up the nerve to deck the one my size, I never feared passing through precarious territories again. Thanks to mom too for not allowing me to cross the big street to avoid the situation.

I have many fond memories of playing chase with the neighborhood kids. Lisa and Jill Frankel, Debbie, AnneMarie Zanotti, Danny Lally, Michael Lally, Fortunato Salvietti (whose mother rang the bell at apartment 5C to tell my mom that I beat him up. It was those Ice Cream Kids' fault), Eugene Mcquire, Donna, Diane, Scarlet, the Hubbard Brothers, Carol Adams, Kathy Kirch, Mary K and Noreen Hanratty. I think I was the one who got the kids from the two neighboring buildings together because I spent as much time in Gram and Pop's apartment on the top floor as I did in mine.

When good ol' Mister Softee came round singing that all too-memorable song, I'd scream up five floors "Ma, throw down a quarter!" When Ma said no, it was off to the building next door to scream up six floors "Graaaandmaaa"! Gram always threw down the quarter wrapped in a tissue. I'd watch it bolt down to the concrete and can still remember that clink sound when it hit! Problem was, Mom could see the whole act if she looked back out the window.

Gram's building had an alleyway behind it that was always a thrill because we weren't really allowed to walk through there. It was a little scary. I admit it, I was a belligerent kid! I always ran like a bat out of hell through that alley to get away from whoever was chasing me. I could scale the wall at the far end and be up in the backyard of my own building and in the laundry room in a minute flat! I think Domingo the porter in Gram's building told Pop what he saw me doing a few times. Pop just laughed and said "That little rip!" Pop kept that secret.

We'd ride our bikes around Tomlinson Avenue on what we'd call "the bumps", which is Bronx talk for all the raised slabs of sidewalk from the tree roots. We had a nursing home on Tomlinson Avenue which ran right behind Gram's building. It was there that I used to visit and feed some of the old folks when I was only about eleven or twelve. One day I just walked in because I was curious. I was immediately called over by Anne. She was over eighty but sharp as a tack. I visited her a lot. That experience strengthened my soft spot for the elderly.

We'd go up to Loretto park in the summer to run through the concrete sprinkler. A few times, I almost had those huge metal swings going right around the pole. My Italian friends' elders would play bocci ball at that park. All of my friends were either Italian or Irish.

The pizza shack on Morris Park Avenue was awesome! I was a girl scout, and we had a little troop that met at the reformed church (right next door to those ice cream trucks). As if it weren't fun enough to be a target in the Catholic school garb, I showed up adorned in full girl scout attire, a million badges and all! Margie Santoriella was our leader. Thanks for those memories Mrs. Santoriella!

Who could forget Al's candy store, with its vanilla egg creams, and where a quarter got you a little brown bag full of candy. All the fast teenagers hung out there in the back by the pinball machines alongside the quiet ones who would just come in for their Marino's Italian ices. Al was one heck of a great guy.

One time, some gang attempted wandering around the Woodmanston (Gram's building). Word got out that the boys from the Morris Park Association came and chased them out, and I mean out of the building and the neighborhood, with pipes. I can't remember another episode after that.

Long walks to Westchester Square, particularly the 5 and 10, with Gram were the best. The Italian ices were awesome at that little bakery by the A&P there. The Chinese ladies on the corner had everything for one dollar! The 'el' was a structure unto itself. How many times did I hear, "ya know, down by the 'el' there". That was the number six train, which I rode to Manhattan many years later.

I left the Bronx at thirteen to move to Lake Grove in Long Island. That lasted two and a half years, and we were back in the Bronx. That was my first experience of how much of what I was came from growing up in the Bronx. I was so happy to be back, and so were Mom and Dad, not to mention Gram and Pop. We settled in at 1381 Castle Hill Avenue temporarily. My dad's mother lived there. We stayed for 6 months until we found a private house on Van Hoesen Avenue between Lydig and Pelham Parkway.

By this time I was fifteen and a half. I went back to St. Catherine Academy. It was over the next five years that I have memories of that whole area. I met up with some St. Lucy's kids and Columbus High School kids. We'd party on the rock (the one closest to Jacobi Hospital). I really had a great group of friends: Laura Iervolino, Rosie, Glen Gelormini, Matt Adamcheck, Gerard Maranaccio, Madeline, MaryAnne, Joe Fichera, Chris Calagna, and Mike.

After SCA, I went on to Katherine Gibbs. I left the Bronx and my family at twenty-one to make it on my own. I had everything I needed to conquer the world and I got it in the Bronx. As of 1996, Gram and Pop passed away; we closed up the apartment in 6B and I've never returned. I don't need to - it's all right here. I brought it with me.




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