For displaced, misplaced, and nostalgic ex-Bronxites

Memories of the Bronx and Days Long Past


by Len Vivolo

T

his is the city...Bronx New York. The story you are about to read is true. The names of the people,places and things are actual and factual. They existed then, and they are as real today in my innermost memory as they were fifty years ago.

It was July 21, 1945. As a newborn boy I saw my first light of day, born to Biagio and Maria Vivolo at 7:46 A.M. in Mount Eden Hospital, just off the Grand Concourse in the Bronx. Needless to say, my first memories of life did not begin until four or five years later. That's where this story begins.

It's 1950 and I'm five years old. It's time to start the first of a thirteen-year education process. Pop brings me to Kindergarten on the first day of school. It was a strange looking place. The sign outside said P.S. 59. I found that out later when I learned to read. When my Kindergarten teacher came out to greet us, Pop relinquished custody, and for the first time in my short life, I was in the hands of a stranger. Mrs. Marshall, with her gray hair tied up in a bun, took me by the hand and led me into a room where there were plenty of other kids. I found no comfort in this and began to cry, an emotion which would last the whole first week of school. After that, I settled down and began to fit in with the crowd. Education would take me through six years there. I remember well only certain teachers who seem to have had an impact on my time spent there. Mrs. Gibney was the Principal, Mrs. Marshall was my Kindergarten teacher, Mrs. D'Ray was first grade and Mrs. Pontrello fourth grade. I remember some great field trips to the Bronx Zoo and Botanical Gardens.

Then it all hit the fan! Mom and Dad decided not to send me to Junior High School and enrolled me in my neighborhood Catholic School, St. Joseph's on Bathgate Avene and 178th Street. I had thought Mrs. Marshall was scary, but when I got to St. Joseph's, I found men who called themselves "Brothers" wearing black robes and thick black rosary beads around their waists. The girls were on the other side of the school where nuns wore black and white habits, with similar rosaries around their waists. One thing the Brothers and nuns had in common was that they never smiled. Just long stern faces. I thought I was about to be read my "Miranda Rights", but as long as I remained silent and obeyed their every instruction, it wasn't so bad. I attended sixth, seventh and eighth grade there and graduated by the skin of my teeth, or out of mere compassion, in 1959 at fourteen years of age.

Time for high school now. Since I had proven myself to be academically challenged ( I believe that's the politically correct terminology these days), I was sent to Samuel Gompers Vocational High School to learn a trade, being better working with my hands than I was with my brain. I learned electrical wiring with the intent of becoming an electrician. Then in April of my senior year, those impressive men in dress blues came looking for "a few good men". I guess they thought I was one of those few good men because I found myself signing up for boot camp upon graduation in June. I made it through high school from 1959 to 1963 and two days after graduation found myself in Parris Island, South Carolina, saying "Sir, Yes Sir" to fifty push-ups, twenty-five sit-ups and twenty pull-ups every morning for the next three months. Then VietNam broke out, which becomes another story in itself .

Through it all however, the memories of growing up in the Bronx are the ones that I shall keep, cherish and take to my grave. Memories like the white winters and school closings due to snow storms. Mom and big brother slipping and sliding down the hill on 178th St. carrying home the Christmas tree. Entering the warm lobby of our building to the glow of the Christmas Tree in the corner and the banging upon the steam pipes to signal the super for more heat. The long hot summers when opening fire hydrants to keep cool or float our ice cream stick rafts down the gutter and run after them before they went down the sewer was our homemade entertainment. Crotona park pool or climbing the rocks at Echo Park and the subway rides to Battery Park to get the ferry to the Statue of Liberty. Day trips downtown to the Empire State Building or to shop all the famous avenues. Fox, Deluxe, Paradise and Lowe's theaters where we would get ten cartoons, a news reel and one action-filled movie for fifty cents, and the matron who would shine her flashlight on boy/girl affection up in the balcony, then off to Jahn's Ice Cream Parlor for a treat. The candy store on every other corner where one could get an egg cream or vanilla malt, or buy the latest pack of trading cards with a slab of bubble gum inside. The local A&P or Mom & Pop grocery store, meat market, hardware store or Woolworths Five and Ten Cent Store all a stone's throw away. The Italian Market on Arthur Avenue and 187th Street complete with all the Italian aromas.

All these make up the memories of growing up in the Bronx which I shall cherish for a lifetime and beyond.




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