Post-War Bronx Tales
y family had moved into 1340 Merriam Avenue in 1937, and still resided there in apartment D3 when World War II ended. I had completed my service as a member of the 100th Infantry Division, part of the 7th Army. Upon my return, I found that many of my pre-war companions had begun their lives as civilians: working, school, and so forth. I was eligible for the GI Bill of Rights, and under Public Law 16, with a monthly stipend of $120, I attended New York University in Greenwich Village.
I had no girlfriend, and often found myself excluded from some of the social functions attended by my pre-war friends. It had become a rather selective group, and I began to withdraw from those associations, including my oldest friend, Lenny.
I became close friends with Moe, the pitcher. He and I, along with Paul, who lived on 170th Street off Ogden Avenue, hung out together at Mannion's down on Ogden. Paul had a car, his pride and joy, and we got around pretty well, although he didn't like my erstwhile circle of friends.
Time went on in Highbridge: I was in NYU, Moe was seeking a decent job, and Paul was pining over a girl he had a crush on named Joannie. Whatever became of Paul in later years, I don't recall. I know he didn't get Joannie. And that takes us to 1949.
Moe and I decided to go to the beach on July 4th. We would take public transportation to get to wherever destination we decided on. It might have turned out to be Orchard Beach, or possibly Rockaway. But when it was time for our departure, Moe's mother, the manufacturer of huge meatloaf sandwiches, had invited herself and Moe's sister Jeannie to go along on the beach expedition. I strongly resented her imperious action, and told Moe that if his mother and sister went along, I would not go. And that's how it turned out. I stayed on the corner of 170th and Ogden, and watched them leave by bus, shopping bags of food in hand.
As I stood there silently bemoaning my ill fortune, along came Lenny, whom I hadn't seen in quite a while. He remarked that he and his cousin Ernie were departing shortly for City Island to rent a boat for the day. They asked if I would like to join them and I did. Away we went, in Ernie's car, to City Island.
We rented a rowboat, and rowed away to the little islands out in the middle of the bay opposite Orchard Beach. We picnicked there and had a good time laughing, joking and kidding around. Suddenly it grew darker as black clouds rolled in, and we knew, as good sailors would, that a storm was brewing. We left our island retreat, and began to head back to the boat dock. But nature had its way with us, and it became so choppy that we rowed four strokes forward, and lost eight strokes to the tides. We were going nowhere. It was pouring, and we were adrift. We waved and shouted to other boats passing by, boats with power, which were able to negotiate the waves of the sound. Finally, one pulled alongside and towed us back to the safety of the dock.
Fate moves in mysterious ways. Because of our re-kindled friendship, Lenny told me about the love of his life, Doris. He and Doris were determined, as the saying goes, to “fix me up." In January of 1950, they got me a blind date with the sister of one of Doris' ex-boyfriends. And that is how I met my wife-to-be, The Beautiful Terry, on a blind date. We met at Doris' house and the evening was a success.
The story doesn't end there, because it's really a small world. Of course I asked Terry (neé Thelma) if I could escort her home. Terry and her family had recently moved to a new development on a street named Corsa Avenue, within walking distance of the Melba Theater near Hillside, on Boston Road, a block from Eastchester Avenue.
I couldn't believe it. In 1942 and 1943, I had had a job as doorman in the Lane and Gem Theaters on 181st Street off St. Nicholas Avenue in Washington Heights. I lived on Merriam Avenue, across the river in Highbridge. One of my functions for the Lane required me to take cans of film from 181st Street to the Melba Theater every Sunday evening. I had to ride across to the Bronx on the 170th Street bus to the Concourse. From there I took the D train to the end of the line at 205th Street, the last stop. Then the rest of the trip was again by bus to the end of the line at Boston and Eastchester Roads. After dropping off the film, I took the bus back to the subway; then to 170th Street, and the 170th Street bus home.
Finally, I had a girl friend who lived so far from me that I ended up spending Saturday nights in her basement, along with her abominable dog, Spunky. It was so far north that once, on a trip to Terry's house from Loews Paradise, we were accompanied by our friends Teddy and June. Teddy kept calling out "MUSH!" Terry and I were married on March 2, 1952.
My Dad loved his grandchildren. He never had much with regard to material things; but he always gave of himself, and he was loved back. His love of baseball and his participation in Junior Baseball led me down a path that I have followed for all my years, even beyond his demise in July of 1964.
I was at work in New Jersey the day my phone rang, and Mother's very shaky voice advised me that something was wrong with "Daddy," as she called him. She said he sounded peculiar during their daily noontime chat. She worked for Saks 5th Avenue, and she called him at home every day at lunchtime.
At that time, Terry and I lived on Hering Avenue in the Bronx, just off Gun Hill Road. I worked in New Jersey, and we were in the process of purchasing a home there.
I tried calling him at once and got no answer. I called Mother and told her I would leave the office and make the trip back to the Bronx to see what was wrong. She was to go home as well. When I got to Merriam Avenue, he was lying on the living room floor, with the TV tuned to the station for the Yankee game. A partially lit cigarette was beside him on the floor. He had tried to light it for a smoke but had lit the filter end and couldn't smoke it. It looked to me as if he had had a stroke, so I called for assistance; the police came followed by an ambulance, and they took him to Morrisania Hospital, with me following. I left a note for Mother.
He was in bad shape, hardly recognizing us. His sister and her husband who lived in Chicago were in New York at the time for a visit, and came to the hospital. His speech was distorted, and he had little or no use of his right side and arm. He suffered a second stroke a few days later in the hospital, and this one left him comatose. We had little or no conversation after that. He had always been a loving vibrant man, and it broke our hearts to see him that way.
So he died. He had been my rock, my friend, my confidant, and even now as I write this the lump comes back to my throat, and tears well up in my eyes. It is forty years now since he left us, but he is still always in my thoughts. He did leave us with his love for the Yankees. We are all Yankee fans.
When he died, my son Greg was just past three years of age. His two older sisters remember “Gampa,” as they called him, but Greg doesn't, and didn't understand what happened in our family. But sometimes I think that when one so dear is taken from us, another is there to take his place. I think that is the case with Greg. He is strong, loving and in many ways, he is as my Dad was. Dad would have howled with laughter at some of Greg's antics.
Greg now has a son of his own. I wonder if Steven will follow along. Greg loves the Yankees. He follows them as avidly as my Dad and I, and hangs on every word I tell him about them; of their history of years gone by. I have four grandsons now, and I sincerely hope something of Grandpa is in all of them. They couldn't take after a better guy than my Dad.
We haven't lived in “Da Bronx” since September of 1964. I don't have any more Bronx Tales worth telling. I hope others will read and understand my half-of-a lifetime of memories of an old Bronxite, as I look back fondly on those days which will live in my heart forever.