Silver Beach Remembered
y parents and three sisters, Catherine, Helena and Maryanne moved to Silver Beach in1939, supposedly at the end of the depression. However, it was far from over for us. I was five years old at the time.
My father purchased a small two-bedroom bungalow on 7 Holly Place, where the walls stopped two feet short of the ceilings. We had a central kerosene heater that attempted to heat the whole house and it failed miserably. These homes were originally built for summer residences only. After extensive remodeling they became comfortable although they were almost all the same. It was a very nice place to live for roughly 700 families and I eventually came to know most of them.
I can remember the war years vividly, the flags in the windows with the blue and the dreaded gold stars. I knew the servicemen who were killed along with the returning GI's and they were all my heroes. Tom Brokaw, in his book The Greatest Generation, called this group of people that grew up during the depression, served their country during the war and returned and never talked about it, "the greatest generation that any society ever produced."
When the summer came it was pure joy. I put on my bathing suit early in the morning and stayed at the beach all day long. Nothing lasts longer than a beautiful summer day when you are a kid and out of school; as you get older decades seem to fly by. The waste from Silver Beach discharged near our swimming area. None of us knew what prophylactics (also known as white eels) were. My mother told me they were "spit-bags" used by sick people in the hospitals. This was the accepted explanation and we never questioned it. We either swam around them or pushed them out of the way. When the water became too dirty we would ask for a volunteer to do a cannonball off the dock. The concentric circles moving away from the center gave us a clean area for swimming. When things really got bad we used simultaneous double cannonballs. Whitestone Bridge, 1940
Once a week during the summer we had outdoor movies at the pavilion next to the Silver Beach Tavern. If you had a favorite girlfriend it was a great place to meet her. Benny Breden's Ice Cream Parlor became a madhouse during the movie intermissions.
I landed a job at McCabe's Grocery Store on Plaza Place stocking shelves and delivering orders. Mr. McCabe had an Irish brogue and pronounced my first name as Mi-hal. He wrote the customers' purchases on the outside of a brown paper bag and had the unique ability of adding columns of figures from left to right. The bag then became the receipt. When the pencil was not writing as dark as he would like, he moistened the tip of it with his tongue. This worked fine until he switched to his blue pencil, after which his tongue was always full of small blue dots.
Sergeant David and Detective Spinner from the 45th Precinct on Barclay Avenue periodically raided our dice games on Sunday mornings and confiscated our money. The games were held on a landing between the stairs leading down to the beach. When someone screamed "COPS!" we scattered and left everything the way it was, including the money in the pot. Jake Levine, one of our players, rolled up his pants and walked into the water pretending he was bathing. Years later, after he retired, Sergeant David told me they raided our games to get some beer money. He was a wonderful guy and gave us PAL tickets to the Yankee games and bats and balls for our baseball team. Most of the kids knew and loved him. When we got in trouble he was our friend and mentor.
I attended St. Francis De Chantal school from 1940 thru 1946. Sister Mary Imelda, my sixth grade teacher, with the concurrence of the Principal, Sister Mary Bernard and the pastor, Father Jordan, asked me to leave the school, expelled. I was considered incorrigible and tardy and they had a few other appropriate adjectives. Sister Mary Bernard handed me my final report card and used a biblical metaphor to describe it: "It looks like the Red Sea". Passing grades were in blue ink and failing grades in red. I will never forget it. My feelings were the same as Groucho Marx's after the Los Angeles Tennis Club refused him membership, "I do not want to belong to a club that would let me in anyway." I was on my way to P.S. 72.
Bosco's Hero's on Tremont Avenue is still the standard by which I compare all others and none has ever come close. One hot summer day Josie (Josephine) was making my meat ball hero and the sweat from her forehead became a part of my sandwich. It was still the best sandwich I ever had.
The Silver Beach Tavern was our social center on Friday, Saturday and after 12:30 mass on Sunday. If you were short of money, Frank Uvaro, the owner/bartender would lend you five or ten bucks. Georgie Low was the cook from the beginning to the end. I understand he died the same day the tavern burned down. After the fire the Silver Beach Association decided not to let it reopen. It was a very wise decision.
Class distinction or status was not important in Silver Beach. We were all in the same boat. If someone bought a nice car, he became the tallest of the pygmies for a couple of months.
I left New York in 1965 and I've traveled all over the country. Detroit has its Bloomfield Hills, Cleveland has Shaker Heights and Chicago has the Miracle Mile. Nothing compares to the view of the beautiful Whitestone Bridge with the sun relecting off the water as you go through the Silver Beach Gate on to Sunset Trail.