For displaced, misplaced, and nostalgic ex-Bronxites

Streams of Neighborhood Memories


by Gene Ret

M

y earliest memories are of P.S. 32: Mr. Silverman the pool/swimming teacher (that wasa profession?); Mrs. Ryan, my homeroom teacher, and Miss McCruden. There were air raid drills where we had to hide under our desks. Cleaning the erasers in a closet beside the cafeteria. My favorite lunch was peanut butter sandwiches with tomato soup. I actually dunked the sandwich in the soup. There were mandatory afternoon naps at/on our desks. The leftover sandwiches from lunch were brought to each room for a snack. I was a crossing guard - white cross belt and badge - kind of a young John Wayne. My mother brought salami sandwiches for lunch. We sat in the park across from the school. The candy store across the street had a great jukebox. "Blue Moon" was J7. The other corner candy store had great french fries. P.S. 32 was where I got hooked on the Hardy Boys, Tom Swift and his Electric whatever... Thank you '32 for stimulating my imagination in order that I might see the full breadth of what life could be.

Summers: always St. Martin's Day Camp. Indoor skating and breaking our necks, and looking forward to that week's movie. We took trips to Tibbitts Brook in Westchester. Back then it was the suburbs where the rich people lived.

My parents, John and Alda: My mother always seemed to be ill. If it wasn't Jacobi Hospital for cancer, it was Brooklyn State Hospital for depression. I was in awe of my father's patience, understanding, positive outlook, and the true love he had for my mother. He may have been small in stature, but he was a giant of a man to me.

P.S. 45, Paul Hoffman Junior High School: Miss Costanza the Italian teacher drove us nuts. The dean was Mr. G (Giordano), the local lawyer. His brother was the gym teacher with a crooked nose and buzz cut hair. A good friend, Leo Serrano, was always getting in trouble with girls in the coat closet...but we won't go there. Religious instruction (I think on Tuesday or Wednesday) was at Mt. Carmel across the street, with Brother Richard Hartling throwing empty beer cans at us if we acted up. The greatest tuna heros were made in a small sub shop across the street (Vera's?). I think it was the slivers of carrots.

The Belmont neighborhood: The Half Moon restaurant (now the Full Moon - my, how things grow), Anne & Tony's restaurant, Mario's, where the food was the best. Mario's Pizzeria was right down the block from my house - my hangout. We shot pool at Arthur Avenue, on top of Modern Market. What was the name, the "Arthur Avenue Pool Hall"? Joe the Barber and John Tinari were the best players. John's sister Jeanne was my first crush. We could also go to Tally's for pool at 183rd and Crotona, or Scottie's on Fordham and Webster. The playground was near the church. There were two great feasts every year, Mt. Carmel and St. Anthony's. Were those bottles I was trying to knock down glued down? The opera being sung at the feast lulled me to sleep. Carrying the holy statues through the streets, and neighbors pinning dollar bills on the ribbons. The fruit, vegetable & fish peddlers ringing their bells coming down the street and yelling between the building alleys what specials they had each day. Edgidio's Pastry, Borgati's pasta, the Arthur Avenue Market, the chicken market, goat's hanging in the butcher's window...the best food choices in the world. The Cinnelli's movie (the "dumps"), with two features and a few cartoons on a Saturday afternoon. A Sugar Daddy lasted for the entire show. Singing harmony with the guys...finding the best acoustical hallway. Dion & The Belmonts, The Earls and The Valentines were our vocal role models.

Part time jobs: stacking bottles at Modern Market (I could only take it for two weeks). Delivering groceries for Padula's Grocery Store on 188th Street and Cambreling Avenue. I got $15/20 for working three hours on Friday and all day Saturday. I bought my Dad a 21 inch black and white Zenith TV on time from this job. Davega's on Fordham must have thought I had good credit. The worst was delivering to the "smelly lady". The odor in her house was incredibly bad, like something had died there. Frequent visits to the Bronx Zoo and the Botanical Gardens - we thought of them as our own private backyard. Going through the "hole in the fence" for a shortcut to the Botanical Gardens. Visits to "Pine Jump", sliding down a rock into a pile of pine needles. Stopping in at Howard Johnson?s on Friday for their fish fry - all the flounder you can eat. Boy, did they lose money.

Going to Aunt Tilllie and Uncle Sam's house at Christmas - Prospect and 189th: We'd begin with an eggplant salad, move on to a roast, potatoes & vegetables, and end with a pasta, lasagna, and/or manicotti. Culminated with nuts, desert, etc. You couldn't move when you left the table. My Uncle Gino telling stories, The Sheriff of Vissa (his last name) County, and how he wrestled alligators and drowned sharks. He was my hero, even after I knew he was stretching the truth. He would take his kids Jeanne, Richie and me to Manhattan, King of Kings, and dinner at the Lobster Box. Life was great. If only I could be like him.

Church every Sunday at Mt. Carmel: Bishop Pernicone and Father Mazza were the best. We had a choice of the lower church or the main church - in English or Italian. I Almost knew the entire mass in Latin.

Hanging out at Charlie's candy store (189th and Belmont): A filthy place, but his stories were great. The "wise guys" across the street: Joe Denti, Moach, Patsy Parillo. Whitey the cop who seemed to visit the wise guys on a regular and social basis.

Off to DeWitt Clinton High School. Walton High was our sister school. A long bus ride up Fordham Road. How often did we sneak in the rear doors? Some more outgoing souls would "moon" (press a ham) en route. We had to switch to another bus on the Grand Concourse. Another Italian teacher, Signorina Razzari, had to be Miss Costanza's sister. Walter Degnan was our principal, Paul Gibney was the dean. The best teacher was Miss Taras. She made geometry fun and easy. I actually enjoyed applying theorems.

My past and always best friend, Joe Santarlasci, owned the Blue Orchid Florist near the church. I even delivered for him on Easter one or two years. John Scicutella, Tom LaCasa, Rich Mika, Frank Amodeo, Mike Forzano. No contact with any of them anymore, except Joe. Amazing how living our own lives often prevents maintaining relationships that were truly valued.

Clubbing and bars: met my future wife at the Chateau Alexander on Allerton Avenue under the Dyre Avenue train tracks. Played softball for Blackie's Bar on Gun Hill Road and Fenton Avenue. This was my future wife's parent's turf. Back to the losing softball team's bar that had to treat the winning team to hot dogs and beer. Learned how to play shuffleboard there. Finn McCool's, The Factory/Fantasy East (Bingo Tinari was the bouncer) and The Silver Edge - never the same place on two consecutive weekends.

All the wedding halls: The Gun Hill Manor, where I got married; Tardi?s, Lauratano's; The Pelham Manor; The Bruckner Manor and The Marina DelRei.

So, this was my shot at a "stream of consciousness" about the old neighborhood. No doubt others have done it better, with more content and certainly more style. But none can match the affection I have for that great borough, and the section of the Bronx called Belmont, circa 1957 to 1967.




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