Grandma Rosie's Apartment
ny memories of the extended family center on my Grandmother's apartment. We lived inthe same building at 795 Garden Street, across the street from the Crotona entrance of the Bronx Zoo. There was a magic about the ground floor apartment that she shared with my grandfather until his death, and then occupied alone until the late sixties. To a young child, it was like living in a private house with your own yard. Grandma Rosie lived next to the superintendent, so we had an "in" with Mr. Lane. My cousins from the third floor and my brother and I had clout over the other cousins and the other kids in the building since we were also tenants.
I have seasonal memories of the great times in my grandmother's apartment. Winters meant big Sunday dinners, followed by the adults playing cards; Christmas Eve and Christmas Day dinners; pastries, homemade ravioli, homemade gravy.
Picture a three-room apartment occupied by twelve to sixteen adults and ten to twelve children at one time. Grandma had a console table which had many leaves. The table was extended so it was large enough for the adults. The kids would sit at a card table or at the kitchen table. I would go downstairs from my fourth floor apartment and help her set up the table on Saturday night. Then we would take the freshly starched linens out of the "linen drawer" in her bureau and set the table.
Sunday dinner always consisted of pasta, gravy meat, a salad of iceberg lettuce with oil, vinegar, and garlic for starters. There would always be the extras, whether it was chicken, eggplant parm, and the customary homemade dessert for whatever holiday it would be.
There were memories that will always remain in my cousin's minds and mine of these Sunday dinners. I will never forget the time when I went into Grandpa's stash of homemade Italian liqueur and chug-a-lugged from the bottle. I was about six years old and I remember everyone telling me that I turned blue.
Another memory was "Who will lock themselves in the bathroom this week?" Every week one of the kids would go to the bathroom and inadvertently lock himself in the bathroom. This would provide something to do between dinner and the card game - getting the kid out of the bathroom. Thank goodness Grandma Rosie lived on the first floor. We would usually be able to open the window for the screaming uncle, who would help us out.
Since I had the privilege of living in the same building as Grandma, Sunday dinners were not the only memories I cherished. Living next door to the Super provider other perqs. One was using the blow-up pool in the Super's backyard. Mr. Lane had grandchildren who lived in the building so he would put out a pool in the yard for them. I was the only tenant who would be invited to swim with Mr. Lane's grandkids. In retrospect, a blow-up pool was a special treat to a Bronx kid.
To this date, I think of September as back-to-school time. I also remember it as the time to buy tomatoes to make the sauce from scratch. There was an actual farm on Garden Street in the 1960's. An Italian-American Bronxite (who later defected to Fort Lee, New Jersey) grew his own produce and also "imported" produce from the Hunt's Street Market. My grandmother, mother and I would go to "the Farmer" and buy bushels of plum tomatoes so Grandma Rosie could make sauce. I remember Grandma going through the process of cooking the tomatoes with basil and putting them through a mill that would separate the seeds and skin from the pulp. Grandma would then heat the mason jars and add the sauce to the jars. I will always remember the pop of the lids as a vacuum was formed. The sauce would be distributed to family and friends and it would be a long time until someone had to buy a can of tomatoes.
Eventually Grandma moved to the fifth floor. She would still hold court on Sundays but something changed. I still believe there was something magical about her ground floor apartment.