My Highbridge Years - 1951-1964
remember being born in the Bronx! OK, I don’t really remember, but I feel like I do. My uncle, Clark “Bucky” McAndrews, was in the Air Force and headed to Korea in September of ’51, and I guess I must remember when he came back, because he was so handsome in his uniform. Fifty-three years passed before I happened to notice that the hospital I was born in, St. Elizabeth’s, was in Manhattan. Oh, the horror of finding that I wasn’t born in the Bronx after all. But I did get there about five days later, so all was well.
We lived on Woodycrest, around 167th Street near my Nana, Mary, who went by Marie (la de da) McAndrews and who lived at number 1116. It was a “famous” building because Carol Lynley, the movie star, came from that building too. We moved to 901 Ogden Avenue after my father, Richy Stewart, joined the NYPD 48th Precinct, with my mother expecting kid number three. Boy, how she hated that walk up the hill to Woodycrest with two kids under three and one on the way. Solution –to-problem : we moved again.
This time, we moved to 1307 Nelson Avenue, at the corner of 169th. Of course, we had to stay in the parish, because back then, no one changed parishes on purpose. You couldn’t see Sacred Heart School unless you were on the roof, but it was close enough to walk both to the School and the Church. We were a family of five in a two-bedroom apartment, with all kids in one room and parents in another. I don’t believe I knew anyone, anywhere who had more than one bedroom for their kids. As a matter of fact, I knew a lot of people who had all their kids in one bedroom and the parents had a Castro convertible in the living room, where they slept. That was just the way it was so no one thought anything about it. One bedroom for all the kids, and if lucky, another for the parents.
They tell me I was precocious. Perhaps I was. I certainly made it my business from the time I could talk to get to know every single person who lived in my building. I remember the older Jewish couple from the first floor who had a daughter living in New Rochelle and they had a daughter a little older than me. Oh, and just the same size. I had the most beautiful Sunday dresses you ever saw. (So who knew?) Then, I went to the other buildings. By the time I was five, I knew just about everyone on my block and many of the folks down 169th to Ogden. I knew the supers of both buildings and I thought that being a super must be the coolest thing you could be. The Sinhoff family were the supers of my building.
Nana Sinhoff was my other “grandmother” and she used to let me come into her apartment to hang out. Her son, Bobby, was truly the first love of my life. I was five and he was a man of somewhere older than thirteen. Her daughter Judy, who was in high school, used to let me help with the dumb waiter, and it was an honor to be allowed in the cellar (apart from the carriage room). Carol Sinhoff was my next-door neighbor and my best grownup friend. Her name wasn’t Sinhoff after she married Pete and had three kids, but hey, I was just a kid. She used to let me help with the kids. I remember those days as some of the best of my young life.
Otto Sinhoff, the patriarch of the family, was the Super. Our buildings, 1305 and 1307, were connected and had three gardens. Otto’s gardens were magnificent. You would have thought our building was the Botanical Gardens. Of course, our mission as kids was to get in the gardens whenever possible, and Otto’s mission was to keep us out. I think it was a draw. Across the street, the Supers were the O’Malleys. I remember Mr. O’Malley being a big man and I remember his daughter Fran whom we all thought was very cool, because her father was the Super.
The Devine girls, Fran and Mary (cousins, if I recall correctly) were my babysitters. They were old enough to date and they always had cute guys hanging around from “down the block,” which was a place we never went before age ten unless we were on the way to somewhere else.
Local shopkeepers included Maxi and Sam of Max’s Delicatessen, and old Pop, the candy store owner. I don’t recall the tailor’s name, but I do remember that he ate limburger cheese and for some reason, I thought he used it to chalk the suits he made. Mr. Sunshine was the shoemaker, and Jake owned Jake’s Hardware store. There was a drugstore on the corner where my mother used to send me to pick up something wrapped in brown paper - I guess we all know now what that was. Across from that on the other side of 169th was Sam the Butcher. (Two pounds of chuck chop, please!) Then, on the other side of Nelson was Esra’s Candy Store. I really don’t know why they always called them candy stores, when they were luncheonettes, and he made egg creams that are still in my top three of all time. Of course, the other two in the top three were Nagelberg’s on 169th, closer to Plimpton, and Sid and Thelma’s on the Corner of 169th and Ogden. Oh, let us not forget the laundry guy, who also sold hula-hoops for a quarter, just down from Ezra’s on 169th street, or the Pool Hall, just down from there, where I never got inside.
You really never had to leave the block for anything. There were two other buildings on the block, closer to 170th, but they were for the “rich” people, because they were six-story buildings and those buildings had elevators.
Who from Sacred Heart Parish doesn’t remember the Noonan Plaza? My best friend, Patrice “Bunny” Meier, and I used to sneak past the security guy to see the swans any time we were down the street that way. (You didn’t often go that far from your block, again, unless you were on your way somewhere.)
Sundays after Church it was the Green Dot for all the ladies and Reilly’s Bar across the street for the guys. There were more strollers and carriages outside the Green Dot on a Sunday late morning or early afternoon then there were in most carriage rooms in the cellars of most buildings. Then, the moms would drag us all across the street to Reilly’s, maybe have a soda with the dad’s and then drag us all to the next venue, usually one of the grandma’s for Sunday dinner.
There were so many of us kids living in our two buildings on Nelson Avenue back then that you couldn’t see the street for the kids playing there. I can remember we would get chalk and make a big circle in the street so we would have a skating rink. We would skate in the street for hours and God help the Dad who didn’t move his car, or anyone who wanted to ride down Nelson and get through all of us. We would play Jack-Queen-King against the building with a spaldeen. We made scooters out of wood crates, a two-by-four (where did we get that stuff?) and our roller skates. We played scully, shining those bottle caps by rubbing them on the sidewalk and melting the wax to give them the needed weight, and Potsy - (Do you have two bobby pins I can borrow?) and any other “game” we could think up, make up or redesign. We were a busy lot until our mothers would yell out the windows to tell us it was time to come in/up/home.
Some Saturday mornings, if we could get thirty-five cents, we would go to the Ogden movie theater, all the way up on Ogden Avenue between 170th and 171st, and spend a quarter to get in (if we couldn’t sneak in) and 10 cents for candy. As long as someone was “old enough” to go (and that meant nine or ten) then the younger ones could go too. We would stay all day and watch the movie over and over. We had to hide in the aisle so the matrons wouldn’t kick us out after the first show, and we really believed they didn’t know we were still there. A hundred kids going in and ten going out – amazing what we believed back then.
It was Sarge’s Pizza for us Catholic kids on Friday nights, unless it was a “poor week” and we had scrambled eggs (please Dad, don’t put anything weird in the eggs!) In the summers, we went to Jerome Park Pool or Cascades (later named Palm Beach Pool) if we could get in. My “Uncle,” Frank Nawrocki, was a cop in the 44th, so my best friends and I could sign in with his badge number and get in for free. I had met Uncle Frank when he was the crossing guard at Ogden and 169th when I started Kindergarten. I finally brought him home and he and my parents became and stayed best friends for more than thirty years.
We migrated to Rockland County in November of 1961. Oh the horror! My parents had bought a beautiful suburban four-bedroom home in West Nyack and my brothers and I told everyone the walls were made of cardboard. Well, it was sheet rock and you could use it for chalk, so it seemed like cardboard to us. Our old friends and neighbors were very concerned. Thank God my Aunt Kay stayed in the old building. Down I went every Friday to stay with her and see my friends, returning to the “country” on Sunday night. Further thanking God, my Nana moved into her apartment when Aunt Kay moved to Rockland County too. I probably went back every weekend, or at least every weekend that my best friend Bunny couldn’t come up, ‘till I was fourteen. Thanks Nana.
We were “city” kids! City kids weren’t the same as suburban kids. We had street smarts and when we got to the suburbs, we found out we were way too “advanced” for the other kids to play with. My brothers began to establish a base of friends, but I had no interest in making new friends; I was still going back to the city as many weekends as possible. I finally started making friends after a couple of years, but instead of staying in the country, I took them to the city. Boy, did they like it. Thanks again, Nana!
City kids took the subway! City kids rode on buses! City kids went to school with a dollar to buy lunch at the luncheonettes near the school. Suburban kids’ moms had cars. Our moms didn’t drive. However, there was this one time when my dad came off the late tour having parked his car on Nelson Avenue, and when he woke up the car was in a different spot. That was ‘cause my mom, who didn’t drive, decided it was a good day to take us kids and Aunt Kay and her son Ricky Kelly to Orchard Beach. Neither one had ever driven, but hey, they were city girls, so how hard could it be? When they got pulled over by a cop, they gave him some story and had the nerve to ask for directions, which they got, and on they went. My dad never found out until years later and he bought the “we got the sunburns at Jerome Pool” story for those same number of years as well. Never tell a Bronx girl she “can’t,” cause can’t just ain’t in her dictionary.
Nine o’clock Mass with your class was mandatory. Attendance was taken. If you missed, you better have had a good one and a note from your mother! By the time I started at Sacred Heart School (if you were Catholic, you went to Catholic School), Monsignor Humphrey was the Monsignor. From the stories I’ve heard, he was just as tough as when he was Father Humphrey. Fathers Devlin and Risic were the “cool” priests.
After second grade, the girls went to the girls’ side and the boys went to the boys’ side. Girls had the Nuns and boys had the Brothers. I remember starting the first grade with Sister Maurita. She was so sweet, we all wanted to be Nuns. Then on to the second grade and the rude awakening of Sister Mary Gaudencia. I happened to meet her many years later only to find out she was a sweet little thing, but in the second grade, she inspired the fear of God in all of us. Sister James and Sister Alma for third and fourth, and a broken knuckle from a pointer, and then Mrs. Glynn, my first Lay Teacher. That was almost unheard of back then, and we didn’t really know just what that was all about. That was the year we moved, so I never got to finish the fifth grade with my new experience.
I remember some of my classmates, Joan Green, Margaret Lennon, Barbara Birmingham and Patricia Otis. Both Barbara and Patricia’s fathers passed away when we were in the second through fourth grades, and I remember thinking that it wasn’t possible. You had your school friends and your home friends and when you had a party, you mostly invited all your friends. Watch out girls, I have you bobbing for apples on film.
I remember that Mrs. Shields was the music and dance teacher and she produced the school plays. She also kicked me out of private dance classes for turning a bench over to make it a canoe. Mrs. Shields, what were you thinking with some of those costumes? Chubby fourth grade girls as butterflies? And the moms! Toni perms? Heaven save us from a mother with a Toni perm box in her hand. And the eyeglasses – don’t even go to the glasses! Two choices, pink or blue. And later, the glasses got worse instead of better. When I look at my school pictures, still prominently displayed at my parents home for all to see, I shudder. Did I really look like that? You bet you did, kiddo!
We packed a lot of living into living back then. In that short period of my life, I have so many memories stored up that it’s impossible to believe I was only a “Highbridge girl” from 1951 to 1961, and a temporary “Highbridge girl” for a few years after that. I think it’s because we all kept the stories alive for the past forty to fifty years, so when my dad talks about “having a beer at every bar from one end of Ogden Avenue to the other” as a young man’s mission, we all feel that we were there with him. Manion’s, the Blarney Stone, Walshes, Falahy’s, Reilly’s and so many others. Sid and Thelma’s, with Sid starting to go blind and still being able to see if you were trying to nip a two-cent bag of chips and so many other still familiar places and stories, I can’t possibly write them all down.
My mom, Pat McAndrews Stewart, passed away recently. She kept the Bronx alive in me even after we moved away, and we all miss her a lot. The Bronx Board was her thing, so now it’s mine. So long Mom – we miss you.