Wednesday, May 25, 2011

Bronx Boy

By Elliott Joseph
Copyright 2011 Elliott Joseph
June 2011

I loved growing up in The Bronx. I had so many friends my age. We played in the streets, which were safe, hardly any traffic. The years were the thirties, another time. Somehow my parents were able to feed and clothe me in those difficult economic days. Corduroy knickers and colorful sweaters, soft shoes from the Army Navy store where I could also buy a pocket knife to play mumblety-peg in the gardens.

You never said you lived in Bronx. It was The Bronx, unlike the names of the other boroughs, Manhattan, Queens, Brooklyn, Staten Island. It was, and still is, The Bronx.

The Bronx is a county with its own courthouse and executive. There are two stories of how it got its name. One is that it was named for a Swedish sea captain, James Bronck who settled there in 1639 and established a farm. The other story named for the Bronck family farm. As Google reports, "Many of the wealthy of Manhattan would come to visit their friends who owned the farm, and would simply say they were going to the Bronck's ." The name stuck.

The Bronx became the home to Irish, Italian, German and Jewish immigrants, of which my family was one from England, Poland and Russia, our neighborhood on the Grand Concourse being principally Jewish. For Italian flavor we visited Arthur Avenue where we got great pizza and Italian pastries and listened to Italian spoken joyfully. It was in Creston Junior High School and De Witt Clinton High School that I met non-Jewish students. P.S. 64, my elementary school, was almost all Jewish, which closed for the Jewish holidays, an extra vacation from our studies for us kids.

After school we played all the New York street games until dark and our mothers called for us to come upstairs. We played Ring-o-Leavio, Johnny-Ride-The Pony, Stick Ball, Salugi. Touch Football, Immies Hits and Spans, Catch, Slug Ball, Boxball, Skelly, Potsy, cards and lots of games.

We roller skated, played street hockey, threw what we called a pink Spaldeen rubber ball that had a high bounce. We talked and talked about what we'd do when we grew up. We roasted mickeys on a fire in the lot. We never fought except if a bully made his way into our group. He'd get the Bronx cheer, which would deflate him. When it snowed I'd sleigh down our hill belly-whopping on my Flexible Flyer while one of our gang watched for the occasional car or horse and wagon delivering milk or ice.

When I was fifteen my father and mother divorced and my beautiful mother subsequently married a very nice man who adored her. With my little brother and my big sister we moved in with them. My stepfather, whom I called "uncle," bought me a bicycle in Macy's and I pedaled safely on the expansive Grand Concourse, which was modeled after the Champs Elysees, to my old neighborhood and my friends. By then there were girls in our gang and new adventures trying to get a "feel."

There was a swimming pool and huge parks and the famous Bronx Zoo and exciting neighborhoods to explore. We rode the elevated train to high school and the subway to City College on Convent Avenue.

We listened to the radio for the baseball scores and stole our way onto a roof that gave us a view of the Yankee Stadium's games. We listened to the heavyweight championship fight where Joe Lewis knocked out the German boxer Max Schmeling in the first round, to much of the consternation of Adolf Hitler. We hung on every word of FDR's Fireside Chats after his stunning victory in the 1932 election over Herbert Hoover. We lost five dollars when our local savings bank failed after the start of the Depression.

What a time it was, so much an important part of a young boy's Bronx life, and the friends I made, which has stayed with me all this time.

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