Early Bronx Memories

October 24th, 2015 § 2 comments

HG’s earliest years were spent in a fourth floor walk up apartment on Prospect Avenue located on the eastern fringe of the Belmont neighborhood in The Bronx. Southern Boulevard was a few blocks away and the Boulevard was bordered by the Bronx Zoo. Little HG would sleep with the roar of lions in the far background. HG was familiar with elephants, rhinos, hippos, lions and tigers long before HG ever saw a cow or a sheep. Horses were familiar, however. They pulled the wagons of fruit and vegetables that were familiar in the days of the Great Depression. Horses also hauled the ice wagons in those pre-refrigeration days. HG remembers the iceman (Icemen were always sturdy Italians) carrying a burlap wrapped block of ice over his shoulder to the HG family apartment. (Legend had it that the iceman was the illicit lover of Bronx housewives. Given the very taxing schlepping that was the iceman’s job, it seems dubious that the guys had energy left over for amorous dalliance). The milkman drove a white truck and delivered his product in the early dawn. A bakery chain, Dugan’s, sold its product from a truck. The driver would park his car and shout: “Dugan, the baker!!” Doughnuts and raisin bread were the Dugan specialties. Jewish Moms bought bread and rolls from Jewish bakeries and Italian Moms would walk to Arthur Avenue for traditional Italian baked goods. Relations between Jews and Italians on Prospect Avenue were cordial. HG’s father would often swap his home distilled Vishniak (cherry brandy) for the robust red wine produced at home by Italian neighbors. (In those politically incorrect days, the wine was referred to as “Dago Red.”). Street vendors were omnipresent. In cold weather, they sold hot sweet potatoes (with a pat of butter) for two cents; hot roasted chestnuts; steamed chickpeas with chicken fat and coarse salt. Summer was the time for chunks of coconut and Italian ices. HG and his little pals would augment these foods by stealing potatoes and roasting the “mickeys” in fires set in empty lots. In the summer, HG and the other kids splashed in water from fire hydrants while parents sat on improvised seating in front of apartment houses. HG very much enjoyed the itinerant street singers. They would launch into loud song and appreciative housewives would shower them with pennies, nickels and dimes wrapped in paper and tossed from windows. Sentimental love songs and ethnic favorites (“My Yiddishe Momma”) were big hits. Loew’s Elsmere on Crotona Pakrway was the nearest movie theater. HG’s late sister, Beulah Naomi, took four-year-old HG (she was 11) to the Elsmere in 1933 to see “Dracula” with Bela Lugosi (The movie was released in 1931 but it took two years before it reached The Bronx). The movie visit was ill advised. HG and sister were paralyzed by the horror of the vampire movie. It left HG with a lifelong fear of bats (and, of course, sharp toothed Hungarians).

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