Part Two: Early Bronx Memories (Woodycrest Avenue)

October 25th, 2015 § 0 comments

The year was 1935. Not a happy year for the HG family. HG’s older brother, the late Bernard F., had returned to The Bronx from the University of Georgia (where he was a football star). He had lost most of his right leg in a barnstorming airplane accident (His beautiful fiancee and the pilot perished). He was learning to walk again with the aid of an artificial leg. This was a bulky device, not the well engineered, light prosthetic limb in use today. Bernard’s misfortune caused HG’s Mom to have an emotional breakdown. HG’s father developed migraine headaches. HG’s late sister, Beulah Naomi, kept her cheerful disposition and was a source of love and comfort for little HG who was facing problems of his own. The HG family had moved to a three-bedroom apartment (Rent was $45 a month and the building had an elevator) at 1210 Woodycrest Avenue in the High Bridge neighborhood of The Bronx. It was located some 50 yards from Sacred Heart R.C. Church. The youngsters who attended parochial school there learned HG was Jewish and accused him of killing Jesus Christ. Little violence followed the accusation but the atmosphere on Woodycrest was unfriendly. (The comedian Lenny Bruce, when similarly accused, responded: “It wasn’t me. It was my cousin Milton.”) Little HG had two escapes from the tensions of Woodycrest: One, HG would walk to nearby Nelson Avenue and join a gang of tough Jewish kids who would war with the hated Italians of Shakespeare Avenue. Two, HG would find peace in the civilized bookshelves of the High Bridge Public Library. Here, something strange happened to the little fellow. HG became an idiot savant and developed a photographic memory. HG read history, all of the great classic studies, American and English. One glance at a page and it immediately entered HG’s memory bank and could be recalled at will. HG became a local celebrity. Sister Beulah’s friends would gather and ask him about obscure dates, treaties, wars. HG would close his eyes and recite the answer. HG expanded this capacity to include the listings, casts, etc, of movies playing throughout New York. This continued for some 18 months and then the memory feats disappeared, never to return. HG has never found a plausible psychological theory to explain the strange phenomenon (but did note, with joy, that Grandson Haru pulled off the same odd feat with an intensive interest in the Presidents of the United States — for months the little guy could recite the presidents in the order of their tenure and recall all of their deeds, and then, just like HG, the ability vanished). HG began his education at PS. 11 on Ogden Avenue (the school still exists). At birth, HG’s given name was “Jerome” (That’s what it says on the birth certificate). HG’s Mom and cousin, the late Anne B., walked along Ogden Avenue to register HG in first grade. The Great Depression was still raging. There were soup kitchens on Ogden Avenue and “Hoovervilles” (shacks sheltering the homeless) on the banks of the nearby Harlem River. Grim. Mom and Anne decided the name “Jerome” didn’t have a regal, aristocratic feel. They changed HG’s name to “Gerald” and that’s how HG was registered. Glad they did it. “Hungry Gerald” has more panache and √©lan than “Hungry Jerome.”

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