I can still remember an East Fourth Street that brought in the New Year with people banging pots and pans on their front porches or out their living room windows from the Margaret Court across the street. I mean, as a kid I thought it was cool, but then as a teenager I thought it was kind of corny. Because most of the people banging the pots and pans were either the elderly or our parents. And maybe it was some habit from the Great Depression when no one had money to buy an M80 from some unscrupulous fireworks dealer who still had a few leftovers from the Fourth of July.
But either way it was still a tradition on my block, and people did it just as the clock struck midnight on December 31st.
“Bang, Bang, Bang” “Happy New Year” “Clonk, Clonk, Clonk” “Bang, Bang, Bang” “Happy New Year”
The pots and pans just banging and rattling away as the television played “Old Lange Syne” with Guy Lombardo in my grandparents apartment on the second floor of 399 East Fourth.
Oh yes New Years Eve at my grandparents apartment, it was a time for everyone to get together and have a ball. More relatives, more food and more fun than you could ever imagine. We probably had more people in that apartment than the NYC Fire Department would allow, and I sometimes wonder how this old house supported all that weight.
Now I also remember New Years Eve for another thing, it was my cousin Pete’s birthday. You see his birthday was the next day after mine, so New Years was always a party in more ways than one at 399.
Hey Pete, Happy Birthday!
Oh, and one more memory about New Years Eve, Pete and I would always go see a Ranger’s game. For whatever reason back in the 70’s the Rangers always had these New Years Eve home games. And Pete and I would take the F train from Church Avenue into the city and still be home in time to hear all those pots and pans banging away on East Fourth.
Yes, New Years Eve on East Fourth. Let’s hear some pots and pans tonight, Shall we?
Oh boy have times changed! I can clearly remember turning 22 some thirty years ago today and having all these crazy thoughts about what I wanted for my birthday. Either they were sexual in nature or motor vehicular in nature; the numbers were either 36-24-36 with blonde hair, or 340 cubic inches with a 4-barrel and slicks. No, there was no denying that what a young guy wanted or dreamed about when he was turning 22 was surely different than what he'd want when he was 52.
And who the hell knows anyway? My wife is still as beautiful as the day I met her, and I have both those 340's and 440's sitting in my garage upstate dripping oil all over the place. Yes folks I worked hard for all of them, but please don't tell my wife that I'm comparing her to my cars, because although most guys get it, women just don't like to be compared to something you need to register with the DMV every year. No they just don't, and besides she'd probably kill me for even lumping her in with my Plymouth's.
So what does someone who "has it all" dream about for his birthday?
How about an Ebingers mocha cream cake with those little slices of white almonds on it? Along with an NE Tells chocolate cake that had the hard icing on the outside with the soft mocha icing between the outer icing and the yellow cake inside.
Oh yes, I can remember going in NE Tells and seeing the guys in the back making those cakes from where you used to stand in line. They'd hold the cake in one hand on a platter and then stick their other hand into a vat of chocolate icing, gently letting it fall all over the cake while smoothing it with their long fingers. I mean no plastic gloves or anything like that, no just bare hands into the chocolate and then on the cake. Wow, who the hell cared about the health department in those days, no not us.
Yes, an NE Tells chocolate cake or an Ebingers mocha cream. And still missing them both after all these years.
Wow, have times changed!
At one time they both stood, proud and mighty. Just daring the next to be better, without ever throwing a punch. With clean glass and stainless steel each was an awesome giant, forever protecting their good name and block.
Their weapons were soft and sweet, and known to many throughout Kensington. Come early Sunday at the break of dawn, you could smell their proud aroma along the deserted sidewalks of Church Avenue. Tempting those who were brave enough to wait outside their locked doors until they opened, hoping the pleasure would soon be all theirs to enjoy.
Next to the Beverly stood “Ebingers” and about a block and a half down by East 3rd street stood “N.E. Tells”. These two bakeries had to be the finest in the land, and they were all ours, right here in Kensington.
As a kid growing up you’d sometimes argue with your best friends about which one was better. And always hoped to see either one at a Birthday party on the block. Because when it came to great cakes, they were both truly the best. And it really didn’t matter which was was better, because they were both the most wonderful bakeries in Brooklyn.
Yeah, what a lucky bunch we were, In the days when giants roamed the land, all you’d have to do is walk up to Church Avenue and open their doors.
The following picture was lent to me from John DeSimone an original East Fourth resident. This picture is of the backyard of 502 East Fourth Street, and I was told it was from the 1890's. Notice the tennis court next to the house along with the lack of houses around it. I will do my best to get more of these pictures from John and post them on the blog.
Writers note: This was an e-mail I sent to the guys, my cousin Pete thought it was "Blog worthy". So you can blame him.
As I was skating through Central Park today a very strange but familiar smell entered my nose on the West Drive around 105th street. It was Horseradish!. Now for a second and just a very brief second the thought of a terrorist smog attack in the form of horseradish entered my mind. But it left soon enough, leaving me to think of no other place than my goalie crease at Avenue F. I closed my eyes for a second as I skated up the hill at around 95th street. And could only smile as the smell of Horseradish and a beautiful Mid-December day reminded my of the 70's and 80's at our old rink. There was Robert Brennan way across the court making some great stand-up kick saves, there was Pete Liria with his "Wolfman" beard yelling at Bill Webster (the referee) after I pulled his "goal" out of the net. You know Pete, that really was a goal, I'm sorry. But that full beard at 16 was really impressive never the less! And little Tommy Brennan with his head barely reaching the crossbar. Oh, and I know you guys were all there too, all smelling the same thing. Come on, you have to remember that Gold's Horseradish used to be behind the South end of the Avenue F Roller Hockey rink, don't you? They abandoned Brooklyn along with Glen Gruder to move to Long Island some years back. Even making a bogus attempt to name the street where the factory is on Long Island, "Brooklyn Avenue". But the truth is they left. And to dig even further into this fragrant odor, I believe it was strongest during the week vs. the weekend. They may have been closed on Saturdays and Sundays, but you still got a whiff of it anyway. Oh yes, slapshots from the point, glove saves, cheap goals and the smell of Gold's Horseradish. Life could never be better.
Paul McNally was and still is one of my best friends from the block. Although Paul moved from Kensington and Brooklyn many years ago, his mind is still chock full of memories from East 4th street. I recently filled Paul in on my blog about Kensington and he came back with a story of his own overnight.
Here is Paul's story simply called: Having a Ball in Brooklyn.
After reading some of the many stories on the pages of this blog, I feel compelled and inspired to add a few thoughts of my own. A day doesn’t go by that I don’t draw upon the fond memories of good ol’ E 4. So when I tried to think of what to write, I wanted to come up with something that anyone who lived in the melting pot that was Kensington, could remember and relate to. Unfortunately, most children today can’t understand how much fun a kid could have without a video game controller, but to the kids growing up in the neighborhood all you needed was a ball. Specifically, I am speaking about a Spalding Hi Bounce ball, or as they were commonly called, “Spaldeens”.
If you had a Spaldeen, you were set to play any one of about a dozen different games. From stoopball, to box ball and of course the old standard, stick ball, hours of play could be had with a single ball. A Spaldeen was every thing and more. Now for those of you reading this who are either too young to know these games, or maybe you were born somewhere other then Brooklyn, I will give you a few details about the games.
Stoopball was a game that had several different versions all based on the same concept of throwing a ball against a set of steps (called a stoop). The first game was loosely based on baseball were the guy throwing the ball attempted to gain runs or points by having his opponents in the out field miss the ball. The ball had to fly a minimum distance before it could be considered in play. If it fell short or went foul, it was a strike, and of course with three strikes, you were out. If the ball was caught on the fly that too was considered an out, but if the ball bounced, that was a hit. You took one base for every bounce before your opponent caught the ball and stopped your progress, so it wasn’t uncommon to have a 4 bounce “Homer”. You could also have an automatic homer by hitting the ball on the point of the stoop and have the ball fly high and far and “Outta Here”!
Another stoopball game was just throwing the ball and gaining points for catching it. Catching the ball on one bounce was worth 5 points, on the fly was 10 and catching it off the point of the step was worth 100. You had better keep you eye on the ball, cause those shots off the point could come right back at you fast and hard. You passed the ball when you either missed a catch or the ball bounced more than once. The games would usually score to either 500 or 1,000 points with the winner getting bragging rights till the next game.
When stoopball was done, you could use the same Spaldeen to play box ball. Box ball had several different incarnations that could keep you occupied for hours. This was a game that could be played on any sidewalk around. The boxes were the “flags” of cement found on every block of the neighborhood, so you didn’t have to go any further than your own front door to have a game. There was basic box ball, a game based on tennis.
The game would start when you designated two boxes as the court, and you served the ball to your opponent by throwing it into his box. Then the game was played by hitting a return shot with your hand. This led to many fancy maneuvers in an attempt to outplay your opponent. Slices, slams, backhand shots, knucklers and lobs, and almost anything else you could think of. One of my favorites was the “feint”. You know, were you wind up like you are going to slam the ball and the other guy backs up thinking you’re gonna put it down his throat, and you just tap it into a corner and then laugh at him for getting sucked in. This game usually played to 11 points. Another game was 5 boxes. 5 boxes was played on a longer “court”. You had to attempt to bounce your ball in each of the 5 boxes separating you and your opponent.
The game was easy at first when all you had to do was throw the ball to the box directly in front of your buddy. It became increasingly harder as you tried to make it bounce in two boxes and so on up to five. This game required a bit of skill since you had to apply backspin for some shots and top spin for others. And when you got to your shot at 5 boxes it would mean squatting down low to the ground so could make the ball stay low and almost skip across the playing field.
One of my personal favorite box ball games was the coin flip. Using 2 boxes, you place a coin on the crack between the boxes and toss the ball at the coin. You gained 1 point each time you hit the coin. If your hit resulted in the coin flipping over you got 2 points. This game was pretty easy, but became harder if the coin moved around the box after being hit and flipped so many times. If it moved towards you it was almost a “gimme” that you would win the game, but never underestimate the abilities of a skilled box baller bent on winning.
The King of all Spaldeen ball games was of course, stickball. Stickball was played either on the street or in the schoolyard of PS 179. On the street, the field was usually the distance between two manhole covers or sewers. Making the statement, “sewa ta sewa”, understood by everyone. We would pitch the ball at break neck speeds hoping to catch our opponent looking or whiffing at a blur of pink flying past their eyes. But if they connected good and hard, say good-bye, cause that ball was outta here. Those Spaldeens would fly like the wind. If they flew the distance of 2 sewers it was an automatic homer. Sometimes we would name bases like, the blue Chevy’s door was first, the sewer was second, and the lamppost was third with home being another sewer.
In the schoolyard we would use the brick wall of the school as both the strike box and the catcher, cause the ball would bounce off the wall back to the pitcher. Call strike arguments usually broke out but were quickly settled by the chalk mark of the strike box evidenced on the ball. These games usually involved fewer players so we used a system of automatic hits. One bounce; base hit. Two bounces; double, three bounces; triple, but you had to hit it out of the yard or get the ball stuck high on the schoolyard fence for a homer.
Sometimes if we had enough guys we would choose up sides and play a game, running the bases in the schoolyard. The automatic homer in these games usually ended the game when the ball was hit on to the roof over the auditorium at PS179. The roof was the resting place of many a Spaldeen ball. Occasionally some brave or stupid kid (it was hard to figure out which) would climb up to the roof to retrieve a lost ball. Shimmying up between the walls and gaining access to a place that often times had a dozen or more balls waiting to be liberated. Some guys would throw the balls down for everyone too smart to make the dangerous assent, while others would come down with 15-20 balls stuffed into their shirts looking like beer bellied old men, not wanting to share with anyone.
But what good is a ball if you don’t have someone to throw it to, right? Other games we played were punch ball and slap ball. Both games being played like baseball but using your hand instead of a bat.
So what’s the point of all this rambling you might ask? Its kind of a comparison between what me and my brother Steve, and Ronnie, and Petey and Robert and Nunzio and all the guys did every day with just a small rubber ball and a little imagination, and what the kids today are missing. Are the kids today going to remember their high score in Grand Theft Auto IV like we remember these games? And all that for about .39 cents.
Remember the night before Christmas when you were a kid? It was sure magical wasn’t it? Just thinking about the next morning and what you would find under the tree. The sheer mystery of what was in all those wrapped packages along with wondering what was inside your stocking nailed to the wall. Oh yes, it was magical indeed.
And for all of us here at 399, Christmas Eve was nothing to sneeze at either you know. That’s because our grandparents always had Christmas Eve in their apartment right below me, and right above my cousins Pete and Denise. So for all of us kids it was exchanging presents with our cousins and grandparents.
And my Grandmother Isabel, boy did she ever treat all the grandchildren equally. It was always the same shirts for all the boys and the same dresses for the girls. I clearly remember my cousin Pete and I wearing this same-checkered “Wool Rich” jacket almost every day one winter back in the early 70’s. And we have the pictures to prove it as well.
Yes the same bikes for all the kids, the same toys for all the kids, the same everything. Our grandmother and grandfather were the best at treating all of their grandchildren exactly the same. And we will always appreciate that as long as we live.
Oh man, was it hard falling asleep the night before Christmas in our top floor apartment. With Joseph and I sharing this small four by eight foot room, we could probably hear one another’s heart beating in our bunk bed because we were that close.
But somehow, yes somehow we did manage to fall asleep, and I’m sure we dreamed about Christmas morning and what we would find under the tree.
And then the light of Christmas morning came through the tiny window in our bedroom. It was finally time to run into the living room with it’s big picture window overlooking East Fourth Street, and open up all the presents that “Santa” left for us.
Remember Christmas morning when you were a kid? It was sure magical, wasn’t it?
This picture was taken at my mom's workplace back in the 1940's, somewhere on DeKalb Avenue according to my mom. My mom and her sister are seated on the right hand side and are the second and third from the bottom. My aunt Beatrice with the hat and and my mom with the lung curly hair. Gee, my daughter has the same hair? I wonder where she got that from?
Boy, am I thrilled to see the company I have around me. Kind of like having a grocery store in the 70's right in the middle of all the "Peep Shows" on 42nd Street. Boy, I can smell that "Mr Clean" right now while that guy with the "one eye" mops those booths next door to me.
Wow, 255th and the 4.68 I made since September, I think I'll just quit my real job and panhandle instead. Or maybe steal a milk crate and hang out with that guy on Church Avenue by T-Mobile.
All I can say is, if you like doing a blog it's because you like doing it, period.
Evelyn has left a new comment on your post "A Comment about PS 179 from Dr. Alfred Cresci":
I remember very well the days I spent at PS 179! My kindergarten teacher was Mrs. Steinic and she had an assistant, Mrs. Phillipe. This was in 1952. I spent all of my elementary years at 179 and have fond memories of all my teachers and classes there.
The bell ringers were female in the "girls yard" from K-3 and male in the boys yard' from 4-6. They said, "silence please, pass to your lines quietly" then they called the individual lines.
I remember Mr. Gartenlaub fondly as well. He was a caring principal who knew every student by name. From there I went to Ditmas JHS, EHHS, Brooklyn College and then I left NY State to attend medical school in Pennsylvania. I am now back in NY State; but much further north in the Adirondacks.
You know it’s funny; you can walk around the streets you grew up on and never really know about something until your're enlightened about it by someone else. I was reading our local KWT site yesterday and came across a piece that a local resident wrote about the “triangle” that either starts or ends the split between Fort Hamilton Parkway and Caton Avenue. For all you folks that grew up here like me, it was always remembered as this derelict little piece of concrete across from the carwash right by Greenwood and Burger King. Or for you real old folks, just a stone’s throw from the “BurgerRama”, which used to be right where the Burger King is now.
Yes, in the old days you could just see either broken glass or maybe a stripped car adorning that wonderful little triangle of concrete across from one of the greatest cemeteries in the United States.
Well, times have changed and that triangle is actually a wonderful little piece of “green space” now. And right above it is a little sign that says “Col Donald Cook”. Now Donald Cook was a Windsor Terrace resident, and from what I read he actually grew up on East 2nd Street. I'm sure he went to IHM like many of us and probably walked the same streets that we all did while we were growing up here. Yes, maybe he even enjoyed a night at the "Beverly" or even bought an egg cream at Izzy and Bennies, who knows? But there's one very important thing you should know about Donald Cook. He went off to war and never returned, no he never returned to his family, or the streets of Kensington and Windsor Terrace that we all know so well.
Here is the rest of the story about Donald Cook, and I’m sure you will find it quite interesting.
The New Years Eve parties that my Grandparents had at 399 East 4th were something else. For what seemed like days they would both prepare the food for the party. Turkey, ham, roast beef, cole slow, potato salad, black beans and white rice, fried bananas, along with many traditional dishes from Spain too complicated to mention. My Grandfather Paco was a true gentleman also. There he was alongside my Grandmother as usual in the kitchen helping prepare all the dishes that would be spread out on the dining room table by six o’clock on December 31st., including desserts all made by hand. You could usually expect upwards to fifty people at the house on New Years Eve. Cousins from as close as East 2nd street to as far as Patterson, New Jersey made the trek to Kensington for the “Big Bash”. Just packing the house like sardines in a tin can and usually spilling out onto the front porch too. But one problem that always faced the family was the lack of chairs. Sure there was the couch and Paco’s lazy boy along with the eight or so dining room chairs. But still they were all just a very small dent on the side of the big ship called 399, and simply not enough to support all the guests. So one year after Christmas my Uncle Manuel who lived on East 2nd street told my Grandfather Paco about the idea of renting chairs from Pitta’s on McDonald Avenue. “Pitta’s” was and still is a funeral home off Fort Hamilton Parkway, and according to my uncle Manuel, "never does New Years Eve funerals". So why not drive over there and ask about renting some chairs for a “good price” was his suggestion to my Grandfather. Now you have to understand that my Uncle Manual was always looking for a “good price”. He was tall and thin and had to be at least 6 feet 5. He had the most booming “Brooklyn” voice you could ever imagine, which was unusual for a Spaniard born in Cuba. He was a truck driver and sometimes brought boxes of things that “fell off the truck” to our house. So when it came to finding a “good price” or "no price" at all, you could always depend on my Uncle Manuel to find it. My grandfather Paco on the other hand was alot more reserved than my Uncle Manual and never really asked where the boxes "fell" from, but glady took anything my Uncle offered him. I guess they were just the "SAP" versions of "Oscar and Felix", but still, they both somehow managed to get along quite well as brother-in-laws. “Hey, you kids ready to help get the chairs?” said my Uncle Manuel. “Sure!” said my brother Joseph, Pete, and I in unison. “Now you know this place we’re going to is a funeral home, so I don’t want to hear any screaming when you see a stiff, ok?” said my Uncle Manuel. All of us shook our heads together, including me, too embarrassed to ask my older brother what a “stiff” was. So we walked down the stairs and piled into our 62 Rambler wagon and drove to Pittas on McDonald Avenue. We parked the Rambler in the back of the Funeral Parlor by the loading dock, where they bring in the new customers. My Uncle Manuel made the sign of the cross when he got out of the car, although I never remember seeing him in Church. “Now you children must not go into any of the other rooms, we must respect the property and only go where the man tells us to. We are here to pick up chairs and not to play,” said my Grandfather Paco. My uncle Manuel on the other hand just started laughing and told us not to look at the “stiffs” because we might have nightmares. We walked up the back steps into the funeral parlor, I immediately started smelling something sweet, and thought it must have been flowers. The carpet was a dark red and the place was really cold. As we walked up the hallway there were doors to the left and right of us, all closed. “Here are the chairs, how many do you need?’ said the owner. As my Grandfather Paco and Uncle Manuel worked out a deal on the chairs we started walking back down the hallway we just walked up from. All the doors had nameplates on them and all but one was closed shut. It was open about a half an inch and was completely dark inside. “You want to look?” said my brother Joseph to Pete and I. We just said nothing as he started to open the door; the smell of the flowers became stronger as the door opened more. We noticed a light coming from the front of the room but still couldn’t see anything. “Come on, just open it,” said my cousin Pete. We all slowly pushed the wooden door open with our eyes closed. Once it was fully open we all opened our eyes. Our screams could probably be heard in the subway tunnel deep below McDonald Avenue that day. There in the dark room below the glow of a single white lamp was an elderly bald man lying in a wooden casket. He had white hair on the sides of his head and wore glasses. Not knowing what do or where to run we just stood there screaming at the top of our little lungs. Before we could move the heavy hands of my Uncle Manuel and Grandfather Paco were on our shoulders pulling us backwards. As I looked at my Grandfather his face was red and he looked quite angry. My Uncle Manuel on the other hand was laughing at the top of his 6 foot 5 lungs. The man at the funeral parlor just smiled at my Grandfather and said “that’s OK it happens all the time. My Grandfather didn’t say much during the ride back to East 4th, but seemed to forget about it by the time we parked in the driveway. We all helped carry up the chairs and another New Years Eve Party at 399 East 4th was well underway. Just waiting for the "ball to drop" and scream "Happy New Year" at the top of our lungs in the Brooklyn of my youth, a long time ago.
Hey Josh, here's some of the 12 inches plus we got last night here in Kensington. And as of right now (4:52 am) it's still coming down. Too bad I finished PS 179 back in 1969, because I'm sure I'd get a snow day tomorrow if I was still going.
Jimbo has left a new comment on your post "New Kensington Quiz (With a winning prize)":
Never mind North or South How could we forget Royale Spoting Goods Sauls Kosher Meats Pauls Barber Shop The Alaskan Hut Taubers Fruit Market A&P Supermarket Lil & Nicks Luncheonette Anybodys guess Lundromat Who remembers the comic book store or beuaty parlor and lets no forget Johns Pub for starters
Evelyn said... There was a fruit and vegetable store in the "old days" before the supermarkets as well as a fish store on that side of the street near the meatmarket. There was also a candy store near the Greater New York Savings bank and a luncheonette called "Irvings" on the corner of Church and east 5th.
Mark B. said... And of course the "Chinese restaurant" was Nom Tong Tea Garden with the best tomato egg drop soup on the planet....by the way, does anyone still have tomato egg drop soup on the menu?
Faride said... Uh, how exactly is the Beverly side the north side?
Well, for all you old timers who long moved out of Windsor Terrace, the Keyfood up the hill made all the papers in the last few days. It seems like the manager of the store took down a Menorah and a Christmas Tree after some people complained about them being in front of the store. But from what I was reading it seems as though the Menorah was really being targeted.
So this week on the KWT site it has been The "Non-Stop", "Express", "Busting Out" "Key Food Thread". Some real good dialogue between many folks with a lot to say. Gee, what ever happened to the good old days when most people from the "Terrace" spent their time in "Harolds" "Ulmers" or "The Terrace", and were too loaded to really care what the hell Keyfood had in front of their store. Yeah, after the 20th Rolling Rock you couldn't tell the difference between a Menorah and a Christmas Tree anyway, and besides, if you grew up in Brooklyn it really never mattered at all.
Not one shot at the quiz below! Come on some one give it a try! I know my cousin Pete would know, but right now he's in Mexico City on business. Holy cow!, what the hell is he doing there? that place is not exactly safe you know! And I basically maxed out all my credit cards, so forget about paying the ransom if he ends up in the trunk of a 72 Dodge Dart on some dirt road in the middle of nowhere!
Ok, so below is a list of stores that used to line the North side of Church Avenue starting way down by 36th street. I know I have left out many, but I'm getting old you know. Now the first person to correctly get them in the proper order, thats naming them in order from 36th street all the way down to East 5th street will win one hours worth of track time at the Buzz-a-rama. Thats a value of 14 dollars or so. WOW!!!!
And please feel free to fill in the missing stores if you know where they go. And once again today's quiz is only the stores that lined Church Avenue on the (North side) that's the Beverly side for all you old timers.!
"I can't remember the name of it, but I am sure it was a record store. (remember vinyl?!) and I seem to remember I think they also sold incense and maybe t-shirts too? (Kind of like the Plum Tree in Kings Plaza mall back in the day, if anyone remembers that store!)- Joe A."
"I remember it well! I think it was spelled "Royale" though? It had the sign hanging from the building with the big crown on it. Anyway, I remember going in there so many times just to look at all the 'official' equipment that I couldn't afford. I finally saved enough money to buy my first pair of hockey gloves. My knuckles finally got a chance to heal! There's still a Royale sporting goods over by bush terminal, I wonder if it's owned by the same people? I haven't lived in the neighborhood for a while now, what is that store that is there now, I can't tell? - Joe A."
I know this location was many things before the 70's. The corner of East 5th and Church (South/West) to be exact. And forget about buying something "curved" there because all they sold were "straights"
Ok, I know more than one store that stood on the corner of East Fourth and Church. Thats the South/West corner to be exact. And all I could tell you is sometimes what I bought there was "music to my ears". But I know it was also something else besides that.
As I mentioned earlier in my blog this has been a very rough week for my family and especially my aunt and cousins. You see this past Tuesday my first cousin Frank Cutrona passed away, and at 58 that’s way too young. And to make life really suck for the kids, their mom Marilyn also passed away this year after a ten-year battle with cancer. A real double play of hardship in one year for these kids, nothing anyone would want let me tell you.
Now Frankie was born in Brooklyn, and from what my aunt Beatrice told me he was born at Sister Elizabeth Maternity Hospital on 51st street in Sunset Park. The hospital has long been closed down but the building is still there. A small three story structure with this real high smokestack, and I’d assume from the design that it was indeed the hospital where he was born.
Frankie spent the first eight years of his life in Brooklyn, living on 18th street between Fourth and Fifth Avenue. An area that was very Polish according to my mom, in fact the “White Eagle” is still there if my mind serves me right. My mom grew up there as well, the whole family living in a few apartments inside this “Fortress” of a building which still stands in the same spot.
But at eight years old Frank and his family left Brooklyn for the greener pastures of Queens Village, New York. A big house and a backyard, along with some childhood friendships that would last forever. All in a house where you could hear the roar of the crowd over at the Belmont Race Track sometimes, not far from the border of Long Island.
Yes, I remember their house in Queens Village, and we all had such good times there as well.
Now you have to remember that Frankie was almost six years older than me, so when you’re twelve and your first cousin is eighteen, well, it always makes sense to check out his magazine collection. And if you were lucky like me, you found a Playboy once and a while, and then proceeded to spend the rest of the afternoon in the bathroom, telling your mom your stomach hurt or something like that.
And Frankie always had the coolest record collection over at Queens Village. While I was listening to the “Monkees” on am radio, Frankie was listening to the Doors, Rolling Stones and the Beatles on his stereo.
Yes, I learned a lot about music over at my cousin’s house and even more about the grout between the tiles of their bathroom on the second floor.
And because the timing was right Frankie did the coolest things that people nowadays wish they could have done. He traveled to Europe bumming around with his rock band and also spent three glorious days in Bethel, New York back in August of 1969. You may have heard of a concert called “Woodstock”, and yes Frankie was there.
But time rolls on for everyone including my cousin Frankie. Part time jobs turn into full time jobs as well as girlfriends that turn into fiancée’s, and then your wife.
I remember the first time I met Marilyn, she was just so beautiful and lovely and made me think twice about all the hockey I was playing instead of dating women.
And then one day we all heard the big news, Frankie was getting married and Marilyn would be his wife. Yes a wonderful woman that certainly helped my cousin Frank keep himself on the “Straight and Narrow”. Frankie and Marilyn also had three wonderful girls, Laura, Heather and Sarah not long after they were married.
Let me tell you my cousin Frank worked real hard too, from a local Liquor salesman working the streets of Brooklyn and Queens and living in an apartment house near Roosevelt Avenue in Jackson Heights. Frank worked his way up to National Sales Manager of Brown Foreman and moved to Laguna Hills California.
Yes, hard work paid off for my cousin Frank, and he did it all on his own. Well, almost, because I’m sure Marilyn was behind him every step of the way.
And the years rolled on and we all got older, then one day there was a call about Marilyn having cancer. I remember that day very well. It was a total shock to us all here on the East coast including my aunt Beatrice, Frankie’s mother.
My cousin Marilyn fought a courageous ten-year battle, all along with the most positive attitude a person could have. But then there was another phone call last April, and Marilyn had died.
I don’t know all the details about what was going on during the weeks or months before Marilyn died. But from what I understand it wasn’t very good. And from what I heard my cousin Frank may not have made the best of decisions. And maybe that’s what took him down so quickly in the months following his wife’s death. Who knows?
Yesterday I made a phone call to one of my cousin Frankie’s childhood friends who happens to live right here in Windsor Terrace. His name is Thomas Bura, and it was one of the hardest calls I have ever made. You see Frankie knew Tom since he was eight years old, and from what Tom told me they remained friends ever since. I just had the hardest time telling him because I know what it's like having all your childhood friends as well, and losing one always hurts.
But still the roughest part is what the three daughters along with Frankie's mom lost this past year. Both their parents for the girls and a son and daughter in law for my aunt Beatrice. A loss no one should ever have to go through, and life should never deal such a hard hand.
"Looks to me like the corner of East 5th and Church Ave with the trolley underpass under Ocean Parkway (that I almost remember) in the background." Mark
"That trolley is coming out of the underpass under Ocean Pkwy, on Church Ave, I wonder if the Sportsman lounge was there yet? Those people in the picture are probably long passed, but I wish I could have seen their times in Kengsington" Will
Being without a parent is quite a lonely felling. Sure we have our friends, family, brothers and sisters. But there is something just so empty and hollow about life when you don’t have your mother or father anymore. For my cousins Laura, Heather and Sarah the tragedies came too fast. First their mom Marilyn died this past April after a ten-year battle with cancer, and yesterday their dad died after being found unconscious the Saturday after Thanksgiving. My cousin Frankie’s life started to unravel too quickly, and maybe it was all too much for him to handle, who knows.
When tragedies arise we sometimes try to feel better about them in any way we could. And although I personally lost my brother, father, sister and mom, I always tried to somehow in my mind make sense of their deaths.
“Oh well, my mom lived a good life and only suffered three moths before she died” “And at least she got to see her first grandchild before she died”
“And Joseph, well at least he didn’t suffer for years, no he died in four months”
Always trying to squeeze out a drop of sense from a tragic situation. Maybe sometimes that’s all we can do to try to move on and get through it all. Because if you can’t make some sense of it, the hurt will never leave you, and it will just take you down as well.
I know that my three cousins will try to make sense of their father’s death. And I know his spirit will live forever in all three of them. Because being without your parents is quite a lonely feeling, and we must try to find that bright spot no matter how dark it is.
Yesterday I learned that my first cousin Frankie passed away. Frankie was a few years older than me and also another "Son of Brooklyn". At the present time his mom (who is 90) is totally devastated about this along with his three daughters who just lost their mom this past April. A real rough time for the family I have to tell you. My three cousins all in their 20's without both of their parents and my aunt who cannot believe that she'll never talk to her son again. Real tough stuff, let me tell you.
I will be writing more about my cousin in the next few days.
Sorry for the lack of new stories, but sometimes other things come up.
It doesn’t matter how old you are or where you live. Someday someone will come out of nowhere to save your life. They may be a friend, relative, or a total stranger. They will just appear to be there for you for that split second, and then they will just disappear into the crowd, because the divide between life and death is just that, a split second. And you, well you may not even give it a second thought. The conversation you were just having on your cellphone was more important to you than the arm that just grabbed you from behind to prevent you from walking right into the path of the B35 bus. A little startled at first about what had just happened, you continue on with your day without even looking back to say thank you.
For me it was a hand that grabbed my foot when I was about two years old. I guess the view of East 4th street from our roof looked inviting. It was the hand of a young mother (my mom) that pulled me back inside our apartment just moments before I would become another dot on a NYC chart. For my cousin Pete, another son of Kensington and East 4th, it was the voice of a stranger screaming at him to run faster just before a piece of an airliner killed the person directly behind him on a sunny day in September 2001. It may have also been the“Brooklyn” in my cousins blood too that saved his life. When the loud speakers blared the instructions that “everything is OK and there is no need to evacuate at the present time”. My attorney cousin just said “bullshit” and left only to meet up with falling jet parts on the street below. Buy hey, he was back to work the next day up in Westchester, you got to love that Empire Blue Cross.They probably helped him forget 9/11 by making him work on 9/12.
But years before back in 1981 there was another person, someone I will never know who just appeared out of nowhere to change someone’s life. Just there for an instant to make a difference and then return to the crowd without ever knowing their name. I really didn’t think much about it that day back in 1981. It was unusual to see the Manhattan bound F express running at 5:30 in the afternoon. But as soon as I stepped out of the first car of the southbound F, I noticed a bunch of EMS guys, Cops and Fireman on the local track. Now, I’m not much for gore and just a couple of years before I saw an elderly woman get killed by a “Kings” concrete truck right before my eyes on East 2nd street in front of Carvel. And the thought of a train running someone over wasn’t exactly something I’d like to take to bed that night. So I just walked up the stairs and then down Beverly towards my house.
By the time I got to my block I noticed a Police car parked right in front of my house. And on the porch there were two Cops talking to my mom. By the look on her face something really bad had just happened.“Grandma had an accident on the subway” said my mom.“Is she ok?” I said. “They don’t know, they just took her to Methodist Hospital”. I looked at the two Cops and said, “what kind of accident?” “She fell onto the tracks on the Northbound side” one of them said....“that was my grandmother, that was my grandmother”! I yelled!
Well before you knew it I was in my 73 Buick and driving up the hill to Methodist Hospital in Park Slope. It was probably the first time I was there since I was born. I got there before any one in my family did and my grandma wasn’t a pretty sight. There she was still on the stretcher waiting to get into the ER. Her clothes were all bloody and the gash on the side of her head was so big you could probably put a candy bar in it. But even in her condition the doctors assured us all that she was going to be just fine, but should keep away from subway platforms for a while. And what about that stranger that came out of nowhere you ask? Well, we never got to thank the man that saved mygrandmothers life. The police told us that he didn’twant to give his his name or address. As soon as he saw her fall on to the tracks, he noticed theheadlights of an oncoming train entering the tunnel up by avenue C. He ran upstairs to tell the token clerk about what had just happened. They somehow stopped the train just before it entered the station, just a fewfeet from where my grandmother was sprawled across the rail. He stayed with her for a while until the Police came, and then got on the F express once it started running. Just like that without ever knowing his name, this guy saved my grandmothers life and then got on the train and left, simply amazing. My 80 year old grandmother healed up and got better,she gave us another fifteen years of her stories about growing up in Cuba, and was able to see her great grandchildren born before she died in 1996. All because of someone I will never know, a "Kensington Stranger" by no other name, and all I can say is “thank you” who ever you are.
The old woman moved very slowly down the cold concrete sidewalk of East 4th street. Her body was bent forward as she used the tiny blue shopping cart to help steady her walk. With her knuckles swollen and her hands looking somewhat distorted, she gripped the cart's thin metal bar for dear life. Wearing her old favorite tan overcoat and dark sunglasses she had hair as white as a new fallen snow. The wind was bitter cold as it blew against her skin, she seemed to be counting her steps as she walked. The wheels of the cart squeaked quite loudly and made a sound that was almost seemed musical, the spokes just glistening in the morning sunlight. I watched her until she vanished around the corner onto Beverly Road.
She was tall and beautiful with long brown wavy hair and dark blue eyes. There she stood under the big clock at the Hotel Astor in Manhattan. “Hey gorgeous, how about a movie tonight?” The young woman smiled as she glanced back up at the clock. It was five minutes to six and her date would be there any minute. His name was Ray Ravelli, and he was a professional boxer. Tonight there would be a lot of stopping on the way to dinner, because everyone knew Ray when he walked through Times Square. As the clock struck six and the bells gently tolled, she saw Ray walking towards her. She smiled as he took her hand.
“Hey Ray, when you going to fight Graziano again.” With quickness in her steps she pulled him along through the busy sidewalks of Times Square. Ray, unable to answer the question from the stranger just turned to her and said, “Hey Stella, how about we just get married and move to California?”. She just looked at him and shook her head "No".
She looked into the mirror and closely studied her face. The mirror just looked back at her, staring straight into her eyes. “Who you looking at you old woman!” The lady in the mirror just smiled back. With much caution in her steps she slowly walked out of the bathroom and headed towards her favorite chair by the window, her old bent finger flipped up the switch of her radio. She loved “Prairie Home Companion” on a Saturday night. Then she reached into her bathrobe pocket and pulled out her mother’s old magnifying glass. She placed it against the face of her watch and slowly drew it towards her blue eyes. It was six o’clock and time for another beautiful sunset over Brooklyn.
My Mom never married Ray the boxer. He wanted to elope and move to California, my mom just wasn’t that adventurous and instead decided to stay in New York and make Brooklyn her home. She loved the excitement of Brooklyn and especially the young people. “Do you think I want to live with a bunch of old people and hear all their stories about aches and pains? no, I’d rather live with the young, at least they help you forget that you’re old”.
My mom died on October 13, 2001 at the age of 83. She never left Brooklyn, and I never remembered to oil the squeaky wheels of her carriage.
You know for many people Kensington is all new, a place cheaper to live than Park slope, or a neighborhood a lot safer than Williamsburg. There is Church Avenue with it’s “not much to offer” pretty face. Along with some public schools either on the “wrong” or “right” side of Beverly Road.
Yeah, these gigantic wood frames are sure pretty, and you could probably sell your brownstone in Park Slope and buy three of them in a row. And all with driveways too.
Kensington is sure ripe for the picking, especially if you are “new”.
But then there is the Kensington that others knew, a place where they grew up. A place that holds a infinite amount of childhood memories along a dirty looking Church Avenue.
99-cent stores where a movie theater once stood, wonderful toy shops where nail salons now polish and lacquer to no end. Or nameless, faceless take-out places where some of Brooklyn’s best bakeries once lived.
What’s is “oh so new” and cheap to you, is still a cherished memory for others.
Others who now live far away, and sometimes dream about the streets and houses where once they once grew up.