I was driving out of my subdivision one day around the time school let out. There was a young woman in a car parked right by the stop sign where I wanted to turn. I walked over to her car and asked her if everything was all right. She said everything was fine. She was just waiting for the school bus because she picked up her kids and her neighbor's kids every day at that time. The bus was late and she was in a hurry and getting anxious. She said with all the crime nowadays, she didn't want them walking around by themselves. Now I live in a small subdivision, and to my knowledge there has never been any crime here. Oh, once a kid took someone's bike but his mother made him take it back and apologize. I thought her kids must be pretty young and maybe she didn't want them to walk to their house alone. Then the bus finally came and she waved at the kids, the kind of wave that says hurry. They looked like they were in middle school or maybe early high school. I couldn't imagine them wanting Mom to pick them up every day at their age. I said goodbye and ran some errands I had to do.
I came home an hour later and drove through the neighborhood and made a point to look to see how many children were playing outside after school. The answer was none. The streets were empty. I wondered where all the children were and why weren't they outside playing with their friends? I figured they were inside with their smart phones, smart TVs, PlayStations and Xboxes.
How different it is now from my childhood.
My entire childhood happened while I lived at 37 Conselyea Street. I lived there from age four until I was fifteen, when Grandma Normandia died. Grandpa Normandia had died first, when I was ten. I love that picture of me and my doll because Grandpa is watching over me. I don't remember him very well. He mostly spoke Italian, which they never taught me. The picture on the left below was taken many years later when my daughter Kimberli and I took a trip to New York. She wanted to see where I grew up and so did I. We took this picture, but the different owners over the decades had changed 37 Conselyea Street considerably. Now it is no more and a condo took its place. I really can't go home again.
Our concrete stoop where the folks sat outside on humid summer nights was gone. Johnny Martin and I spent many a freezing night on that stoop, not wanting to say good night. Eventually my parents let him come in the house. My mother even taught him how to do the fox trot so we could dance at my senior prom! There were no plants growing inside the wrought iron fence out front where Grandma once had beautiful red-flowering bushes that bees could not resist. I loved to catch the bees in jars, but always let them go right away.
Even the house next door where Rosalie Greco lived was gone. It had the definitive stoop for playing stoop ball. All the kids we hung out with could fit on those steps at one time: Anita Spinelli, Helene Ryan, Rosalie Greco, Johnny Martin, Rocky Tricarico, Ralphie Nunziata, and the ones whose last names I never did know - Eddie, Carmela, and Cookie. The picture below was taken of me on the famous stoop that had the best steps for playing stoop ball. In case you never heard of stoop ball, the rules are very simple. We played by throwing a ball hard, trying to hit the edge of a step so it would bounce high in the air, too far for your opponent to catch it without a bounce. That was a run (think home run). If it bounced one or more times before it was caught, that was only a hit.
Crisci's Bar and Grill was right across the street, on the corner of Conselyea and Lorimer Streets. It was like the bar in the TV show Cheers for my Dad, the place where everybody knows your name. Dad liked to stop there after work, have a beer or two, and catch up with all his friends. They called him Jack, short for Jack of all trades. It was his nickname because he could do almost anything he put his mind to. That's who my son Randall takes after. When I ask Randall if he can fix something, he always says yes before I even tell him what it is. He says he doesn't know how he knows how to do things, he just knows. Dad was like that. Plus, if there was ever a disagreement among Dad's friends about any subject, someone would say, "Go get Jack. He'll settle this." He was a very smart man on so many levels. Mom said he always had his nose in a book!
We ate supper early back then. When it was ready, Mom would send me across the street to Crisci's to tell Dad it was time for supper. It was our little ritual. Dad and I looked forward to it. If there was someone new at Crisci's, he would introduce me to him. He loved to brag about me and I just ate it up. I was Daddy's Little Girl. I saw television for the first time at Crisci's. The picture was rolling on the set and I thought that was what television was supposed to do! (I was very young.) When Dad died, the wake was at Orlando's Funeral Parlor around the corner. Because Mom had divorced Dad, he could not have a funeral mass in the Catholic church. Father George came to Orlando's and led a praying of the rosary for him. I didn't understand what any of that was about. I was no longer a Catholic by then. We had joined the Episcopal Church, one step removed. I was devastated. Dad was only 66.
After the wake, the family ate at Crisci's. In the old days, we would have gone to a relative's house close by afterward to eat and talk and say good things about the person who died. But everyone had moved from the old neighborhood by then, so we ate at Crisci's. I thought it was a fitting tribute for my first hero, my Dad. This is one of my favorite pictures with him. He's been gone for fifty years now and I can honestly say not a day goes by that I don't think about him.