Childhood Friends and the Games We Played
butterflies are free
The worst punishment I ever got when I was growing up was having to stay in my room after my homework was done and watch all my friends having fun outside playing games without me. Of course, Miss GoodyTwoShoes that I was then, rarely got punished, and never by my Dad. When I did, I probably deserved it for talking back to my mom. I just thought she was unreasonable at times and still treated me like a baby when I was ten! She would say, Wait 'til your father comes home. You're gonna get it!"  I learned the hard way it was not okay to laugh at that point. I liked nothing better than when Daddy came home. Mom would stand there with her hands on her hips waiting to see what punishment he would dole out. The harshest words he ever said to me were something like, Now, Sweetheart, you know you really need to obey your mother, don't you? Did I imagine it, or did he really have a twinkle in his eye when he said it?

Our gang (not to be confused with today's gangs) got together every day to play outside after school. I don't recall ever playing in anyone's house or them playing in mine. Middle-class mothers were so overwhelmed
with responsibilities then. Cooking and cleaning, laundry and shopping, and taking care of the kids, oh my. All that with no wife-saving appliances to help, not even a washing machine. That meant either washing everything by hand on a wash board, or a 5-block walk to a laundromat pushing dirty laundry in a cart and wasting precious time while it got done. Then hanging it on the line when they got home. Who had dryers? Nobody I knew. Maybe they weren't invented yet in the early 1940s.

There was no TV yet, no video games or computers to make us want to stay indoors, and no air-conditioning either. Forget cell phones. We didn't even have a house phone. Grandma and Grandpa Normandia had one upstairs that we could use. I still remember the number. Thank God for long-term memory. We were not Neanderthals, but I do remember the excitement of getting our first refrigerator when we lived on Conselyea. Before that, the ice man would come right into our kitchen carrying a big block of ice in huge tongs. He would drop it right into our ice box. I hated to empty the pan at the bottom. I was always afraid I'd spill the water on Mom's kitchen floor (that you could eat off). In the winter, Dad built a wooden box outside the kitchen window. It was attached level with the window sill with the opening facing the kitchen. It was like an extra refrigerator. All we had to do was push up the bottom window to access it.

Seems there was always a traditional Italian pork cold cut there called capocollo, that Mom called gabagool. Everyone liked it
but me. I might have liked it more if I hadn't asked where it came from. Eating something that was made out of a dry-cured muscle running from a pig's neck to its shoulder made me shudder. Dad liked me to try everything and would feed me tiny bites of all kinds of foods he liked. I'd sit at his feet on a little stool in the kitchen and he would feed me about half a teaspoon of foods I never wanted to try again. Octopus, eel, dried and salted codfish called baccala, clams, and calamari which by any other name are still squid, to name a few.  The glass bottles of milk out there were more to my liking. The cream always came to the top and I remember so well when Mom fed me the ice-cold cream off a spoon, one spoon for me and one spoon for her, until it was all gone.

Looking back, I finally understand what I learned from Mom and Dad about food. Dad taught me to try everything in life, not just food, even if I thought I wouldn't like it. I still do that and discovered in my sixties that I love salmon. Mom would buy it in a can and I hated it. Thanks to dear friend, Joan Suchorski, I tried fresh salmon once and now it's my favorite fish that I eat several times a week. From Mom I learned it was okay to eat dessert first! In fact, she actually used that phrase from time to time. Life is short. Eat dessert first! Works for me and not just for food. I eat whatever I want, whenever I want it, but in moderation. The larger lesson doesn't escape me. At any age, life can be short, so discover who you are and be that first.

Back to Brooklyn, not many people we knew had cars, so it was pretty safe to play stick-ball in the street, or kick the can.
As kids, we had the most fun at night from right after supper until way past dark. It never occurred to us to be afraid. There was no crime that I ever heard of, but on the other hand, I wasn't allowed off Conselyea Street. I wasn't even allowed to go to the other end of our long block, the Union Avenue end, unless I was going to Our Lady of  Mt. Carmel Church. I guess parents believed no harm could come to a child if they were going to a Catholic church. I am tempted, but choose not to comment on that.

Without air conditioning, New York was steamy in the summer so our parents sat outside on the stoops and watched us play. I'll give them credit for not interfering in our disagreements. They let us settle our differences without intervention by the parental units and nobody ever had to get stitches. The worst scrapes we endured were healed by our mothers who sprang into action armed with the cure for everything at all times, Mercurochrome and Iodine. (Did I tell you I've been accused of exaggerating to make a point?)

That old gang of mine          Rosalie
                  Greco, Priscilla Normandy, Dolores Graziano
Left to right: Rosalie Greco, Ralphie Nunziata, Priscilla Normandy, Rocky Tricarico. Front: Nino "Dynamite" Curccio, Ronnie Tricarico
Just girls: Rosalie Greco who lived next door, Priscilla Normandy, Dolores Graziano, my oldest friend from P.S.132 and JHS 196. A.P.S. Dee

One of our favorite games was drawn with chalk inside of one square of sidewalk.  It was called Skelly, but some kids called it Skellzies. For playing pieces we used bottle caps, weighted with orange peels, so you could control them better as you flicked them to slide across the ground to land on the next numbered square. You started by trying to get your bottle cap in the "one" box. After you made "onesies" you could go again and shoot for  "twosies," and so on, until you missed. You could tell when we were playing Skelly. Everybody had scraped knuckles.

I read that a man named Kevin McManus patented a Skelly board game! See the picture below. We didn't call the center box "No Man's Land" though. It was "Poison" to us and we drew skulls in the center to prove it.

There were a lot of rules to the game that led to disagreements. We could have used a referee at times. These  instructions came from New York City Street Games by Ray Vignola, Dennis Vignola, and Tim Haggerty. Too bad we didn't have them then.

Hitting another player's bottle cap allows you to place your own cap in the box you were shooting for (except when shooting for "ninesies"). If you land in Poison (marked by skulls), you lose three turns, unless someone hits you out, or you land on one of the four diagonal lines.

After ninesies, players shoot the numbers in descending order. Once across the start line, players become Poison. Each tries to hit the others, knocking them out of the game. For them, landing in Poison now has no effect. The last player left is the winner.

Skelly sidewalk game

Now when you are on Who Wants to Be a Millionaire and win a bundle of cash for knowing the rules of Skelly, which I have described in excruciating detail, you will have to buy me a New York Egg Cream!

What a perfect segue to share the recipe for Rocky Tricarico's Famous Egg Cream. I think I'll save it for later and let you salivate just thinking about it and get back to my story.

My girlfriends and I loved playing bouncing ball stories where we had to think fast. In one of them, each time we'd say a word that began with "A" we had to cross one of our legs over the pink rubber Spalding high-bounce ball as we bounced it. If we didn't miss a beat saying the "A" words, we could go on and name things that started with "B" and so on. I can still hear the sing-song refrain of A, my name is Anna and my boyfriend's name is Al. We come from Alabama and we sell Apples. If we were lucky enough to get to Q, we were stumped at what we could sell beginning with the letter Q. Now I'd sell Q-tips.

A few years ago when I was suffering from a bout of nostalgia, I simply had to have a pink Spalding ball. I found one at Bed Bath and Beyond. It lives on my desk on a little candle holder to remind me how simple the joys of childhood. No one could think it was an antique because there's a bar code on the back, a testament to then and now. Sometimes, when I am alone, I play A, my name is Anna with it.

I'm not sure why only the girls skipped rope when I was small, including the challenging Double Dutch, while we recited rhyming stories that made no sense at all, like this one:

Baby in the high chair
Who put her in
Ma, Pa, oo la la
Wrap her up in tissue paper
Send her down the elevator
Ma, pa, oo la la
one, two three, four, five, six, seven
We all had roller skates with four metal wheels. They required a skate key that my mother made me wear on a cord around my neck. That could be because it was very easy to lose a skate key and very hard to find it once it was gone. It clamped the skates tightly to your own shoes. We skated for hours up and down the street until it felt like the skates were part of our feet. When you took them off, it felt like you were still skating.

Some of the other games we played outside were hide-and-seek and ringolevio, a more sophisticated version of the former. I couldn't remember the rules for ringolevio, but a nice guy named Joel from Haring Street in Sheepshead Bay sent me an email explaining how they played it in his neighborhood in the '60s and '70s. Joel said  he once broke his nose playing ringolevio while trying to free some prisoners! This is no game for wimps, but here are Joel's rules if you want to make sure it's okay for your kids or grandkids to risk it.

You choose up two teams of approximately five or more players, establish a jail (the mailbox or lamp post or something).  You make up rules prior to starting like, no use of someone's house to hide.

Then one team hides and the other seeks prisoners.  When you catch someone, you must say 3 times while holding them: "Ringolevio 1-2-3, 1-2-3, 1-2-3."

Hmm, that doesn't sound too scary. I wonder if I deleted a part. Oh yeah, here it is. My apologies to Joel.

If the person gets away before you complete that saying, he or she gets to re-hide, or you chase him/her.  If you complete the phrase, that person becomes your prisoner and goes to jail.  Once all are captured, your team wins or gets its turn to hide.

However, the team who is hiding can free prisoners by charging the jail and getting through someone who's the guard, tag his or her players and go free, and the chase begins!

We played potsie (potsey), a Brooklyn version of hopscotch. Fortunately, Patricia D. Dietz, formerly from Greenpoint, which is close to Williamsburg, sent me the rules of the game.Thanks, Patricia!

I remember potsey as a sidewalk chalk game similar to hopscotch. 
We drew 6 big squares with HOME at top and bottom. 
Squares 1, 2, 3,  then 4, 5, 6, going down.

We used a bobby pin and threw it on square 1.
Then we stood on one leg and jumped over square 1
and landed on 2 and jumped to 3.

HOME was the only place you could put your foot down. 
Then down 4, 5, 6, to HOME. You could not step on a line.
If you put your foot down you had to start all over at 1.

If you made it to 1, you picked up your bobby pin
and when it was your turn you threw it on 2, got on 1 leg,
jumped onto 1, skipped 2,  and so forth.
First one to make it through 6, won.

These are the basics I remember, but there might be more.

We played kick the can a lot, too, but the rules escaped me so I googled it. The best answer was, are you ready, on I love it. I didn't even know there was a website by that name. I wonder if they have I qualify for that one now. I love their answer, no time to waste words when you're old. I'm not old, so I can still waste all the words I want. Here's  what they said that made me LOL!

                One player guards a can while the rest try to kick it over before being tagged.
                Run, hide, kick, score.  Enough said.

There weren't many cars on Conselyea Street until after WW II so we played safely in the street. We played stickball using broom handles for bats and a rubber ball, typically a Spaldeen. Manhole covers were made to be second base. Sometimes the ball went in the sewer and we let the boys try to get it out. They usually could.

However, hitting the ball onto the roof of Grandma Normandia's two-story house meant you lost your ball forever and that was not negotiable. Grandma always kept those errant balls in a big tin can. I was never allowed out on that precarious roof to get the balls. She made her son, my Uncle Henry, retrieve them from the slanted roof, not an easy task.  Whenever I needed a ball, I knew where to go. My grandma was so good to me in every way. I could write a whole book on the things I learned from her.

I loved playing marbles along the gutter too. "Hit and span" was two! That meant if you hit your opponent's marble and could then put your thumb on it and stretch your hand so your pinky touched your marble, you won two marbles. My husband, Gordon, kept all his pretty marbles from his childhood. Now I keep some of his in a vase or two to hold flowers in place. Sometimes I look at them and remember the old days. I wish I had kept some of my marbles. haha!

Did you also have boat races in the gutter after a quick spring rainstorm?  We saved the sticks from our ice cream bars to turn into boats as the water rushed against the curb threatening to take our boats down the sewer. A lot of boats were short-lived. Fortunately we had two ice cream trucks that came to Conselyea Street from April through September. One was called Bungalow Bar. It came in a blue and white truck that looked like a little house (a bungalow) with a shingle roof. 

Bungalow Bar Truck

Good Humor trucks (the first ice cream on a stick) had two flavors I loved, toasted almond and coconut. I alternated between the two. I guess that's why I still like coconut and toasted almond ice cream. I never made their connection to my childhood until now.  I tried to make the ice cream bar last a long time, but at the same time I was anxious to see if the empty stick had the words "lucky stick" stamped on it. That meant you got a free ice cream! One out of twelve sold was a winner, pretty good odds and a great promotion. I just checked Wikipedia and it said, ". . .in 1939 the Federal Trade Commission outlawed the promotion (the free bars) as an illegal lottery." I was only 4 years old when they stopped giving away the free bars. I can remember it so clearly but thought I was much older. Well, that's another 4-year-old memory to put in my journal. Oh wait, I stopped journaling years ago to protect the guilty.

Good Humor Truck - look for
                  "lucky stick"

How about the excitement  when someone was brave enough to open the cast iron fire hydrants on a sweltering summer day? We called them "johnny pumps" for some reason no one told me. I've written about this before so it must have been meaningful to me. I rarely did anything wrong and knew that was wrong. There was always the excitement that came from the fear that when the fire department or the cops came to turn it off, somebody might get in trouble. It didn't stop me from running under the water to cool off though.

Johnny Pump!

The only other place to cool off  was the pool at McCarren Park. There was this little ritual when you checked in. Boys went to the right side, girls to the left. They gave you a little metal basket to put your clothes in when you changed into your bathing suit. Then you returned your basket to the counter and you got this elastic band to wear around your ankle. It had a metal tag with your basket number on it. I was always afraid I'd lose it and they wouldn't give me my clothes back. I never did, of course. Before you went into the pool, I seem to remember there was purple-colored water you walked through that was supposed to prevent athlete's foot. I never heard of that, but it sounded yukky so I walked through the water.

Okay, this is turning into one long page but if you don't care, I don't care. I can't wait any longer to give you the recipe for Rocky Tricarico's Famous New York Egg Cream. Rocky, I know you're Rocco now, but you'll always be Rocky to me. I know that's you on the right, but who's the guy next to you in the photo by the candy store where you made the egg creams?

Rocky Tricarico by Candy

The chocolate syrup was poured out of a gallon jug into the soda fountain pump which was operated with the heel of your hand pressing downward.
Milk came fresh from the milkman with three inches of heavy cream on top. We had to shake the bottle before each use. We used the "old-fashioned" Coca-Cola glasses.

About 1 1/4 inches of chocolate syrup is poured into the glass bottom, without it touching the sides of the glass. A long spoon is then put into the glass, resting on the bottom in the syrup. The spoon is not touched as about 1 1/4 inches of  milk is 'slid' down the side of the glass - carefully, so as not to mix with the syrup.

Then, even more carefully, the seltzer is added, increasingly, to mix with the milk and cause the pure white, thick, cream top.

Lastly, and very gently, the spoon is used to mix the chocolate with the milky mix that lies beneath the creamy top.

Remove the spoon carefully, and lifting the glass carefully, encircle your upper lip with a white arc of cream, which may be licked off intermittently with more sips.

Now ... you've had the BEST egg Cream of ALL! 


Other egg cream enthusiasts insist the chocolate syrup has to be Fox's u-bet Chocolate Flavor Syrup.
H. Fox and Company was founded in a Brownsville basement during the early 1900s, and according to Lyn Stallworth and Rod Kennedy, Jr., in The Brooklyn Cookbook, You absolutely cannot make an egg cream without Fox's u-bet.

Fox's u-bet chocolate flavor

The cookbook refers to Fox's grandson, David, for the story of the syrup's name:

"The name 'U-Bet' dates from the late 1920s, when Fox's grandfather got wildcatting fever and headed to Texas to drill for oil. 'You bet' was a friendly term the oilmen used. His oil venture a failure, he returned to the old firm, changing Fox's Chocolate Syrup to Fox's u-bet. He said, 'I came back broke but with a good name for the syrup,' his grandson relates."

The recipe for u-bet has remained the same since those early years: Brooklyn water, sugar, corn sweeteners, cocoa and some "secret things."

According to David Fox, the third-generation owner of the Fox's u-bet Chocolate-Flavored Syrup Company, his secret ingredient is Brooklyn's water! 

Who invented egg creams? No one knows for sure. One story gives credit to a man living on the Lower East Side of New York, a Yiddish actor named Boris Thomashevsky, who brought the first Yiddish play to New York from London in 1882. Boris had enjoyed a similar drink in Paris. When he came to New York he tried to duplicate it and that's supposedly how the famous New York egg cream was born.

sun and moon

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That Old Gang of Mine

Gee but I'd give the world to see
That old gang of mine
I can't forget that old quartette that sang "Sweet Adeline"
Goodbye forever, old fellows and gals
Goodbye forever, old sweethearts and pals
(God bless them)
Gee but I'd give the world to see
That old gang of mine

Gee but I'd give the world to see
That old gang of mine
I can't forget that old quartette that sang "Sweet Adeline"
Goodbye forever, old fellows and gals
Goodbye forever, old sweethearts and pals
(God bless them)
Gee but I'd give the world to see
That old gang of mine
Oh yeah!