I am steeped in early 20th-century research for my book. How children played, went to school, and held onto friendships are my focus. The best stories come from first-hand accounts. This story was told by Pat Yanoti, my sister’s father-in-law, and a long-time family friend. Thank you, Pat, for the wonderful memories.
I was a seven-year-old little kid living in the Bricktown section of Jamaica Queens. School was terrible, but once school was out, I played outside. I had pal around with my gang in the neighborhood. We had great fun in the streets. In those those days, there weren’t so many cars so you could play stoop-ball on the street. We’d choose up sides. A garbage can cover, a car fender and maybe a piece of wood were the bases. We used an old broomstick to hit another stick and run the bases.
There was a dirt lot in the neighborhood. Us boys played all kinds of games: stick ball, Ringolevio, Johnny on the Pony, tag, and tug-of-war. Oh, I loved tug-of-war. Girls didn’t play boys games, but I liked their skip rope songs. I liked turning an end of the skipping rope while they chanted.
When I was a kid, we would do anything for a nickel. I shined shoes. Rags were free, and the polish was cheap. I spent my money at the candy store. Baseball cards came with the pink bubble gum. Us kids would flip baseball cards Indian cards and war cards. I had a big stash, but my mother threw them away. Most mothers did. I also bought comic books. Batman and Superman were everyone’s favorite.
We were a kind of gang back then. We smoked on the corner. We’d shoot craps. We stole Old Man Caesar’s tomato stakes to make swords for our duel fights. We took figs from his fig tree, too. Delicious. We also swiped potatoes to roast in a garbage can at the lot. They were called mickey’s.
There was great music back then. Jazz, Big Bands–I listened to Stan Kenton and Benny Goodman’s band. In those days you could go to a movie all Saturday afternoon Ten cents bought you a ticket and a folding chair to watch a newsreel, a feature movie, a chapter-which was like a soap opera and a comic. All week long we have our fun. On Saturday we went to confession. I was an altar boy on Sundays at the monastery.
My mother was a hard worker. I was an original latchkey kid although no one called us that. A lot of kids were. At supper time my mother would call out from the window, “Sonny, come in for supper.” I knew her call from all of the other mothers calling their kids in for supper.
I didn’t like school much. I went to high school but should have gone into a trade. Instead, there was a war, so I signed up at 17. I went to war and left my childhood behind.
Antoinette Truglio Martin is the author of Hug Everyone You Know: A Year of Community, Courage, and Cancer. The memoir is a wimpy patient’s journey through her first year of breast cancer treatment.