Friday, April 1, 2011

New York City Childhood

It's just a few months before my 50th birthday, and as I am sitting here working on my income taxes, I find my mind wandering down streets of nostalgia instead. Churning around in my head is a list of some of the stuff I loved, growing up in New York.

Stuff like building "soap-box" racers out of old baby buggies or broken laundry/shopping carts (the folding kind) , playing Ring-o-levio, sticking bottle tops on the hot pavement so cars would press them in. Prying them up again to play scullies. Fishing balls out of the storm grate, playing stick ball, climbing onto the roof of a shed at a construction site. Jumping off said roof into a pile of sand.

A lot of my memories are of food: foamy egg cremes, potato Knishes, Sabret hot dogs with saurkraut and red-onion sauce, chestnuts and hot pretzles from street vendors. The ice cream truck, and the whole experience of hearing that music on a hot summers day, fishing in my pockets to see if I had the change, and running to the truck to by an ice cream bar.

Speaking of hot summer days, I loved: playing in an open fire hydrant, block parties, street fairs, church bazaars, the Museum of Natural History, flipping baseball cards, and going to the park. Sneaking down to Mott Street to buy fire crackers for the fourth of July. Watching fireworks from the roof. Watching the solar eclipse from the roof. Jumping from roof to roof over the alleyway where the rooftops nearly meet at the facade to get to one particular roof we kids called tar-beach.

There were so many parks. There was Washington square park with it's arch where I would watch the old Italian men playing Bocce Ball. There was riding my bike and climbing trees, or climbing the Peter Stuyvesant statue in Stuyvesant park. There was the Children's Zoo and clock in Central park, and the Eagle Statues, also in Central Park near where they fed the sea lions. Speaking of lions, I loved the lions outside the New York Public Library.

Christmas time was magical in New York City for a kid: going to F.A.O. Shwartz, and to all the moving window displays at all the big department stores. The giant tree and ice skating at Rockefeller Center.

We moved about an hour North of Manhattan when I turned twelve, but my early childhood in Manhattan was a fun one, and it seems inconceivable to me that I am the same age as some of those old Italian men playing Bocce.

About those New York Public Library Lions, they were designed by sculptor Edward Clark Potter, they were carved from Tennessee Pink marble by the Piccirilli Brothers in 1911, and Mayor Fiorello LaGuardia named them "Patience" and "Fortitude", so they were born in America, but the way I figure it, they are two-thirds Italian.

I wonder if I can show a little "Patience and Fortitude" and learn how to play Bocce Ball. It looks like fun, and after all, it's Italian!

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