When I think about my childhood growing up in Ridgewood, the differences between how I grew up and how my children are growing up become so apparent. The fact is that people of my generation (born in the late 50’s or early 60’s) have more in common with our parents’ generation than we do with our kids’ generations – and that is especially true if you come from an old neighborhood like Ridgewood. I thought about my normal day and my family’s lifestyle in general. For starters I grew up in an apartment – a total of 5 rooms (not counting one small bathroom and a room we called the “little room” because it was …little!). From the time I could sleep in a bed until I was 10, I slept in a bunk bed with my older brother Peter. From 10 until 16 we switched to a “couch-bed” which meant that I slept in the same bed as my brother for seven years! I remember thinking that when I grew up and had kids, I would make enough money so that they could each have their own beds. The irony is that my wife and I bought a nice-sized house with six bedrooms, just so our four boys could have their own bedrooms… but they all end up sleeping together in one bed! …go figure!
When I grew up in Ridgewood, our area code was still “212” and our zip code was 11237 – both of those changed. I can still remember our phone number, “Evergreen” 6-0978. How did we manage life with only one phone, NO cell phones; NO computers or email or internet for that matter; NO faxes… a world with no texting, no blogging, no tweeting! For a boy, if I wanted to see one of my friends, I had to do it the old fashioned way – I had to get off my keester and walk to their house and ring their bell – imagine that!
As I’m typing this, my 6y/o and my 8y/o are upstairs playing “HALO 3” on our Xbox 360 with their cousins in NEW YORK! What was I doing when I was their age at 3:15 in the afternoon - I was outside playing …something… stoop ball, box ball, ace-king-queen, off-the-wall, handball, etc. I just purposely named five games that a kid like me could play with just a 25-cent “spaldeen.” I could ride my bike (a circa 1950’s President, no speeds, weighed about 60lbs.), roller skate (with my skate key hanging from a shoelace around my neck), throw a football, play basketball (in my backyard or the parks), street hockey, street tops… there seemed to be no end to the sporting activities that a kid could do in Ridgewood and all for free. I point that out because it seems that nowadays every sport our kids play is organized into a league complete with uniforms that a pro could wear, gear, a bag for the gear (not a laundry bag like I used), fields that look like they should have press boxes …snacks (for after the game) …trophies (if a kid breaths, he/she gets a trophy nowadays) – and all that is charged back to the parents! I’m gonna tell you something – maybe it’s because I live out west now, but I can’t believe how today’s kids seem to have a hard time setting up “pick-up” games – you know ones where you just pick a few kids and play. They seemed confused and usually don’t even know how to set the rules and guidelines. In the old neighborhood, it was like the rules were inbred in us, handed down from our old siblings and parents and their parents, etc. “3-sewer stickball” and “we play from the “NO PARKING sign to the end of Mr. Datolo’s car 2-hand touch” were common rules on Stockholm St.
My brother is four years older than I am, so he had his own crew and I had mine. He grew up with guys like Bernard Rebecchi, Tommy De Luca, Steven Caputo, Detlev Vanderberg, Victor Martini (the list goes on) and those were just the kids he played with, not counting his friends from drum corps (an entirely different topic that I will cover in another series). My friends were predominantly Dominic Roggio, Anthony Moschitta, and Frank Barbarino (although he was 2 years older than we were and I really think he just suffered us when there was no one else to hang out with).
It’s funny what you remember people for – like Frank, I will always remember “Carnation Instant Breakfast,” an All-Star baseball game that he owned, that had these round cards and one of those pointers that you spun with your finger, and this underwater mask that he got in Sicily. It was the clearest, nicest mask any of us ever saw, so he had to constantly put up with us asking to borrow it. By the way, the Carnation Instant Breakfast stood out to me because I thought it was some kind of breakfast, like powdered eggs, instead he let me try it and it was like chocolate milk – I was pleasantly surprised! Tony Moschitta was the strongest kid my age that I knew. One time when we were kids we had a fight and in about three seconds he had picked me up and was spinning me over his head! I remember him saying to me as he held me aloft, “Say uncle and I’ll put you down!” I learned a whole lot from that incident about trying to negotiate from a weaker position and also how to say “uncle” while being suspended in mid-air!
I remember Tony used to tell us that his dad had $50,000 in the bank… and that was at a time when 50-large was …large! My dad was earning $13,000 a year at that time, so it got me to thinking – about what the word “successful” meant. Tony said that his dad was successful and I wondered if my dad was successful too. I also wondered if I would ever be successful. To me successful was a specific amount of money. I used to be a confused kid that way, when it came to things like that. So I went to my dad and asked him, “Hey Pop, how much money does a person need to make to be successful?” My dad smiled and like he often did, gave me an answer that frustrated me at the time, but later on I found to be profound. He replied, “Enough money to make you happy son. For your brother it’ll be one amount and for you it will be a different amount.”
A wise man my dad was…
In the next installment, I want to see how many of the neighborhood “characters” I can remember. I want to thank Jimmy Wellinghoff for reminding me of a few that I’ll mention in my next blog – but hey, if any of you remember any, leave a comment and tell me them – I’ll include them too! Peace, g
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Dean Wesley Smith