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My Old Block
By Hal Wickliffe
Copyright 2000 Hal Wickliffe
An essay about growing up in the Bronx, New York.

With the rapid growth of the Internet throughout the world, more and more nations are becoming part of one huge global community.
This is viewed by many as progress. At the same time, sadly, people are losing that important concept of the neighborhood. In fact, there are those who hardly even know their next-door neighbor. Even worse, there are those who hardly know their own spouse.
Neighborhoods, of course, have existed since the dawn of history.
And from these neighborhoods sprung up towns that spread to the building of great cities and countries.
The warm memory of one loving neighborhood of the 1930s and 1940s still remains deeply entrenched in my heart. That was my childhood neighborhood in The Bronx, located at 168th Street between College And Morris Avenues. It was just a few blocks east of the Grand Concourse, as how I aptly directions for reaching my five-floor apartment building. It just sounded rather impressive with my directions to always mention the Grand Concourse, for the Grand Concourse was the boulevard of boulevards in The Bronx.
Actually, a Bronx neighborhood then was simply called a block. The word neighborhood was much too fancy for our simple taste. Yet, oddly, our block never had a block party. Perhaps we didn't really need one, as every day was a party for us kids.
There was that much fun for youngsters with all the varied street games we played throughout the year, at a time when there was a minimum of auto traffic. And when an occasional car did pass by, we boys gave each driver such a nasty look that you think he wanted to quickly abandon his vehicle.
What made my block so wondrous? Well, for one thing, it was blessed with the convenience of several small stores: grocers druggist, tailor, shoemakers deli, Chinese laundryman and, naturally, the ever-
popular candy store, the very nerve center for we lads.
Our block didn't have an official bookie joint but somehow we sensed that bets were discretely taking place within the confines of the drug store.
And, indeed, we knew all the store owners quite well, that is except for Charlie, our Chinese laundryman. He just couldn't speak English.
Finally, we simply gave up on pleading and gesturing for Charlie not to starch the collars. If you ask me, I think Charlie must have assumed that there was some law in America that compelled men to wear starched collars.
But ah, the candy store...,where in those days you could truly buy a piece of candy for a mere penny. No wonder Lincoln became my number one all-time President.
Ah,the candy store .... where we bought our beloved baseball cards.
Unfortunately, along with these baseball cards were the chewing gum that ruined our teeth for coming extractions. For this was in an era when dentist either drilled, filled or pulled.
Our shoemaker was Angelo, who was Italian. And just why all shoemakers I've known were Italian, I'll never know. Consequently,
I once had a dream of traveling around the world to find out if all other nations just had Italian shoemakers.
But how often we went to Angelo for new heels and soles on our battered shoes. And the heels always seemed to be made by the O'Sullivan Company, So,strangely, O'Sullivan became my favorite Irishman.
However, when being so young and innocent, I often thought that, if O'Sullivan was so Irish, why didn't he make green heels. Yes, kids can often hold some weird ideas. Anyway, three cheers for O'Sullivan.
Then there was our corner druggist, Mr. Slote. I especially liked Mr. Slote because he had the only scale around that gave both your weight and fortune. Women loved the scale because it kept registering less pounds than their true weight. And with me, while my weight kept increasing, I somehow got the same fortune. And to this day, I'm still waiting to become rich and famous while keeping company with world leaders.
But Mr. Slote was like our neighborhood medic, particularly for either removing a cinder from an eye or helping to relieve our colds. Yes, no matter what type of cold his customers had, Mr. Slote would give that same red liquid concoction. Still, we kids took his medicine gladly, knowing It was far better stuff than swallowing that bitter cod liver oil.
Also, what I found so fascinating about my old block were the constant stream of people, day in and day out.
First off, there were the many mothers who didn't work outside the home in those times. So, on our block, these mothers would always bump Into friends or relations and strike up a spirited conversation,, as a large number didn't even own a telephone to do their gabbing or gossiping. And with women, there is always much to say, even when it was raining. Thus, they may not have done any singing in the rain but talking - yes.
So, if today's young generation ever ask how people ever got by without the telephone, this is one answer ... good old face-to-face conversation. It was often a sure cure for the blues or loneliness.
And along with the residents of our block were the non-residents who came to service the households and who gave so much life to the street. They were the I-cash-clothesmen, clergy, butcher boys, knife
sharpeners, newspaper boys, mailmen, teachers, insurance agents, gas meter readers coal delivery men, doctors, street photographers, Boy Scouts, umbrella repairmen, dog catchers, musicians, western union
boys, Good Humor ice cream men, etc.
And forget about drug pushers. In that era, the only things being pushed were baby carriages.
And, you could always spot doctors who were making house calls.
They all carried that same type of small black bag. I often wondered what great magic was contained in those small bags for treating such a variety of sicknesses.
Nowadays, the only time you ever see doctors making house calls are in the movies of the 1930s and 40s.
Oddly, on my block, we rarely saw a policeman, except when they were selling tickets to the Policemen's Ball, which no one I knew ever attended. I'm not sure many policemen ever attended this ball because, with their flat feet, they didn't make good dancers.
And there was a good reason why we rarely saw the police. Somehow word must have leaked out to the criminal element that it wasn't safe for them on our street. And they were right. A crook would have been quickly spotted by some sharp-eyed mothers who
would have promptly clobbered him with their heavy pocketbooks.
Then, on our block, there were the varied activities of we tots: kick-the-can, marble shooting, touch tackle, penny pitching, tree climbing, curb ball, card tossing, car dodging, roller skating, stickball, leapfrogs, Johnny-on-the-pony, hide and seek, scootering, girl teasing, tag, charking, bubble-making, etc.
Our playground was the street and at no cost to the taxpayers.
Yes, this was my old block ... a block teeming with delightful people of all types, occupations, nationalities and religions who blended so beautifully together. Then along came progress and goodbye went our heaven on earth.
And how can I ever forget my dear mother who never warned me against talking to strangers. To her, nobody was a stranger. They were all God's children. Indeed, with my sweet mother and my old block, I learned much about trusting people and loving thy neighbors.