For displaced, misplaced, and nostalgic ex-Brooklynites

Seventeenth Street

by Joan Mase


hen I grew up, Seventeenth was a one-way street lined with red brick apartments on one side and tiny pastel single and double story homes on the other.

On a warm day, windows would be open, lace curtains swaying in the breeze. The Police Athletic League would close the street to traffic in the summer. They would set up volley ball, hopscotch and shuffleboard, and put a sprinkler device on the hydrant. People would sit on the stoop or in the areaway, watching the children play in the sprinkler. Aromas would mingle and settle, almost permanently, of mostly corned beef and cabbage and garlic and tomato sauce. You could also smell cigars, incinerator smoke, body odors or pet droppings, and wet laundry hanging from the many clotheslines strung from building to building or from a building to a clothes pole. Certainly the odor of beer, wine and whisky would also drift around, not just from open windows, but the corner bars with their doors open most of the time. One could hear the strong brogues of the Irish, the many dialects of Italian spoken or more likely, shouted! With time, the ethnicity of the street changed and the new smells were also intoxicating, with aromas of chicken and rice, rice and beans and Thunderbird wine.

Every few years someone would paint the brick buildings and if they were ambitious, paint all of the mortar too. Perhaps the trim on the little frame homes would be freshly painted or shingled. A few luckier ones could afford aluminum siding. Most of the small homes had wood picket fences.

When Halloween came, we'd fill an old sock with flour to whack each other, and wore old clothes. We would also buy fat chalk and scribble on everything. My Dad always took our wood gate off because some folks thought it would be fun to burn it in the middle of the street.

For Thanksgiving we'd dress up like beggars and go to homes asking "Anything for Thanksgiving?" We would receive plump, ripe tangerines, walnuts and sometimes a few cents if we were lucky.

At Easter time, one would see folks parading up and down in their new finery bought just for the occasion. Hats in every imaginable design and color, most with flowers could be seen all over. Then the pastels would be retired until Memorial Day when it was declared it officially summer.

When there was a wedding, most of the neighbors would turn out to see the bride leave for church. There would be much oohing and ahhing and picture-taking.

Stickball was a great pasttime. Boys and girls played together using sewers for bases. You used a Spalding ball and I was always welcome to play since my house, in an attached row, had a flat roof from which I could retrieve a well hit ball. Moms weren't too happy when the broom-handle "bats" got broken.

Trucks with rides would delight the younger children. There were bumper cars and a giant swing called the "Halfmoon" and lots of squealing when the truck owner would push it higher and higher. There were pie, soda and ragman trucks who came around, as well as a vegetable truck. The Insurance man came once a week for a premium payment.

Life was less complicated then and sometimes I miss that.

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