Growing up in the 1950’s in a place called Brooklyn, the center of my universe was located deep in the section called Red Hook. At Smith-9th, the old IND Subway is grandly elevated as the highest elevated station in both Brooklyn and the city, conforming to old regulations that allowed tall-mast ships to navigate the Gowanus Canal. The metal trestles and pillars were constructed in concrete. Like that grand station, so are my memories cast in a concrete. I have a never-dying remembrance of what life was like once upon a time.
Generation of very poor children living in Brooklyn, NY post World War II lived in cold water flats. Their immigrant parents arrived here from such places as Ireland, Italy, Germany, Puerto Rico, and were mainly unskilled laborers. They struggled day-to-day to support their families with basic needs and an education with a deep God-abiding focus on hope for the future.
It is in that setting, that I would like to take you by the literary hand and revisit some of the experiences that made Brooklyn, and Red Hook, my Red Hook so memorable. Join me as I document and recall eye-witnessed accounts of some of these experiences. Accompany me as we view the street games children played, many of these games self-taught and many others passed along from one generation to the next. Imagine, they did not have electronics with perhaps the exception of a portable radio. Many living in cold-water flats or apartments, and may or may not have had an indoor toilet. This meant whoever did not have an indoor toilet, used an outhouse: a narrow shack located outside the building without plumbing!
Generally, a flat had two or three rooms, no heat, and no hot water from a sink, no bathtub, maybe a laundry sink, which could double as a bathtub. Some apartments had a coal stove for cooking food; the stove also provided heat. The children lived with their parents, grandparents and in some cases along with aunts and uncles. They would wake up every morning, to a meager breakfast and were either sent off to school or left to fend for themselves. But the rule was: they were expected to return home for dinner.
These stories are not meant to chronicle the suffering that a generation endured, but to document some the experiences growing up on the streets of the densely populated Brooklyn streets. Their ingenuity bested boredom through street games and spontaneous adventures. Games like tag, buck/buck, hide & go seek, one and over, ring-a-leave-e-o, and others that did not require a ball, rope, skates, bat, baseball cards, marbles, straws etc. And, we can add to this mix various adventure games that involved fireworks, chalk, balloons, lumber, sticks, yo-yos, straws, also discarded items (Skates, Gallon Glass Jars, Cans, Carriages, etc.) That could be recycled into a game. These stories feature ‘Pepino’ a nine year old Italian kid, who lives with his mother, father and teenage sister in the Red Hook neighborhood of Brooklyn during the summer following World War II, and are told through his eyes.