As we approached the corner of Laquer and Hicks street we noticed that there were four kids standing outside the grocery store. They were pitching pennies by standing in the street and throwing the pennies over the side walk to the building. I did not have the skill that some of the older kids have in playing this game. Some of these kids were so good in launching a penny to get as close as possible to the building so they could win the round and collect the pennies, which could be as much as eight to ten coins tossed by the other players that lost the game.
It was amazing to watch when a player would send a penny flying towards the building and not only come close but actually stand the penny on end leaning vertically on the building. If someone happens to stand a penny on its end against the building, during the game, the other players would do their best to knock it down when it was their turn to toss a penny, otherwise they would lose their pennies for that round.
The kids that were pitching pennies on the comer turned to look at us and no doubt they were trying to figure out what the hell we were carrying. By that time we had turned the corner onto Hicks street and crossed the street onto the broken flagstone sidewalk they resumed playing. I could see Pecker’s house, a two story wood clap board gray house positioned immediately after the vacant lot which is littered with old discarted Ice Box coolers,worn out automobile tires and assorted junk. Many homes in this area did not have a modern all electric refrigerator to store food.
Before the war people simply could not afford a refrigerator, so they had to rely on an Ice Box which required a one foot square ice cube every 2-3 days to maintain a cold temperature. Thereby prevent or minimizing food, such as milk, cheese, eggs, meat, etc. from rotting during the warm months of the year.
There were ice delivery wagons all over the city especially during the summer. The ice wagons were a welcome sight not only to the households that required a new cube of ice for the old Ice Box, but also to many of the neighborhood kids who would chase these wagons during the hot months of July and August hoping to grab a chip of ice to suck on. It didn’t matter if the chip of ice was filthy dirty when it fell off the ice wagon. If you were lucky enough to get one just wipe the dirt off with your hand and then suck on it to cool off. Every now and then one of the ice delivery guys would break off some ice for the kids following the wagon. Most of the time during the winter months as long as it was not freezing temperatures there was little or no need to buy ice for the Ice Box cooler. My mother would store food on the fire escape or on our window sill.
Now that the Great Depression and the WWII was over most people had set aside enough money during the war years to buy a new refrigerator and discard the old ice box.
That’s why we see so many of them abandoned in almost every vacant lot around the neighborhood. Even though it was dangerous many of the little kids would sit in the old ice box imagining they were shooting from a Tank when playing war. Many parents would break off the doors of the old Ice Box so that a kid could not accidentally lock himself in and suffocate. Playing war is one of our favorite games; we would choose sides and pretend that we were fighting the Nazis or Japs. Of course the Nazis and Japs were always on the losing side. Pecker and I were really starting lose it. We were so tired from the heat of the day and carrying this garbage for over an hour.
We started to go into the entrance of Pecker’s dilapidated building which has no front door. You could look into the building strait through to the back yard exit which did not have a door either. “Pecker let’s get this over with. I’m tired and I have to get home for dinner.” Hear we go again you can’t stop thinking of food.” “Listen Pecker, it may seem that way but my mother likes to have us all together at the dinner table. She says that dinner is our family time and she also reminds us that she has spent most of the day planning, shopping and cooking our meal.” “Okay let’s move, the cellar entrance is in the back yard.” We walked through the hallway directly into the back yard which didn’t look much different than the vacant lot next door which is full of junk and an old “Outhouse” better known as an outdoor potty. We then made our way to an old wooden broken cellar door laying flat on the ground.
Pecker pulled the door open and exposed the steps leading down to the cellar. “Okay Pecker you lead the way.” “Shit no! There are no lights down there and I don’t want to run into any rats that will bite my ass off.” “Yeah, chicken shit now you tell me, buck-buck, buck-buck.” “Okay, I’ll go down there but you better be right behind me. First let’s throw some rocks down there to scare off any rats that maybe lurking in the dark.”
That’s what we did, we collected about eight rocks and started throwing them down the cellar steps and we also started yelling as loud as we could. We heard a lot of tapping and scraping sounds. The sounds must have come from a herd of rats running to get away and hide in their rat holes. Then we started to descend into the dark, damp, smelly cellar. I was thinking to my self that Blackie Parisi basement on President Street smelled better that Pecker’s cellar. We only had some daylight to illuminate the entrance of the cellar. Not only were there rats down here but I could see weird movement of giant water bugs about ten times the size of a cockroach. There was also an assortment of spiders and spider webs everywhere. The spiders must have good hunting grounds down here. I could also see the reflection of an old partially filled coal bin on the far side of the cellar.
The houses did not use coal much anymore for heat. In my house we heated the apartment with a kerosene heater as do most homes in the area. The coals in the old coal bin make it a good hiding place for the rats. At this point I said “Peckers I not going all the way in the cellar. Let’s leave our stuff a couple of feet in from the entrance. I doubt it if anyone will be coming down here.”Pecker quickly agreed and we put down our gallon glass jars along with the empty cans about three feet in from the entrance. We then got out of there as quickly as possible and started for the front entrance of the building. “Wow! It was nasty down there. I hope that none of the critters that live down your cellar visit you at night. They give me the creeps.” “Yeah, like you live in a palace.” “I’m going home I’ll see ya tomorrow.” “See Ya.”