November 18, 2019
It’s wonderful that you’re recording it. So the next generation and the generation after that will understand what the neighborhood was like back then, and what it is now and then they’re part of the whole fabric of history, that’s so important. History of here, where you live, the people you live with and their lives and your lives coming together in a very special, unique way. That’s the beauty of our city, our borough, especially Brooklyn, where there’s so many nationalities living together in harmony. If there’s one example of how the world could live together from religious faith, races, nationalities, income levels, from rich to poor, to everything in the middle. They lived together. The children played together. They go to the stores, they go to the temple, churches, people living here, visitors. We have the United Nations. I mean that.
I always, as a kid, wondered. I lived, probably about five or four years old, on eighth Avenue between President and Union State. I would look out the window at the Coney Island Avenue, not the Coney Island, but the union street trolley car going up and down the hill. I was on the top floor of the five-story brownstone, and we had the front family. We have the front part of the top four, and I could look out, and at certain times I snipped, snuck up to the roof, I wasn’t supposed to go up there.
I could see the skyline of New York. I could see the Statue of Liberty on clear days and the Empire State Building. We were on the hill when you went down Junior steep going down and when you came back up, we were going up the hill. as a boy of four or five, my mother was very lenient with me. She trusted me to, you know, go, but stay. And I, you know, I would go downstairs, I would play outside of the brownstone and on good, clear days, my mother would take me all the way up to the park and I would jump my legs off. My, my memories of living on Eighth Avenue between Union Street and President street, still in mind that Sunday back there…so vivid and then we came to Flatbush, which is another interesting different experience.
Differences in people and the ways of life and everything else, I was there and I was really a learning extremely well. All those people ways and living and realizing their lives. And so it was a childhood that was very, very been wonderful for me.
My memories are so vivid of those days on Eighth Avenue, looking out, catching the trolley car on Union Street, going up the hill for the trolley car, going down the hill to Fifth Avenue and mother would take me shopping on Fifth Avenue all the time. That was the place to go. To get the macaroni. To get the pizza. All of the places that we would go shopping. Sometimes I’d go on the back of the store and see what they had, “Oh, what about these?”
So we live on Eighth Avenue for about five years in the brownstone and then my little brother Johnny came along and so the top floor was not big enough for us. Then we got my, my father was from Flatbush originally and he knew Flatbush and Flatbush was a place to go next, close to the park. We lived on Rugby Road and East Eight King Street . We moved around a lot. At times, moved around, you know, another brother came after Johnny, and then another sister came, so we became a big family and then we came back to Flatbush and living began on Rugby Road. But there were so many good memories from the parishes that were part of the same roads that lead off… Holy innocence, going in there for Sunday mass, a couple of years in the parochial schools…and filled with memories.
I mean you’ve turned the street into a playground, you’d make the street a playground… sidewalks. There was a time when they began to close up some of the side streets for the kids to go out – a block closing. I remember in the late, late 1930s they used to have block closing so kids could play, you know, and then the people would move their cars, maybe a baseball would get out cycle or two before class… But no, the place was filled with kids, and I used to bring my kids into my house and we would build tassels. And it was just a time filled with…
May I ask you what your, I’m interested in what your cultural background is? Are you like Irish-Catholic or Italian-Catholic?
Well my mother came from Ireland and she had come plus a couple of years before I was born and my father’s family have lived in New York City for a long time. They were long time New Yorkers. So it’s an interesting, he had experienced remembering the Dodgers coming to Brooklyn and things like that. And so it was history of both sides. The history on the side of my mother, I remember she’d come here, her sister had come before and there was a couple of brothers, and soon as they could because famine times, it was famine times, very tough in Ireland. And the young people, sad to say, had to come and say goodbye, and sometimes start crying because it was seeing your mother the last time in five or six years. In those days we were running a GWA flight, the flight to Ireland. That’s why as soon as I finished college, I took my mother, we went to Ireland to be able to see if the grandmothers were still there. Some of the other family had passed away because they were there during World War II.
On those days I remember the parade going up Union Street and the parade along Eight Avenue and they knew something was coming. And then in 1937, 38, 39 the fifth floor window. We had the fun floor apartment on the fifth floor. It was terrific. You could look out the window, and you could see down Seventh Avenue down to Eighth Avenue and then you go to the roof, and you could see the city.