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Travels with Dad - Part 1


These are un-edited transcripts (I had a tape recorder with me) of the conversation with my father (Aaron) as we drove through various neighborhoods in the Bronx. We would usually stop in front of a particular building, and sit there go back in time.

[Bedford Park near Valentine Avenue]

 

Aaron

We had had two years, living as a boarder in different people's houses. And the first place we lived... here it is... there was a school right over here -- there it is -- now it's Lutheran. [I think it was originally the Bedford Academy].

We didn't have any money and we wanted to impress the landlord. We went to somebody and said, "we'll give you the money, can you give us a hundred dollar bill?"

So we give the guy a hundred bill and he says, "don't you have anything else?" I said, "no. that's all we got is a hundred dollar bill". you know 'cause we were tryin' to impress him. and you know we moved in there... we'll go right past it, and i'll show you exactly where we lived.

(We stop the car and stare across at the building.)

Your aunt Tam lived up the block on Valentine avenue. and that was the first time i ever saw a whole piece of roast beef. (long pause) They had a roast beef that was that size (indicates with his hands), and just cut as much as you want, she says. I'd never seen... i'd seen a slice but i didn't see that.

* * *

Let me take you back to Fay's (my mother's sister) place. I want to show you that.

Aaron

There was an El train here.

David

How could there be an El? It was low. It was on the ground.

Aaron

Well, maybe I'm wrong. I remember it in the air.

David

Yeah, you gotta make a right at Botanical Gardens.

Aaron

This is it. This is her house. I wish she were alive. I would tell her about this.

(We see the train on ground -- the Metro North --)

Aaron

But there was a train on the other side. This was the very famous Botanical Gardens and they lived in that house. And they used to sit on the street. And Brofman's. You don't remember them. They guy used to sing. He had done this Metropolitan Opera thing. Metropolitan Opera had put up this series, and they invited singers in. He competed with Marion Anderson. She was an ameteur and he was an amateur. And he came in like number three. He was about thirty. He made a record with your mother (she played piano). With your mother playing. And at the end of the record he says in this big bass voice: "Dat vuz lousy!" (We both laugh). And we have the old tape, you know. He had a big, big, big voice.

This is the only place where Irving (Fay's husband. He points to the other side of the tracks) was every relaxed. He worked six months out of the year, carrying these big suitcases. And never made a living.

We go on to talk about the park on the other side of the Metro Tracks.

David

We'd play touch football, baseball. That's where I first played baseball. Danny (my cousin) was throwing grounders to me and one hit a rock and popped up and hit me right on the chin and knocked me out. I don't think I've played baseball since.

(He laughs)

That was the end of a very short, and not promising career.

Aaron

It's Frisch Field (sp?) (The ballpark near Botanical Gardens) Frank Frisch Field. Frisch played for the Cardinals. In about 1920 or '30. He was a pretty famous guy. And this was called Frisch field.

David

And we would go there, and sit up in the bleachers. And watch ballgames.

Aaron

And watch the kids play.

* * *

[Going up 204th and then Bainbridge]

Aaron
(moved)

Oh this famous, famous 204th Street. All kinds of things happened here.

3209 Bainbridge. They had a sports store. Army and Navy sports store on this corner that I came in all the time. And this was a movie.

David: There's still a marquee there.

Aaron: This was the bank.

David: There's a bank called North Fork bank.

Aaron: Well, it had a different name back then.

David: I remember that candy store was there.

Aaron: That was a big one.

David: Was big for me too. It was right near the "D" train.

Aaron: This was the bank that we used.

David: And your father's grocery store?

Aaron: The one that says 3209. 3209, plants and balloons. That's the store. That's it.

David: That little store?

Aaron: That's the store that he had, and he had it for a year.

David: How did he get it?

Aaron: Well, he borrowed money... He was always tryin' to make a living. He was a guy that whatever he...there was a joke... We'd say this guy suffers from turnsto. Whatever he touches turns to shit. So he had turnsto. Well he opened up that store and I came out of the army and I worked for him, and it was horrible. And he said to me, "you don't have to worry Aaron, people always eat." And then what happened was down below, a Gristedes opened. Gristedes opened up and a year, year and a half later, he went bankrupt.

Pineapples. Guy comes in and he says, "you know there's a strike in Hawaii." He says, "Yeah, what's that gotta do with me?" The guy says, "there's no pineapples." He says, "so?" The guy says, "I got pineapples." He says, "alright. Give me three cases." The guy says, "It doesn't work that way. What I'm doing is a little bit -- its not illegal but... but it's sort of immoral. Ya gotta buy 26 cases. I mean, I'm not givin' it to anybody else. You're an old customer... but ya gotta buy the lot. I don't break up the lot."

So he bought 26 cases. And we carted 'em down to the basement. And we put 'em out and that kind of thing. And a year, a year and a half later he went bankrupt. And when the bankruptcy guy comes he says, "Show me what ya got." He shows him everything on the shelves and he got 2 cents for something he was selling for 20 cents. And he says, "and what d'ya have in your basement?" He says, "well, we've got some pineapples." They guy says, "how much?" He says, "I don't know." He says, "Go find out."

So I had 22 cases down there a year and a half later.

And that's just the way my father did everything that he ever did.

Well-intentioned. Naive. Ran things kind of like a shlub. And we gave 'em all that stuff. I don't know... The guy screams at first: "I don't want it. I don't want it. Don't do me any favors" So finally he says "alright." So he give him a dollar for each thing.

And that's the way he worked.

And in that store, your grandmother worked. Your grandfather worked. And Morris worked. (heavy emphasis on Morris). Morris -- crazy Morris. (Morris was shell shocked). You'd come in there and none of 'em could add. (laughs) None of 'em could add. And you're in the store and they're cutting ham and they put it on the scale, and they'd say: "It looks about a half-a-pound."

You know, my mother with these thick glasses. And then she says, "How much is a pound?"

I worked there six days, seven days a week. And the milk comes 'bout six o'clock in the morning. And you're there at six-thirty. And you pack everything away. The store closes at seven. And you clean up. You're not done until about eight. I know we were open six days a week. And I had just got back from the army. And I was very depressed.

And he was a nervous wreck. So that if somebody would come in with a bottle from Gristedes he would kick 'em out. (Imitates his father) "Out! Out! Out! You didn't buy that milk here! Now you want your 3 cents."

He was a high-strung guy. Nervous. He'd say: "Out! Out! Take the bottle down there!"

And they would come in and they would look for me. 'Cause I would say, "Calm down. Let's see if we can work something out."

And we had a guy come in. He's a super. And he would take the leftovers. So that if you had ham, you would cut the slice of ham, and you'd get these thick slices, each of 'em about a half-a-pound and then you'd work out a price for him.

And this is where I met Sheba (my mother).

-- to be continued

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All photography copyright Dave Beckerman.