OUR NEIGHBORHOOD The Way It Was.......
Remembering The Days When A Penny Could Buy Much More Than Thoughts
This week, we are pleased to present the second and concluding part of a letter from Catherine Almstadt (nee Salzmann), a lifelong resident of Ridgewood who was born in 1926. As she advised during a recent telephone conversation, she lived with her family at 1863 Bleecker Street until her marriage to the late George Almstadt in 1950.
The first installment of Ms. Almstadt's story appeared in the Mar. 19, 2009 issue of this newspaper.
In continuing to share her memories, Ms. Almstadt writes:
"Summertime was always a happy time. There was no more school and we had lots of fun games to play and sometimes we were allowed to stay outside until 9 p.m. Mom would sit on the stoop and crochet and keep an eye out for us.
"If anything serious ever did happen that was newsworthy, there was always the young man around midnight selling papers in the street and shouting, 'Extra! Extra! Read all about it!' One time I remember we were allowed to look out the window and watch. I just cannot think now if it was about a famous boxing match or the Lindbergh baby kidnapping— all of which seemed so far away from us.
The games they played "We had fun playing hide-and- seek, jump rope and the boys played stickball with an old broken broomstick. I loved jump rope the best, as we played double Dutch and I was good at that.
"Some days, the oompah band would come to our corner. There was a bar and grill there and three men, dressed in their lederhosen outfits, would sing and play their instruments. All the children would dance around them—that was a happy time.
"I always loved dancing, but we never know what life has to offer, so we must always be happy to remember the good times, because now I can barely walk unassisted.
Movies at the Majestic
"Life wasn't all hard work and no play. We had the Majestic movie house on Seneca Avenue and on Saturday, that was a big treat. For the whopping price of ten cents we would see two nice movies, a cartoon or two and on the way out, we would receive a free gift of crayons, copy book or pencil case. It is sad; where there was once so much laughter it is now a funeral home, called Seneca Chapels.
"On Saturday evenings, while Grandma watched over us, Mom and Dad went to the movies. They saw a double feature and there was always bingo to play. So everyone always had a good time.
"Sunday afternoon, we were each given a dime to go around the corner to the ice cream parlor and enjoy a nice dish of ice cream. My brother would always distract me to look the other way and he would take my ice cream.
Ice man was warm-hearted
"In the summer, Mr. Granieri, who delivered our coal, would also deliver big chunks of ice for our little ice box. He carried a burlap bag on his shoulder. He was so generous and always gave the children a piece of ice in the hot summer. I distinctly remember later on in life, when I was sent home from high school as I could not take my final exams because I owed all of $12.50 for my tuition. I was sitting on my stoop crying and Mr. Granieri heard my story. He gave me the $12.50 and sent me off to school saying, 'Your mama can pay me anytime.'
"Fridays were always special days as we could not eat meat on Friday, according to our religion. Grandpa baked the most delicious yeast Bundt cake and potato pancakes and Grandma cooked the best codfish cakes ever. My mother was a very good baker. Nothing was ever store-bought then as long as it could be cooked at home. We always had real delicious homemade chicken noodle soup all winter.
"We did have a great dairy close to our corner, on Woodward Avenue at Bleecker Street. The owner, Mr. Moskovitz, had big wooden vats on the wall. One had butter, one cream cheese and one regular cheese. If you were lucky enough to get there early, you could buy delicious crispy rolls all for the whopping price of one penny.
"A penny went a long way in those days. We always received a penny on the way to school and would stop by Mr. Valentine's vegetable store for a banana to eat during recess time. In the summertime, a young man would come around with his little white pony and for one penny a child could get a ride on the pony around the block. I cried all the way. I have always been afraid of horses to this day.
"We also had a nice little park nearby, called Anawanda Park, which is now called Grover Cleveland Park. One day, I was with my father and a sandstorm blew up as the ground was mostly sand and no cement. My dad held me close inside his jacket until it all blew over. That was a scary time.
Ice cream and eye cures
"In the summertime, we had the Good Humor ice cream man come around and for five cents we could buy an ice cream pop. If, when you finished it and it said 'Lucky' on it, you could get one free. I was lucky once.
"We always had Mr. Killian, the druggist, to help us for minor scratches. etc. I seemed to get something in my eye quite often and he would sit me on a stool in back of the store and in a minute, my eye was alright. He always gave children a piece of rock candy on a string. If elderly people had a problem of some kind with their health he would come to the house and most times without charging them anything.
"Grandpa made his own beer and wine. He would make 'spritzers' for small children. A little wine, lots of ice and a little sugar. It was very good.
"As for TV, the first time I ever saw TV was at my girlfriend's house. Not many people owned a TV; children had lots of chores to do around the house and they played mostly outside. There were no school buses, not even in the winter. We always attended Mass and Communion before 9 a.m.—before school started. The nuns worked hard and had at least 40 to 50 children per class. We always came home at noon for lunch, then went back to school until 3 p.m.
Better than Halloween
"On Thanksgiving Day, it was so much fun for children to go around in all the backyards and sing for pennies. The children sang and people would throw money out the window to them. They would dress up in old raggedy clothes and it was more fun than Halloween.
"It is hard to imagine that in the 1920s, rents for four rooms were only $21 per month. Now with all the amenities such as heat and hot water and better plumbing indoors, some rents I hear are as high as $1,000 per month and maybe more.
"The young mothers of today do not know how easy it is caring for their babies. I can understand that, as we all like improvements in our lives. But I would like to let you know how it was, caring for a baby in the 1950s.
"Today, mothers have throwaway diapers, throw-away plastic baby bottles. It was quite different for me, even though it was 1956 when my first son was born. I had to strictly follow my pediatrician's baby formula for their milk. I had to use glass bottles which I had to sterilize and I always used linen diapers. Still, I had no washing machine and I washed everything by hand and hung the diapers outside on the wash line. In the spring and summer months, everything smelled so fresh from being hung outside. This all was no easy task as I had two babies 15 months apart.
"I always had two big pots of hot water on the stove with six bottles being sterilized in each pot. Thank God by then we did have steam heat and the 2 a.m. feedings were not too bad. You can imagine, I made sure to get them out of diapers and baby bottles before they turned three years old.
"I forgot to mention that 'midwives' were very helpful to mothers having babies, according to what my mother told me. I was born in the Ridgewood Sanitarium, which was somewhere on Madison Street; my brother was born in Bethany Deaconess Hospital; and my sister was born at home with the assistance of a mid-wife. My two sons were born at St. Catherine's Hospital on Henry Street in Brooklyn. St. Catherine's was torn down many years ago and now there are many new apartment buildings in that area.
Looking back with thanks
"Now, as I look back on my life— to the good times, some bad, the feasts and famines (especially when the war started)—I am so thankful to God I survived it all. I came through the trials and tribulations, if only for the sake of my two wonderful sons, whom I am so very proud of today."
Old Timer's note—We thank Mrs. Almstadt for taking the time to share her memories. Possibly, her effort will inspire others to do the same.
If you have any remembrances or comments that you would like to share with our readers, write to the Old Timer, c/o Times Newsweekly, P.O. Box 860299, Ridgewood, NY 11386-0299.
To send a submission via e-mail, our e-mail address is Old Timer@timesnewsweekly.com.