2012-07-27 / Columnists

It’s My Turn

Early Rockaway, Edgemere (1942-1955)
By James Kelly

Yogi Berra once said, “Let’s reminisce about the future.” In this memoir we shall reminisce about the past.

This is the story of spending our summers from 1938 to 1950 in a rooming house at 327 Beach 43 Street, Edgemere. Every June on the last day of school we left the Bronx on the subway, and then took the Green Bus to Edgemere. We were not the typical Edgemere residents. About 90 percent of the summer residents in Edgemere came from Brooklyn and were Jewish. We were Irish Catholics from the Bronx.

Let me tell you a story that paints a picture of the time. Mr. and Mrs. Grif owned a candy store on Beach 44 Street close to the train station. It was the only place to buy a newspaper in the morning. One Monday, Mrs. Grif, an enterprising woman, decided to charge 3 cents for the Daily News (regular price was 2 cents). The community was outraged. On Tuesday, she repeated it. Alas, someone reported it to the Daily News. Tuesday afternoon she was told if she did it again they would cut off her delivery. On Wednesday morning the paper was 2 cents again. However, many customers picked up the paper and did not pay. They said the store owed them 2 cents anyway!

The owner of the rooming house was Mr. Daitch: a Jewish immigrant who owned a roofing business on the Bowery. He lived in a large all-year-round house on the front of the property. The rooming house was in the rear. He had three children: Pearl, Dottie and Murray. Pearl and Dottie (Manny) were married. Murray was single and was a member of the Air Force during WWII.

The rooming house consisted of six rooms on each of three floors. The corner rooms in the front and back were the largest. There were two small rooms in the middle of each of the floors. There were a total of 18 rooms. Each floor had two toilets with no sink. During the 12 summers we spent there we were the only Christian family. You might say that it made us celebrities. I vaguely recall that we paid $70.00 for the summer (one dollar a day).

There was a porch on the ground floor and a porch on the second. Our room on the Northwest corner, rear was perhaps the best. It consisted of a dresser with a mirror between two full size beds. There was also a small table, two chairs, a cold water sink in the corner and a two burner stove. Also, there was a closet and an ice box.

Because we returned for 12 summers, Mr. Daitch graciously let my mother leave bathing suits, bedding, pots and pans in the closet from one year to the next. Mr. Daitch often showed our room as a model because it was so pretty. We had yellow tie back curtains on the four windows, a lace cloth on the table and dresser and a big bouquet of hydrangeas. The doors, windows and molding were dark-stained oak, the walls were pale yellow, and the floor was painted. The beds had iron headboards. The rooms in the rear were more desirable because the front rooms had windows onto the porch. They could be noisy, especially during the night on the weekends.

Every morning at 6:30 to 7:00 o’clock Jack, the ice man, made a loud appearance. He would bang on the doors, drop his iron tools and loudly ask if you needed ice. In an emergency you could buy ice from a warehouse one block away on Beach 42nd Street.

Life was very simple. No telephones and no television. None of the families in the rooming house owned a car. Gasoline was rationed during the war. People spent most of the day at the beach. You could also sit on the porch or in the yard between the two houses. The children had birthday parties. We played punchball in the street and three box baseball on the sidewalk. And, of course, you could walk on the boardwalk. Around Labor Day there was always a farewell party with coffee, cake, soda and franks.

The weekends were special. Many husbands came out only on Friday and returned to Brooklyn on Sunday or went to work directly on Monday. Many people ate out on Friday, usually deli or Chinese. There were really no other restaurants. After dinner on Friday and Saturday night there were long awaited card games. These games lasted well into the night (with a lot of cigar and cigarette smoke). Usually the people in the front rooms would begin complaining about the noise. As I recall only men played. Women played mah-jongg during the day.

Of course, some summers were special. In 1945, the war ended. There was tremendous joy. Strangers kissed and hugged. Some cried. Parties broke out. I recall going up to Frank Avenue Station and unrolling a roll of toilet paper. People rejoiced for days after.

Another special summer was 1947. Every rooming house had parties and fundraisers for Israel. Usually a representative from the government or a soldier spoke. One did not have to be Jewish to understand the joy and significance of the event. We had all seen people on the beach with numbers tattooed on their arms. All summer, the most popular song on the Beach 35 Street jukebox was Tsena-Tsena as people danced in a circle.

The center of night life was Beach 35 Street. From Beach 37 Street to Beach 33, there were a string of concessions. First there was the old time movie where you could watch silent classic films under the sky (weather permitting). I saw Charlie Chaplin, Buster Keaton, Phantom of the Opera and Hunchback of Notre Dame and many, many others. Continuing on the boardwalk there was: Jerry’s Knishes, Pokerino, Sam’s Bar and Deli, a penny arcade and a Chinese restaurant where you could eat your food in a container made of noodles and then eat the container. It was called the Takee Cup. Good Humor was also available. The truck would back up along a long wooden ramp to the back railing on the boardwalk. There were also two ice cream concessions that served “custard” – soft ice cream from a machine, a forerunner to Carvel.

But on a hot weekend the most crowded concession was the Italian ices. Here there were large crates of lemons and oranges that were freshly squeezed. Others would shave ice from large ice blocks while four or five would serve at the counter. The lines were four or five deep. Once in a while they would run out of juice. Other flavors were available but they were artificial and not as popular. You would be very lucky to get a bench on the boardwalk between Beach 36th Street and Beach 33rd Street on a weekend night. People stayed out until 11 or 12 o’clock. Remember, there was no air-conditioning back in the rooms.

Another nightly ritual was waiting for the Daily News truck, which arrived between 9:30 and 10:00 a.m. Without a doubt the Brooklyn Dodgers were the number one topic. Also, on Beach 35 Street we were introduced to two very new and popular advances. An electronics store showed off an early TV and the movie house on the boardwalk proudly showed that they had air conditioning. No, not the old time movie, but a regular theatre on Beach 34 Street behind the boardwalk.

Regarding the beach, we had ropes and buoys in the water. On Beach 34, 44 and 54 there were very clean bathrooms with uniformed attendants. One would not dare change their bathing suits or bring glass containers into the bathrooms. There was also a first aid station in the lifeguard house.

Finally, let me recall the war and its effects on the community. The boardwalk reflected the mood. It was very dark. The other bulbs were completely painted black; the inner bulb was half black (towards the water). The Coast Guard patrolled the beach every night. Civilians were strictly forbidden to walk the beach after hours. I recall finding C or K rations on the beach, parts of uniforms, broken binoculars and bones. By far the most numerous items were condoms. One could look out at the horizon and see a string of lights as troop ships were on their way to Europe.

The summer of 1949 was our last year in the rooming house with Mr. Daitch. And it was the end of an age of innocence.

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