The Barracks

by Ralph J. Chin


My earliest recollection of life in Newark, New Jersey was in what I called the Army barracks. These barracks were located inside of Weequahic Park on the east side near Haynes Avenue and Dayton Street. I think the houses were all painted the same color, a drab gray with a green trim but I’m not entirely sure since it’s been over sixty years. Why I can remember these kinds of things remains a puzzle to me but I offer it up for your reading consumption since this past doesn’t really matter to anyone except me. I was led to believe that a lot of ex-service people occupied these barracks because they were cheap housing for the postwar crowd of service veterans and their families. I always thought that we lived there because Dad was in the Navy during World War II. I don’t know if this was true or not but that’s how it I remembered it.

Since I was not in school yet, I was probably about 4 years old and the year was 1953. I couldn’t tell you much about the interior of the house we lived in except that it was small and my room was in the back of the house. We lived on a corner and around this corner up the street on a hill were some friends of my Mom and Dad. We often celebrated the summer holidays up there with them but neither my sister nor I can remember their names now. Almost all the barrack houses were identical to the house that my family lived in but there were a few variations in the houses across the street. Some were much larger than ours and they were probably for the higher ranking officers at the time, one can only imagine. The entire street was a city block long and it looked like Hollywood movies set with its perfect repetition of houses and landscaping. I knew one of the families that lived in one the bigger homes across the street because I use to play with their kids. The boy was younger than me but the girl was about my age and every time we would run somewhere in the course of our play activities she would fall and scrape her knees. She kept falling and one day I asked her Mother why she always fell. She never answered me but my Mom told me that the little girl had polio, a disease that paralyzed your legs and could even kill you. Luckily polio is extinct now days but I stopped going over there because I didn’t want her to get hurt while she was playing with me or for me to catch this dreaded disease of polio!

A fence isolated the park from the outside world but there were entrances at certain points to allow the cars to flow in and out of the park. Where we lived though there wasn’t any entrances and so we were essentially isolated from the outside world in this corner of the park. I used to watch the cars going by from our side of the fence and it was like watching a different world altogether. Across Dayton Street I could see the Weston Electrical Instrument building on the corner of Haynes Avenue and Dayton Street. Weston made electrical meters among many other things for the budding electronics industry in America. They were one of the better companies in the United States that was doing this type of work and it was due in part by the ownership of the company by Ed Weston. He held numerous American patents and was greatly respected in the electronics field. The history books say that he had passed away by the time we lived in these barracks but the company was still in business. My Aunt Ruth used to work there and soldered the fine wires that were attached to the meter movements that went into the Weston panel meters. In my mind, I can still see her rubbing her eyes from the strain of looking through a magnifying glass all day long!

There was a thick patch of trees along the fence and I would often play amongst them believing that I was Davy Crockett in the wild!! This fantasy was complete with a coon skin hat and toy rifle. On the opposite end of our barracks lined street was an open field with a hill on it that rose to about 10 feet above the street level. I would climb the hill and wave to the passing airplanes as they took off from Newark airport that was less than 15 minutes away by car. I swear to this day that some of the pilots actually tipped their wings to me as they passed! Of course they were all propeller driven planes back then and they flew very low to the ground upon takeoff. So low, that I could sometimes see one of the pilots looking at me through his cockpit window. I would fly my paper kite on the hill and was afraid that the passing planes would hit my kite! It never happened though, no matter how long I made my kite string! Later on in life I came back to this site that once held this little community of barracks but there was nothing left of them. They had even torn up the tar road and there was nothing left but an open field. It seemed strange that something that was so real at one time could be entirely obliterated to a point where there was nothing left to tell you if your memories were real.

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