This past weekend I was busy building my
long dreamed about workshop in my new garage when I happened to
uncover some relics from my past. Lo and behold a box full of pencils!
But these weren’t just any pencils because the gold tint told
me what I already knew. I picked one of them out and turned the
pencil over to read the black inscription: Ming’s Restaurant,
248 Lyons Avenue, Newark, New Jersey. My family’s fabled Chinese
restaurant that was once located on the corner of Clinton Place
and Lyons Avenue. At this moment in time, these 50-year-old pencils
served as my own personal time machine back to a specific moment
of my past. I just had to stop my work and sit down to look at them.
Most of them had lost their eraser heads over time but they were
still unsharpened, waiting to go into service. A very few still
had their pink eraser tops on them so when I stopped daydreaming
and got up to continue my work, I sharpened up one of the rare eraser
tops and made a point to use it when I was marking up the wood to
be cut for my work benches. When the day was done, I took the entire
box into the house and went through every single one of them. There
were 50 of them but why waste my time? What the heck, I’m
retired, I got the time!
It’s been awhile since I’ve written to Newark Memories.
In the meantime, Denise, the love of my life and I were busy planning
a move from Longwood, Florida to somewhere up north, preferably
to the states of Massachusetts, Connecticut or New Jersey. Massachusetts
would put us minutes to an hour away from our kids and grandkids.
The second option, Connecticut, would put us about an hour to two
hours away from them. But New Jersey’s attraction, besides
being our home state, was some old friends and lot of family. The
move was a hard task since we had to rely on the internet to do
a preliminary search as well as auto trips to Sturbridge, Massachusetts
where Denise had a nice house which now sat empty but had a huge
mortgage! We wanted to retire but without a mortgage to burden us.
We decided to sell our houses and combine our money to purchase
whatever we could afford. Problem was, we had no idea what our houses
would get on the housing market. To make a long story very short,
we found Massachusetts and Connecticut to be too expensive based
on our estimates of what our houses would get and ended up in Manchester
Township, New Jersey near Toms River and Seaside Heights in a retirement
community built by Pulte, Inc. From there, it was only a four-hour
trip to see our kids and about an hour to see some friends and family
which still lived in New Jersey. In addition, Denise had a lifelong
friend that was only ten minutes away!
So now it’s been two years since we’ve been here and
we’ve gotten to visit some of our old seashore haunts like
Bradley Beach, Seaside Heights boardwalk and last, but not least,
Asbury Park. They’ve all change drastically over the years.
Some, I hardly recognize anymore. We’ve also got to visit
our friends, family and during these trips we usually go north on
the Garden State Parkway passing the Lyons Avenue and Bloomfield
exits numerous times, always promising ourselves that we would visit
our old neighborhoods.
One day, on a whim, after sitting at my desk staring at these
somewhat pristine golden Ming’s pencils, I suggested that
on our return trip that we should get off at the Bloomfield exit
and followed it down to North Newark in the Forest Hills section
to visit Verona Avenue, the street that Denise lived on. When we
got there, everything seemed to be so much smaller then we remember
it when we were courting each other and yet we can still recognize
the houses and buildings that still retained the character of the
neighborhood. Of course, none of our old friends were around having
left long ago to make a living elsewhere in the world. The apartment
house that Denise’s family lived in was recognizable but it
now had a gate to the side entrance where their apartment was located.
There were still four small stores next to the apartment house and
back in the day, one was a liquor store, another was a cleaner’s,
then a butcher shop and finally a luncheonette. Denise could still
imagine all the neighborhood kids gathering around the stores to
play their games of tag or hide and seek after the businesses were
closed for the day. The present-day reality of a daycare business
occupying all four stores may still have little kids playing on
the cement sidewalk in front of it. A small echo from the past.
On another trip, I decided to take the Lyons Avenue exit down
to Newark where it meets Clinton Place and turned left to see my
parent’s old house a block in. I was kind of surprised to
see that the house still standing since it was old when we lived
there in the 1960’s and beyond. I could still see the cellars
windows that, back in the day, had a coal chute attached to them
which guided the coal to the proper wood storage bin when a coal
delivery was made. It was a noisy event to witness but I was fascinated
by the rush of the coal as it filled each bin. Of course, a few
years later, Dad installed an oil burner along with its storage
tank underneath the front sidewalk. There was still a slight rise
in the cement caused by the oil tank and I could plainly see the
oil cap still imbedded in the cement. The driveway where I repaired
my car was still holding its own but the fence that enclosed the
backyard appears to have been taken down. I briefly looked up to
the second-floor glass enclosed porch and imagined myself playing
my guitar with a cool breeze blowing in when I opened the windows
in the summertime. When we went past the building that used to be
Ming’s, I remember my Uncle Charles asking me if I wanted
a box of pencils for my school work. Little did I know that they
would follow me throughout my life and provide a means to construct
my long-desired workshop!