The First Ward Part 2

by Angela (DeGennaro) Lucas

My mother, father, brother and I were all born on Garside Street. As did my aunts, uncles, and cousins....all in the same six-family house. We lived on the first block, often called First Garside. My mother was born at father at #43. When they married they moved to #53 then #40 and back to #43, where my mom lived until urban renewal took away her house.

I lived in that six-family house with two grandmothers, aunts, uncles, and cousins until I was married in l958. It was a wonderful way to live...not like today at all! We all ate together on questions....everyone cooked, we sat at the table in Grandma's kitchen all day. Our holiday meals were sumptuous and ended with coffees and homemade goodies and fruits and nuts. Sometimes the kids would even play games between courses. A grand time! Many families lived in these tenements on the block, and together, we were all one big family.

We had everything we needed right on our block....we had our own park, the Little Park, as we called it, as opposed to nearby Branch Brook Park (the Big Park). We would take a picnic lunch and our dolls, spread a blanket down, and stay there until our mothers called our names from a window when it was time to go home. There were grocery stores...Andy Monda's comes to mind. From a small over-the-counter grocery, he was one of the first to open a help-yourself market, much like we have today but on a smaller scale. We had Nick the Tailor, who would allow me to take the Y stick and get my dry cleaned clothes down off the rack, and trusted me, if I couldn't pay right away, to put what I owed him on an index card and file it. We had Gerardo, who started with a truck, selling fruits and vegetables throughout the neighborhood, calling out his wares for the day. Later he would open a storefront.

Megaro's Funeral Home, and Mattia's Chicken Market, Gennarino's, where we bought a 5 cent coke in a bottle and penny candy on the way back to school after lunch. Joe the Barber, George the Barber, bars, butchers, clubs, where men played cards and had a drink; even a hatter, Mr. Megaro, who sold jewelry in addition to hats and other goods. When my grandfather DeGennaro came from Italy with his wife, Rafaella, and two children, in 1902 or 1903, he bought the house at 43 Garside St. and opened up a tavern called the Trecolle Club (meaning three peaks), named for a place close to his heart in Italy. Over the doorway was inscribed his full name, Francesco Paolo DeGennaro. Eventually, as their children married, and others moved out, most of his eight children lived there at one time or other.

It was a wonderful way to grow up....with family all around. We never needed baby sitters!!! Everyone helped one another. The street was mostly Italians who came from the same province, Avellino, in Italy. Everyone knew one another and watched out for each other. One memory is of one where everyone would listen to the same station on the radio, like a ballgame or prize-fight, and it resounded throughout the street. One just had to sit by a window to hear the radio. Another form of entertainment was Ferdinando, who would sit on his back porch on a summer evening and belt out a song like he was on the stage at La Scala Opera House!

The street was always busy with peddlers, street cleaners (one man would sweep the trash into a pile and another would scoop it up with a shovel and place it in a wagon drawn by a horse), the rag man, the knife-sharpener, an umbrella man who repaired them, even a man who came around with a parrot who, for a penny or nickel, would pick out with its beak, a piece of folded paper with your fortune on it. On the corner of 6th Avenue and Garside Street, was Andy's brother, Lou Monda, who owned the store with a soda fountain and booths where you could sit and have a sundae or an ice cream soda or sit at the fountain for a Coke. It was the center of our entertainment...he sold comic books (which we called "funny books") candy, magazines, newspapers, soda, and various sundries.

Just below Lou's was our main supply of groceries and fresh cold cuts (some being sliced by hand) When we had unexpected company, my mother would send me here for one dollar's worth of cold cuts that would fill a platter in the 1940's. Fresh fruits and vegetables (I remember a huge stalk of bananas always hanging in the window) and supplies for pickling and jarring foods. Some wares were displayed outside the store on homemade wooden shelves This store was owned by the Zanni's, Lou and Luciette. On a brown paper bag, they could add up the charges for your groceries, no matter how long the columns, as fast as an adding machine. We also had Garside Bakery selling the best Italian Breads for five cents to about a quarter.

We walked everywhere we needed to most of the to Broadway, movies like the Regent or the Embassy, or the 5 & 10's one on Broadway and one on Bloomfield Avenue. Around the other corner on 7th Avenue was Panico's Butcher, Goldstein's Hardware store, our elementary school, McKinley, more grocers and fruits and vegetable and Leo's Dry Goods. You could buy anything from a handkerchief for a penny to pants, shirts, blouses, coats, etc. What a fascinating place! Clothes would be folded neatly in stacks by size and color. Stacks about two or three feet high! Other clothing hung from the ceiling. A customer just went in and said, "I need a blue pair of pants in size 36", and Leo would go to a stack of pants and pull one out. Exactly what he wanted!

Without crossing a street, we also had around the block Nanina's Fish Market and Restaurant. (later to become the famous Nanina's in the Park restaurant). Capetta's Beauty Parlor, more grocers and bakeries. It was a wonderful way to live. No one was rich but you rarely heard of anyone who didn't always have a meal on the table, a nice home and a good family life.

We can never have this kind of life again. It's gone forever. I consider my generation (I'm in my sixties) to have had it all!


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