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 #40....my 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 holidays....no
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
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 time....like 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!