Forrest Hill

by Jeanette Van Skike

My name is Leonard Fabiano and I lived at 91 Eighth Avenue. Our house was next to the Boy's Club which was at the intersection of Eighth Avenue and High Street. My parents and grandparents came over from Italy, Provincia di Avellino (father), and Puglia, St'Agata (mother). They arrived around 1900 and 1916 respectively with all or part of their family. They settled in "Nevarka" with many relatives and people from their areas of Italy.

Mom and Dad owned the Blue Bird Tavern on Orange Street which was directly across from the Westinghouse factory. My what a crowd came in for lunch! The whole family worked in the kitchen and at the bar; uncle included. When Dad took ill he sold the business but owned the building. This is what the immigrants did in those days. They worked incredibly hard and built up their lives for their family and to serve the neighborhood. I was just a tyke but I do remember "Whitey" worked in the bar for my father. I used to hang around in the back room playing with the cats and kittens.

The First Ward was a vibrant and flourishing place. We all were brought up in a bilingual house and would most likely speak only Italian to the older folks who more often than not preferred not to speak English although the could. My living grandparents refused to learn and speak English....not too uncommon. On the corner across from the Boy's Club was Tung-Sol Electric factory. Across from that corner was Carmela's Luncheonette which my Mom and Dad opened after "Poppa" recuperated from the Veteran's Hospital in the Bronx. Carmella's Luncheonette bustled from 5 AM until 6 PM feeding the local crowd and especially the hoard of people from Tung-Sol. At lunch time the entire counter was three and four deep yelling out orders to Mom and Pop and my sisters and other help. Poppanonno and Mammnonna were always busy in the kitchen preparing vegetables, meats, gravy (sauce) and keeping the hot grill full of freshly made food.

Across the street from Carmela's was Clara's. Clara's was also a luncheonette and soda fountain and was open pretty late at night for the neighborhood. Down the street was, I think Andy's, home made lemon ice. The best that I ever tasted in my life. Was this place crowded in the summer!

At the corner of Eighth Avenue and Summer Avenue was Agresti's food market. What a great place to buy Italian staples! Young Bobby Agresti became a prominent dentist and built a house and office on Clifton Avenue. On the opposite corner was the Victoria Castle where my oldest sister had her wedding reception....very regal at the time. Joe DiMaggio, Frank Sinatra and many Mafiosi dined there. Further down the street was the CYO. What a great place to watch TV and Milton Berle on Tuesday nights with a large neighborhood crowd.

There used to be a soapbox derby every year down Sheffield Avenue. The street had quite a slope and the cars came rolling down past Eighth Avenue toward St. Lucy's Church. And how about the feast of St. Gerard every October. As a kid I really loved it with toys and great food. This past October, 2002, my wife and I went to the feast. Well, all has changed dramatically but the great thing was that I did meet many old friends from the area and Barringer High School. Ahh, Barringer High School....when I went there it was the third oldest high school still standing in the United States. It was great! Essentially in the Branch Brook Park. We would go and eat our lunch in the park and enjoy life. Then they knocked the school down and built a new building right in the park. Well...that got trashed in pretty short order! We'd walk down 6th Avenue from Barringer toward Garside Street to one of the food markets and buy a huge sandwich full of Italian cold cuts and tomatoes for 25 cents and have a food feast every day. We couldn't eat that "midigan" food in the cafeteria!!!! NO WAY.

Lastly...the Boy's Club. That was the greatest place to spend your time learning a lot and mostly all kept "in-line" by big Mike Adubato who was the managing director. He was a wonderful man who instilled all of the best qualities in his kids as any parent could entrust their children to. He had two sons, Steven and Michael. Today I see a young Steven Adubato on TV. He hosts a very interesting TV show and I truly struck it rich one day when I tuned into his show and saw him interviewing his father Steve. The elder Steve has made, as did his father, quite a fine contribution to Newark and still does today. I must mention one other person who was an inspiration to the kids and he worked for big Mike and that was Danny Paternoster. He was an outstanding artist and musician and he too left his positive mark on a lot of us kids. These two people deserve a place in heaven for what they did.

I went off to college out of state and returned to Newark for only a short period but the memories and the lessons learned from the people of Newark will be with me all of my life.

One of my very first memories as a child was the end of WWII. There used to be a factory on Verona Avenue near Mt. Prospect called Heller Bros. They had a fire there and as people did then, we all went to watch. As we were watching, police cars and other city vehicles started announcing that the war was over. There was a bar on the corner and a few people went in to verify the news. When everyone found out it was true everybody started to cheer and hug and cry. I remember it because in the confusion I got separated from my mother and became lost. Not to worry though I got picked up and hugged and kissed, and since everyone more or less knew each other I was returned home safe and sound. It was really another time and place compared to today.

I also remember going to the Kent movies where for a quarter you could see two movies, five cartoons and maybe win a prize. If you were fortunate to have an extra dime you could go to Liss's drug store and get three boxes of candy. I remember my Dad taking us to Belleville Park and having to walk up two hills which seemed huge to the playground. In the summer, they had a sprinkler and we all got cooled off. They also had arts and crafts in the morning and story time in the afternoon. On the way back to the car, we would roll down those two big hills which was great fun.

I remember going to Weber's hardware store and the smell of all the paint and various products blended together. I used to buy paper dolls at the 5 and 10 cent store on Mt. Prospect, and my sneakers at Minz's next to the movie.

We used to watch the fireworks on the 4th of July from the roof of our apartment building and could see in four directions. In those days, it was great to be a city kid and unlike my children and some of the kids of today, I never complained about not having anything to do in the summertime. I could go on and on but I have to get back to work.


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