North Newark and Weequahic Revisited

by Ralph J. Chin


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!


Email this memory to a friend.
Enter recipient's e-mail: