Posted: June 15, 2020 | |
I was the type of child who sat at the table with all the adults, while the other children went out to play. I sat there, intently listening to all of the old stories about growing up in East Harlem. What joy I got out of of those wondrous stories! It seemed like such a magical place! A place where people were loving, friendly, giving, and united. A community of like minds, and life experiences. How I wished that I could have been born- back in the day- when my dad was a boy, growing up in “the old neighborhood.” Never once did he, nor his siblings ever complain about the tight housing conditions that they lived in. If anything, they always said how much they missed those “good old days” when they were free of worry, and spent all day outside playing with their friends, and selling fruits and vegetables on their father’s pushcart.
My dad’s family was a large family of 9 people, 7 children and 2 adults, living in a small tenement apartment. My dad’s grandmother, Teresa, owned 2 tenements, one next to the other. They lived at 346 E. 110th, directly across from the HUGE Consolidated Gas Company’s twin gas tanks! The tanks had a capacity of 5 million cubic feet-when full! These tanks supplied the upper portion of New York City, as far south as 79th Street. If they had exploded, I might not be here writing this article. (Lol)
Never once did I hear my dad complain about those gigantic gas tanks stealing the sunshine from their apartment! It really didn’t bother them, as they were used to them being there. I never heard him complain about the noise or the smells from the gas tanks. Surprisingly, he told me that mothers would often walk by the gas tanks, with their sick children, to try to alleviate their respiratory ailments- as the steam had some beneficial effects. Can you imagine? There they were, strolling babies and toddlers in strollers, hoping to receive some health relief for them! Also, my dad shared a personal story about his mischievous ways, and how he would sneak onto the gas company’s property, and climb the ladder to the top of the framing of the gas tank. One day, a company watchman, spotted him at the top of the ladder. He begged and pleaded with my dad to climb back down, and promised not to get him in any trouble. He kept his word. The man was relieved, and happy that my dad made it down without falling, as there were incidents in the past where children fell to their deaths, while trying to climb to the top. The top height, around the top rim of the skeletal framing, loomed at approximated 120 feet! That’s about 12 stories! My dad was just a kid, probably about 9 or 10 years old. Just another neighborhood kid, trying to make the best out of his urban “concrete jungle” environs. The year was circa 1934. What fun, right?