Tuesday, April 22, 2014


Growing up in Brooklyn, especially on Chauncey Street, we didn’t know there were people with anything more than we had. When we had holes in our shoes, we patched them with linoleum, the floor covering of the time. If our socks had a hole in them, we sewed them. (0nly to cause a blister.) We didn’t have sun block. There was a lot of sunburn. When we went to Coney Island, we didn’t have coolers to pack our sandwiches in. We used cardboard suitcases instead, and we didn’t get sick. Cold cut sandwiches tasted toasted when left in the sun for a while.

Flotation water toys were air mattresses left over from World War II. Those lucky enough to own one had to blow it up manually, but what fun we had.

We swam in the water at Coney Island, under the Belt Parkway bridges at Bergen Beach, or at Gerritsen Beach, all in Brooklyn. We did learn to swim, without the aid of swimming lessons. One time my brother, Bill, dove off one of the pilings of the bridge at Bergen Beach. My mother, who would not exaggerate, said: “Billy was swimming when he was three and diving when he was four.”

Home in Mill Basin c. 1935. Upper left - Mom with Billy, Mary, and Jimmy;
Lower right - Dad; Right - Billy.
My parents had a bungalow in Mill Basin when Billy was three, and my mother would tie him to a tree in the front yard to keep him home. A passerby objected to this treatment of a child. My mother’s response was: “Would you rather that he drown down the street?”

© 2013, Patricia Aronica

Tuesday, April 15, 2014

REMEMBERING CHAUNCEY STREET 5.The Catholic Faith by Pat Aronica

This anecdote is not intended to be educational, but to make you aware of the significance of our Catholic faith. 

Mom (front left) with her family in 1917.
Mom's mother died the following year.
My mother, Aunt Dot, Uncle Fred, and Uncle Gil were left motherless by the Spanish flu epidemic. Mary Elizabeth Fitzgerald Merrill was taken away from her husband and children in 1918. My mother was only seven, and Aunt Dot was not much older. Some of the aunts and uncles that aided our grandfather, “Pup”, in raising his children were Protestants. Nonetheless, Mom and Aunt Dot stayed true to their Catholic faith.

Unless you attended Mass with my mother or Aunt Dot, you would never understand the devotion and love of the faith these two sisters had. I was not more than 5 or 6 when I realized the importance of the Consecration of the bread and wine into the Body and Blood of our Lord. You just had to look into the face of my mother, and you too would believe.

Sometimes my mother would go the earliest Mass (6:30 or 7:00 am) because she didn’t have shoes and had to go in slippers. Most of the time she would say the first up was the best dressed. We had to wear hats to church. As the attendees at the first service came home, the next group going to church would take the hats off the first group. I would be safe in saying that a particular hat may have attended three Masses on any given Sunday.

Me (Patsy) and Mary, c. 1945
Many a night I would observe my mother on her knees saying her prayers next to her bed. Should anyone dare to say a “bad” word in the presence of my mother, my father would throw them bodily from the house. I can safely say that I never witnessed my parents say anything unkind to each other.

Dad and Mom, c. 1955
My father was a convert. He was raised a Lutheran and converted to Catholicism during the early years of their marriage. He didn’t always attend Sunday Mass. It was well understood, however, that we would attend.

Sundays were always special. Dinner was cooked and prepared to the sounds of my mother’s Irish records. Mom and Dad cooked and prepared the meal like a well-organized ballet. The bar and grills didn’t open until the last Mass was let out, and many of their friends would drop by to see what was on our table. One very special friend of my father’s would very often reach over us and pick up a piece of roast, just to hold him over ‘til his own meal was prepared at home. That was Joe Hagen. Many Sundays were standing room only in our dining room.

My father was a choir member in his early days, and he had a good singing voice. I don’t know what happened to that talent, as I don’t think any of my siblings, like my mother, can carry a note. I can still hear my father singing “I’ll take you home again Kathleen”, or “Mary was a grand old name”, or “Peg of my heart.” I think that is why I have a daughter called Kathleen and a baby called Peggy.

© 2013, Patricia Aronica

Tuesday, April 8, 2014


Back row - Jimmy, Dad, and Billy; Front row - Dotsy, Mary, and Freddy. c 1941
Sometime just after the war, my father was injured at work. The middle finger of his left hand was cut off just above the first knuckle. As a result, the union settled financially with my father for the injury, and my parents were able to buy a new living room set. Prior to this, the living room housed an iron bed with a feather bed mattress. That is where my brother, Fred, slept. I don’t remember a couch at that time, but there must have been some sort of place to sit. I was still sleeping in the girls’ room in an iron crib. When the new furniture arrived, out (to the Junkies) went the iron bed, mattress and all. Out went the crib, and out went the stuff I can’t remember. In came a new couch and two easy chairs. Freddy got to move onto the couch to sleep, and I moved from the crib to the two easy chairs pushed together, to make a bed.

Back row - Mary, Jimmy, and Billy; Middle row - friend of
family, Freddy, me (Patsy); Front - friend of family. c. 1947.

After a bit, my oldest brother, Jimmy, went into the army and was sent to Korea. 

This left his position in the bunk beds unoccupied. Freddy moved from the couch into a bunk bed. I moved from the easy chairs to the couch. This was a good arrangement for me. My parents’ bedroom was maybe ten feet away from the couch, and during scary nights, their snoring was very comforting.

© 2013, Patricia Aronica

Tuesday, April 1, 2014

REMEMBERING CHAUNCEY STREET 3.Felder’s Bar and Grill by Pat Aronica

Felder’s Bar and Grill was in Brooklyn, on Howard Ave., between Chauncey St. and Bainbridge St.  The last time I was in that neighborhood was the summer of 2002 or 2003. The curtains in the window looked the same as the ones back in the 1950s. Felder’s Bar and Grill was just across the street and around the corner from where we lived. It was a place for the local parents to “hang-out” and have a beer or two after dinner or on the weekends. Although the owner of the establishment was of German decent, most of the patrons were Irish. Irish music was always being played.  A television was installed (1952 or 1953), and the men would watch the ballgames.

My brothers and sisters were older than me, and they were off with their social and married lives. This left me at home or “around the corner” with my parents. If Felder’s was crowded, I would sit at a table on the side and have all the soda I wanted. If it was not too crowded, I got to sit at the bar with my father and mother. Mom could not sing very well but she knew all the words to all the Irish songs. She would say the words and let the singers sing. It was pretty funny.

© 2013, Patricia Aronica

Tuesday, March 25, 2014

REMEMBERING CHAUNCEY STREET 2.Kitchen Appliances by Pat Aronica

On Chauncey Street, we graduated from an icebox to a refrigerator in the dining room.
My parents were married for twenty five (25) years before they owned an electric toaster.  I remember the way we used to make toast. My mother had a wire rack that she placed on the gas burner of the stove. She placed the bread on the wire rack where it would get warm and finally toast on the one side. Then Mom turned the bread over to toast the other side.

To whip cream, my mother had a beater which she manually turned and turned. It took a lot of elbow grease to whip the cream until it was soft, fluffy, and formed perfect white peaks.

The used grease and lard didn’t go to waste. We sold it to the local butcher who used it to make soap for the American troops fighting overseas in World War II.

The original stove we had was the same as the stoves in the other units. It was porcelain clad iron. The color was cream and green. It was “T” shaped in appearance. This stove was upgraded when I was about seven or so, and the way it was done is quite interesting.

A few of the local men were self-employed as junkies, also known as junkmen. They had horse drawn wagons with a cow bell attached to a string, rope, or cord. The sound of the cow bell alerted the housewives to their presence the neighborhood. The junkies took anything that was being discarded, e.g. old bed springs, copper tubing, cardboard, newspapers, appliances, etc. They would sell these items to men in the scrap metal trade, earning money to support their families. Nothing went to waste. After a rain, the junkies sometimes would soak the cardboard in the puddles to increase its weight, thus earning a few extra pennies.

One of these junkies was John Eagan. John was married to my father’s best friend’s sister, Irene Hagen. Low and behold, John acquired this somewhat modern day gas range (stove) for $10. And so, from John, my mother got a new stove, the price of which was very important.

My mother later received the sum of $10 from Mr. Silver, our landlord, on the day we moved from Brooklyn to Queens. (1953.)


My parents were married on St. Patrick's Day, making it a particularly special holiday for them.
My parents celebrated their 25th wedding anniversary on March 17th (Patty’s Day), 1952. That day, my brothers and sisters gave them an anniversary party at Felder’s Bar and Grill. My father couldn’t attend.  He had to work overtime that night, and overtime never was turned down, no matter what.
At the party, my parents received their first electric toaster (Toastmaster), their first electric mixer (Mixmaster) which looked like today’s Kitchen Aid, their first electric steam iron, plus other odds and ends. 
© 2013, Patricia Aronica

Tuesday, March 18, 2014


I am writing these anecdotes for all my children and grandchildren, and especially for Billy who asked how people kept things cold before there were refrigerators.  

My earliest memory of iceboxes is of the white porcelain, two door affair we had on Chauncey Street in Brooklyn, New York. Most of my earliest memories were formed there, at 324 Chauncey Street. The top level of the ice box, where many subsequent refrigerators have the freezer compartment, is where the blocks of ice went. The bottom compartment was where items such as milk, butter, meat, etc. were stored. Under the icebox was a pan to catch the melting ice. It had to be emptied daily. The iceman came around in a horse drawn wagon, and a few years later he arrived in a motorized truck. He came a couple of times a week in the summer and maybe once a week in the winter. The amount of ice delivered depended on the amount of money our mother had on hand for such a luxury. For a quarter (25 cents), she could buy enough ice to last a day or two or three. In the summer months, we might need an entire block of ice, which as I remember, measured 24 inches by 12 inches by maybe another 12 inches.

In the winter, especially around Thanksgiving and Christmas, our mothers would put many of the perishable items on the outside windowsill or on the fire escape in order to keep them cool. (Not everyone was lucky enough to have a fire escape.) 

During the summer months, the iceman would chip away the desired amount of ice for a housewife, sometimes leaving behind some mouth size chips when he delivered an order. These chips would never go to waste, as there was always a kid in need of a piece of ice to suck on. 

Around 1950, my parents finally were financially able to buy a refrigerator. It was powered by gas, and the brand was Serval. It was too big for the kitchen. We kept our refrigerator in the dining room. I remember that it always was filled with plenty of milk and food. My father had a good job as a “sheet metal mechanic” with Union #28. He took a great deal of pride in bringing his pay home to my mother each week.

© 2013, Patricia Aronica

Tuesday, March 11, 2014

Remembering Chauncey Street

It has been over a year since I created a blog post, and I am still suffering from writer's block. Rather than leaving this blog dormant any longer, I am pursuing a wonderful alternative which presented itself at a family reunion this past summer.

I was reunited with my cousin, Patsy, who has written a poignant series of stories about her childhood, living on Chauncey Street in Brooklyn, New York. I was enthralled by the incite that these stories provide into the lives of those who I knew so well and yet so little. I look forward to sharing with you Remembering Chauncey Street by Patricia Aronica. On Tuesday, for the next 15 weeks, I will post on this blog, each of the anecdotes written by Patsy about her life on Chauncey Street from the middle 1940s through the 1950s.

Photo of many of my cousins who gathered in Andover, NH for a family reunion in July 2013. Many others, who were unavailable when this picture was taken, were at the reunion. Photo by Karin Huber.

© 2014, Cathy H Paris