The front of our apartment building faced Prospect Avenue. A beautifully tended, U-shaped entranceway led to an even more attractive lobby. When I was little, both doubled as our playgrounds.
Definition of a Bronx playground: any open space where children can cause havoc, including sidewalks or the gutter (a road specifically on which cars can travel). A space where imagination reigned, not swing sets, slides, monkey bars or grass. A space for such games as hit the curb, stickball, potsie, jump rope, Spalding rubber balls, pick up sticks and jacks.
Around the corner, in the back of our building, past the entrance to the superintendent’s apartment, was yet another U-shaped playground out of sight of our nosey yenta (gossiper) Mrs. Goldberg. Of course playing back there meant we had to watch out for the dripping laundry hung with clothespins on a rope pulley strung from apartment windows.
All the apartments boasted beautiful terraces.
These terraces were multifunctional structures. There were those apartment dwellers who found their cucumbers turned into delicious pickles when cured on the terrace. Others found that the terraces had the perfect combination of sun and shade to grow beautiful plants.
Some used them as extra refrigeration or as a place to cool baked goods. And still others found them a peaceful place to sit and smoke (yes, everyone was still really into that oh-so-healthy habit) alone.
Full disclosure: Some Bronxites might refer to our terraces as fire escapes.
I don’t ever recall actually seeing anyone running down the steps of the terrace, a.k.a. fire escape, because of a fire.
My cousins Barbara and Frannie lived in the apartment directly below us. Among us five girls — my two sisters, Maggie and Joycie, and myself, plus our cousins — we created more uses for those terraces than any of today’s billionaire millennial entrepreneurs could have imagined.
Proof of our creativity:
Break down a large cardboard box and place it on the base of the terrace. Voila! A perfect place to color, do homework, create puppet plays, play board games, or just get away from the parents and out of the apartment for a breath of fresh air.
Need a quiet place to read or tell secrets? Simply place pillows on the steps leading to the floor above.
The Air Bed
Remove the mattress from the bed. Place on the terrace. Relax and enjoy.
The five of us often shared our precious items, including secret notes, by simply placing them in the box or pail that was attached to a long rope. You guessed it! We created our own dumbwaiter with a pulley system.
I would reveal more, but I’d best be thoughtful, given the public arena I chose to share my nostalgia. Suffice to say, we were too young, too naïve and too afraid of our parents to do anything illegal or immoral. Immature? Probably. Did we have fun? Absolutely!
I feel compelled to share my great sadness with you. Whereas many neighborhoods in the Bronx were gentrified, my childhood home was not. Mine was replaced with the Cross-Bronx Expressway, as were my elementary and junior high schools.
I am blessed to have my cousins and sisters available to share these treasured memories.
Shaindle wishes to thank Margorino for her extraordinary editing abilities.