Wednesday, January 16, 2013

Summers on Sander Street: Cooling on the Stoop

The side porch at 2606 Sander Street.  Circa 1950.  From Left:  Linda, Phyllis, Me, Donna

The 1950s in our neck of the concrete jungle, summers were spent on the front stoop if you didn’t have a front porch. Our house on Sander Street had a long, narrow side porch which just couldn't ever be called a stoop. The front edge of the old wood porch, on the sidewalk, is where the kitchen chairs were placed in a semi-circle. It was a daily and nightly “bring your own kitchen chair” affair. We kids sat on the curb, or on the end of the porch, our version of the stoop, which I always claimed so I could be close to the chairs and hear what the adults talked about.

Aunt Vera, Uncle Norb, Linda, and Terry
That where I learned about the Great Depression and the various ways poor people survived, the wars fought, the one in Korea still being fought and how my Uncle Frank was doing in that war, the plans for the bomb the Russians planned to drop on us, the monstrous floods my people lived through, the best president the United States ever had whose name was Franklin Delano Roosevelt and how he pulled our country out of the mud, favorite movie stars and who they were divorcing and marrying, and last but not least what was going on with the rest of the Dean family.

Maybe I always knew I’d write all this stuff down.

Temperatures went up early on summer days in the city, unless it rained and then we’d get up and out in our bathing suits to dance in the street. After we tired of exercising, we’d crouch in the gutters and build dams with paper wrappers, bags, twisted cigarette wrappers, whatever was available.

On rainless days, we still got up earlier than most kids today on summer vacation from school. As soon as the temps climbed  toward the 80s, it was time to get outside. And we stayed outside most all day. Houses were just too hot. Plus we didn’t have daytime television most of those years. The boob tube was still new.

After lunch, Aunt Vera and Mom would drag their chairs and Pepsi Colas out to the sidewalk to cool off and exchange gossip, call out and wave to other stay-at-home moms, which most all of the women on our street were, and just relax until time to go inside and start dinner.

Mid-afternoons, the music-box tune of the ice cream truck would sound from the next street, and there began the high tension of getting your money ready and waiting in front of the house, already knowing who you would share your popsicle with. Occasionally our moms had enough cash to let us buy a fudgesicle or creamsicle that didn’t have to be shared, or my favorite, the Eskimo pie.

Sometimes Aunt Vera sent me to the little neighborhood store around the corner for a pack of her favorite Pall Mall cigarettes. Usually she’d give me enough money that I’d have a penny or two in change for some candy. Our store was one of those with a long glass showcase filled with candy priced at a penny, or two for a penny. One of our big pastimes back then was standing with our noses to the glass with a penny in our sweaty fists. The choice was deadly serious. It was everything. You never knew when you’d get another penny.

In the evenings, when dinner was finished and cleaned up, the chairs went out on the stoop again, and the grownups would drink beer or Pepsi Colas, smoke, and laugh and tell stories.

While the other kids played, I lurked in the shadows listening and watching. One of the reasons why I remember stories that I write now.

Maybe I always thought this day would come.

Occasionally Grandma walked down from McMillan Street for a visit. Some of the neighbors dropped by. A couple of times, I remember a priest from St. George walking down the block to visit. When we saw the priests at school and at mass in the mornings, they were serious figures. Hearing them laugh outside on our sidewalk while our dads drank beer was just plain strange.

By this time, television at night offered some good shows, and if you had a decent fan in a window, you might be able to turn the volume up over the noise of the fan and enjoy I Love Lucy, Milton Berle, or the Honeymooners with Jackie Gleason.

I loved nights outside on Sander Street. If I sat quietly on the stoop and listened, not reminding anyone I was still there, I’d hear the stories and learn what the grownups cared about, thought about, and hoped for.

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