I grew up in New York City, spent a lot of time on the streets. This was during the war, World War II - me a small kid really, 9 years old at the end of the war. Yeah, there was a park nearby, Corporal O’Conner, and we’d go there, but mostly it was the streets where we hung out.
At night sometimes we’d hear the sirens, turn out the lights or pull down the dark shades. an air raid warning test. The air raid wardens would go out on the streets to make sure nobody had house lights on, things like that.
We played stickball, roller hockey, punchball, hopscotch, hide-and-seek, stoop ball, and knock rummy on the streets and sidewalks, girls and boys. And when things like Halloween came around we had a pretty good idea of what we could get away with. Halloween eve was goosey night, when we threw eggs and other stuff, after ringing door bells. Stones at street lights. Running like hell. Everybody knew who did it. This was in Bayside West, the rougher and poorer part, working class, pretty close to the other neighborhoods though of what would you would call the middle class. Most of the narrow homes had no driveways. I lived in the upstairs of a two family house, three rooms - my grandfather and grandmother slept in one, the place’s real bedroom; my brother, mother and I slept in the other, the living room. Then we shared a small kitchen and bathroom. Next door lived Joe the garbageman, tall, lanky, funny. He always had a good word for me.
Hard to have things, keep things though, our place was so small. Downstairs the landlord didn’t like noise either. So it was the streets I hung out in.
We also knew a lot about the war, we kids. You’d go to school even in third grade and the teacher would open the Daily News, NY’s picture newspaper, during current events part of class -- yeah, we had current events in third grade under the progressive education system that was in place at the time. The newspaper’s main stories usually focused on the war -- atrocities, campaigns, photos of soldiers and sailors and marines and airmen in combat, explosions, air battles, all the stuff -- this was our TV.
Then, you could walk down a street sometimes and there, in some house’s window, would be another little war flag. If it had a purple heart, that would mean someone in that house had been wounded in the war. If it had a gold star, that would mean someone in that house had been killed in combat - sailor, soldier, marine, airman. We’d see that now and then, even across the street, or two doors down ...