Sonny and Kike have been friends since they were children growing up on Gay Street in Rockland seventy years ago. The Buzz asked, What was it like?
They had to work for their money, both said. They went “bottling,” mowed lawns, shoveled snow, and did chores for local businesses, such as Rockland Poultry down on Sea Street and the canneries. The bottling was for beer bottles that were reused by the beer places down at Willow Street. Sonny also worked for his father repairing old furniture in their shop on Knowlton Street, and selling it to antique dealers like Rubenstein, learning a trade that has supported him all his life.
“Sonny” and “Kike” are nicknames that have stuck with them from early childhood. Kike got his from his reputation for saving his pennies. Later in life he discovered that some people thought it was a slur. He was always proud of it, he says, “I like Jews, why would I think it was bad?”
Kike came from a big family, but he had a patron in the neighborhood, old Annie Hahn who had a house and field where Wasses and the parking lot are now. She gave Kike money sometimes, and when he was around thirteen she bought him an old car that he and the other kids drove around her field. Did Sonny have neighborhood supporters too? Yes, neighbors always helped neighbors, he says.
Sonny used to climb up inside the old lime kilns down on the shore and get pigeons for his coop. “I’m lucky I didn’t get killed,” he says. Lots of kids, and adults, kept pigeons. Sonny also got domesticated pigeons, “Rollers and Tumblers and Argentinians,” as commission for selling garden seeds. He would pick up the pigeons at the railroad station.
The money they earned at bottling, mowing, etc. they spent on the movies, and on candy and toys. They had only what they earned, and Kike’s occasional gifts from Annie Hahn. The movies at the Park Theater, where RiteAid is now, cost twelve cents. One of them would buy a ticket and then go through to the back door and let the other kids in.
They used to go smelting “out behind Glovers,” where the new footbridge crosses the outlet of Lindsey Brook into the harbor. They would put four or five hooks on the line, baited with worms or clams. They took the smelts home, fried and ate them.
They got around the city on foot, and on bikes, walking and riding across yards and fields with impunity. “Nobody said anything.”
They enjoyed this freedom when walking to school. The elementary school was less than a quarter mile away, on Warren Street where the Kiwanis Park is now. Middle school was the same distance in the other direction, at the McLain School, and high school was next door to that.
There were playing fields for kids up at Community Park on Broadway, where the North School was later built. There were bleachers for spectators, and in winter a skating rink with a warming hut. Next to the park, where the Eliza Steele housing development is now, Hughie Little had a big two-story hen barn where the kids sometimes worked.
Times have changed. What is it like to be growing up in Rockland today? Have things improved for our children, or not?
This Wednesday, from 5 to 6 pm on WRFR’s Rockland Metro show, we will be discussing growing up in Rockland, then and now. Calls will be taken at 593-0013.