Our Environment: “A Bronx Tale” By Scott Turner

Sunday, March 03, 2019

 

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Entrance to Apartment Building Grand Avenue, Bronx, NY PHOTO:Karen Wargo

Way back in 1963, I was five years old and feral. Our eight-member family lived in a three-bedroom, third-floor apartment in a west Bronx walk-up.

My mother was busy having and tending to kids, while also caring for her mom, who was dying of cancer. My dad spoke through fists and insults. I didn’t like being his prey, plus I was curious. So, I often simply left the apartment to roam.

We lived at 2305 Grand Avenue, with Evelyn Place to the south and North Street to the north. I was a wanderer, but one thing my mother told me was not to go around the corner onto Evelyn Place.

“Stay on the front stoop,” was her mantra. Indeed, it was a great spot—the cool marble of those steps—to watch the comings and goings. Yet one warm afternoon, I motored off to Evelyn Place.

Each block in our neighborhood possessed a personality. My mother was raised in the same apartment in which I grew up. For decades, Evelyn Place was a stronghold of families that wanted nothing to do with people who were different from them, even if you lived just around the corner

I got about 50 feet down Evelyn Place before one of its denizens, a kid about my age, pedaled his tricycle over me.

I can still recall smacking the pavement face first, entangling my arms in the tire spokes and getting dragged, my face, arms and legs bloodied.

Moreover, I recall looking up, as a now-gathered gaggle of kids laughed at me, while a trio of their parents watched. None helped. Two of those parents had grown up with my mom.

Two weeks ago, for the first time since I moved from what was left of the neighborhood, following the 1977 blackout, I strolled from 2305 Grand Avenue onto Evelyn Place, walking hand-in-hand with my wife, Karen.

We headed west one block to Aqueduct Avenue, which we crossed, and then climbed a wide staircase set into the hillside of Aqueduct Walk, a linear park built atop the path of the Old Croton Aqueduct, which provided clean water to a booming New York between 1842 and 1958.

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Apartment Building on Grand Ave, PHOTO: Karen Wargo

When I was a little boy, we called the Aqueduct Walk, “The Acky.” In those days, I usually reached the Acky via North Street, which was a relatively safe side street compared to Evelyn Place.

As a child, the Acky was where I first discovered nature—from the acorns that descended in fall from the pin oaks and the “itchy” balls, which dropped every winter from the London plane trees. Given the Acky stretched for several blocks north and south, you could stroll off into new neighborhoods and conjure up all sorts of explorer adventures in the process.

Of course, danger was always near. Once, for example, five boys jumped me, dragged me down the park slope, stopping at a point where my head hung over a stonewall terminus. The boys held me down, peering at me like doctors examining a patient.

In shame and frustration, I spit up at them, but the laws of physics were in my attackers’ favor. They spit back, splattering my mug, their warm spew rolling off my brow and cheeks.

Caught like a rodent and defiled, the boys suddenly let me go. I slid off the wall, landing on my head on the overgrown cobblestone three-feet below.

Now, with Karen, I saw that the oak and plane trees were still there. They were bigger in trunk and crown, impressive sentinels of the old path. I said hello to the trees, as we strolled the lane.

Interestingly, we found the backyards of the apartment buildings that bordered the park’s ridge rich in feral cats. A feline seemed to step out from behind each battered and rusted gas grill, washing machine or other large item scattered about these spaces.

We walked north two blocks to 184th Street, exiting down the slope via another set of stairs. When I told my mother about the visit, she asked me if the shrubs were still beside the steps. Yes, I responded, and we recalled how the city planted those bushes in the early 1970s, and they immediately became hiding places for muggers and worse.

That afternoon, Evelyn Place was quiet. Only a couple of people ambled by on the Aqueduct Walk. There was a calm and tranquility to the sojourn.

My childhood was like a long-running game of kick the can, and I was the can. In some way during that February stroll in the west Bronx, I felt that a few of my broken pieces were put back together—that somehow that day I turned a corner, feeling much more at home within myself and in the old neighborhood.

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Scott Turner is a Providence-based writer and communications professional. For more than a decade he wrote for the Providence Journal and we welcome him to GoLocalProv.com. 

 
 

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