Mount Vernon on a Clear Cold Winter Day
Richard J. Garfunkel
February 19, 2006
Saturday I played in my regular tennis game in the bubble over the municipal courts at Memorial Field. I had been playing there for a number of years now as our game meandered down from the courts at Harbor Island, Mamaroneck. It was a cold, dark, and dank day, and though I thought I would take some photos of my old home town, a snow squall erupted with a sudden sense of ferocity and it convinced me that discretion was the better part of valor and I would therefore head home.
Today, I played in Yonkers, and though the day was still pretty chilly the light and air was pristine. Since I had thoughts about looking for some fabric in Mount Vernon I decided to take a drive around my old haunts.
After getting back to Tuckahoe Road, I found the New York State Thruway south entrance and in short order I was exiting at Mile Square Road and Central Avenue and heading east on the Cross County Parkway to Mount Vernon’s first exit at Fleetwood Avenue. Once off the parkway I headed over to W. Grand, North Terrace and North High Streets. I had never been on N. High Street and I had remembered that my friend Mike Rosenblum mentioned that it was near his boyhood home. I also knew that I would like to find the old Charles Nichols Junior High School. I had never really had seen Nichols except from the AB Davis’s ball field. I found Nichols easily and was pretty amazed on how impressive it was as a building. Funny that I had never seen it before with all the times I had been in and around Davis and Gramatan Avenue. After taking a few pictures I headed over to West Lincoln and onto Gramatan Avenue.
The City of Mount Vernon is rebuilding the old circle that sat upon the intersection of Gramatan and Lincoln. Once called the MacArthur Circle, it featured a large statue of a soldier from the Spanish-American War. It’s really an incredible engineering effort. There had been a circle there when we went to high school in the early 1960’s and there is evidence of it in an old post card I have showing Hartley Park and the Columbus School. I ventured over to the Columbus School, built in 1908, and took pictures of the now re-located monument and the unfinished work on the new circle.
In 1994 I had photographed the monument when it was in its then new location on the grounds of Hartley Park. Of course then, across the street from that corner of the park, was a little shopping area where the locally famous Knopf’s Delicatessen had once existed. In fact, after Mr. Knopf died, and his deli counter men Fred and Ted decided to retire, our old 1963 classmate Mike Viggiano took it over. Well not only is Knopf’s gone, but the whole row of stores burned down a few years ago. The wrecker’s ball has reduced the remains to a pile of rubble. Oh how I can still remember those great roast beef wedges inundated with coleslaw and smothered with Russian dressing for 75 cents. I can still conjure up their taste.
I wanted next to go over to Prospect Avenue and my old homestead, so facing south on Gramatan, I drove to Sidney, made a left and headed over to Archer Avenue where I made a right turn. Mount Vernon is a city of one-way streets. Archer was a good cut through to Prospect and since I knew someone who lived on Archer I was happy to go down that old street and take some pictures. Its always fun passing old homes and expecting someone you once knew to pop out and say hello. No such luck today.
Once on Prospect I drove up and down its sloping curves to my old red brick home at number 500. I lived there from 1945 until about 1966, when my parents moved out while I was in college. I never really had a chance to say a proper goodbye. When I came home they were gone and many memories were carted away by the Salvation Army trucks. But I’ve been back on that street, countless times. So it was up and down Sycamore, where I took some more pictures, of the Perleman, O’Hara and Bromley homes, and then I made may way across Lincoln to Sheridan and down to the old Traphagen Junior High School. The old school was replaced by a section of the Cross County Parkway and a new school was erected many years ago at the foot of old Ehrbar and Ellwood Avenues. I drove into the old parking lot and then parked on where our old “no-longer there” basketball courts used to be located. The old retaining wall was still there holding up the backyards of the houses that faced Sheridan. The fence on the top of the wall and the shrubs are still there that used to screen off the noise and the continuous basketball action that dominated that little square macadam for decades. I was there many times with the likes of John van Bargen, Bob Trupin, Make Ansbro, Ken Ackerman, Richie Shapiro, Jack Bromley, Warren Adis, Bobby Danetz, Charlie Columbus, Cary Fields, Barry Berkule, Mal Gissen, Ronnie Rothstein, Mickey Fuchs, and many others. There were some great games as the heyday of Jewish Mount Vernon basketball disappeared from view. There are only now ghostly shadows of a youth that has been lived and the noiseless echoes of times past.
But of course the contingents from AB Davis High School never produced the countless stars like the McCray and Williams Brothers, Earl Tatum, Bill Pleas, and the newest sensation Ben Gordon.
Well another day of memories passed into the portals of history. As Thomas Wolfe said, “You Can’t Go Home Again.” ‘Tis true, it is never really the same. The streets, houses and trees sort of look the familiar. They age a bit differently, but, all in all, it’s the people that come and go that really count. What is life really to us but people? There was loneliness in my car. It was the stark reality that time has passed and that the events of life won’t be repeated. We pass through once, and as we do we come into contact with all sorts of people and happenstance. But like my many trips back to the memories of times past a short drive home brought me back to the reality of today.