His 1950s memories trumped by new ones

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I remember as a kid growing up in Yorkville on the East Side of New York City, when First Avenue was a two-way street. Don't know what year they made it a one-way. Maybe the same year they took down the Third Avenue El. Possibly the late 1950s. Those were two things about Yorkville that have certainly changed in the past 50 years.

St. Stephen of Hungary Church would have a bazaar in the summer; 82nd Street would close down and buses would line the streets and lots of people would congregate at the church for festivities.

There were so many kids on 82nd Street playing all sorts of games that we were designated as up-the-blockers and down-the-blockers. I was an up-the-blocker, as I lived in the very first building on the street.

Mom would buy olive oil from an oil man. I don't know how much he charged, but he schlepped up three flights of stairs to our apartment to deliver oil. Mom would make him a cup of coffee, chat with him a bit and then he would be on his way. He was a jolly old man (not necessarily lively and quick), kind of chubby, and I think his name was Nick.

I remember coming home from school for lunch at 11:45 a.m. every day and watching repeats of "The Restless Gun" starring John Payne, while chucking down a peanut butter and jelly sandwich. I could have gone out to play for 20 minutes or so afterward, but instead, I chose to watch TV. I guess running around after lunch wasn't for me. I had to relax and take it easy. I was "set in my ways," long before the expression was coined.

Speaking of coins, the old Automat on 86th and Third was a place to get food by inserting nickels into a slot and turning a spindle. Then sandwiches would pop out.

There were four movie theaters on 86th Street in the 1950s and I remember getting in to see whatever was playing for a dime; six cents got you a box of hard candy that lasted for about six hours. I wasn't much of a movie buff then -- I'm still not -- but I remember the theaters had air-conditioning! No one had air-conditioning in those days, just the movie theaters.

There were three baseball teams, all of which had Hall of Fame centerfielders -- Willie Mays, Mickey Mantle and the Duke (Snider). How fortunate I was to have grown up in such a fabulous era in baseball. Those players didn't make much money compared to today's stars, but they played their hearts out.

My dad always spoke of the great "Bambino," George Herman Ruth (better known as Babe), like I speak about Bobby Orr.

I played roller hockey as a kid at Carl Schurz Park. One of my greatest thrills was going back to that very roller rink and playing hockey with my two boys. My wife, Maria, and son Todd and I drove in and met our older son, Joe, who had been living nearby after graduating from college, and we skated with some guys. We had a ball. We went back to Joe's apartment, changed our clothes and went out to dinner. I think it was the Christmas of 1997.

Today we still take pictures wearing hockey jerseys every Christmas Eve, and, of course, now little Maxie, my grandson, joins us. How great is that? It's become a tradition.

It's funny how traditions start.

It's more important that they continue.

Joseph J. Messina,

West Hempstead

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