CHRISTMAS IN BAY RIDGE

I have no intention to Dylan Thomas you, or even Greg Lake you, with this particular page. I decided, after a recent tour of the Brooklyn Army Terminal on the waterfront, to have lunch at a longtime favorite spot and then walk through Bay Ridge to the N train at 8th avenue and 62nd Street, just for the exercise. The sun came out and, seeing the Bay Ridge collection of Christmas decorations, much more lavish than those in Little Neck (apparently a group of Scrooges out here), I was not exactly seized, but affected, by some nostalgia. A deadly condition.

 

When I lived in Bay Ridge for my first 35 years, I appreciated the neighborhood, especially when my time there was coming to an end. I had a number of favorite streets such as 76th between 5th and 6th Avenues, shown here. My favorite blocks were characterized by groups of attached buildings divided into apartments with either rounded or squared-off bays in the front. These allowed the occupants a view up and down the street.

The owners of this building have tricked it out generously with Christmas decorations. I used to visit the lavish displays in midtown Manhattan  and in nearby Dyker Heights, where the neighbors compete with each other about how big an electric bill they can run up, and I have previously written about the Garabedian house in Pelham Gardens, Bronx, the ultimate resolution of the Liberacization of Christmas.

Those displays now, though, remind me of an unlimited wealth that I now figure I won’t be seeing much of, so I tend to avoid them these days in favor of more modest Christmas decor.

This house, incidentally, features an electrically-powered  gaslight in front of it, as do a number of houses on the block. There are still hundreds of these around town, but only a pair of original poles that carries gaslights on public streets.

 

My childhood has by now receded far below the horizon and out of sight, but I still remember snatches here and there, not all of them about what gifts I received. In my childhood home it was my father, mother, maternal grandmother and me. Most years, a shipment of oranges would come in from my mother’s relatives in California. Christmas cards from my California relatives always referred to my grandmother as “Doc.” I have always remembered this, yet have never discovered why the nickname was bestowed. My grandmother passed away in 1977, and I have lost touch with my mother’s side of the family since then. This, I suppose, is the “Rosebud” of my existence, with the difference being that others know what “Doc” meant, but not me.

 

One of the fondest memories of Christmas for me was the silver aluminum tree with a color wheel we used in the 1960s. We were all fascinated with the colors and would commonly turn off the other lamps in the room and stare at it with wonder. I was a nearsighted foureyes as early as age seven, and I would take off my glasses and get a fascinating image of colors blurring and blending. Such trees are still available from the specialty websites, and I intend to get another one of those trees one of these years.

 

At my grade school, St. Anselm, the chief joy for me around Christmas time was vacation away from it, but us kids would all get a plastic see-through candy cane filled with M&Ms or somesuch as a gift. Most of the J-shaped part of the canes were red plastic, but very occasionally, there would be a white version, and I tried mightily year after year to get one of the white ones. Just because it was different.

 

Gosh, Santa is the fat man in the red suit, but this is Bouncing Boy fat. This guy isn’t getting down a chimney anytime soon. 

Our house had, I think, one of the first color televisions in the building and one of the first in the neighborhood.  Our new Zenith was unveiled, literally, on Christmas Day 1966, a banner year (we had had half a foot of snow the previous day, making it look a lot like Christmas). For days, what I thought was the old black and white Philco was covered behind a canvas covering, and my inquiries were met with various obfuscations.

One old Calvin & Hobbes cartoon has Calvin’s Dad stating that the world turned color in 1966. For me that was the very truth, as a previously drab TV world became magical. Who knew that Jeannie’s harem girl outfit was pink, or that the guys in the red shirts got killed on Star Trek?

In the early days of color TV, constant adjustment of the knobs was necessary from channel to channel, unless you were OK with Jeannie having a green face. There was the same trouble with vertical hold and snow that there had been with the old Philco, and every so often, Mr. Linn, the local TV repairman, would have to be summoned with his case full of tubes to replace one that had blown out. Years later, when I had gotten my own place, I purchased one of Mr. Linn’s old refrigerators, and there was the spectacle of me, my landlord and Mr. Linn, who was 80 by then, pushing the fridge up 4 flights of steps. I took the by then 16-year-old Zenith with me as well, but when the picture started zapping in and out, I suspected a fire danger and finally retired it. The replacement set was appropriated by the local youth for community use a few years later.

My place was a railroad flat at 7th Avenue and 73rd Street. I spent 8 years there and even though the place was horribly drafty, I could see the Verrazano Bridge out the back room window in the winter and the Williamsburg Bank tower (now One Hanson Place) from the roof, where I was allowed to go.

This place was on the cusp of Bay Ridge and Dyker Heights. I could get groceries from both 5th Avenue and Fort Hamilton Parkway. I loved the place and mourned when I was asked out because the landlord wanted my apartment for his daughter; I could have stayed and fought for it, I suppose, but I’m not into these kind of battles.

Unfortunately it wasn’t till I moved out in 1990 that this Christmas specialty shop set up at 7th and Ovington Avenues. My parents and I would often frequent similar shops near our old 6th Avenue home. This place even has  homemade, or “artisanal” pies as a side business. When I was on 73rd Street I still kept a small vinyl tree with some of the original tinfoil decorations salvaged from the old man’s place. In fact, I still have that tree and the decorations, but they stay in the closet these days. I do plug in a string of Christmas lights around the window; I leave them up all year and they’re ready for me when Christmas comes.

 

I am feeling a great level of fondness for that 1980s era. I had my own place for the first time, and I was working nights in a type shop from 5 PM to 3AM, and later 7 PM to 5 AM. I am very regimented and prefer a daily schedule. I felt quite grounded in the job. The shop, Photo-Lettering, had a Christmas party only the first year I was there, 1982, but later saved money by skipping it. As a rule, though,  I have skipped Christmas parties most years at other places I’ve been, if I can get away with it, because I haven’t felt that I was an indispensable part of the workplaces I’ve been and it was sort of a phony thing for me to celebrate with management.

 

I’ll leave you with one more memory.

I had my choice of what train to take when coming home from work in the predawn hours to 73rd Street. I could take the N to 62nd Street and walk about 10 blocks from there, or I could take the R to Bay Ridge Avenue and walk about 7 blocks from there.

When I took the N train I would walk across the pedestrian bridge over the Gowanus Expressway at 72nd Street, and if you look over the expressway to the south, the beetling hulk of the Veterans Hospital on Poly Place rises in the distance. We would bundle up old magazines and send them over for the veterans recuperating there during the Vietnam War.

At Christmas time, I could cross that pedestrian bridge, see that the hospital, as usual, had hung on its great bulk an array of red lights in the form of a Christmas tree, and I knew I was getting close to home in Bay Ridge.

And what a home it was!

12/16/14

 

 

 

 

 


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20 Responses to CHRISTMAS IN BAY RIDGE

  1. Walt Gosden says:

    Kevin, thanks for your memories, wonderful to read, and sparked memories of my own family and Christmas time of my youth, also as a single child.

  2. Todd Lefkowitz says:

    Great writing, Kevin

  3. Jeff B. says:

    Hi Kevin –

    Thanks for the trip back to the 60s. I can relate to the Color TV – we got our first color set, a 19″ RCA Portable in Nov or Dec 1966 (or was it 65). RCA called it a portable because they put a fold out handle into the wood grain sheet metal sides. It took my father and uncle, one on each handle, to carry it from the car to the house. That set must have weighed over 100 pounds, but, it was a portable. We also got a new rooftop antenna. The tint stayed a little better than yours between channels, but not always between shows on the same channel. Vertical hold also went frequently, Al Selnick was our TV Repairman. Then the set got the green flickers – it was almost like watching a TV with a light green strobe. Mr. Selnick said it needed a new picture tube. My father said we’ll get used to it. And we did. It was green longer than it was normal; I think that set lasted until 1973.

    Anyway, is “Liberacization” what you were going for? Thought it was a new vocabulary word but google only came up with this blog entry and something else in Spanish.

    Thanks for all the hard work you put into Forgotten-NY. Merry Christmas and Happy New Year to you and yours, and FNY’s guest writers.

    – Jeff

  4. Mike in fla via Bklyn says:

    Happy Holidays Kevin!

  5. John P. Simonetti says:

    Kevin: as we are well into the Christmas Season, would it be presumptuous of me to GENTLY suggest that this might be the right time of year to try and reach out to your mom’s side of your family again?

  6. Jill-O says:

    Thanks for sharing a bit of yourself with us Kevin. I have been here reading and looking and commenting for the full 15 years and have always appreciated this site…maybe even more since I moved away from NYC in 2001.

    Happy holidays to you and yours, and may 2015 bring you the perfect professional gig you are looking for!

    -Jill

  7. BobK says:

    Thanks for enriching everybody’s Holiday. May yours be especially blessed.

  8. John says:

    Merry Christmas and Happy New Year Kevin from the kid about your age that spent his first 50 years on the other side of the V-N Bridge. (Now have relocated).

  9. NY2AZ says:

    Merry Christmas, Happy New Year & “Thanks for the memories”.

  10. Bill Tweeddale says:

    Merry Christmas Kevin. I grew up in the Parkville section of Brooklyn (51st St and 20th Ave) in the 50’s – 60’s. Some families that had little front yards would put up a tree and decorate it with painted beer cans. No lights, and anything fancy (as in your photos) would have been stolen for sure. Our folks would take us to the 5-and-10 on 18th Ave to do our gift shopping. On Christmas Eve we’d tune to WPIX, and watch the yule log burning in glorious black-and-white! Some years we had snow, but mostly it was damp and cold. Yet some of my happiest memories were from those times. Anyone looking to relive the nostalgia would do well to get a copy of A Child’s Christmas In Brooklyn, by Frank Crocitto. Good luck in the new year!

  11. chris says:

    Well,I cant say why Little Necks arent into Christmas stuff but maybe its because there are so many recent Chinee in and around the Flushing area and a still a lot of old Bklyn people still living in Bay Ridge who still observe the holiday spirit with their outside decorations.

  12. Bill Tweeddale says:

    As I re-read your reminiscence of Christmas in Brooklyn, it occurred to me that I didn’t know what the “N” or “R” trains were! When I lived there, we had the 4th Ave, West End, Sea Beach, Culver, and Brighton Beach lines. I don’t know when the letter designations became official. Oh well, have a Merry Christmas!

  13. Bill Priester says:

    Great reflections there Kevin as well as pictures. I lived at 524-76th Street, two doors down from the first picture you posted in this article. It was the only house on that side of the block that had a driveway. Was there a few weeks ago with other “ex-pats” of Bay Ridge for lunch at Gino’s on 5th Avenue. Took some pictures on 76th Street. Many changes to the landscape of the “old neighborhood” but still, walking down that residential block it was like time has stood still since I last lived there in 1974. My landlords, the Lawrence’s, had a daughter, Rosina, who also lived in Bay Ridge. She was an actress at the Hal Roach Studio’s in the 1930’s starring in several Our Gang (Little Rascal) episodes as well as co-starring with Laurel and Hardy in Way Out West. Good memories of the area. Thank you for your wonderful work on this website as well as in Face Book.

    Keep up the great work!

    Happy New Year,
    Bill Priester
    Newton, NJ

  14. Steve says:

    The R train running under 4th ave was named RR back in those days.

    I went to school dances at St Anselm in the early ’70s. Remember the local bands “Sneeky Pete” and “Heritage”?

    We had close family friends who lived in a house on 73rd next to that modern public library on Ridge Blvd (2nd ave).

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