As a child I lived in a tenement building at 548 Fox Street, near Southern Boulevard in the South Bronx, with my younger brothers and parents. School wasn't far away-- PS 25, at 811 E. 149th Street. My mom walked us to school in the morning, and I looked forward to learning something new each day. Among the teachers I remember were Mrs. Feldman, Miss Miller, and the Principal of the school, Mr. Abramson. I painted a turkey in tempera paint that remained on the door of the kindergarden room until someone tore it off; when my classmates had trouble reading I supplied them with the answers; I knew I wanted to be a paleontologist and could spell it too. Reading at a fifth grade level in first grade meant that I transitioned to the second grade mid year.
My teachers recognized and responded to my skill in reading, having me read on the school PA system, and later, I participated in a radio program. Someone, perhaps the Principal, arranged for me to meet the Governor of Puerto Rico, Luis Munoz Marin. I remember shaking his hand outside on the steps of the school and marveled at meeting him. It was my mother who taught me to read at the age of two, using newspapers. She did not speak Spanish at home, instead we spoke English, out of fear of discrimination. This also had the advantage of privacy with my dad and adult family members who spoke Spanish.
Mr. Abramson invited me to his office to ask about classes and talk about books. He served Educator cookies, a truncated pyramidal shortbread cookie dipped in chocolate. At the end of fifth grade, before we moved to Hollis, Queens, he gave me a book, Stories from Japan, with a dedication that he signed in blue fountain pen. I still have it. The buildings with their concrete stoops (most of the wrought iron decorations were collected in WW2 metal scrap drives), white soapstone stairs with middles that dipped from years of use, black and white tiled floors, four doors to a landing, five floors to the building. Built about 1900, all of the buildings on my block and through the area were burned for insurance in the 1980s and so, no longer exist. The blocks of flats were replaced by smaller duplex homes in the late 1990s.
We were among the families that left the downward economic spiral of Mott Haven and Longwood neighborhoods for the outer boroughs in the late 1960s and 1970s. The Bronx I remember, I realize is a Bronx of postwar World War 2 and the Korean War, served by family of my parent's generation, here and on Puerto Rico. Education, as provided by the teachers of New York City also shaped these experiences. The school is still there.
It's so helpful to get a glimpse of how life in the Bronx was lived from a first person perspective. Obviously you were a great student but you had teachers who recognized that. The Governor or Puerto Rico? How cool!!
I love the way you include so many descriptive details in your stories. I think that's such an important thing to consider as we tell our legacy stories. Plus, our memories are connected to our senses; so these smells, sounds, sights, etc. bring back even more details of the people, places, and events of our lives. Great story!