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What Wuz It Like Back Then On StatNisland George Jaenicke grjaenicke Some Childhood Memories

I was born in Richmond Memorial Hospital in 1946. We lived in Eltingville in a large two-story house on Richmond Avenue. All that was around was woods. And a few dirt roads that had been cut through the area by the WPA in the late 1930’s along with poured concrete sidewalks that were so overgrown with brush, you would never know that they were there unless you looked for them. These dirt roads were Oakdale Street. Sycamore Street, Retford Avenue, Lyndale and Preston Avenues to name a few.

The woods as I remember it was primarily hardwood trees, white oak, black oak, hickory, silver and red Beech and cherry. Our old house was heated with a big central furnace that burned wood or coal, the kitchen had a big cast iron range trimmed in nickel that also burned wood or coal. The furnace would have to be banked at night with sifted coal ashes and re-stoked in the morning with fresh coal to warm the house up before breakfast.

The old cast iron range in the kitchen usually had a wood fire in it , as it came up quicker than coal to heat the water in the hot water tank that stood next to it on the left hand side. My grandmother , (my fathers mother) lived with us and used to bake all the time in the oven on the coal range. I can still smell and taste her orange chiffon sponge cake and apple pies that she used to bake. A pinch of this a dash of that, never a recipe to be had. How she managed to bake these perfect cakes in pies in an oven that had no way of regulating the heat still amazes me.

I can remember carrying out the buckets of ashes from the furnace in the basement and running them through a sifter that looked like a model T car as it had a crank handle that you turned to separate the cinders from the dust. The ash dust was spread in the garden and the cinders were stored and used to bank the fire in the furnace at night. There was always a smell of burning wood in the air, most of the houses in the area burned wood and coal for fuel. My father and I used to cut wood on weekends from spring through fall stocking up for the following winter. No power saws then, just bucksaws and two man saws. Then came the splitting and stacking the fire wood for the next winter. There surely was a lot of truth to that old adage that the wood you cut will warm you twice, as working up a sweat was part of the ritual.

Growing up and playing in the woods is a great memory of my childhood, we built, tree-houses, log cabins and forts in those woods and many pleasant hours were spent in them. Wars were fought and cowboy and Indian battles were a daily occurrence. Small ponds were scattered through the area and we were always ice skating by Thanksgiving.

Then in the late fifties and early sixties the bulldozers came. They knocked down all the trees and filled in all the ponds. Tree-houses, forts and log cabins were demolished too. It was like a bad dream coming true, I can still see my father shaking his head with a tear streaming down his cheek as they knocked down the giant oak tree that stood behind our back yard. That tree had to be almost four feet in diameter. As we watched this happen he told me “George, I was born in this house, right in the kitchen as a matter of fact, and this is like someone just cut off one of my arms.” That was in the fall of 1960, two years later he died.

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