On an early October day in 1964 with the Yankees and Cardinals tied 1-1 midway through Game 3 of the World Series my mom sent me to Peter Reeves on 231st Street to get a jar of mayonnaise so she could make me a tuna fish sandwich. I could also pick up a treat. That would be a Devil Dog. They seemed much bigger back then, wrapped in wax paper, and tasted even better. So, I bounded — 7–year-old boys’ preferred mode of transportation —out of our apartment on the first floor of 3058 Godwin Terrace and headed down the hill past Ehring’s tavern.
There was a wooden sign on the back entrance of Ehring’s reminding all that it had been in business since the very early days of the century. My dad hung out here occasionally after finishing his mail route. He also worked there part time as a waiter and would often bring home a dish of Sauerbraten that was not just any sauerbraten. It was the best I ever had. Been my unmatched standard since.
Ehring’s would be the first place I would experience the utter joy of sipping a mug of ice-cold Beck’s beer from draft in the air-conditioned bar on a hot summer day watching baseball. Sometimes on Sunday after mass Dad would take us to the bar. My brother, Micheal, and my sister, Kathleen, and I, would enjoy small glasses of Coca-Cola or Shirley Temple. Ehring’s version of Shirley Temple was seltzer, cherry juice and a cherry. The sweetness of the beverages made the pretzels keenly salty, which in turn made the coke keenly sweet.
Peter Reeves was the grocery store that occupied the space next to Ehring’s in the same structure. It was managed my Mr. Paige. He was a pleasant old guy. It was a truly convenient store, selling produce, dairy, assorted items and most importantly Drake’s products.
I forget the order of stores descending east down the block from Peter Reeves, but I remember the butcher boy. My mom didn’t shop there. She preferred the one-stop shopping at the Grand Union or A&P around the block on Broadway, but I clearly remember the man we all called the butcher boy. He always wore a blood-stained white apron as he conducted his business in and out of the store. I may have assumed he always dressed like this, and I would not be surprised at all if he wore his blood-stained apron to the movies or birthday parties.
Amazingly just eight or nine store fronts away on the same side of the street west of Godwin Terrace was another butcher shop. And there was one on the northeast corner of Broadway. What a vibrant thriving community to support them and two supermarkets and a grocery store.
Whoever clothed the mannequin in the window of the Army Navy store also dressed me. It’s where I bought my Lee blue jeans, flannel shirts, Keds, Lil Abners, P coats, leather belts, parkas, and snorkel jacket. I remember one snorkel that was my absolute favorite. It was a size too small, but I didn’t care because it was a blue canvas not the shiny polyester that everyone else wore. So, I stuffed myself into this one thinking I looked “boss” disregarding the three-inch gap on my wrists between gloved hand and end of sleeve.
I believe the cleaners was called Phil Marin’s one-hour Martinizing. To this day I have no idea what Martinizing is, but I know what it smells like. A sweet musky chemical odor that wafted from somewhere back behind that endless rollercoaster of suits and shirts and dresses and skirts and blouses that rode the rail to the front when Phil summoned it. If that was his name. He seemed to be a serious man, smoked cigars and lived in the swanky Maxine Flick apartment building across the street from us.
On Saturdays in the winter my brother would give me a couple of bucks and somewhere in between the Bowery boys and college football I ran, no bounded, to Loeser’s Jewish deli to get us four hot dogs with mustard and sauerkraut. The hot dogs were grilled in the window front by one of the Loeser brothers.
I would eventually trade in the sauerkraut for the epicurean delight of coleslaw or potato salad as my preferred topping. This is where I discovered corned beef and pastrami on Rye it was a game changer. I found my go to sandwich. Half and full sour pickles, knishes, Dr. Brown’s sodas.
The greatest German potato salad I ever tasted could be found in the Riverdale delicatessen. A rather large space that made the tasty mystery meat pie, sold slices of S&S cheesecakes, and made great heroes. Eventually I would by my beer and cigarettes there.
Some great neighborhood friends would work there like Robby Walker. Robby was always eager to engage in his joyous laugh. Then there was Steve Lampa who was always eager to make Robby laugh.
On Summer mornings I would rush down to the officially named by evidence of the sign above its door the United Cigar shop to buy the New York Daily News so I could study the sports pages. I’ve since only read the paper backwards. The neighborhood kids knew this establishment as Al & Murray’s. It was our first candy store. There were three others on 231st but the kids on the east side of my block didn’t have to cross the street to get to Al & Murrays.
There was nothing so sweet as the aroma of Columbia florist. In this brick and concrete neighborhood where no one could grow flowers we came here to show our mom’s we loved them, impress our girlfriends, tell our wives they’re special, say goodbye to our dearly departed. No chemist could ever match that mix of floral scent that saturated the senses and was intoxicating. I do believe it is the only establishment that remains today as all the others have changed hands. I understand that though damaged it survived the fire.
With my Devil Dog and jar of mayonnaise secured in its tiny brown bag I rushed back home to watch Mickey Mantle hit a game-winning homerun in the bottom of the ninth. Just like it was supposed to be. Unfortunately, the next day Ken Boyer hit a grand slam to tie up the series at two apiece. The Cardinals would go on to win the series. That wasn’t supposed to happen, but it did and abruptly ended the Yankees golden era.
The recent fire on 231st wasn’t supposed to happen either. But it did. Another golden era abruptly ended. I’m not familiar with the businesses that occupy the building there presently, but I can’t imagine the devastation and turmoil the entrepreneurs feel. Saddened for the new memories the neighborhood kids won’t be making. I’m never one to say life was better “back then.” I’ve learned that the only thing in the universe that is consistent is change and all the establishments from my childhood were long gone before the fire.
What lingers through the filter of so many decades are these sweet little vignettes that at least attest to the reality that I and my siblings were so fortunate that our mom and dad came to the very wise decision to raise their family in the building adjacent and behind the stores of 231st. It was a wonderful time. It was a beautiful place.