In the 2+ years MyYonkers.org has been kicking around, it really has grown from something that only a handful of my friends knew about to what I always envisioned it becoming. A place where a community of people can share a common affection for and memory of, the city that so many of our lives have past thru or still reside in, Yonkers, New York.
Recently, I got the desire to share a few more things about myself on here, since my daily readership is larger than ever and since so many of you have shared pieces of your own lives in the various comment streams.
So with that, this is the first in a series of posts on here that will highlight various parts of my life and times in Yonkers and where else can one begin than with the place where it all began, My Home in MyYonkers…
It’s no surprise to many of you by now that my Yonkers roots were planted on the southeast side of town, an area not really designated by a cool neighborhood name such as Dunwoodie, Hillcrest, Ludlow or Bryn Mawr, but even still, an area vital to the city and bustling 24/7 with activity.
Growing up at 1304 Midland Ave., the address itself was always a misnomer, considering the hundreds of times I heard my father tell the delivery boy that the apartment building is, “on Kimball” and he was right.
Midland Ave. does some strange things in this area, like making an abrupt right turn at the intersection of Kimball Ave. and the Cross County Parkway and for reasons beyond my understanding, Kimball Ave is the street that continues toward Sarah Lawrence while Midland makes another left turn, this time heading west toward the Thruway.
I guess when they built that dam parkway, Midland Ave. was rerouted like my Dad’s arteries during his triple bypass surgery and hence the twists, turns and misnomers.
1304, 1300 and 1296, all with Midland Ave. addresses are part of what is now a Co-Op complex of apartment buildings, built post WWII on a tract of land that used to belong to only one family believe it or not and now thousands reside on the same parcel of acreage.
Growing up here in the 80s and 90s, the neighborhood really did not change all that much and the most apparent changes occurred within the apartment buildings themselves, while the city of Yonkers expanded and plodded along through time.
I’ll start with the lawn that separates building 1300 and my building, 1304. This lawn served as the arena of innumerable afternoons of playing sports, picking grass, playing tag, sledding in the winter, watching the clouds pass by in the summer, football in the fall and baseball in the springtime.
There were an army of kids that donned the freshly cut blades of grass year-round year after year and you would never know by looking at the place today as much of the activity on the great lawn has grinned to a halt, thanks to management prohibiting playing on the lawn and a profound change in the demographics of tenants who reside at the Kimberly Co-Ops.
Still, looking back, I couldn’t even ballpark the amount of hours I spent here and as it goes with most fond childhood memories, the time slipped through our fingers and before we knew it, we all began to grow facial hair, drive cars and find new horizons and lawns, far away from our childhood stomping ground.
Another really cool feature about the lawn is that it was built, as with the rest of the complex and immediate area, on a hill so that in the wintertime, you could bet to see dozens and I mean dozens of kids with their sleds, racing down the hill until we had worn and packed the snow down to just an icy and treacherous layer.
My parents, never being ones to be on the cutting edge of anything other than Cable TV and Microwave ovens, never bought me my own sled. So, I was forced to use a sled that would have been appropriate perhaps in the 1960’s, the old and reliable wooden sleigh where you lay down on your stomach, hoping to steer clear of hazards and other kids and saying a little prayer in the process.
Do you remember the scene in National Lampoon’s Christmas Vacation where Clark W. Grisworld flies down the snowy hill on a sled he modified with an ultra-slick surface application? That was basically me as my wooden and iron sled always seemed to go 3 times as fast and 3 times as far as the plastic (modern) ones and yes, I was 3 times as likely to end up here…crashing down the stairs of the entrance way to 1300. Bruised and battered, I triumphantly would make my way back up the icy hill for round 2, or 10, or 100…the resiliency of youth!
The hill also made for some great hiding places during our mammoth, marathon games of manhunt that we would play pretty much year-round. Nothing was off-limits and it’s amazing looking back how long we would be willing to literally sit inside of a tree or bush.
I mean we’re talking like an hour or more, just sitting there, cramping up, all in the name of invisibility.
I cannot tell you how many times everyone else would be caught and we would all shout the “all clear” signal, basically saying “hey we give up, come out come out where ever you are” and invariably myself or others would emerge, literally within 50 ft of where everyone else was standing, unbeknownst that the entire time, we were simply sitting right there among the skunks, squirrels and other rabid varmints.
Another place I spent much of my time was on the other side of my Apt building, in the parking lots, playing our modified version of stickball.
In our version, we used a tennis ball instead of the blue ball, there were no bases and the bat we used was something of an innovation.
Official “league” rules stipulated that you had to use a wiffle-ball bat, that then was covered in no more than two rolls of black electrical tape, giving the bat some pop and allowing for majestically hit home runs, off the 4th, 5th or whatever floor.
Various distances of your shot denoted whether you got a double, triple or home run. The field was of course narrow and when we had a full game, we usually played a 4 on 4 or 5 on 5. We carved out a strike zone with our keys on the white walls, threw curveballs and had a blast…the only issue would be that, as many of you probably can tell…Sigh…it was…a PARKING LOT!!!
If this doesn’t reek of teenage hijinks I don’t know what does. Balls would clank off of car windows, car fenders, car anything really and alarms would go off, we would run, the game would be called on account of the Grey BMW car alarm in spot 41 and we would escape to play another day…which usually was tomorrow.
Oh…and I forgot to mention, when it wasn’t cars we were clanking the tennis balls off of, it was, even worse, apartment windows because again, even though in our minds it was Yankee Stadium, in reality it was a parking lot of an apartment complex.
I’m happy to report however that no windows were ever broken as after all, they were just tennis balls and while many of us had some really hard shots hit over the years, no real damage was ever made. I still hold the record for the only roof shot ever hit that stayed fair, even though it was contested right at the moment I hit it and I still get crap for it to this day. Suffice it to say, I will take that record and distinction to my grave.
Still though, we made the most out of our surroundings and while the parking lot was more so built for righties than leftiies ( poor Brian ), it served its purpose and we all had fun, at least I did.
Sure the ball invariably went over the fence that you see on the right side of the picture and we had to hop the fence or walk around to Fox Ave. to retrieve our ball, but so what? Like we had better things to do? Any childhood devoid of hopping a fence to retrieve a ball is a sheltered one in my opinion.
Another area of interest and time well spent was in the bench area of the apartment complex, built in the late 80s as an alternative place for the old people by day and the youth by night to loiter around in, since management saw the loitering in the main hallways of the building as a growing problem.
It kind of was getting a bit out of hand at one point as many of the older residents would pretty much be in the lobby by 10am and just sit there as if they were at the VFW or Knights of Columbus until the mailman arrived, for them, the highlight of their day.
Looking back though, I can still smell the pipes and cigars of the older crowd and always appreciated their “hello’s” as I would scurry by them, trying to gasp for a breath of fresh air from all the smoke and not wanting to be late to the game on the lawn.
“The benches” as the area would be known as never really took off and over time, the older crowd dispersed to nearby Cross County Center and beyond.
The kids of the neighborhood however used it as a place to hang out, get in some make out time, a place of general inebriation to put it mildly and in 1997, I left my permanent mark here as did many of us through the years. To this day, you can still go visit the benches and you’ll see a history of the kids of the neighborhood, carved out in the wood by our own house keys.
The complex does become quite beautiful during various times of the year, like in spring, where many of the plants flower and really blossom. Kuddos to the landscapers and Apt management who always seemed to keep up with the manicuring of the grounds, whether for our benefit so that our field was ready to go for the big game or the more likely reason so that the complex remained an attractive place to move into and raise a family.
I think that no matter how much time passes, I will always be a kid at heart when on the Kimberly Co-Op property, it transforms me and takes me back to being a kid and I am sure it is the same for many others as well. Like that scene from the movie Field of Dreams where crossing the rocks that divided the field from Ray’s house transformed you to another place and time, the same holds true here.
For example, I stumbled upon a convex mirror in the parking lot, placed there so that drivers can see what lay beyond the blind corner of the lot. I thought it was a fun opportunity to, well, be a kid.
It’s reassuring to know that simple things like reflective surfaces can fill the hours for me as an adult.
Growing up in the shadow of Cross County and within a stones throw of my elementary school, three major parkways, three excellent parks and an array of other neighborhood landmarks, I consider myself the luckiest kid in the world sometimes looking back on the things I did have.
Sometimes, it’s easier to look at what we did not have growing up, the vacations we never went on, the camps we never attended, the material things we longed for but never got.
It’s a slippery slope looking through the lens of time and for me, it’s much more palatable to entertain thoughts of endless afternoons, summer nights and circles of friends versus other experiences that were just as real, but left much to be desired.
It’s obvious that I love my hometown and just as much so, I love the apartment building that was my childhood home. Sadly in 2010, my Dad finally moved out after nearly 30 years and moved to Arizona.
Luckily for me, in 2011, before they sold off the unit, management let me tour my old apartment one last time, having recently been renovated and all spiffed up for the future tenant of A-41.
On the surface, the place was unrecognizable.
Newly waxed wood floors replaced the gritty, stained wood floors I had come to know. Newly painted walls covered up the nicotine stains, the dirt and the etchings of time that my family had left behind.
New cabinets, new doors, new lighting, new appliances, new windows, new everything…
I realized in that surreal moment of time that I was seeing the future and also the past. A rare glimpse into both worlds and one that I will never forget as long as I live. Sure I was eulogizing my childhood home in many ways, saying my goodbyes and looking out our 4th floor windows for the final time.
Also however, I realized that I got to see what my parents saw back in 1981, the beginning, the start, a pristine place where they would raise a family and live a life.
I was standing at the end of what they could never have envisioned in the 30-year span of time that would ensue. Perhaps that’s the quintessential role of children, to finish what our parents started, to be the one’s who will turn out the lights, lock the doors and finalize the projects, hopes, dreams and in this case, home.
Standing at the bookend of a lifetime of memories, I proudly shut the door to our home one last time as I had so many times as a kid and as my parents did on their first day in the apartment 30 years ago. Proud of who I was, where I came from and closing one of my most beloved chapters in my life, forever.