The following guest post was written by Susan Smalls and edited by yours truly. Ms. Smalls is a life-long New Yorker, a graduate of the City University of New York, a gifted individual, and a devoutly religious person.
I grew up in Queens County, one of the five boroughs of New York City. When I grew up, the area code was still the classic “212” or the newer “718” for every house and apartment. Cell phones did not exist and beepers came in the late 80s. On the streets, all you had were payphones for use at ten cents a call. Welcome, my friends, to the way things used to be when I was growing up.
We frequented the shopping meccas that are 125th, 34th, 14th, and Delancey Streets in Manhattan; 3rd Avenue and Fordham Road in the Bronx; and Junction Boulevard, Jamaica Avenue, and Main Street in Queens. We wore designer clothes from stores that no longer exist or barely hang on, with names like Alexander’s, Sears, May’s, Gimbles, Korvette, Macy’s, Woolworth, and more. Our parents went to those stores, bought what they could, and we wore what they brought us or we worked to get those things they didn’t.
Oh, the prices in those days! $1.50 heroes (that’s a sub, grinder, or hoagie to out-of-towners) with salt, pepper, oil, and vinegar with a 25-cent can of soda on the side. There was nothing like a dirty-water dog with mustard (the water’s normally salty, never dirty), relish, and a knish with mustard! The tastes were unbeatable, tell me you agree! 😁
A dollar got you a bag of chips—a real bag, not 99% air and 1% chip pieces—the brand-name snack cake of your choice, a soft drink, gum or a pack of sunflower seeds, and don’t forget the penny candies! And if you had $5, the food world was yours for the taking! You could get a slice (a pizza slice for non-NYers) for $1 or $1.50 if you wanted extra cheese or pepperoni. A Jamaican beef patty with coco bread went for $2, while an order of chicken wings and french fries would cost just half the kingly sum in your possession. And to further entice customers to spend their hard-earned cash, six chicken wings were normally added to the mix!
School was mandatory and the cool teachers made it fun. We watched our mouths around our elders as best we could because everyone knew you and who your parents were. When you got home, you took your bookbag off, did your homework as soon as you walked in, then you ran outside. We played handball, paddleball, stickball, punchball, manhunt, tag, freeze tag, dodgeball, basketball, football, skelzies, kickball, and my favorite, hopscotch. We were in the streets all afternoon. Staying in the house was a punishment! In the summer, we opened nearby fire hydrants and in the winter we had snowball fights.
TV was everything at night, especially on Friday nights, while cartoons ruled Saturday mornings. We watched Charlie’s Angels, The Six Million Dollar Man, The Bionic Woman, Dallas, Scooby-Doo, Speed Racer, Gigantor, School House Rock, and Magilla Gorilla. Those were our shows for our time! And we didn’t need tv remotes—we were the tv remotes!
And there were more special things, of course. The internet came around, but it didn’t register with us until AOL and AIM came arrived. When it did, then it was a go… with 17 different screen names! 🤣🤣 Bored? Ha! We rode anywhere in the city by train, bus, or cab. Your block stoop or your building hallway was legendary in the whole neighborhood. WE WEREN’T AFRAID OF ANYTHING! We played until the street lights came on or if you had a curfew.
Those were my wonderful younger days. I loved my childhood! I hope this gives today’s kids some understanding of how we grew up!
❤️❤️❤️***Good Times*** ❤️❤️❤️
Thank you, Susan! It’s nice to see that I’m not alone in relaying memories of a youth spent in Queens. Susan grew up miles away from my home, and we only met one another in the late eighties. To see my take on the part of Queens I lived in, feel free to click here and here. Our youth lives on… if only in our minds. 😄😄😄
All the best,