It never fails to amaze me when I think back to the early days of my life and remember some of the things that we kids accepted as normal without so much as giving them a second thought. I suppose that’s only natural for kids though. Unless the adults around a youngster happen to make a comment about something, whatever a youngster sees is just accepted as “the way things are.”
Like many of the kids in my Staten Island neighborhood I was born at the very depths of the Great Depression, and yet I can tell you something that may surprise you. We were about as happy as kids get.
So what if no one had two nickels to rub together? So what if we had to wear hand-me-downs? So what if only one kid in the neighborhood had a bike? It didn’t bother us. Why not? Because that was just the way things were.
However, it’s not the Depression I’d like to talk about. It’s some of the crazy things I saw as a youngster that seemed normal at the time, but sure as heck wouldn’t seem normal to us today. A lot of those things had to do with how apartment dwellings were built in those days, so let’s start there.
Our two-family apartment building looked like an ordinary two story, peak roofed, frame construction house, but it was quite different if you looked at it closely. The address is 53 Brook Street, Staten Island, so you can check the next couple of comments on Google Maps if you like.
Consider the space between our house and the one to its left, number 55. They’re so close to each other that the roofs are within a foot or so of touching. So what? Well, how many windows you think there are on the walls between those two houses? That’s right, none!
Whoever heard of a nice little frame house with no windows at all on one side, upstairs and down? I’ll tell you who! A lot of people on Staten Island when I was a kid!
It’s quite common for front entryways into a little two-family apartment house to have two doors into the downstairs apartment, but guess where one of those two doors opened into in our house? Ever entered anyone’s house through the bathroom?
Okay-y-y-y. Let’s suppose we welcomed you in through the other door. Great! Now you were in the living room. But what if you wanted to get to the bathroom? No problem, just walk through the master bedroom, the second bedroom, and the kitchen, and there you are!
Forget the strolling through bedrooms stuff. There was a two-foot high by three-foot wide, unglazed and uncurtained window near the ceiling in the wall between the master bedroom and the bathroom! Ugh!
Think that’s something? Listen to this! Our street lay at the base of a hill. Higher up the hill, Corson Avenue paralleled it. Suppose you wanted to go down to Brook Street from up there? That would mean quite a long walk; down Corson Avenue to Westervelt Avenue, down Westervelt to Brook Street, and up Brook Street to wherever you were headed.
But wait! Look! There’s a nice set of stairs running down from Corson Avenue right into the Garrett’s backyard! Let’s use that instead!
And yes, as I grew up my idea of what was “normal” went through some very large changes. Wouldn’t yours have?