Remembering Maspeth and my years living there always brings about a warm, happy nostalgic feeling. My grandparents bought their house on 58th Avenue in 1929 and my parents (to be) lived across the street from each other. They married in St. Stanislaus R.C. Church. My husband and I also wed in “St. Stan’s” in 1960 and, later, baptized our daughter there. My bridal shower took place in Spartan Restaurant on Grand Avenue, as well as our wedding reception. My brother, Johnny, and I graduated from P.S. 73, as did our parents and some aunts and uncles.
The old stores on Grand Avenue hold many memories. Our mother, Kate, worked in John’s Bargain Store and became the first female manager in the chain store’s history. I can still remember her shopping in Bohacks and pulling the loaded shopping cart home. Maspeth Melody Shop was my favorite store, and I would hurry there each week to buy the latest hit song on the 45 RPM records with my money earned babysitting. My mother won one of the first color TV sets raffled off at Maspeth Melody Shop, which we were given as a wedding present.
When we were in Karl Ehmer’s butcher shop, I would stand at the end of the counter anxiously awaiting that piece of bologna the butcher would give to the children. S.E. Nichols 5 & 10 cent store employed many of us teenage girls. I worked on the Notions counter selling buttons and measuring ribbon for the customers. (Gave a little extra to friends!). The best part of that counter was the delicious potato chips and assorted candy encased at the end, which was weighed and bagged when sold. You would often hear a girl call out “going down for a customer” as she went to get merchandise from the basement stockroom.
One favorite pastime was going to the Maspeth Movie Theater several times a week during summer vacation. The children’s section was on the right side of the theater and monitored by a lady in a white uniform with a flashlight. She was called The Matron and we called her Clarabelle. As teenagers, we would go on Friday nights and receive the dishes and glasses for our hope chests.
The Maspeth Car Barns hold a special place in my heart and I was sorry to see that landmark demolished. My father, Johnny, the redheaded motorman, drove the trolley car on the Ridgewood Flushing line. I would sometimes meet him and get a free trolley ride and, afterwards, go to the car barns with him as he counted all the coins from the metal changer he wore on his belt.
Growing up on 58th Avenue was really special. We had a group of friends on our block and from other blocks that got together just about every day after school and after dinner. To this day, I still keep in touch with four of them. We unfortunately, lost two others who met on our block and were married for 50 years. We were so pleased to have been able to share their special day with them and their family a few years ago.
We played all the street games, rode our bikes, roller skated, plus enjoyed all the games with the pink Spaulding (“Spauldine”) ball: stickball, box ball, stoop ball, etc. After dinner we would sit on the “stoop” and play word games, Truth, Dare or Consequences and others. On rainy days, we would get out the Monopoly game and play for hours. We went to the Queens Roller Rink on Saturdays, skated and danced to the organ music in our (short) skirts. We loved all the 50’s songs and would dance in our yard and house alley for hours.
Other street memories were the trucks and wagons that sold fruits and vegetables to our mothers, as they would congregate in their starched cotton housedresses. There was also the truck with the loud bell that sharpened knives and scissors, and also fixed umbrellas. We had a family on our block with a junkyard behind their house. The “Junkie Man” would take his horse and wagon out each day up and down the streets ringing his cowbell to attract customers and pick up whatever he deemed useful.
It was always a treat when the bells jingled and the Bungalow Bar and Good Humor ice cream trucks came down the block. There was also a large ice cream refrigerator box attached and driven by a guy on a bicycle. Also, we all crowded around the ice truck that brought blocks of ice for our iceboxes. The driver usually gave us kids chunks of ice to chew on. The iceboxes had a container underneath to catch the drippings and the family always had to be home in time to “dump the ice pan” – or else!
Around the corner from 58th Avenue (Maiden Lane/Mazeau Street, I believe) was an old grocery store with a wooden sidewalk called “Cow White’s.” Some foods were sold out of barrels. The grocer would add up the groceries with a pencil on a brown paper bag. Times were not easy then and they would often let a family run a tab and pay at the end of the week. Also, a few blocks away was the smelly chicken market where
you would pick out a bird and have it butchered for dinner.
The plans for the Long Island Expressway seemed like a bad rumor and incomprehensible to all of us but, when it happened, it was really heartbreaking and it split our beloved Maspeth in half. Homes and landmarks were taken away, however, the memories are still there.