A district or area with distinctive characteristics is defined as a neighborhood. I would add… “The streets,” where I grew up near 32nd and Devereaux in Detroit, had more distinctive characters than characteristics. How about having kids named Bobby Baloon, Ray Knuff(who walked me to kindergarten at Sill School), Donnie and Rita Morgel lived on the corner, and living next door was Wally and Johnny Nabozny. Gloria and Dorothy Sykes moved in down the street, where we roller skated under the street light. Gloria didn’t stay long, but we would meet up again later… in a different neighborhood. It’s worth mentioning that this will be a totally different story… a very good story at that.
Our street was alive with war games and night patrols, “Hide and Go Seek”, played from the telephone poll on the corner of Devereaux. Who can forget, “Apples, Peaches, Pumpkin Pie, who’s not ready holler I?” There were street showers from fire hydrants, provided by city firemen on hot summer days, when the asphalt was near melting. Visits to Kronks Gym, where (in the nude) we learned to swim, while upstairs, the famous Joe Louis practiced his uppercuts and left jabs. Kronks Gym was, and still is, a truly historic site in the history of the sport of boxing in Detroit.
My cousin Leo and his family, the Bronikowski’s, included my Aunt Vernice and Uncle Tony, his brother Jerry and their sisters Pat and Rosemary. They lived one block up toward McGraw and Warren Avenue. There were two older brothers, Tommy and Ray that were in the Pacific theater serving in the Army. Leo, who was a little older than me by a few months, had a twin brother Leonard that died at birth.
One of my favorite things to do with Leo, you’ll see for obvious reasons, was to go visit his Aunt Minnie. She lived on the next street over behind a Mom and Pop grocery store, which was right across the alley from our house. They had a huge glass cabinet full of candy, sitting just inside the front door. Aunt Minnie always had a few pennies to share when we appeared on her street and then onto her front porch. I hope we weren’t too obvious. I don’t to this day remember what Aunt Minnie looked like… but, I remember how great the pennies looked in our hands as we made our way to the candy store. It wasn’t long after the war that Aunt Minnie moved to Fort Wayne, Indiana. And, I recall in later years, while we were driving down to our summer visits on the farm, as we passed through her city, I wished we could stop and visit… hoping she might still have a few pennies left.
One of the more memorable events I have of my cousin Leo (on 32nd Street), was when his brother Tommy came home from the war. Leo came to get me one day saying… “Wait till you see this, it has blood and everything!” We climbed his front steps and went into what was probably a parlor with a huge piece of furniture sitting against the back wall, what one might call a buffet, with large sets of wooden drawers. Leo pulled open the bottom drawer and there lay a large sword encased in an armored sheath. He lifted it out and pulled on the handle revealing dark purple and red stains on the blade about half way down. Leo then said… “That’s real Jap blood Ronnie!” In those days people weren’t as sensitive to an ethnic slur, we were then enemies after all.
It wasn’t long after that my cousin and his family moved away from 32nd Street. Their new house was located on the corner of Minock and Joy Road, a newer neighborhood not too long a walk to Rouge Park. Where, in the summer, we would swim all day in the largest set of swimming pools I had ever seen. What great fun that was.
Another treat, when staying over at cousin Leo’s new house, was having breakfast in the basement eating powdered sugar covered doughnuts and drinking coffee. I never knew until then that some kids were allowed to drink coffee, and some kids even smoked cigarettes. Leo’s sister Rosemary showed us how to do that. Smoking wasn’t something I ever grew fond of, but I remain fond of my Bronikowski relatives that welcomed me into their extended family so many years ago.
I remember my cousin Leo as a good swimmer, and sadly, he died a couple of years ago in a swimming accident. We really had some great times together, along with my cousin Danny. The two of us together at that age were bad enough, but when the three of were together… it had to be pure chaos for the parents.
Paying respects to old friends and family should be required while growing old, and I feel grateful to have this opportunity to share the fondest of memories in their honor. It is a reminder to me that even though the years and life events have separated us to this extent, our memories of the happy times of our youth can still remain so vivid. I am so thankful for that.
Neighbor Hoods… to be continued