This is my 262nd Blog post. It’s a significant number for me. I spent the first twenty years of my life in a two-bedroom apartment in a three-story brick building in Jersey City, New Jersey: 262 Summit Avenue.
Most of the buildings on the block were three stories with an apartment on each floor. I could name everyone who lived on the block. Few people moved. Multigenerational families stayed in close proximity. My grandparents’ place was a two-block walk away.
We children couldn’t do anything wrong without a neighbor correcting us or telling our parents. In the summers we played outside until evening darkened the skies and the streetlights came on. In the colder weather, when the chill kept folks indoors, the older women sat by their windows as if afraid they would miss something.
Across the street, taking up most of the block, sat the massive New Jersey National Guard Armory. The National Guard soldiers came for weekend training. Blaring brass bands cut above the street traffic. It was only when I reached my teens that seeing all the young men in uniform kept me close to home.
In summers, the Armory hosted the Rodeo and big-name performers: Frank Sinatra and Jimmy Durante. My friends and I, probably around ten or eleven years old, had managed to sneak through a side door and wander around before the Rodeo started, watching the workers set up the stands for the audience and the pens for the animals. During the show, we edged up so close to the action that we could hear the cowboys’ grunts, as they desperately tried to stay on the backs of the bucking horses or angry bulls.
We listened to Frank Sinatra from the shadows along the walls. A spotlight followed his lanky body on the stage as he crooned into a microphone. We felt invincible.
In retrospect, it seemed easy for my friends and I to slip into the Armory. I don’t remember ever once getting kicked out. Perhaps the workers chose to look the other way.
My best friend, Carol, lived at one end of the block and I lived on the other. I’ve written about her in a post: Taking the Bus. We met when we were four or five years old, attended the same grammar school and high school. After she married, she and her husband moved to south Jersey. Two years later, I married. We moved to Newark, then near DC, making other moves until we eventually settled down in North Carolina.
After many years of exchanging Christmas cards, Carol and I now live 20 miles from one another. When we get together, we rehash our childhood memories on the 200 block of Summit Avenue. The city street that was the Village that raised us.