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History Corner: Growing Up in the Bronx…

History Corner: Growing Up in the Bronx…

We had wonderful neighbors while I was growing up on Garrison Ave. in the Bronx.  Rabbi and Mrs. Steinberg lived on the 3rd floor of our building and the Goldberg’s lived next door.  Rabbi was an invalid and his wife would call me in to light the gas stove so she could make a hot meal for the Rabbi on the Sabbath.  She always gave me a sweet something and kreplach for my mother.  The Motley’s lived across the hall with two boys William and Tommy.  Whenever I came to play with the boys, Mrs. Motley would give me a dish of chocolate puddin’.  I hated it and still do and I remember how she pronounced it to this day.

William passed away about that time and they had the service in the home.  Willy was my champion and I will never forget, as I came into the parlor this pale little boy with his golden red hair shining in the sun coming in the window.  I am sure he is lightening up the angels in heaven.  Down two flights, there was a boy who was a bully, but I don’t remember his name.  He had me crying all the time, but my friend Willy had a plan, but I don’t know what he said or did, but that boy never bothered me anymore.

There were wonderful smells that came from each floor as we came up and down.  Mrs. Steinberg would share her challah bread with the neighbors and our Irish neighbor, on the first floor, made corn beef and cabbage every Wednesday.  The chop chop of making chopped liver on Fridays is still in my ears.  There was a lady who came from Poland who insisted on having fresh fish and she had a live one in her bath tub!  Such wonderful memories.

After my mother and father were married, they rented a small apartment in a classy brown stone house.  They didn’t have much furniture, but they thought a small apartment, in a nice neighborhood was a good idea.  My father was a butcher and my mother worked in a millinery shop designing hats, with flowers, fruits and feathers and a bird on top of that.  Those were the days when women wore hats, an important part of their dress.  My mother was used to nice things as she had been the governess for a child of wealth and arriving in New York from Austria, she fell into a more gentile life than she married into.

My Dad was born in 1879 on 8th street in New York City, somewhere near the river.  His name was Walter Patrick Travis and his father John, born in England, was a bookkeeper in New York marrying Rose Cassidy from County Cork, Ireland.  My father had a sister, but because there was some friction in their home, he would never speak about them.  My grandfather left the family when my Dad was 14, so he left school and worked as an order boy in markets where he learned his trade as a first-class butcher.

He played ragtime piano in saloons and had bit parts on stage, here and there and he used to brag that he was on the same bill as Jimmy Durante.  He met my mother somewhere and asked her to marry him but she refused many times because of his lifestyle, but she finally gave in providing he leave the stage and his girlfriends!  They were married and settled down moving to the brown stone I told you about.

My mother was born outside of Prague which was the Austrian-Hungary Empire.  Her parents were considered Austrian but they really were Czechs.  My mom came to the United States when she was eleven with 3 sisters and a brother, Josephine was 18, Antoinette 16, Victor was 5.  I remember my mom told me about Eleanor Roosevelt who worked with children at a settlement house where she taught English to immigrant children.  My mother was in parochial school and at age 16 was hired as a governess as her English was very cultured thanks to the teaching of Eleanor Roosevelt.

I lived in the Bronx most of my childhood but for a few years here and there.  But I think I told you that in my last journal entry.  The next few years are not clear, but I do remember that we moved to New Jersey, Melville, New Jersey and Atlantic City for a while but my mom was expecting a baby and wanted to go home.  After several days of following paper ads, she found herself near Garrison Ave. and decided to drop in to see Mrs. Motley.  They had tea but I don’t know how I know this but they talked about moving back to the Bronx.  It so happened that she had a vacancy on the 4th floor.  My mother said she would take it and so she did.

My baby brother was born there, March 2, 1923 on 1162 Garrison Ave.  For me, my education went hither and yon, parochial school, PS 164, violin lessons at a conservatory with me in a class of 25, but I did well there.  However, I was destined to have mishaps along my short career.  The music selected was not the sheet music my mother picked up and on the day of dress rehearsal, the teacher listened to each of us and found that I was playing the wrong music!  The teacher didn’t take me out but said just “bow” the music in time with the rest.

My next disaster was when I was asked to play a solo.  No one told me I had to have a copy for the piano and we didn’t even rehearse.  It’s a good thing I memorized it.  That was a close call.

My uncle George wanted to take my talents further so he enrolled me in a dance studio on Columbus Circle in New York City.  I was excited about being able to dance in the classical medium but that is not the way it was.  I had to bench stretch and line kicks Rockettes style, not very classical.  My uncle continued to expose me to a more cultured lifestyle.  He didn’t take me out of the Bronx but wanted to take Bronx out of me.

After a few months of this, I had had it.  My uncle took me out of the Bronx but couldn’t take the Bronx out of me.  I didn’t tell you when I was born did I?  October 30, 1911 was the day so by 1926, I was out in the working world.  I took a job at the Hotel McCalpern as a switch board operator and we moved back to the Bronx, again.  This time a nice apartment with an elevator yet.  Remember the fire?  Well, we eventually got back to the city, moving to Brooklyn…Here we go again.

That summer, I met Garo and we sort of dated, plays, movies and the beach in Bay Shore Long Island.  We took Georgie with us most of the time.  He liked Garo and would often say is Garo coming and he did.  My father was not so happy to have him.  He often took my mother to task for allowing this young man to take so much of my time, but Mom felt I didn’t have long term friends so she was glad I had him as a friend.  We married in 1930 and moved to Bridgeport.  Ruthie had moved away from the Bronx for good.


I ‘ve been asked who was Ruthie from the Bronx?…she was my Mom.  I hope you liked her story…she wrote it all in her journal at the age of 91.

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