Of things That Used To Be | Griselda Steiner | Scene4 Magazine February 2015

Griselda Steiner


February 2015

My brother, John Lobell, a Professor of Architecture at Pratt Institute, paid tribute to our father by writing a preface for and self-publishing his memoir about his childhood growing up in the Bronx. My father wrote, "Often, in my grown-up life, I have dreamed of going back to Fox Street in the Southeast Bronx, the street of tenements in which I lived as a child. In my dreams Fox Street is an elegant Venetian canal lined with stately granite palazzos….” The Bronx in his time was a rough ghetto filled with poor Jewish, Italian and Irish immigrants, but perhaps in his memory it was tinged with a nostalgic light that lent elegance to a past that can never be recaptured.


When he started writing the book in 1977, my father’s memory of his daily life, streetwise Yiddish, the characters who were his friends, neighbors and teachers were still fresh enough to capture authentic details. He wrote, "Here you will discover how to score a point at stoopball, how to cheat the gas company, and how to tamper with a butcher’s scale. You will learn how kosher meat is slaughtered, how gas is made from coal, and how to prepare darrflayshe—starting with a trip to Bronx Park to gather wood and ending with a gourmet dish on a carved-out oak plank. You will find out how the buying of soup-greens could be a searing experience. The violence is here—between father and son, husband and wife. The ambitions for the children are described—for the son to be a doctor and for the daughter to marry one."



Map of the Bronx


THE PLACE – The Bronx, the northernmost borough of Manhattan flanked by the Bronx River to the west and the East River, has gone through many incarnations in its history. From its manufacturing base in the early 1900's that made it a mecca for immigrants, to its decline during the depression and prohibition to its collapse in the 1970's when it became a run-down, crime-ridden slum, it has made a comeback. The influx of uprooted New Yorkers, who can no longer afford Manhattan rents, are now contributing to its revitalization.



Map of location of my father's tenement
at 744 Fox Street in the Bronx


Today my father's tenement on Fox Street no longer exists, but my father wrote, "If you ride into the Bronx, north on the Bruckner Boulevard overpass, after leaving the Triboro Bridge complex of roads, you will be passing numbered streets. Look left at 156th Street. Beginning several blocks off are the remains of a block-long line of red brick tenement houses, stretching from Southern Boulevard to Fox Street. These tenements, and the very few that would be within a small circle around the juncture of Fox and 156th streets, were the center of my world."


THE WAR -By the time America entered the First World War in 1917, which had devastated Europe, my father wrote, "America entered World War I a year after we moved to Fox Street. Except for a few wounds to my young soul the War just brushed by me. There were no bands, no parades, no recruiting speeches. I don’t recall seeing a single soldier in uniform on the block."


MY FATHER - My father (August 28, 1911–August 11, 1995) was a second generation Jew whose father, a kosher butcher, emigrated from Czernowitz, a city in what was then in the Austro- Hungarian Empire. His wife joined him several years later. I remember my grandfather with his round face and heavy build being honored for his 90th birthday at our dining room table in Great Neck and admiring the steel butcher knife he had crafted himself. My father described his difficulty in maintaining a butcher shop as he cheated with rigged scales and often insulted his women customers. When he asked my grandmother for money to start a new business my father wrote, "When I was about eleven my father did one of his disappearing acts. His last store, like every other one he had failed. He had not enough to start a new one. My mother, who was perennially tearing money from him as a vulture tears at a carcass, would not give him a cent—it was for my older brother’s education." When my father told this story about how his brother Larry got into medical school, I respected my grandmother for insisting she have money for her son's education rather than submitting to her husband. Like many Jews of his generation who earned a good education and worked hard, my father rose out of poverty to enjoy a life of affluence and pass on his good fortune to his children


My father's keen intellect, evident from his interest in literature, politics and music at young age garnered him entrance to City College, Columbia Law School, a job serving in FDR's New Deal, a position at the Securities and Exchange Commission and later a career as a Wall Street Lawyer. His first love, however, was the arts. I remember him as a painter, sculptor, ceramist and viola maker working in his studios both in our home on Long Island and later where he retired in Connecticut.


The Ice Truck

Presenting a Chapter - Street Visitors.
Use the link below to read about the peddlers and the food men with their wagons and how they hawked and sold their wares.


Click To Read



Of Things That Used To Be A Childhood on Fox Street in the Bronx in the Early Twentieth Century (1916-1926) by Nathan D. Lobell. Published by John Lobell at JXJ Productions, Inc.
Available at Amazon


The book was recently mentioned in an article:
 "Books About ‘Sodom by the Sea’ and the Bronx" by Sam Roberts in the New York Times on January 11, 2015. 

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Griselda Steiner is a poet, dramatist and a freelance writer and Senior Writer for Scene4.
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©2015 Griselda Steiner
©2015 Publication Scene4 Magazine




February 2015


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