NYC street games …

There was a special on our local Public Broadcasting Station last week about “NYC street games,” ninety wonderful minutes about growing up in New York City during the fifties. Those times before locked doors and arranged play dates, the world before Game Boy and cell phones, the magic years of my childhood.

There are things that only children who grew up on the streets of New York know. No one ever locked their door. So if you had to make a “pit stop,” you simply called out … Mrs. Perez I have to go. No questions asked.

It didn’t matter if the neighbors were Irish, Italian, Polish or Puerto Rican. It never mattered that we went to school with the youngest of the Lee family, whose laundry off Fifth Avenue did our father’s blue-collar shirts, while mom worked the late shift at the factory or dad came in early from the docks.

We never had babysitters. What for? The entire block watched out for the children on the block. In our case, the 57 varieties of Italian paesans on the block even looked out for the kids who lived around the corner.

“Hey Joey, watch that mouth, or I’ll give what-for.”

Joey’s mom might give me a whack if I spoke out of turn or crossed to the wrong side of Third Avenue. “Does your mother know where you are?”

The eyes and ears of the block were always on us. We went out after breakfast, sometimes not returning until supper. Then a quick change and off we went for the night games. The streets were our summer camp, the beaches our summer vacation, and we had more fun than a paid trip to Disney.

I watched and listened to the nostalgia, the memories of a time that has gone forever. More extinct than any species, the street kids were hunted down, strapped in and held hostage by “organized” sports, safe havens and supervised games.

But they will never know the thrill of racing down Dead Man’s Hill on solid steel skates or careening through traffic. Boys will grow up never knowing the sewer is second base or the edge of the front steps of your building is for “stoopball.” They won’t grab mom’s broomstick, and a Spauldeen and play a game of stickball, block traffic and make a home run through the neighbor’s kitchen window.

Hop scotch or double Dutch, jacks or handball, boys or girls, separate or together, nail an old pair of skates wheels to the bottom of an orange crate and you had a homemade scooter, kick the can or pitch pennies, punch ball or tag, ring-a-levio or Johnny on the Pony, kept us happy for days on end.  

Brooklyn or The Bronx, any of the five boroughs was where we played. It was cheap and it was fun and it is missed.

fOIS In The City




Filed under City Scapes

9 responses to “NYC street games …

  1. I went to high school for one year in the Trastevere neighborhood of Rome. This sounds so much like it. When my little brother was sitting on a bus seat, a matronly lady came up and gave him a swat and told him to get up and give a pregnant lady a seat. He always had the best manners after that. It felt more like a village than a big city. Sounds like where you grew up it was like that too.


    • That sounds wonderful and yes, I can picture the lady giving your brother a swat. The blocks were like little city-states … villages with a clear demarcation of who was who. It’s the first lesson in pecking order.

      Thanks for sharing. I love stories about those times. No matter where any of us grew up, the times wrapped us in a cultural cocoon.


  2. I wonder if, as technology advances, our skills as human beings will actually regress.

    Before video games and internet, we used our imagination. What a wonderful memory of it. Your memory here reminded me of the games I played to. I can easily envision kids out in the streets playing like you describe.


    • If you ever have the chance to watch this show, you should. One of the things they point out is that the skill of social interaction, the learning of give and take, politics and how to negotiate what you want as an individual and as a group is learned when you are left to your own resources.

      We had our imaginations, a ball or a pair of skates. Not much else. And if I lost the ball, I woulddn’t get another 15cents for another one for a long time.

      It’s nice to think maybe you can give your kids the joy of learning without “equipment and electronic assistance.”

      Thanks PK 🙂


  3. DM

    Great blog, Florence! Hey, I grew up in the 50’s in the midwest. I remember the kids getting together and all the games. I remember summer days coming home tired and dirty. I remember those rainy days and everyone would go sit out on their porches and watch the rain. Best of times.


    • I hate to sound like an old geezer, but those times were the last days of innocence. A time when we were all a little more naive and better for it. I remember loving to run barefoot in the rain and how much fun it was to run and play and not have to wear knee pads, helmets and what-not …

      Thanks for visiting today, Donna 🙂


  4. christicorbett

    This post is great and makes me think back to my “growing up days”. We would leave the house in the morning, climb the back fence to the neighbors, walk in their door and see what was happening. Repeat until large group of kids were together and then the fun and games would commence.

    Thanks for the memories!

    Christi Corbett


  5. laradunning

    Your memories come through and leave me wishing for days that I’ll only experience in movies.


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