There are only a handful of friends alive today in the photograph of members of the old Red Oaks Athletic Club that is pinned on the wall behind my computer. I see their faces every day that I spend working at this modern-day wonder called a personal computer.
Someone gave me a copy of the original photo that hangs there depicting 69 out-of-focus, but-still-recognizable faces looking back at me. It was taken at a picnic in 1947 held by the club at the Lyon Avenue softball field in Chickahominy. The Red Oaks sponsored a semi-pro baseball team in Greenwich in those days.
There are numerous smiling faces in that photo, some of them Polish, some Irish, others Slovac, but mostly Italian, who had gathered for an afternoon of relaxation, good food and drink, in that post-World War II era of life in Chickahominy.
The Depression Years of the early and mid-'30s had passed, the "Great War" was over and the economy was beginning to show signs of improvement. It wasn't always that way in this little corner of Greenwich, which was home for these folks, a diversified group that included a half-dozen or so black families.
I have memories of those earlier days, as far back as the 1930s, when Italians built their homes in this community and raised their families on streets and avenues called Alexander, Charles, Victoria, Columbus, Grigg, Hamilton and Harold. They had come from small towns in southern Italy where jobs were scarce, to "l'america" and settled in communities called East Port Chester, later to be renamed Byram, Chickahominy, Pemberwick and Glenville. The men were mostly stone masons, farmers, miners, laborers and small merchants, while the women were skilled seamstresses and seemingly tireless homemakers.
Back then, streets in this section of Greenwich were mostly rocky paths; there were no sewers or sidewalks. As homes were being built, small businesses began to emerge such as a barber shop, a meat market and grocery stores called Masi's and Mecca's, named after their proprietors. Since some families had no means of transportation, most of the services came to the residents.
I remember vividly the ice man who sold blocks of ice for use in home ice boxes, the fish man and milk man who delivered to each household, the clothing salesman who brought his wares in a truck to the homes of residents and the "fruit" or vegetable man who drove an old, converted bus to each street to sell his goods.
Most homes in Chickahominy had a garden, as I remember. Everyone grew tomatoes, peppers, beans, potatoes and an assortment of vegetables and herbs from early spring into December. Cabbage heads and celery plants were pulled from the ground in mid-November and buried root up in mounds of soil to be resurrected in December and January blanched white from the deep, frozen soil to the dinner table. Many of their homegrown vegetables were preserved or pickled for winter consumption.
The "old world" was remembered in several ways, one being the planting of fig trees, wrapped carefully and buried in gardens for winter survival until spring arrived; the second was wine-making. Most Italian men made their own wine from grapes grown in California and shipped to the East Coast.
Italians of that day were independent and self-supporting. They worked hard for long hours. I remember my mother had full days of washing family clothes in a wash tub, hanging them to dry on an outdoor clothes line, ironing them, cooking every day for a family of four and baking bread each week as well. Most importantly she had to tend to her children and prepare special meals for the holidays. Pop worked six days each week, from early morning to dusk, if he was fortunate to have a job, then attended to the vegetable patch after supper until darkness.
For us kids, Hamilton Avenue School took us away from home for about four hours each day but we could walk home for lunch and return to school in the afternoons.
Following school and on Saturdays, our playground was the rocky Chickahominy streets.
Vehicle traffic was never a problem since cars and trucks traveled our streets once an hour or less. Boys played baseball on those streets, breaking a window or two, which created some heated discussions between families, but nothing serious. Young girls of that era assisted their mothers with household chores.
Over the years, a scarcity of building space in Chickahominy forced residents to relocate to other areas of town or out of state. However, having lived in this small section of Greenwich, former residents have always been supportive of the community where they were born, educated and raised.
Nino Sechi, a Greenwich native, is a former newspaper reporter and public relations executive. He welcomes your comments via his e-mail address, firstname.lastname@example.org.