“Berryman Place”! What an odd name!
As an impressionable nine year old, I was relieved that it wasn’t “Bury man Place”. I don’t recall having seen any “berry” men, but I do remember the “Ice Man”, the “Milk Man”, the “Soda Man”, the “Coal Man”, the “Knife-sharpening Man” and (my favorite) the “Ice Cream Man”.
It was a small, L-shaped street in Orange, an industry-based, multi-ethnic outcropping of Newark, NJ. Houses, mostly two-family dwellings, sat closely, side by side, usually with narrow driveways separating the adjacent, tiny plots. We lived on the first floor and had a porch, a front stoop and a huge oak tree standing guard in front of the house on the weed-filled strip of earth that separated the sidewalk from the curb. We had a driveway, a back yard, and a dilapidated, freestanding garage in the yard; that despite our futile attempts to clear it out, it would inevitably remain the clutter-filled place in which to stash stuff, present neighborhood talent shows and store our bikes, wagons, tile, tile and more tile (I forgot to mention the most important man on Berryman Place – the “Tile Man”, aka “Dad“, who stored boxes of tile, glue-encrusted trawls, huge sponges, and cracked buckets).
Each school day we’d venture out for the mile-and-a-half walk up the hill, across busy Park Avenue and past the stone wall of St. John’s Cemetery, to St. John’s School. At the end of the day, we’d head home back down the hill, after the obligatory stop across the street at “Gasparene’s” Candy Store for five cents worth of moth balls (malted milk balls).
On the way, we’d visit Grandma. Our Grandma and Papone, occupied the upper floor of their house on Lakeside Avenue, while Uncle Matt, Aunt Edie and cousin Elise, lived downstairs. Though I don’t remember Papone clearly, I do remember the person after whom I was named, my Italian grandmother, Giovanna. We’d find her rocking in her creaky rocking chair at the top of the stairs, welcoming us with hugs, and doling out (when she could afford it) a U.S. coin to her grandchildren. From her lofty, perch on the landing, she could look out the window over to the yard and driveway, while keeping a diligent eye on the front door at the foot of the stairs. Despite her lack of proficiency in English she somehow managed to communicate her love to us.
With homemade biscotti in our bellies and coins in our book-bags, we resumed our homeward trek, passing McGary’s bar on the corner, before crossing over the brook and the railroad tracks near Edison’s factory, to Alden Street and, finally, to Berryman Place.
Suddenly, our humble street was transformed into a universal playground. The clickety clattering of baseball cards in the spokes of dozens of zooming bikes, created a cacophonous backdrop to the raucous games of hide-and-seek, stickball and tag; interrupted only (as daylight waned) by the inevitable passing of homebound automobiles. Almost as predictable, were the moms calling kids in for supper. Like the precise tolling of resonant bells, their voices rang out from the kitchen windows, porches and stoops of Berryman Place. And every child ran exuberantly in response to their homing call. I can almost smell the aroma of the humble meal steaming on the stove, as we clamored in and washed up for supper.
I return to Berryman Place now and then to see how it’s changed, and how it hasn’t. One of these days we will give our grandsons the tour of the old neighborhood, and stop around the corner at the “Star Tavern” for what was (and still is) the best pizza in the world. In their eyes, Berryman Place will appear to be a narrow, tiny little street, a world away from the streets on which they and we now live. But to me it will always be our first home, where we learned how to play; how to win and how to lose; how to share and how to look out for one another.
Written in response to the Light and Shade Challenge which provided a photo prompt (Hat Case Lane)
and also posted on the Woven Tale Press (http://www.thewoventalepress.net/)