Memories of the Old Bronx – A Lesson Learned

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Memories of the Old Bronx – A Lesson Learned

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    Dan Roberts

    Editor’s Note: Anthem Voices is looking for stories from SCA residents about their hometown. Whether to reminisce or write about “the good old days” it would be our pleasure to post them for our neighbors.

     Our first article is from Richard Berman and we thank him for his contribution.

    Memories of the Old Bronx – A Lesson Learned

                                           By Richard Berman, Ph.D.

    When I last visited the Bronx, I noticed a reduction of daily newspapers sold at corner newsstands. It was a noticeable reduction from the number of dailies in the Bronx of the of the 1940s and ‘50s when I was growing up. 

    Back then, papers such as the Daily News, the Daily Mirror, the New York Post, the Herald Tribune and others were available for just a few cents. I was horrified to notice that the price of the New York Times was now $3.00 in New York City and even more outside of the city.  Furthermore, the Sunday edition was $6.00 and even more outside of the city.

    My dad read two daily newspapers. Mornings found him behind a copy of the Daily Mirror. He would return home from work with a copy of the Herald Tribune folded upon his arm. My dad liked to mix it up on Sundays and we never knew what newspaper would be on our kitchen table. 

    In the spring of 1950, a few months short of my 10th birthday, my dad placed a five dollar bill in my hand. He asked me to walk to the corner candy store on this particular Sunday and buy a newspaper. 

    A five-dollar bill! Whoa! I appreciated the validation my dad bestowed on me. 

    It was his way of telling me I was a responsible kid. I listened intently as my dad asked me to buy the New York Times and to carefully bring home the change. 

    Candy stores back then were quite different from candy stores today. They were neighborhood gathering places where one could enjoy fountain drinks, including the wildly popular egg creams, ice cream (I loved chocolate chip), sandwiches, and candy bars. Cigarettes, novelty items and newspapers among other items were sold as well.

    The candy store was busy that Sunday. I reverently did what my father had asked. When I left the store, I noticed that I didn’t have the change from a five-dollar bill. I had the change from a ten-dollar bill!

    I recalled that the clerk had my five-dollar bill in his hand when he was distracted by other customers. After the distraction, he counted out the change for a five-dollar bill ($4.75), placing the bills and coins on top of my five-dollar bill before handing me the bundle of coins and paper bills.

    I couldn’t contain the felonious joy in my heart. I ran home with unprecedented speed for a 10-year-old, delivered the paper to my dad, and handed him $9.75. 

     “What’s this?” asked my father. He asked me to sit down and tell him what had happened. As I did, I was dismayed to see a sober expression morph onto his face. I was expecting his face to beam with a smile.

    For the next ten minutes, dad talked to me about the privilege and necessity of being honest. He painted a picture of a hard-working man and suggested that at the end of the day, he would have to pay for his error. 

    Would that be fair to the clerk? Would that be fair to his family? What if he, my dad, had been the clerk? Would I want to see my dad come up with the extra five dollars? 

    What kind of world would we have if everyone cheated? What kind of world would we have if we couldn’t rust one another? 

    Dad didn’t lecture me. He engaged me in a conversation. He asked many questions challenging me to think.  His last question pierced my heart and challenged my budding ethical self. He asked what we should do with the extra five dollars. 

    He waited patiently until he received the answer he was waiting for. With a shaky voice, I responded that I needed to return the five dollars to the clerk.

    I still recall dad’s big smile. He got up from his chair and embracing me, told me how proud he was of me. He asked me when I thought I should return the five dollars. 

    His smile grew as bright as a sunny day in June as I responded “now.” Dad offered to go with me to the store. That made me happy.  After all, who in his right mind would reject the offer of moral support?  

    Walking to the candy store might have been a cringe-inducing hike with any other father. But my dad had already given me a lesson to hold onto for the rest of my life. He knew not to press further, not to make me any more uncomfortable than I already was. 

    He shifted the conversation to the daily activity of our sweet life in our cramped one-bedroom apartment. We were so cramped that my younger brother had to sleep in mom and dad’s bedroom, while I slept in the living room on a Castro Convertible Sofa.

    When we arrived at the candy store, the clerk appeared to be puzzled. With just the teeniest of prods from my dad, I offered the clerk the five-dollar bill and, apologizing, told him what had happened. 

    The clerk accepted the paper bill, thanked me, and stepped from behind the counter. I wasn’t frightened. I knew my dad would protect me.        

    Aggression wasn’t on the clerk’s mind. He extended his right hand to mine and asked if we could shake hands, which of course we did. He thanked me again and told my father that he should be proud to have such an honest son.

    He did one more thing before we left. He asked me what my favorite ice cream flavor was. With the answer received, he dished out a scoop of chocolate chip ice cream into a cone and said, “that’s on me.”

    As we walked home, dad had a great big smile on his face, and I had chocolate chip ice cream on mine.

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