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It's Been Extraordinary -- A Memoir of Growing Up in Jersey CIty

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Posted by Allan Nixon on April 30, 2004 at 05:56:22:

It's Been Extraordinary
Music, Art, Writing, Advertising, Family, Education, Politics- My Grand Tour

By Allan Nixon
Autographed copies available from the author

ISBN: 1892451123
Format: Hardcover, 493pp
Publisher: Brundage Publishing

Chapter 3
A ride in the Pierce Arrow

On Van Ripen Street the houses are all close together with narrow alleys and walkways in-between. On the other side of the street is a long brick apartment building with rows of windows up to about eight floors. It once was a large open field. The houses on Grandmaís side are mostly three floors high.

Grandma told me Grandpa had part of the front of the new house torn down when the workman didnít follow his building plans.

During one visit Grandpa took me down stairs to the cellar and into the garage under the house. He walked slowly because of his big stomach.

"How do you like it? Itís a Pierce Arrow."

"I like it."

The headlights on the front fenders and the silver emblem on the front of the green hood make it special.

"Itís really big."

I think of how small Mommyís Chevrolet is - compared. It was a gift, Mommy said, from Grandpa. Daddy doesnít drive because he drove an ambulance in New York City during the World War and had an accident. Aunt Anna told me he was taking wounded soldiers from a troopship to the hospital. He didnít get into the Army because of his missing big toe.

"Get in, weíll go for a ride," Grandpa says, while holding the front passenger door open.

I first sit on the seat, then stand on the floor to see better. He walks around, opens the driverís door and slowly - with several grunts - steps up on the running-board and slips into the seat. His thick straight white hair seems to stand up into a point on his head as he pushes his big stomach in tight under the steering wheel. He doesnít wear glasses like Grandma. Grandma says Indians have such good eyesight, they donít need glasses. Heís part Indian, she told me.

He looks at me, and pauses, "Maybe your mother should drive? Go up stairs and ask her to come down."

I do what he says. She smiles, "You know, he doesnít drive," she whispers to me. "Iíll be right down."

We re-arrange seats with me standing in the back. She slips into the drivers seat with him now on her right. She starts the motor, pushes the long gear-shift and foot-peddles and we slowly move back-ward out through the open garage-door entrance and up a cement-floor incline, out over the sidewalk onto the street. Grandma tells me later this is the first garage ever built under a house in the world. We drive around local streets Bergen Avenue, Sip Avenue, to the Boulevard.

"Thatís Bergen Square," he says, "Peter Stuyvesant Number 11 School... Montgomery Street... West Side Avenue... Hudson Boulevard... a Jewish synagogue I built ... and hereís Journal Square... and the Holland Hotel over there in front of the train station. I designed and built that place and gave it my fatherís middle name Marshall Holland Flagg." At Five-Corners he asks Mommy to stop briefly.

"Thereís my Bank."

On the way back he mentions Sip Avenue as one of the oldest streets in the City. I wonder why he hardly ever talks when weíre all together at dinner? Maybe because Grandmaís the life of the party?

Years later I learn that many of the place names he points to go back more than three centuries when the Dutch and English first settled in Hoboken, Jersey City, Weehawken, Bayonne, Manhattan, Brooklyn and Staten Island. Now Jersey City is populated mostly with Irish, Italians, Poles and Negroes - later known as Blacks, then African-Americans. That leaves only small numbers of English, Dutch, Scottish, Scandinavians, Armenians, Jews and Greeks. Class census counts in the schools show the different categories when hands are raised. One time I raise my hand with only a few others when the teacher says, "Scottish." When she asks about our religion Iím among ten Protestants. About twenty Catholics raise their hands. I count two Negroes and three Jews. I suppose Iím in a minority - and I feel proud about that. One Negro raises his hand when she says, "English?"

Grandpa asks Mommy to slow down and pull to the curb along Hudson Boulevard near Journal Square. Pointing, he says, "Thatís the back of our house across the lot. See the kitchen window. I bought that lot so your grandmother has enough sunshine to plant a garden."

We continue on to Journal Square, turn down Sip Avenue, then back to Van Ripen, and into the garage. He thanks Mommy, and she goes upstairs.

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