By Joseph N. Manago
Bustling was the word with which you could characterize Clinton Hill, Brooklyn, during the 1950s and ’60s.
In the autumn, around Halloween and Thanksgiving, the Hollywood Fruits and Vegetables store would showcase Concetta in her apron collecting fruits and vegetables, weighing them on an old-fashioned scale and paper bagging them.
You could smell fresh hot Italian peppers in the bushels, onions, tangerines, bananas . . . as you were serenaded by the soft sounds of Italian conversation: “Come sta? Sto bene? Saluti! Grazie. Ciao.“ “Ho bisogno di melanzana . . pepe . . . i fagioli . . . gli zucchini . . . i pomodori, l’arancia.”
With pencil, she would add the prices up with a paper bag on her knee, then count your change in Italian. Uno, due, tre, quattro, cinque, sei, sette, otto, nove, dieci would resonate from sunrise to sunset.
As the crisp cold air awakened you, the hustle and bustle in the shops and the rhythm of the BMT’s elevated “cattle cars” on Myrtle Avenue charmed us. Renken’s milk trucks loaded from the plant on Classon Avenue, and the strong smell of gasoline emanated from Texaco gas being pumped into the diesel trucks.
Meats were being cured at Parente’s plant with the aroma of il prosciutto and il salame disseminated on the street. Duke’s meats was cutting la bistecca, il vitello, la braciola.
And Bohack and A & P supermarkets thrived with the old cash registers clicking from the dexterous girls in an age of no electronic scanners!
Pratt Institute had a quaint Ivy League ambience, but “serene was a word you could put” to Pratt (“A Tree Grows in Brooklyn,” Betty Smith). Jake’s art supplies on DeKalb Avenue was a great place to buy art pads for the collegiate students, as well as for us youngsters drawing cartoon characters without the privilege of computer graphics.
And then there were the beautiful Catholic churches of St. Lucy and St. Patrick with bells tolling on the streets and resonating liturgies in glorious ecclesiastical Latin – “Dominus vobiscum.”
And a stone’s throw away was the Roman Catholic Diocese of Brooklyn in the former Pratt family mansions.
Autumn in Clinton Hill, in this old Italian Catholic neighborhood, was a panoply of sights, sounds and aromas of which you could still reminisce today.
Come into my mother’s kitchen on Emerson Place and taste pasta e fagioli and cotoletta alla milanese di vitello (breaded veal cutlets). Come into Fasano’s fountain store for the sweetest malted milk in town.
This is the historic Clinton Hill that I deeply cherish. “The city’s bustle cannot destroy the dreams of a girl and boy.” (Manhattan, Rodgers and Hart)
Manago is a molecular cell biologist, and the author of “Mathematical Logic and the Philosophy of God and Man.” A former member of St. Lucy’s parish, he now resides in Flushing.