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Do You Remember?

"Ice Man"

(Reprinted from the Bronx Times Reporter November 9, 1998)

Ice Man

The photograph above was taken by John McNamara only 21 years ago. The knife grinder was making his rounds in Edgewater Park but the scene could be anywhere or any year. Along with sharpening knives and scissors, men such as the one pictured here repaired umbrellas. Although of relatively recent vintage, the scene arouses memories of another era, another way of life. Familiar sounds and aromas, devoid of horns and gas fumes, are a pleasant reminiscence of a simpler existence.

Think back to the days of yesteryear when merchants were heralded by familiar shouts such as ""Line up! Line up!" ... "I cash clothes, I cash clothes! " ... "Ice man! Ice man!" The busiest street corners were favorite spots for other vendors such as the man chaffing ice from a big block and adding a little syrup for a one cent treat. The waffle man might be across the street with his griddle. The pretzel man would set up near the portable carousal ride where for two cents a smile could be brought to the somber face of any child.

Entertainment was simple but effective. Who can forget the organ-grinder with his little monkey? These duets amused shoppers from Westchester Square to Mott Haven with their music and antics. Street singers, too, were popular throughout the Bronx. Charlie Digl often entertained the residents of Melrose with tunes such as "My Mother's Eyes" while his cohorts passed the hat. Tenants above would often wrap a coin in a piece of paper and drop it out the window. Occasionally a somewhat disenchanted youngster would heat a penny over a flame and when it was good and hot, cast it out the window and watch the reaction when it was picked up.

The popular German bands were a familiar sight in Melrose as they marched along "Dutch Broadway," stopping here and there to entertain wherever people might gather. They played the rousing beer drinking songs at the saloons and might be treated to a lager or two. At the produce market, the proprietor might provide the musicians with an apple. Their tunes would turn to sonorous "lch sing ein Lied fur dich" or "Liebe Sonne, lach doch wieder" near shopping areas to arouse memories of the homeland in the ladies and hopefully attract a coin or two from those who stopped to listen.

Many young girls would entertain themselves with jump rope much as they do today. Some of their rhymes have been around for decades while others have been lost to time. Who recalls "Clap hands, here comes Charlie?" Others begin "I love coffee, I love tea..." or "Fire, fire false alarm, I fell into Johnny's arms."

Who can forget the soulful dirge of the Italian marching band leading a funeral cortege along East 187th Street? The great white plumed stallions pulling the hearse as the lamenting family followed in uneasy steps with armbands of white for the children and black for adults. The sounds and sights of distress are no easier to forget than the sounds of joy. The unshuttered doors of an era long past brought neighbors closer and the suffering was borne upon many shoulders in an empathy all too often shared in those hard times.

Another less distressful sound but yet one of sadness was the cranking of a chain and winch outside ones window. The Department of Sanitation made their rounds relieving the streets of the carcasses of the horses whose lives were spent serving their masters on the cobbled roadways of our fair borough. The clanging of these chains has long been silenced but in the quietude of our minds the strains of yesteryear will always peal, albeit gently softened by the patina of time.

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