Growing up in Ridgewood in the 1950s and ‘60s was probably much like growing up in a small town in Middle America.
People knew what block you lived on, so if you cracked a window playing stickball and didn’t own up to it, your parents would get a visit from the aggrieved homeowner.
The window would be fixed with money from your allowance, and you would be punished — not for breaking the window, but for not owning up to breaking it. Such was the strict moral code of the day.
Adults were authority figures, and although obedience was expected, they did not abuse their standing as adults, for the most part. All adults “stood in” for our parents, and we behaved accordingly.
Things were quite regimented 50 years ago. We would come home from school at lunch time on Mondays, and all of the backyard clothes lines held white sheets. Monday was always “wash day,” and nobody had driers — hence the sea of white garments on wash lines. White was the predominant color, because bedsheets and pillowcases were always white, as were most underwear and shirts. Color wash-and-wear fabrics only came out in the 1970s.
Wednesdays and Fridays were “coupon days” at the local Bohack and A&P, so most Ridgewood residents shopped on those days. My parents always went shopping after dinner on Friday at the local A&P (then located on Myrtle Avenue and Summerfield Street), because it offered a novel convenience: a rear parking lot — and not many local supermarkets could boast of such customer service at that time.
Two or three days a week, the “Renkens Man” delivered milk in glass bottles to a small insulated box on the top step of the stoop of local homes. Milk arrived by 6 a.m. every morning and cost 20 cents per quart.
The “Dugan’s Man” came every Wednesday in the late afternoon, when we were doing our homework. He would make housecalls to deliver cakes, pies and breads every week. Schneider Beverages delivered wooden cases of soda in 12 quart-sized bottles per case. The Schneider man came once a month, because soda was only consumed during parties or special get-togethers.
Back then, you weren’t allowed to be drunk during the regular course of the week, only on special occasions. Diet soda didn’t exist when Dwight Eisenhower was president, nor did FM radio. Color television was in its infancy. My family got our Zenith 19-inch color console TV in 1965, when NBC first converted all of its evening programming from black and white to color. It was the first TV network to do so.
Our front doors were only locked in the evening, before we went to bed. During the day, Ridgewood homes were unlocked.
Residents did not shop in malls, we shopped on Myrtle Avenue. We would go to “The Avenue” just to window shop, particularly before the Christmas holidays. There were no roll-down security gates on the store windows, so people could window shop late into the evening. Thursday nights were for late-night shopping on The Avenue, because most stores stayed open until 9 p.m. On Saturdays, stores closed at 6 p.m., and no stores were open Sunday, which was the day of rest and worship.
In the 1950s and ‘60s, churches of all denominations were packed full on Sundays, with multiple masses and services and everyone was expected to attend. Different churches had different bells that would signal the upcoming mass or liturgy. At church, Ridgewood men sported their “Sunday Best” — suits, ties and a fedora hat, while women wore dresses with a hat and matching pocketbook. Children mimicked their parents’ attire and nobody attended service without proper attire. Sports clothes were entirely inappropriate.
Most mothers were stay-at-home moms. Homework was tackled as soon as we got home from school and rarely took less than three hours every night, five nights a week. The Sisters of Notre Dame, who taught at St. Matthias School in Ridgewood, were tough but fair and gave us a good education. St. Matthias School’s “book bill” (the annual pittance our families paid in lieu of tuition) was $37.50 per semester.
In Ridgewood, cleanliness was next to godliness. Women would scrub down their stoops every week, generally on Saturday. Garbage pails were always kept in the basement until the night before pickup, and the streets were washed down twice weekly by a Sanitation Department water truck. There was no alternate-side parking, yet the streets and gutters were immaculate.
Yes, it was a simpler time. People, their families and their community were more tightly-knit. It is said that one can never go home. But in my case, I never left home, having spent 57 years on the same block in Ridgewood for my entire life.
Over the past 30 years, my job with Con Edison has taken me to most neighborhoods in the city, but I continue to enjoy coming back home to this still wonderful community of Ridgewood.
Paul Kerzner is a lifelong Ridgewood resident and president of the Ridgewood Property Owners Association.