Twins Grow Up In An Exciting, Post-WWII New York City
If there were more books like Yorkville Twins we would have a clearer picture and better understanding of what it was like for the everyday existence of ordinary people living in Manhattan in post-war New York City. Twins Joseph G. Gindele and John F. Gindele, weave funny, touching and poignant stories of growing up in Yorkville on the upper east side of Manhattan from 1944-1962 with their three siblings and immigrant parents.
Unlike many New York memoirs written by famous or infamous personages who lay their memories of privileged upbringings or Dickensian struggles in print, the Gindele’s recount the daily experiences of middle class family life in a New York that has now largely vanished. This is the New York of cobblestone paved streets where the milkman and the iceman made deliveries with horse drawn wagons. Pushcarts sold vegetables and kids played with erector and chemistry sets and took the time to cut out the backs of cereal boxes and redeem them in the mail for prizes.
John and his brother Joe take turns narrating the chapters and describe their parents humble backgrounds as immigrants from Germany and Czechoslovakia.
Their father Otto Gindele Sr. worked his way up from a variety of jobs such as dishwasher, porter and cook to a long stint as a baker in some of the city’s better bakeries. Their mother Marie did laundry, cleaning and housework in apartments.
Otto was so thrifty that for over twenty years he got all of his shoes for free – from friends or relatives who died. If the shoes were a little too large he stuffed cardboard into them to achieve a perfect fit.
The Gindele’s parents hard work and frugal ways enabled them to have an apartment on East 81st Street just off of First Avenue, when the Yorkville neighborhood, unlike today with its million dollar apartments, was an enclave for many immigrant groups including Germans, Irish, Czechs, Hungarians, Jews and Italians. Each block in Yorkville had its own distinct personality. The twins describe how their own block had a bad reputation and some children would never tread its sidewalks because there were gangs of boys were “looking for trouble.” The kids on 81st Street would routinely fight their mortal and eternal enemies on 80th Street using broomsticks and metallic garbage can covers as shields, just like Vikings.
The Gindele’s discuss their loving, but firm upbringing, and give details about a myriad of subjects including school life, the games they played, amusements, traveling and long vacations. They excel at capturing a time fifty to sixty years ago that is not so distant, but we will likely never see again.
When the twins were in shop class at Commerce High School the students were asked what they wanted to build. The consensus was gun racks to store and display their weapons because the school had a rifle range in the building!
On hot summer nights children would often cool off by being allowed to sleep on the fire escape. Today child endangerment would be charged against a family if someone spotted a kid sleeping on a fire escape.
The buildings the family lived in during the twins childhood one at 410, the other at 420 East 81st Street and the homes of many of their relatives and friends in the neighborhood were generally railroad style apartments with antiquated windows; electric; heat and plumbing facilities. Surprisingly they describe that there were some apartments in the 1940’s and 1950’s that did not have their own toilet, requiring residents to use communal toilets on each floor.
The book is peppered with stories of simple pleasures such as doing well in school, playing stickball and building their own radio sets.
Filled with photographs and anecdotes Yorkville Twins provides a unique window into a time when New Yorker’s knew their neighbors and every block was filled with its own set of independent stores that catered to a cadre of loyal shoppers.
The book takes readers through the Gindele’s college years in Minnesota and concludes with appendixes of relatives and friends, period TV shows, amusements and a list of resources for further reading both online and in print.
Joseph and John Gindele have done a fine job telling their stories. They have written a book that has portrayed real events and memories of a time that has passed without slogging through nostalgia.
Yorkville Twins is not just a good read for residents of the Yorkville section of Manhattan. The experiences described will probably strike a chord of familiarity for anyone who grew up during the same time period in any of the many distinct neighborhoods in any of the boroughs.
Yokrville Twins Hilarious Adventures Growing Up In New York City, 1944-1962 by Joseph G. Gindele & John F. Gindele (Golden Valley Publishing, LLC; Golden Valley MN) 2012 , $19.95