2005-11-17 / Little Old Canarsie

Little Old Canarsie

John Denton

Before radio and television, families either had a phonograph machine with records or, if they could afford it would have a player piano with music rolls for their musical entertainment. Those who didn’t have those would listen to some neighbor play an accordion or banjo playing all the popular hits of the day. This would go on from about April through October when you could stay out to enjoy it. In addition to that type of music, once in a while an old man of Italian descent came around with his hand organ and a monkey that would go around tipping his red hat for pennies or a nickel, which he would bring back to his owner.

We also had a fellow who would pull a large organ known as hurdy gurdy all the way down to Canarsie on Rockaway Avenue from East New York and then through the dirt streets all over town to play by a turn of a handle, and then go around to collect whatever people gave to him.

There was another trouper with one of these organs who would entertain you with a juggling act or sword swallowing and flaming torches which he would somehow get down his throat.

Then once in awhile we would get to hear a real band of older men who played real brass instruments and they were real good musicians who were out of work and went around different parts of the city to play for peoples’ enjoyment for their livelihood, as in those days you had no welfare checks coming in and if you wanted to eat you had to go out and earn it. If there was no regular work to get, you would have to take whatever means to support your family and that’s what all these brave men did to bring home something for their family.

I also recall a man who stood with a machine on a pushcart all week on the corner of Pitkin Avenue and Rockaway with red hot peanuts, which were very popular, as you could not buy them in cans already shelled. He would sell you a large bag for a nickel and every Sunday we kids would be looking for Joe the Peanut Man who would push that cart all the way down from Pitkin Avenue and all over Canarsie and then back to his regular spot. This was a real hike with no horse and wagon or car to get back and forth.

As time went on, another popular man who we looked forward to was Pop Ferriaoli who came around with his horse and wagon and made you a delicious ice cream sandwich on two crackers or a large sliced brick, one for a nickel.

We enjoyed all this in the days gone by with no crime waves or other problems and so, another chapter of “Little Old Canarsie” gets by.

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