2006-08-10 / Little Old Canarsie

Little Old Canarsie

Water From Pumps And Seafood From Jamaica Bay
John Denton


Up till about 1918 folks living here didn't have water supplied by the city and depended on a hand pump, which brought water up from under the ground. This was a hard job because first you had to use your right hand and then switch over to your left to fill pails for cooking or drinking.

The hardest job was late Sunday afternoon when mom had to have big tin tubs to wash all the week's dirty linens with a tin boiler full on top of the coal stove in the kitchen and then into the washtub, where each piece was scrubbed on a washboard by rubbing up and down with a large cake of Kirkman soap to get them good. Then came the job of hanging all the wash out on the lines to dry. When it was brought in the next job was to iron the fancy pieces with flat irons that were placed on top of the stove lids to heat up. But, despite all this, people enjoyed life during that time. Those who didn't have a pump to get water had a well all bricked up from about 80 feet down in the ground with two large wooden buckets on a large pulley with a long rope so when you let one down to fill up with ice cold water the one on the top had to be let down to bring the other one up.

For safety sake, a large shed was boxed all around for about five feet so that children playing in the yard could not fall into the open well. Many folks that had no ice box would let one of the buckets down in the cold water during the summer months to keep butter and meats from spoiling. When they wanted these items they would just pull up the bucket that stood in the cold water and take them out to cook the meat and use the butter for the family dinner.

Most of our families ate plenty of seafood from Jamaica Bay before dumped sewage ruined it. We had delicious clam chowder, fried clams or oysters in season, and baked blue or weakfish, fried soft shell crabs, and for those who liked them, smoked or fired eels or a nice eel stew.

Some ate what comes out of a large shell we called "conks," but it's "scungilli." The shells are used by some people when they are empty as nick-nacks. When you held the empty shells up to your ear, you could hear the ocean roar from inside it.

Due to pollution, this generation can't get all the delicious seafood from good ol' Jamaica Bay.

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