Once upon a time, we had the alley. The alley was our homeland, a stretch of land separating the yellow flats, 12th and Washington streets, from its first cousin at 12th and Hudson. The overbearing smokestack was the center of our domain, almost a bodyguard, and in a way it watched over all of us while we were growing up — in some cases, not growing at all. These were the Yellow Flats.
We learned how to play punch ball, Wiffle ball, off-the-wall, hot beans, snow tackle, Fox and Hound, and we flipped baseball cards, all keeping us in and out of trouble. The alley was our field of operation, where we occupied ourselves stupidly chasing cats, building igloos in winter storms, and sneaking about in hide-and-seek games in the long dark cellars in between the weird woodsheds.
The ever-present clotheslines seemed to interrupt our ball playing, but it was amusing to see someone’s underwear tumbling down from the fragile clothespins.
If we looked for a more enduring sports challenge beyond the alley we found our way to our first cousin’s side of Hudson Street, playing fastball with our precious 25 cent pink Spalding, and long ball with some minor interruptions by the cargo train cruising from the back of 10th and Hudson to park at the side of Lipton Tea and the Todd Shipyards.
A New York firm, Leda Orda Management, owned both apartment buildings, later purchased by Barry Associates. The Yellow Flats were well done, with a window in every room, something very special, providing a sense of natural air conditioning.
The flats and Hudson Street had an ancient but somewhat clever dumbwaiter system, freight elevators carrying garbage and other bizarre unknowns to the basement. The yellow flats had better athletes, more cops, and “anonymous” unauthorized visits to various wood sheds. Occasionally this legend would find things before they were lost. Of course, both complexes shared the same causeway while the chimney stack kept a watchful eye on our rich and playful dreams.
The alley and Yellow Flats were also a key to political activity once every few years in the 1950s and 1960s, since so many families lived on the plot of land. Candidates would bring in rides and boardwalk types of stand and attractions to woo potential voters.
The Yellow Flats had the Molloy, Miller, McGovern, McGavin, Marchetti and Meach families while Hudson housed the McNamara, Murphy, McCarthy, Maroney, and Meato relations.
Indeed we had significant other clans: the Dorr, Kennedy, Smith, Behan, Butler, Weiner, Rubin, Silverman, Gerbehy, and Brennan families, but the one unit the younger set admired and were drawn to were the Cullhanes, especially Billy.
He stood out like a smaller version of Tom Selleck, his father being a police officer nicknamed “Lefty,” his aunt a respectful high school history teacher, and his beautiful mother. Billy was the core of the alley, the center of gravity, who introduced us to the YMCA, our third homeland, and Camp Tamaqua. He was full of mischief but never crossed the line, although our ventures to Stevens Tech, where we didn’t belong, always entertained him. Billy would have us search the coves on the mountainside and took us to Deadman’s Cave.
We needed to be careful since the Stevens Jeep Police made life difficult for the young trespassers. At Wallace School his creative juices and fertile imagination were at work in shop class. He and his buddy Charlie built a precious wooden go cart with the workshop teacher Mr. Hydell. From an athletic point of view, William was a fine baseball player at all levels, and could beat you in all the side sports and games from electric football and darts to ping-pong. You dared not wrestle him.
Once, eight of us took an excursion to Weehawken’s King’s Bluff, where we encountered an unruly gang who picked on one of our youngsters. Well, The Ox, as we endearingly called him, took the thug’s body and slammed the kid with a Marinelike death-defying cage-like move. They all scurried away while The Ox placed his arm around the younger of our bunch and walked away while pulling up his underwear. We were in awe!
Yes, the Yellow Flats and all its families had long histories, but the Alley never appeared dark to us. Even the smokestack would agree to that.