By Alex Gecan
A block away from the trench in which the Brooklyn-Queens Expressway parallels Hicks Street, an old lady sat in the shade of her childhood home and remembered a quieter era of trolley cars, milkmen and neighbors who spoke to each other.
“We walked everywhere,” she said. “Walking was the way of life at that time.”
Last Sunday Anna Patrone, who grew up at 83 Summit St. and will be 93 years old in December, addressed a small gathering in the Summit Street Garden, adjacent to her former home. At the invitation of the garden’s proprietors, they had come to hear her talk about Brooklyn as it was over 60 years ago.
At that time, there was no chasm severing the Columbia Street waterfront from the rest of Brooklyn; neither had that section of what is now the BQE run into the as-yet unconstructed Gowanus Expressway to effectively cut the entire neighborhood of Red Hook off from the rest of the borough.
Patrone mentioned the man who would walk the streets at sundown to ignite the gas lamps that lit the streets by night. She recalled that there were buggies and wagons with vegetables for sale—the vegetables that the residents did not grow themselves—up and down the streets of the neighborhood, as well as milkmen and a slew of other specialized delivery services.
But Patrone’s childhood was not without its share of danger. While there were some routes through the neighborhood that were safe, there were others—Carroll Street for example—that were “scary.” “There were young boys who were devilish,” said Patrone, recalling the beat cop who would occasionally escort her and her friends home.
And just after the Great Depression—during which, Patrone recalled, there were shantytowns where the Red Hook Houses now stand—the B.Q.E. came to town. The home of Antoinette Porta, Patrone’s aunt, was torn down to make room for the thruway, as were many other houses and one of the two Catholic churches in the neighborhood.
Sitting in a neighborhood now cut off from public transportation, Patrone thought back to the trolley cars that she would ride to Coney Island as a child and, later, the ones that she and her husband would ride out to Prospect Park.
“The whole world is changing,” she said, “and I don’t think for the better.”
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