I learned to play Santa Lucia on the harmonica when I was in fourth grade, back in P.S 34 in the Bronx. I played a Hohner chromatic harmonica my Uncle Hank had sent me from Germany. I still have that harmonica and it still works pretty welI. I remember I stood up to play it in front of the class for Mrs. Franklin’s show and tell assignment. I can’t say I’ve played the song very often since that time. I’m playing it here on a plain old marine band harmonica, because I’m wearing a harmonica brace as I’m also playing the guitar. It really would sound better with the chromatic. The Neopolitan style throws in those lovely sharps which brings that southern Italian magic to the standard chords. Anyhow, here it is. It’s not country music, it’s more classical. No apologies. Just be thankful I didn’t try to do O Sole Mio
OK. While we’re getting nostalgic for the old block, here’s something that I wrote a number of years back about my street and the stickball games.
The stickball games. I need to talk about the stickball games. We would play on Sagamore St., right in front of my house. As I said earlier, the street had a mild incline. Batting from the top end of the street, a couple of steps off the curb, you would bounce the ball (a Spauldeen, of course) around home plate (maybe step up on it a step or two) and hit it “fungo” down the block as far as you could. The Bronx Park East Station, a large cement structure, was at the far end of the block and to reach it was a great hit, generally a homer (although a good outfielder could play them off the wall and hold you to a double). The infield was narrow and a bit close to home plate. To field it you needed to be good.
I had some of my greatest glories and happiest moments playing on that field, playing in those big games they used to have on those long summer nights. The big kids and even some of the men would play, so just to get chosen in was a big thing. I even remember having a couple of big games and getting picked first pick (as a joke initially, but then for a while (a good couple of weeks) I was getting picked ahead of a lot of the big kids!). I was slammin’ them off the wall on a regular basis for a while, placing the ball wherever and whenever I wanted to, and catching everything near me every night. What glory for an eleven year old!
As I say, those were some of my greatest moments. Playing stickball. Moreover, the entire period of my childhood is bathed in a warm glow. That is, the memory is a happy one. I think also of my family and the comfort we shared. We were alive. And living our lives satisfactorily. Not too much guilt. One always had to try harder. It was always hard. And it always will be hard as long as we’re alive in this world. But there was comfort and security in the home and in the neighborhood as I say.
My memory of that time – of the ball games, the friends, the sitting on the benches at night, the catching of fireflies in the park, the joy we all had just to be kids and not to be wanting anything more in life than to play in that next stickball game – the memory of those days remains strong within me. And I thank God for placing such treasures in my path when I was just starting out.