When I was almost seven, my parents trusted me to walk to and from church each Sunday with my cousin David. He was a year and a half older than I was, so I guess they figured he was responsible enough to see that I got to St. Matthew’s safely and delivered to the nuns in time for 9AM Mass. Actually, we very rarely walked together. I usually trailed behind him, surveying the sidewalks along Warburton Avenue and trying not to step on any cracks.
I always found sidewalks very interesting and measured my walks accordingly; they were my distance guideposts. Close to my home on Nodine Street, the sidewalks were large rectangular pieces of smooth stone in pale shades of grey, blue, or rose that lay side by side by side. Next came the wide cement sidewalk, perfect for roller-skating, with patterns made by masons rather than by nature. This cement section lasted past the little grocery store and Mrs. Gondek’s office near the corner of Division Street. When you crossed Division, you walked on a tamped-down dirt path with wildflowers and weeds hugging the rock on your right, almost all the way to Williams Street. Nearing that corner, it was flat slate again. Then, after you crossed at the light at Washington, you stepped onto six-sided, black and white asphalt blocks. Here you practically had to walk on your toes if you wanted to stay within the lines.
Crossing the bridge was a breeze because the wide sidewalk was cement with pencil-thin horizontal lines every two feet or so, easy to hop over. On the other side of the bridge, and up to the corner near the Sugar Bowl, those hexagon tiles reappeared and carried you to the Main Street light. From Ben-Sun’s corner on down -- past the Center Restaurant, Kalender’s, the VFW wall, Manor Market, and Nana’s lunch -- I think it was just cement, but I’m not sure because I usually picked up my pace and ran the rest of the way so I wouldn’t be late for Mass.
This was the route we were instructed to take so that we didn’t have to cross Warburton, which most parents considered a major thoroughfare that required an adult to “cross” you. We were supposed to return home the same way, on the east side of the avenue, but many times we didn’t. Instead, we’d blend into the crowd sprinting from church to get to the Village Bakery before all the jelly doughnuts and crumb buns were gone. Once on the west side of Warburton, we might get to see the fire truck, if Protection Engine’s door were open, or browse the window displays of the shops and Whelan’s Drug.
We always moved faster once we crossed the bridge. Since we had to arrive together, there wasn’t time to avoid the cracks and there were few shop windows to attract our attention. It was just one apartment house after another, until we came to Pantalemon’s ice cream shop. It drew us in like a magnet. Bundles of newspapers with the funny paper sections on top lined the tables in front of the soda fountain on the left. On the right side of the shop was the glass case that displayed the penny candy. That’s what we called it, but some cost a nickel and others were two for a penny. Bubble gum, tootsie roll pops, papers covered with colored dots, Mary Janes and jawbreakers in box after box, and all at eye level. Such decisions! Neither of us ever had much money, but between the two of us, we could always get something to make the last steps of our trip the most enjoyable. Besides not telling we’d stopped in, our only other rule was that we had to eat everything we bought before we got home.
With our little brown bag of goodies, we dawdled from flat stone to flat stone until we reached the next set of apartments. There we would wait for some kind adult to cross us back over the big street so we could make our way up the hill to our apartments.