Growing Up in Passaic, Part 3

Sunday morning in Passaic was quiet time, spent with family and/or attending church.

My dad, George, had a definite Sunday morning routine. My mother would make breakfast while he drove from our house down to Hope Avenue, a block or so from Holy Trinity Church. The Garfield Baking Company was a 181 Hope Avenue and Dad went there, rain or shine, every Sunday morning to buy hard rolls to have with his breakfast. He also bought all the New York City and local Passaic and Newark Sunday papers from either a street vendor or a shop next to the bakery. I don’t remember which it was, but here is the site of the old Garfield Baking Company today. You can see the brown brick of Holy Trinity on the far right.

Bakery that is now a laundromat

My parents weren’t particularly religious, unlike my Greek Rite Catholic Nana who walked all over Passaic to visit churches, but they did send me to both Sunday School and Vacation Bible School, but at two different churches. Sunday School was at St. John’s Lutheran Church on Lexington Avenue. It is a majestic church with historic stained glass windows. Although this postcard photo was taken in the early 1900’s, the church still looks the same today.

St. John’s Church
Postcard in my collection

I started in the Nursery Department and continued with Sunday School into 6th grade, when we moved to Wayne.

1956 Promotion!

When I was about nine or ten, I decided that I wanted to join the children’s choir at St. John’s. I was welcomed into the group even though I think my range is about 3 notes and I can barely carry a tune. My mother dutiful took me to choir practice, but I didn’t last long – less than a year, as I remember.

The (Dutch) Summer Street Christian Reformed Church, across the street and next to the apartments, eliminated the need for transportation and kept me busy for one week each summer. Today, this church is a Hispanic denomination.

Former Summer Street Christian Reformed Church
GoogleEarth streetview

I attended Vacation Bible School there for several years and when I was about 7 years old, I even joined their chapter of Pioneer Girls.

Vacation Bible School, 1958
“We will make you fishers of men, fishers of men. . .”

On Saturdays and holidays, Nana, who lived upstairs from us, often took me walking around town with her. Saturday walks usually meant visiting churches. I think I’ve been in every Catholic church in Passaic, and there were a number of them back then – Holy Trinity, St. Michael’s, St. Nicholas, St. Anthony, St. Mary’s, Our Lady of Mount Carmel, St. Stephen’s and probably a couple of others whose names I’ve forgotten.  I guess I can say I had a steady dose of Lutheran, Dutch Reformed and Catholic teachings in my young life.

Being a melting pot, Passaic had some unique events. One was the blending of all the various Catholic ethnic parishes as they came together every year on Columbus Day for the Holy Name Parade, sponsored by the Italian men’s society. We always watched the parade, which marched down Lexington Avenue with parishioners joining the marching bands and students. Remember, my block of Summer Street was bordered on one side by Lexington Avenue so we only had a half block to go to see it. Flags flew, bands played, people sang and clapped and cheered as their parish representatives went by.

Birthday parties were always a neighborhood celebration, although with apartment rentals and also house rentals on my block, children moved in and then they moved away. Here’s my birthday party in 1957.

Birthday 1957

From left to right, there is Nancy, Greg in front, Bruce behind Lenore with the X straps on her dress, Adrienne, Howard in back and me on the right. By the early 1960’s, Nancy moved away, brothers Bruce and Greg moved to Connecticut and Adrienne moved to Queens, New York. Howard and Lenore moved to Wayne after we did. Such was the turnover of families.

Christmas was always an exciting time for us kids. One of the first ways I was able to earn a little spending money was by addressing my Nana’s Christmas cards for her. I made the tidy sum of $1.00, which sounds like a lot of money considering my age and the time period. Nana had a lot, and I mean a lot, of friends.


One of Nana’s cards that never got mailed

She also carefully chose each card for the saying inside to fit the recipients. There were piles and piles of cards, both secular and religious.  I’m not exaggerating when I say that she likely mailed 150-200 Christmas cards each year and 98% of those people lived locally. That means I earned about a half cent per addressed card. Even by standards of those times, she had the better end of that deal.

By about 1960, so many Americans were mailing Christmas cards that our mailman delivered the mail twice a day for the week before Christmas. I remember one evening when it was snowing lightly. It was about 6:00 and I heard the mailman come onto our front porch. He stuffed the box with cards and then went on to the next house. Those were the days before mail trucks. In Passaic, the mailmen walked their routes. I can only imagine starting his day early so he could finish by noon, rush back to the post office and load the next round of mail into his push cart.

Gifts weren’t nearly as extravagant back then as today. Even if the technologically advanced gadgets had been available, few would have been bought by Passaic parents because they couldn’t have afforded them. I remember Christmas 1959 quite vividly for two reasons. First, I had outgrown my little blue two-wheeler bike and Santa brought me this beautiful pink and white Schwinn. As young as I was, I knew it was not an inexpensive gift and I very much appreciated that it appeared by our Christmas tree and it had my name on it.

Linda and her new bike

The other reason I remember this so well is that I had not only desperately wanted a new bike, I wanted it to NOT snow on Christmas so I could go out riding me new bicycle that afternoon. Well, I got my wish and it didn’t snow. However, I didn’t get to ride my new bike outside that day or the next or the next or any day of Christmas vacation. That’s because I received a totally unwanted gift that Christmas morning. I woke up and had spots all over me – I had chicken pox!!

All of these happenings took place right on Summer Street. Tomorrow, I will finish up my memories with a walk through downtown Passaic.



One thought on “Growing Up in Passaic, Part 3”

  1. It was so moving and beautiful reading your experience at St. John Lutheran Church. I am currently working there as a secretary but I haven’t been able to find any information on who constructed and the history behind St. John but reading about your experience made me transport to past for a second. Thank you for sharing your memories.

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