This morning as I was getting coffee with mom, I told her about how much I enjoyed my childhood in Riverside, a northwestern neighborhood in Buffalo. Now, time has changed this place that I once called home and if I’m perfectly honest with you, you couldn’t get me to move back there with a free house and a new car. However, when I was a child it was a wonderland.
My favorite TV show was Sesame Street. I watched it every day while I ate my lunch, and somehow, I had it in my head that my street, Tonawanda St., was my own personal Sesame Street. There weren’t any kids on the street until I was about six, so I turned all the shopkeepers into my friends.
At the corner of my block was a restaurant called Nuchereno’s. Now, the Nucherno family owned a lot of stuff in Riverside, and probably still do-I know they at least still have the auto shop. But the restaurant was the piece de resistance. I would only eat the spaghetti and meatballs there but it was the best spaghetti and meatballs, ever. And in my little mind, this moderately priced restaurant was the epitome of fine dining. We always went there when family and friends were in town, or even just to Sunday dinner with Ka and Grammy.
A little closer to the house you had Tony’s barber shop, where my dad would go to get his hair cut. I only went in once and remember being very aware that this was not a place for little girls. I do recall asking Tony if he kept his combs in blue Kool-Aid, not knowing it was sanitizer.
Next to the barber was Nuchereno Liquors. I LOVED the liquor store. First of all, there was a beagle named Sam that hung out there and the owner Mike was always nice to me and let me play with her. I knew it was a place for grownups, but he never told me to get away from the store front and he always let me in-I recall believing that it was a safe place for me, despite catering to the local drunks. I loved the smell of it too, and the pretty bottles on the shelves…I even practiced my reading on some of them.
Past our house and a little further down there was the salon where my mom got her hair done, The Hair Oasis. I recall wanting to go there when I got older, and got my wish for my Junior prom when my mother took me there for an updo. It had a real old school salon vibe, and there were always neighborhood ladies getting their hair and nails done and chit-chatting. A little further down was the Shaggy Dog hot dog stand, which I loved to go for dinner at. They had big vats of honey that they kept to keep the bees busy and away from your food, and I loved watching them, even though mom warned me not to get too close.
Then came the bakery whose name escapes me, but it is long gone. Here’s what I recall of that: a huge wedding cake in the window, that had a fountain of punch built into it. I remember mom or someone saying it was tacky, but I loved it and swore I would have the same at my wedding (of course, I didn’t. It was totally tacky.) They also had these smiley face cookies I really liked, and sometimes the baker would give me 2 for 1.
The florist was after that, and they, too, had a dog, a big golden retriever that laid around the shop all day. Even if we weren’t buying anything, the owner let me come in to visit. Really, all the shop keeps were like that-they all knew my name and greeted me when they saw me coming down the street. Reid’s Delicatessen was after that, and I remember one day I went in with a red balloon and accidentally let it go, and it flew into the ceiling fan and popped. The owner gave me a free lollipop for my trouble.
There was the library, which I have already written about, and then finally the hardware store, True Value. Another shop I loved the smell of. I also loved all the little bins full of “treasures:” nuts and bolts and nails and such. Across from the hardware store was Marine Midland bank, where Grammy did her banking, and the B-Quik, for your quick shopping needs. I vaguely recall these places, but they were, in my mind, “at the end of the street.” (The street, mind you, definitely goes on for at least another mile after that.)
Anyway, you take all these little places, and then add in the huge park/playground/pool situation across the street from our house, and in retrospect it was the perfect place to spend the first few years of my life. Obviously times have changed…for instance, after we moved to Kenmore, a suburb of Buffalo that was MUCH safer, my mother still didn’t let my sister ride her bike around the block until she was nearly ten. I was riding my tricycle around the block in Riverside at four. Times change…and so did that little neighborhood.
Once about fifteen years ago I was at the park with mom and Sharon, my backup-mother. We spoke to the people that owned the old house, and they were kind enough to give us a tour. They changed a lot, like the bathroom was completely redone, but it still had the same old bones and was nice to see inside. I could write epics about that house, I loved it so much, but this is about the neighborhood that surrounded it. I could tell you about the people too: the kids that finally came and befriended me, and how I was so sad to say goodbye to them when we moved. But again, this is about other people: adults. Adults who barely knew me from a hole in the wall but made me feel safe and protected in a place that was losing its safety.
I don’t know what happened to any of those people. All those businesses are closed now, I believe…except maybe the liquor store. I went there once about ten years ago to pick up a bottle of wine. Mike is gone, I think he passed, and Sam certainly did, but there was another dog roaming the aisles and that made me smile.
I have wonderful memories of my childhood in Riverside, and while the neighborhood has changed, I will never forget growing up there. It may have been flawed to some, but it was absolutely perfect to me.