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This is an interview with Pam FitzPatrick at her homee on May 9, 1984 for the Teaneck Oral History Project by June Kapell.
(I) Pam, you've been a Teaneck resident all your life and your family before that. It was your grandfather who was the first one to come.
(N) Yes, my grandfather and grandmother.
(I) Would you tell us how they came?
(N) My grandfather came from Ireland.
(I) Where in Ireland?
(N) County Cork. He married my grandmother in the United States. She was from Ireland also. And he was an engineer for Horn & Hardart. He was living in Staten Island but wanted to move back to the country so at that the Teaneck was very countrified and he wanted a better quality of life for his four children. So he, I think it was the same reason other people move to the suburbs, they want their children to mix with other children, etc. and he moved to Teaneck right near the rail lines so he could get into New York every day and he came in the teens, maybe 1919, 1920.
(I) How did they come to America in the first place?
(N) He was one of maybe nine sons and his father raised racing stallions and he rode his father's prize white racing stallion for a long, long gallop, brought the horse up to a cold stream. The horse dunked his head and took water and dropped dead. So my grandfather thought it would be a good time to leave. His father was absolutely furious and he left and was a merchant seaman and when he came to the United States, he jumped off the ship in the harbor in New York, swam to shore and at that time, becoming a United States resident was very, very simple. They needed people to work and then he started working at Horn & Hardart. Fortunately he knew the language because in Ireland they spoke English. And he started off with very low jobs, sweeping floors, but they recognized his intelligence and he worked his way up and up until he was the chief engineer of the whole company.
(I) Chief engineer. Had he had any formal education?
(N) No but he was fabulous with numbers. He knew, I remember as a little girl, he would do my math homework with me and my older brother, he would do his math homework. And he was just fabulous with numbers. He just had a sense for it. But he didn't have any college education. He went to school, through high school in Ireland and then he come here. He didn't have any college.
(I) So he moved to Teaneck and settled. Did he meet his wife here in America?
(N) Yes. She was a novice which is a woman studying to be a nun. And the story goes that he saw her, she was very beautiful my grandmother. She had waistlength red hair . She was very tall and thin and everybody used to say that her skin was so white that you could see through it. She had huge blue eyes. She was very beautiful. And she had long hair until she died, waist length long hair. And he saw her and she was thinking about not becoming a nun anyway and she was thirty when they married which for that time was quite old for a woman to marry and he was I think about thirty and they met and married and they had four children, very, very close together. Three boys and one girl. All very large babies too.
(I) And they lived in Teaneck: And all of their children stayed in Teaneck?
(N) Right. My grandparents had four children. They all bought houses and raised their families in Teaneck and there were a multitude of cousins. Uncle Bob had five; Aunt Ginny had two; my parents had (who is Vincent my father) had four; and Uncle Joe had four.
(I) All right. We have Vincent, Joseph, Aunt Ginny is Virginia and Robert. What did the children all do. The children all went to school here in Teaneck.
(N) You mean these children.
(I) Your parents and his siblings.
(N) Yes, they went to St. Joseph's Grammar School and then when they finished at St. Joseph's, my Uncle Joe went to Ridgefield Park High school because Teaneck didn't have a high school yet. He was the oldest son. Then my father, Aunt Ginny and Uncle Rob were among the first graduates of Teaneck High School. That was in the 30s.
(I) To go back to elementary school for a moment, your aunt and uncles went to St. Joseph's. How did they get there from where you lived? Where was there house then ?
(N) Sherman Avenue. Which is maybe less than half a mile from St. Joe's. And of course I think at the time Irish Catholics always went to Catholic school. They were suspicious of public school. They didn't want their children to become Protestant. That was the fear. But then of course the education that they offered at Teaneck High School was so far superior that, you know, because my parents wanted their children to get ahead too, they would of course send them to a public high school. But my uncle did have to go to Ridgefield Park because he was the eldest because there was no high school then.
(I) And he walked?
(N) Tb Ridgefield Park. Yes, he walked. That was maybe it was three and a half, four miles each way.
(I) Your family did, your grandfather's family, did have cars at the time, didn't they?
(N) Yes, they had maybe two or three cars. And my family often talks about the fact that my grandmother gave a car away to someone who had quite a few children and needed to get to work and that my grandfather came home and she announced that the car was gone. And something else she also used to do was that they lived about a block and a half from the railroad station, not the railroad station, the railroad tracks and all of the railroad car hoboes used to get off the car and every morning she used to prepare twenty, thirty sandwiches and just hand them out to all these people. So our house was known as the place to get free food. And she was always giving her food away, as soon as the children's clothes, she would give them away. She gave dishes away. She really believed in trying to practice not having too much for herself and giving away to everyone else, which caused some problems sometimes because she gave away things that other people wanted like a car. Maybe one of the sons or daughters could have used the car but she gave it away.
(I) Let's see now, that was, we were talking about your Uncle Joseph going to Ridgefield Park and the rest of the family went to Teaneck High School. What did your other, your aunt and uncle do, Uncle Joseph became an attorney.
(N) He was an attorney. He went right after high school to N.Y. U. and got his Bachelors degree and his Law degree in five years. That was something you could do at that time. And then the war broke out so then he went into the army. He was in the Navy, Uncle Joe.
(I) And then after the war, he came back to Teaneck.
(N) Came back to Teaneck and he built a house on Alpine Drive after the war and he opened up a practice that he still has which is near the Plaza in Teaneck which was the downtown shopping center at the time. Cedar Lane did not have a supermarket at the time. Cedar Lane was not built up at all. It had Bischoffs though which was a big attraction to everyone. That's when my mother came to this country, that's one of the first places my father took her, to Bischoffs. It was famous even then.
(I) What kind of stores did they, what was the Plaza like at that time?
(N) It had the bank, fruit store, vegetable store, place you could get your hat blocked, your shoes fixed. Basically small stores. It did have something resembling a large fruit and vegetable store that also sold bread. I guess a forerunner of a supermarket. But it was originally planned in Teaneck as the downtown but then it ended up that Cedar Lane became the downtown but still, the Plaza is a really nice place to just walk around especially with the beautiful architecture of the bank.
(I) And your aunt and uncle also stayed in Teaneck?
(N) Uncle Joe, he married Aunt Alma. He met her when she was in college and she lived in Newport, Rhode Island and he was in the Navy at the time that he met her and then because he was going to open up his practice in Teaneck, she of course moved to Teaneck so that they could live together and he could open up his practice. It is a general law practice. He still has some of the same people that he started with.
(I) And Aunt Virginia?
(N) She married Gene Clancy who was, I think he was from Bogota. He was Uncle Joe's best friend. And they opened up a delicatessen liquor store in Bogota. They lived on top of it. There was a Deli on the first floor, still there, and an apartment on the top. They had one child and sixteen years later, had another child. Two boys. And then they decided that they would stop working for themselves and they sold the building, sold the liquor license, and they bought a house in Teaneck, two houses from the house my aunt grew up in on Sherman Avenue. So she never strayed too far from the old neighborhood.
(I) And did her children stay in Teaneck too?
(N) Her children, she has one child that is still very young. She has the one child, he is just about twenty. He is in school in New York now. He is with the Merchant Marine Academy at Fort Schuyler and my other cousin, Aunt Ginny's son, is a Lieutenant Colonel in the Marines. He is an attorney also.
(I) And he too went through the Teaneck public schools?
(N) No, they were the only ones that went to Catholic School full time. They went to Bergen Catholic after going to St. Joe is.
(I) And there is one uncle left, Robert.
(N) Robert. He is the chief of police in Teaneck. He was the one that resembled my father the most in temperament. Well they are all incredibly alike and they look like clones. They look alike and they were very liberal people and we always had a lot of interesting discussions growing up. Mostly about politics. He married Peggy O'Hare. The interesting thing about her was that all three brothers dated her. She was very beautiful and they all used to talk about stories about her. She lived on Belle Avenue in Teaneck. She had long legs and she used to walk her dog in the summer so the three boys would go to look at her legs and admire her. She had red hair. And all three boys took her out. They used to, the way they explained it to me was that exclusive dating was not the thing in high school. But Uncle Rob had his eye on her but all three of them really like her. My father, and my other uncle and Uncle Rob but she singled out Uncle Rob as the one she liked better and so they got married and had five children. But any excuse, they could find, they would be in her neighborhood in case she popped her head out of the door. But she was also very close friends with my Aunt Ginny and she, they went to school together so the boys would all beg Aunt Ginny to bring her over and so she would and she married my uncle.
(I) And they stayed here and their children stayed here.
(N) Yes, they bought a house on George Street. It was a new development at the time. Cape Cod. Right near the junior high school which wasn't there at the time. It was a big open field. And they had five children and two of the children still live in Teaneck and the other three, only two of them are in California but then the other daughter, she lives in Closter.
(I) Did they talk about what it was like for them when they were growing up. For instance, did they swim the Hackensack River?
(N) My father did. They used to all go swimming at the Hackensack River but of course the girls were never invited because they used to go in without their clothing and the Hackensack River was very clean
(I) Was this in the daytime?
(N) Gee, I don't know. I don't know. Their stories sound a little bit like Huckleberry Finn, you know. They used to swim in the Hackensack River. They used to fish a lot in the Hackensack River. And what I think they emphasized a lot when I was growing up was that they always had to make their fun because there was really nothing set up for them. There was no recreation department, there were no ball teams. You wanted to play ball, you went down and played it in the park because they lived near Herod Park which was fabulous, beautiful ball field they could play in. And they used to make their own fun. They used to have not parties but they'd all get together on someone's front lawn at night and masses of teenagers would stay together and the four children which I think is different than today, they all were each other's best friend. They all had the same friends and went out together and a lot of times like my father would take my aunt out on a date. That was his sister but they did and the two brothers would take her out and
(I) Well they were very close in age.
(N) They were very close in age - maybe fifteen months apart each so they were all like twins really.
(I) Where did your uncle go for his education after he left Teaneck?
(N) Uncle Rob? He didn't go to college. The war broke out and he was in the Navy also and then he came on the Police Department right after World War II and at that time, it was difficult to get police officers to take the job because it was not such a high paying job but that of course changed as years went by. More and more people wanted to get into police work. But he started out as a patrolman and just advanced until he was chief. He was captain for, it seemed like twenty years. I always remember growing up that you never knew if he was going to make it through the afternoon. We used to get together all the time. The aunts would cook a meal, the uncles would sit and discuss politics and the children would run around the house, the backyard so I really grew up with my cousins in a very close way. We saw each other all the time but we never knew whether he would make it through the afternoon because they would always call him and he'd have to go down there, you know, for whatever.
(I) Do you remember any major incidents when you were growing up?
(N) Yes. Where I grew up, there was a liquor store and a delicatessen called Balzer's and the two, Mr. Busin who is an old Teaneck family, was the owner and Mr. Balzer was the owner. They worked together. And a man went in there one night and asked them for money and I think it was Mr. Balzer told him he couldn't have it and shot him and that was, at the time, people talked about it for years. We were still talking about it for three years. He was a, the man at the deli who always gave us cold cuts. When you would go and he would slice the cold cuts and always give us a few pieces and not weigh it and make us pay, send us out the door with animal crackers. He knew, everybody knew him by his first name and he knew all the children's names. And he would threaten us if we acted up out in the street - not in his store. You would never act up in his store. But is he saw us fooling around in the street, he would came out and he would say, "If you don't cut it out, I am going to tell your mother." Of course you knew he would, so you straightened up. But it was very sad for us because he was a very kind man. Everyone really liked him. All those little stores there along Teaneck Road between Orchard and West Englewood Avenue, all the storekeepers knew the children and the children knew the storekeepers. It was a, it was really very sad for something like that to happen was so incredible.
(I) Did they
(N) They never found him. They never found the person who shot him. In fact, he ran up Orchard Street and they found the gun but they never found the person who had shot him.
(I) That would be a vivid memory.
(N) My uncle worked on it for so long. That is something that sticks out in my mind as far as him having to leave because something terrible happened.
(I) Let's get on to you and your growing up in the schools for instance. You went to Teaneck schools?
(N) Yes, I started in fifth grade at Washington Irving.
(I) Bfore that you had gone to the parochial school.
(N) St. Anastasia's.
(I) And in fifth grade, you were in
(N) I was in Washington Irving and the sixth grade, every sixth grader in town was bused or walked to Bryant. I walked because I lived nearby. And they mixed each class according to race, religion, so they wanted a balance in each class and we worked in teams. There were six classroom for each team and we had six teachers and we went from teacher to teacher, each teacher had a specialty like English or Math or Social Studies.
(I) Were you aware at the time why they integrated the grammar school?
(N) I had no idea because my parents never spoke about it. I didn't even realize it was of any import at all to anyone that the neighborhood went from white to black. My parents never spoke about it and I never heard any of the adults, even the adults that moved, ever speak about it and of course the big change for me when I went there was that there were, all my little friends were black and there were black children in the class. In fact I grew up thinking that most people were black and some white because my whole neighborhood was black. I used to say to my mother, "Why aren't there any blacks on the commercials? Don't they know that there are so many black people?" And she said, "Well that's in Teaneck. That's where you live that there are so many blacks."
(I) But you started in Washington Irving. What was Washington Irving like before you went to the sixth grade?
(N) It was marvelous. We had very small classrooms, eighteen children. The teacher was Mrs. Lyndahl. She individualized the reading program. I never read from a reader. We were given novels to read that the other girl and I who were in the same reading group were given novels to read. She took us allover New York. We went on trips every two weeks. We saw plays. We went to the movies. We dug for fossils.
(I) The entire class?
(N) Everyone. Yes. And the trips were $2.00 at tie time. $2.00 every two weeks. And we went to the Museum of Natural History, we went to the Museum of Art, we saw the Sound of Music. We went to concerts and before we would go to concerts, usually it would be classical music, she would play that music for a week before school started and say everybody come early, sit in the classroom, so that we could discuss the music. She wanted us to be able to discuss the music intelligently, how the music changed, and she felt if we were familiar with the songs or with the type of music, we would listen a lot better to it because we were really young. Nine or ten years old. To listen to a whole concert. And we used to go on trips to we collected turtles one time. We are all over. She took us with one parent. One parent would come with us.
(I) If you had to pay $2.00 for each class trip, what happened if there were children that couldn't afford to go on these class trips or don't you remember?
(N) You know, that never came up because everyone could afford $2.00. No one was poor really. Everyone lived in a house and there were really so few people who lived in apartments. Everyone seemed to live in that area and I never heard of anyone complain of the price. Now I know there were certain things, children got things for free. Like lunch. If you couldn't pay, your lunch was free. Or for gym, they used to give out sneakers to children but you never knew who and you never knew they were getting a free lunch or free sneakers. Maybe some of the children didn't pay. Maybe they didn't.
(I) But the class was not aware of that.
(N) Oh no. Because we had to come in with permission slips and the money a week before the trip. Every Tuesday we would have to come in with a permission slip and the money. But most of the parents I think felt that it was, that they themselves couldn't have taken their child on that type of an outing for $2.00 and have their child experience all these things.
(I) You mentioned that your neighborhood went from white to black. What was, about when would this have been?
(N) I would say maybe Bogert Street which is next to Orchard Street maybe the first black family moved in in 64, maybe 65. They bought one of the nicest houses on the block. And within a few years, two years, three years, the entire neighborhood cleared out. Everyone that was white moved.
(I) You were the only ones that were left?
(N) No. We stayed. Orchard Street was a dead end. There were only four houses on Orchard Street and they were old people so they never moved but all the people behind us and across the street, all of Bogert Street went. There were a few people that stayed but basically everyone did move and the black people bought the houses.
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