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Lou recalls South Dakota — and Coney Island

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You can’t really bring back the old Coney. So many memories are not retrievable any longer.

My parents had gone west immediately after World War One. Dad took off his soldier suit at his parent’s home in Sea Gate. He had met this American girl while he was an American soldier. He said years later, “I knew she was the one for me. She was truly American, the right kind to guide a Russian-born guy in the country we chose to share our lives and bring up our family.”

Lou, (that’s me) was first born way out west in South Dakota, where I spent 30 months in the back of a grocery and clothing store in Crandon. According to a current computer search, the population there is now up to 72 people.

They kept me in a crib made out of a large egg carton in back of their bedroom at night where I could hear the sounds of the coyotes and the train whistles.

When the roosters crowed at dawn my parents opened their general store up front to greet the Indian boys and girls who ponied into town for the days at school. Dad had stacks of penny candies for the children, and he had a real long corral for them to hook up their ponies so that they could stock up on their way to class.

When I turned 2-and-a-half, a passenger train took me and my parents to the great big city of New York. We had a crowded apartment that my parents shared with their families in Coney Island. Family visited us in what was an eerie location since all the amusements such as Steeplechase and Luna Park were closed in the winter months

Dad never rested. His first day here, he talked himself into a new job managing the men’s clothing department at Nelkin’s clothing store, which was the largest one in Coney Island at the time.

He bought a property one block away. He had that building converted to his family home upstairs and his own new men’s shop on the ground level. The new property was located on Mermaid Avenue between W. 17th and W. 19th Streets. It was directly across the street from Our Lady of Solace Church, which was then being modernized from a wooden handmade building into a brick building topped with a bell tower. The bells would ring out melodiously each hour daily.

The winter snows piled up as horse-drawn sleds turned the snow to slush. On Surf Avenue, one long block away, the lesser trafficked magic of farmland was covered with icy white blankets. How odd it is, and yet how memorable, to remember those days on the hottest days of summer. The snow is as memorable to me as were the nickels that my mother would give me to buy my daily Eskimo Pie in front of Steeplechase Park in the summer months. I remember the vapor shot that poured out of the freezer from the Eskimo box and from my mouth when I would take my first bite.

From South Dakota to Coney Island. What a world!

This is Lou Powsner.

World War II veteran and famed Neptune Avenue haberdasher Lou Powsner has been Speaking Out for Brooklynites since the 1950s. Read his column monthly on BrooklynDaily.com.
Updated 11:48 am, January 16, 2019
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