Bernice & Edward Cross
Bernice was born in Maryland but came to Newton Hook when she was three months old. Her family went back and forth to Maryland to recruit workers. Her father worked at Atlas Cement.
She stayed mostly with her Grandmother, Alberta Lynch, who had a boarding house with 50 to 75 people who worked at the Brickyards. She cooked three full meals a day, like ham and cabbage for supper, for shift workers. The stove was a wood stove that Bernice and her uncle kept filled with wood so the fire would be hot all day. They learned to cook without a thermostat.
Bernice doesn’t use cookbooks; she only cooks from memory. Fried chicken is what people like best. Bernice gave instructions for making fried chicken: first clean the chicken, then soak it in salt and water, then dip it in flour and bread crumbs, and add salt, pepper, and paprika. Always put a pat of butter or margarine in the grease in the pan. Put the bone side down first, then the skin browns crispy quickly. The family hunted and cooked game; pheasants, venison, and partridge.
Her father was a chef for big restaurants in D.C. His specialty was opening clams and oysters. He taught Bernice to make Dutch chocolate, vanilla, strawberry or peach ice cream with milk, cream, eggs, and sugar, just like custard. The ice came from the ice man. They chopped it and the kids cranked (churned) the machine that had a layer of ice then a layer of rock salt which melted the ice to keep it cold. Kids got to eat the ice cream that came out with the dasher. The dasher had blades and was in the center of the churner. The ice cream could be preserved as long as you kept it packed in ice and blankets.
The delivery man for milk came from Stuyvesant, and there were the peddlers like the rag man, the umbrella man (who fixed broken umbrellas), the knife sharpener with a pushcart, and the fish man who came to the Brickyards every Friday morning. The bakery shop was on Warren Street. Charlie from Athens came across the Hudson River with a wagon filled with vegetables three or four times a week. Bernice made homemade bread, canned corn from fresh corn that cost 15 cents a dozen, and cooked fresh tomatoes to make chili sauce being very careful of botulism. She also still makes a special potato salad with pickles, olives, celery, shredded eggs, a carrot, a bit of onion, salt, pepper, vinegar and two kinds of mayonnaise.
Edward and Bernice met in the late 1920s. If you went on a date you could go to an ice cream parlor or a show or to Promenade Hill. With Edward they sat in the “peanut gallery” at Rialto. The Rialto, The Strand, and The Playhouse had live vaudeville shows with dancing, magic, singing. Women were not allowed in bars or allowed to go out on Saturday nights, only men. Edward once witnessed a fatal stabbing on First Street. He was not a fighter but he hung out with older men and then got into gambling. Growing up they had horses that pulled wagons and carts, or surreys for Sundays. Edward's father had horses and a mule.
Edward worked at the Brickyards and described the big kiln that baked the bricks. Red paint was mixed in with the mud and put into big molds. Thousands of bricks would go into the kiln at a time. They would daub the kiln with mortar to keep it tight so the heat stayed inside. Heat must go through the bricks, which could take days. Barges then took them from the Brickyards to New York City and points north too.
When Bernice worked for “Old” Dr. Whitbeck at 363 Allen Street, one day his son Giffy Whitbeck came in with a bunch of boys showing off by bossing her around. Bernice told the parents about his behavior. Otherwise she said discrimination/racism never really personally happened.
Bernice and her son David were working at 110 Greene Street for Lindsay Whitbeck. They were listening to As the World Turns, when they heard about assassination of JFK. They cried. Edward was coming back from Albany and heard it on the radio and pulled to the side of the road. They thought it was the saddest thing ever heard. She also remembers the day when Lee Harvey Oswald was killed. Bernice had a bar when she heard about the Martin Luther King, Jr. assassination. They didn’t pay much attention to crime when they were young. Bernice’s uncle did have a radio but only one person at a time could listen because it required headphones.
Bernice remembers the Day Line from NYC to Albany where you could dance, drink, or have a picnic lunch at Kingston Point. The Italian church did fireworks for the Fourth of July and they had a carnival. The kids had roman candles, sparklers, snakes that could be bought at the stores. There were Five and Dime stores like Newberry’s, Kresge’s, and Woolworth where you could buy everything. Hudson Dept. Store was near Bruno’s Shoe repair. Marsh’s was for the rich. Hats were always worn for Church. Kate Martin made custom hats. Moe Livingston owned a custom hat place for men. Edward wore straw hats years ago and still wears them now.
Marcella Mary Kane Schneider Beigel (Marcella Beigel) was the RSVP Director and originator of the BLACC Oral History Project. She moved to the Columbia County area at the age of 60 and was involved in many civic projects in Columbia County. She believed in the importance of the area’s black history and enlisted seniors to cull old newspapers as well as interview local residents in order to gather information on this history. She also was instrumental in creating a curriculum guide for local schools of the history that gathered in this collection.