Memories of Old St Pete – Growing up in Norwood
Memories of old St Pete? I have many. You forget I was born and raised here. I was raised in a neighborhood affectionately known as “Little Vietnam”. Little Vietnam was (I use was because the neighborhood is so changed now none of its old inhabitants would recognize it) was probably the best area to be raised in St Pete in the early 1980’s. It was a poor neighborhood made up of honest, hard-working poor families, n’ver-do-wells and a large group of refugees from Vietnam, Laos and Thailand. The neighborhood and the city was laid out as a grid with streets running north-south and avenues running east-west. Every so many streets would be a main road creating a block pattern that major cities are built on but back then it was just neighborhoods, there was no city. Little Vietnam was a block of homes, probably 1,000 sq ft each and those were the rich families, surrounding the shanty shacks that the refugees occupied. The refugees lived at least one family to a shanty shack and there were rows of shacks down 28th Avenue. It was almost a city within a neighborhood. The heart of the neighborhood was Norwood.
We had everything any kid could need back in those days. We had a friendly church with a playground (Norwood) that let kids come in the building for ice cold drinks from their water fountain in the summer– even though we were climbing their fence in order to play on their playground. Norwood eventually gave up locking the fence and put a “Play at your own risk” sign. I guess they got tired of fixing the fence.
We had a 7-11 on our side of the ‘hood– which meant we kids could take 27 cents and buy a small Slurpee, if we could manage walking that far without shoes in the July heat. Asphalt and concrete get pretty hot in July. The concrete will literally burn your feet, if a sandspur did not get you first. Remember the old lady that worked the counter? The lady with all the bobbie pins? I swear she used an entire pack on each side of her head. I wonder what ever happened to her.
We had a lake we played in. Well, actually it was not a lake. It was really the hole in the earth left over from when the city built Interstate 275 down the center of the city and it filled with water one summer, so the city hooked run-off water to the lake and then it got deep enough for kids to canoe in. I remember when a big truck broke down right by the lake and they left those huge blocks of styrofoam. The neighborhood kids played for weeks with that stuff. We made boats, canoes and blobs big enough for one kid to sit on with his legs hanging in the water. We had boat races. It was awesome. We named that lake Long Leg Lake or Skinny Leg Lake. Either name and everyone knew where you were talking about. The Jacaranda tree at that lake made for some good fun. We would swing over the lake hanging from palm fronds and see how far out we could go before the palm fronds broke.
We had a neighborhood school, Woodlawn. It was the headlice capital of the city. We loved that school. Best coach, ever. What was his name, Coach Ketchum? He called me by my big sisters name, everyday. He made us run on the back field and would call us lazy and taunt us if we did not run. He really loved us. We could feel it. So, we ran. We sweated out the sloth. We actually liked it. During recess we played wall ball. We walked to and from school and could buy a Polar Cup for a quarter on Fridays.
We had an Episcopal church, St Bede’s, I think. It had a prayer garden. I would visit that prayer garden on the walk home from school if I wanted to petition God to not remind my mother to ask for my report card. I was too busy socializing to concentrate on my work and I did not feel I should be punished for bad grades. He understood, I was certain. They had an Allamanda bush. The flowers smelled so lovely. Sometimes, on the walk home my best friend and I (we are still best friends) would sneak under the bushes at a certain house and pick the pomegranates. Back then we did not know what they were and our parents thought they were poisonous so we had to figure out how to eat them without parental help. What can I say, we knew our mothers were wrong and the pomegranates tasted amazing. But, that is just how we did things back then in old St Pete.