Back in the ’60s and ’70s in South Buffalo, you were known by what neighborhood you resided in. There was Seneca Street, Abbott Road, South Park, the Valley and the First Ward. Everyone was proud and protective of his home turf.
You never had to go off your street for a baseball or football game. There were so many kids in the neighborhood, you just chose teams and played right there. Whenever a car would come down the street, someone would yell “car!” and everybody would move to the side till it passed. But back then most families had only one car and Dad usually drove it to work, so our games weren’t interrupted very often.
The other common divider was what Catholic school and parish you were from. The St. Teresa’s kids were mostly poor with large families. They slept in bunk beds with three or four to a bedroom.
The St. John’s kids grew up near Cazenovia Park. They thought they were better off than us because their jeans didn’t have holes in them like ours did. The Abbott Road kids were referred to as the starched shirts and penny loafers crew. They did dress nicer, but they smelled like girls with all the cologne they bathed in. South Park kids were the self-proclaimed tough guys. They thought they were the brawlers and liked to be called rocks.
Last but not least were the First Ward and the Valley. Their neighborhoods were on South Park between Republic Steel and downtown. The First Ward kids had pride like no other neighborhood. We all had a lack of money, but we shared strong family ties and were proud to be from South Buffalo.
We all lived in our own little neighborhoods and had the same friends. We knew their parents and where they worked because we were always welcome in their homes like we were family. Many of my friends’ fathers were steel workers at Bethlehem and many others made a living as civil servants or in other blue-collar jobs. Most of the mothers stayed home; a few worked part-time jobs, but mostly they ruled the roost while the fathers were hard at work. It was not unusual to have home-baked bread and cinnamon rolls at any house you visited.
We lived in our own little worlds until we started high school. That was when we first realized there were all these other kids living in South Buffalo.
In my junior year at Timon, I was transferred into the business class. That’s when I was introduced to my Ward friends. What an eye-opening experience that was. There was Ozy, the ringleader, Smitty, Stabbs and a bunch more with nicknames. Everyone had only one sports coat for school. You could always tell someone from the business room because his coat was full of eraser marks. Throwing erasers was a qualification to be in that class. After a few weeks, I was accepted. I still wasn’t a First Warder, but I ended up with friends forever, many of whom I still have to this day.
The other bonding experience was the Timon dances, when boys and girls from all over South Buffalo met, talked and danced. Many nights ended with fistfights after the dances out back. But some new relationships developed that led to dating and lifelong relationships. Eventually we all grew up, but to this day, people from these neighborhoods are proud to say they’re from South Buffalo.