Image courtesy of Wikimedia Commons
By Amy Phillips Penn

Ask me what I miss the most about growing up on East 92nd Street, and it’s a buffalo nickel toss between the polo armory on 93rd Street, Schrafft’s on Madison Ave, and riding Saddlebreds on the bridal path. Ladies riding side saddle, polo ponies, and pound cakes with Schrafft’s vanilla and fudge make a once-upon-a-New York neighborhood indeed, albeit a quiet one, at least for a while.

Carnegie Hill spans from East 86th Street to 96th …Fifth Avenue to Third…encompassing a rose — or petal — of Spanish Harlem. Carnegies, Rockefellers, and Whitneys once ruled Carnegie Hill.

Their mansions and others graciously moved on to new times: Cooper Hewitt, the Convent of Sacred Heart; the Lycee Francais and the Audubon Society for a not so brief moment in time.

If Schrafft’s isn’t a memory, let me share: There were several Schrafft’s restaurants in Manhattan. Ours was on Madison in the 80s. Waitresses with Irish accents served tea-sandwiches and called you “dear” or “dearie.” I went there often with my grandmother. By the time the hostess had seated us, she had said hello to a half a dozen acquaintances who looked her grandchildren up, down, and sideways to report who-knows-what to who-knows-whom. No blue jeans need apply.

My mother and I ate lunch there and my sister, who was still in the toothless little girl phase, came along. Two ladies sat at a nearby table. My sister crawled under their table, looked at them and said, ”Pooky, pooky ladies.” She kept repeating her toothless message, which translated, meant “spooky, spooky ladies.” My mother tried to rein her in, but was laughing too hard. The spooky minus “s” ladies were, thankfully, oblivious.

Schrafft’s was more than coffee, ice cream, bunny-shaped cookies, and perfect service.

Hail Dorothy! Schrafft’s sponsored the 1959 CBS telecast of The Wizard of Oz. Schrafft’s was everywhere.

The polo armory (now a school) occupied a good part of 93rd and Madison. There were well-bred polo ponies, along with owners of all kinds of breeding. My father used to watch my Great-Great-Uncle Max Phillips umpire polo games there. A friend and I once went in to see if we could exercise the polo ponies. My friend had a whip in her riding boot. “Don’t let the manager see that,” a groom admonished us. Intimidated by his tone and the speed of the polo ponies, we never returned.

I went to a party at the armory hosted by the cast of Howdy Doody (no, I did not make the name up), where I had the honor of squeaking Clarabelle the clown on the nose, while he retaliated by squirting seltzer my way. Big Honk.

Growing up with ribbons and grosgrain, we feasted at a notions store on Madison Ave near 91st Street. It was a decoration of its own, with spools and spools of bright, pale, and decorated ribbons waiting to be snipped by the yard. Drawers of buttons buttoned up the rest of the store. Next door was a store that had a lonely bathtub in the window…and that was it.

Epstein’s was the stationary store across the street, where many a private school student stole a paper clip or two.  A comic store on the next block stacked Archie and Veronica and romance comics with formula plots.

A friend of mine was caught stealing at M.H. Lamston’s — a five and ten cents store — in the 80s. The manager called her mother, who retorted with, “my daughter wouldn’t do that, and do you know who my husband is?” That was a New York noblesse oblige.

My friend moved on to a higher status of poaching, starting with her mother’s Hermes gloves, and later Pucci pajamas out of the Rome boutique. I settled for buying a Lamston’s canary and named it Ringo, a commitment to my crush of the moment.

A brownstone on 92nd street was whispered to be the hub for practicing midwives, while across the street there was a townhouse that was hoopla’d for hosting the best looking call girls on the island.

My parents lived on 92nd Street for over forty years, in the same building that my father had once stayed in as a child. When they died, we went through decades upon decades of memories. I found a box of invitations for an anniversary party that they would never live to celebrate…and started to cry.

It’s been over decade since they moved in, and I never followed through.

Some memories are best left alone, tied in grosgrain ribbons by a curious New York child’s hand. Enjoy!

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