Figure 19 The Wagner family: Trudy, Herman, Albert, and Henry.
would listen for the wheels of the engine to slip, resulting in a staccato of huffs of steam, a process that would be repeated over and over again until the wheels finally held and the train moved on. That was the signal for us to go to sleep.
The back alley and a small, adjacent street called Fairmount Avenue was our playground, where we often played "step ball," "red line," and "kick the can." We also played "stick ball" with a broomstick as a bat, and a rolled up "snow ball" tray as the ball. Whenever the ice truck came down the street, we would all rush to get a piece of ice, particularly appreciated on the hot days of a Baltimore summer. In a back window of each house there would be a sign indicating to the iceman how big a piece of ice was needed that day to stock the icebox. Usually, we picked up spare chips of ice that happened to be in the wagon, but occasionally the iceman would chip off a few pieces just for us.
During his daily stroll down Fairmount Avenue, the local patrolman, Mr. Black, would always find us on our best behavior. Street "A-Rabs" would pass by leading their horse-drawn wagons, hawking vegetables, and occasionally "hard crabs."
A second encounter with Bon Secours Hospital was at age 14 when, while roller skating, I broke both bones in my left arm when I fell from holding on to the back of a moving truck on Fairmount Avenue. I was trying to impress a girlfriend standing nearby. The fracture was "compound," meaning that it had broken the skin, predisposing the site to infection and osteomyelitis. Fortunately, sulfa drugs had just been developed, and were available at Bon Secours. My cut healed uneventfully. Dr. Frank Marino, a general surgeon, and father of one of my girlfriends, had to operate to set the radius and ulna of my left arm. This was still another experience that increased my desire to become a doctor.
Eventually, in the early 1950s my parents moved from Fayette Street to a new development of row houses in Rodgers Forge, in the northern part of Baltimore, populated by the middle class. The area surrounding St. Martin's parish gradually deteriorated into one of America's best publicized slums.
From the winter of 1992 to the fall of 1993, writer David Simon and Edward Burns, a former police detective, camped out on the corner of Monroe and Fayette Streets, six houses from where I lived from the time I was born until 1951. In their book The Corner, published in 1997, they describe the gutted houses, drug dealers and addicts, and the poor folk who live in constant fear of crime and death.
They concluded their description of the menacing neighborhood and its inhabitants on an optimistic noting of the escape of some through the public schools, community colleges, affirmative action, and the Army.
They quote the poet, W.H. Auden, who wrote: ". . . the first criterion of success in any human activity, the necessary preliminary, whether to scientific discovery or artistic vision, is intensity of attention or, less pompously, love." This was true for me, and I hope it will continue to be true for those who now live in my old neighborhood.
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