A Neighborhood Improvement Journal - Summer 2017

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Remembering Congress Heights

 

Tom Reese was born in 1933 and lived in the Hillcrest neighborhood until 1939 when his family moved to Congress Heights. He had a great childhood in Congress Heights until his family moved to Prince George's County in 1948. He attended Stanton Elementary, Congress Heights Elementary, Kramer Junior High, Anacostia High, and Maryland Park High schools. Tom recalls spending his afternoons with his neighborhood playing, watching movies, and finding enough money to buy candy and the ultimate ice cream sundae.

"We played football and softball in the street. Then we'd go to the playground. We had a wonderful playground in Congress Heights off of Alabama Avenue that had tennis courts and basketball courts and we went there almost every day in the summer. It didn't have a pool, but we had a pool available to of us because right below where we lived in Congress Heights was Bolling Airforce Base. We went to school with a number of kids whose fathers were stationed at Bolling Airforce Base. On rainy days we would play Monopoly all day. We played a game called flip cards and we also played marbles. In the evening after dinner we could go out until dark and we would play mother may I, red light, green light, and spud. Our favorite game was stoop ball where we'd take the spaldine, or rubber ball, and we'd play baseball with it against the stoop. We had teams and we had playoffs, and we played that game all summer long. We had a neighborhood baseball team. We played football in our Congress Heights playground also.

"The candy store we went to was People's Drugstore which was at the corner of Portland Street across the street from the Congress Theater. They had a soda fountain and our favorite sundae was chocolate ice cream with marshmallow sauce. It was served in a beautiful pressed steel sundae glass which would be so cold because they kept it in the freezer box. It was just marvelous. It cost fifteen cents which was a little much for us, so we didn't get that very often. We tried to get a lot of money together so each of us could get our own. We collected bottles to trade in for money. The soda bottles were two cents and the quart bottles were a nickel. We tried to collect them and take them to the supermarket. Around construction sites were a real good place to find bottles because the construction workers didn't turn the bottles back in and there was a lot of construction in our neighborhood during WWII to try and accommodate the people coming to work for the government. We would buy candy or soda with the money or whatever we wanted to do that day.

"On Dec. 7, 1941 I was eight years old and my dad and I were listening to the Redskins game on the radio and they came on with an announcement that the Japanese had bombed Pearl Harbor. There was a lot of commotion in the neighborhood and neighbors came out on the street and everyone was talking. Probably by about 4:30 in the afternoon there was an Extra out about it. You know Extra, Extra read all about it. We had black out drills where we had to pull the blinds and the wardens would come around. I remember rationing came in not long after that. I was quite a rough and tumble little boy and so I wore shoes out pretty quickly. Well, shoes were rationed, but my dad had a couple of brothers who were married but didn't have any children, so he would always collect coupons from them so they could get me a pair of shoes. My dad would always say a pair of shoes for me lasted about a month. They'd be new, two weeks later they'd go into the repair shop, and then two weeks after they were worn out. I played a lot of marbles and wore out the toes.

"I remember bond drives. At the grammar school every Thursday we had a sale of savings stamps. You could buy stamps for as little as a quarter and you would buy your stamps and when you got enough stamps to fill a book up to $18.75 you could turn those in for a savings bond. They used to keep a record of how much in savings stamps were purchased by the kids in the school and when it got to a certain level, kids in the school could pick a piece of equipment for the war. The 6th graders got to choose and we chose a half-track. They actually brought one up and put it on the playground so we could see it--this piece of equipment that we had helped pay for. That was actually a big, exciting moment for us.

"We had a lady that came in every afternoon when I got in from school. Her name was Alberta Taylor, a wonderful black woman who lived in Anacostia, and she would come up every afternoon to take care of me. I met her daughter and her son when they came to pick up their mother, because she didn't have a car and they did. Her daughter was Gracie and her son was Maurice. Most of the time she went home on the bus. Alberta was probably with us until I was in the eighth grade when my mother thought I was old enough to take care of myself.

"I had paper routes in Congress Heights and I delivered the Daily News at Bolling Airforce Base. The paper route was a real disaster, because you didn't make any money. The Star was only six days a week so I was happy about that. I did it for three years when I was in Junior High-- I was never without a paper route in that time.

"We had segregated neighborhoods and schools. Anacostia was all white at the time. Black people lived from Berry Road to St. Elizabeths Hospital and from there it was all white to the District line. There was no high school for black kids in Anacostia, so they had to cross the river. They had Cardozo, Armstrong, and Dunbar, and they had to travel a long way to school. We were very segregated. School integration changed the city forever.

"I went to Kramer Junior High School in Anacostia from 1945-48. In 1948 my father decided he wanted a bigger yard so he could have a garden so we moved to the suburbs. I was never happy about that move. We moved to District Heights out in Prince George's County and I finished school at Kramer and then started at Anacostia High School. I left Anacostia High School to go to high school in Maryland and I was never very happy about that."

 

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