March 29, 2012

Anthropologists of the future would be baffled if they were to examine the streets radiating northwards from Lincoln Elementary School in Bergenfield. What were these hundreds of strange dark blotches everywhere in the cement sidewalks? The shadowy remains of creatures vaporized in their tracks by subatomic particles emitted from some advanced weapon? The remnants of a mysterious life form that oozed up from the earth’s core in just this tiny area of the planet?

No. But any school kid who went to Lincoln School in the second half of the twentieth century would know the answer. Fishies.

More precisely, melted wax from a hugely popular confection sold at Fishies, or Greenwood’s Deli, as adults knew it. These treats were simple tubes of chewable wax filled with flavored syrup (sugar!), and as students from Lincoln would travel back from a foray to this popular local Mom and Pop store, they would spit the chewed up and now sugarless wax onto the sidewalk as they walked. The sun did the rest, melting the wax into the concrete along with whatever sidewalk dirt was on the soles of all those small Keds that  trampled over this route.

Fishies. The word brings back memories of a virtual kid’s paradise. Go in with some spare change in your pocket, and the world was yours. Strips of paper with candy dots in rows upon it. Baseball cards in their packs with the lightly powdered pink bubble gum we would cram in our mouths and chew till our jaws were sore and pop all over our faces as we traded or flipped for our favorite players in the school yard. Skybars, Necco wafers, Turkish Taffy, Red Hot Dollars. Pez, for cryin’ out loud! All the candies of years gone by. And of course, everyone’s favorite, the wax tubes.

Fishies was also the introduction to my fascination with the world of flying. For fifteen cents one could buy a simple balsa wood glider. I must have bought scores of these over my years at Lincoln, spending blissful hours at Memorial Field, adjusting the wings to do loop-de-loops or steep climbs or jet-like strafing runs. Oh, how the imagination soared as the young World War II flying ace shot down Jap Zeroes and German Messerschmidts withstanding more than occasional crash-landings to return home safely to his sweetheart. Snoopy had nothin’ on me! Later, with a few more quarters in my pocket, there were the more sophisticated rubber band-powered  models, the bridge, I hoped, to the gas powered planes I saw the older guys flying in the park (which always remained forbidden to me–too dangerous).

Fishies seemed to embody all that was good about that time of our lives. The simple pleasures that were available for mere pennies. The first taste of freedom as a consumer on one’s own. A patient adult who would kindly tolerate many a kid whose mind could not be made up faced with the momentous decision–Black Jack Gum or Candy Cigarettes.

Fishies, with Jeanette Greenwood (daughter of original owner Max Fisherman)

It was sad news when the story appeared in the local newspaper a few years ago that Fishies was closing. Although inevitable, the idea that such an institution, the trigger of so much nostalgia in so many, would be gone was a poignant reality. But whatever transformation the building on the corner of West Broad Street and Fairview Avenue undergoes, it will forever live on in the memories of thousands of now-grown-up kids as Fishies.


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