Janey Way Memories #159 A Mixed-up Neighborhood
By Martin Relles
When I grew up on Janey Way in the 1950s and ’60s many Italian families, with names like Costamagna, Puccetti, Viani, Thomasetti, Relles and Petrocchi lived in our neighborhood.
However, at second glance, our neighborhood really was pretty ethnically and racially diverse. Two African-American families, the Morgans and the Burks made their homes on Janey Way. The Ducrays (a French family) lived across the street, one house down from the Thomsens. The Rosenblatts (a German family) lived two houses down from our house.
Finally, the Roas, with mother Tomasina and son Mike (a Mexican-American family) lived right next door to us. Mike and Dan Rosenblatt were my brother Terry’s best friends.
The fact is that, in spite of our diversity, all the kids on Janey Way got along well. We played touch football in the street and basketball at St. Mary’s School. We roller-skated in the halls of Phoebe Hearst School and swam at Glenn Hall Pool in the summer. We were the Janey Way gang.
I remember two stories which best demonstrate how close we all were.
One summer, a bunch of us played tackle football at the little league field. After the game, as we walked across the pit (the vacated sand and gravel site behind our homes on Janey way), my cousin said to me, “Who is that black guy?” referring to Brad Morgan. I replied, that’s Brad; he is in our gang. That ended that conversation. Nothing more was said.
Then, in the 1960s, after I graduated from St. Mary’s School and began studying at Christian Brothers School, I took Spanish as my foreign language class. About that time, Tomasina Roa moved her elderly mother from Mexico to Janey Way. She even built a grandmother’s cottage for her.
The first time I encountered Mike’s grandma, she was sweeping off the sidewalk in front of the Roas’ house. I said, “Hola senora. Como esta usted? (Hello ma’am. How are you?” She replied, “Muy bien, y tu, (very well, and you). Como se llama?” (What is your name?) I said, “Martin.” Her eyes brightened as she realized I could speak to her in her language. We became good friends after that.
Sometime after I moved off Janey Way, she passed away, but I will always remember her bright smile and high energy.
I feel blessed by the diversity I experienced on Janey Way. It prepared me what I would ultimately experience when I grew up. The kids were different, but they were the same.
We played the same games, and wore the same kind of clothes, but we were culturally different. In the end, we stood up for each other because we were “the Janey Way gang.”
Now my days growing up in that “mixed-up neighborhood” are just another inspirational Janey Way memory.