Learning the Ropes of Trenton Boyhood

While adjusting to his new life in Trenton, Tom befriended neighborhood youngsters of all backgrounds. The Coalport area was awash with immigrants from Ireland, England, Italy, Poland, and beyond.21 Most of Tom’s boyhood friends were therefore also from families that were relatively new to Trenton. “I learned ‘the dirty language’ from Italian immigrant children nearby until my mother caught on!” Tom mischievously recalls. As Frankie quickly learned the meaning of northern slang words, she promptly banished Tom’s newfound curse words from her house. Yet Tom remained fascinated by his boyhood friends and by other Trentonians even though he could not mimic all their habits.

In general, many social customs had to be learned from scratch when migrants and immigrants arrived in a city like Trenton. For example, the Malloy family’s “southern politeness” seemed old-fashioned in their new city. Tom had to continually relearn etiquette among elementary school and high school friends. “I learned to simply say ‘no!’ and ‘yes’ instead of the ‘no sirs,’ and ‘yes ma’ams’ that flowered southern dialect,” he recounts.

Tom especially relished the games and pastimes Trenton had to offer. He would run into the streets with his siblings and friends to buy five-cent ice cream from vendors in horse-drawn wagons.22 From elementary school until early adulthood, Tom enjoyed playing stick- ball in front of row houses and on empty city streets. However, Tom did not date much in high school due to his keen interest in his studies and in art. He was much more prone to tag along to a lecture outside of class than to attend a party or to seek romance. He remained rather shy and inexperienced with girls for many years while his peers dated often. He now confides, “I had never had a girlfriend by the end of high school.”