“River Rats” and rabbit names #AtoZChallenge

R is for “River Rats” and rabbit names. Eighteenth of twenty-six posts in the April 2020 Blogging From A to Z Challenge on the theme “Endwell: My Elementary Years”— where my genealogy journey germinated. Wish me luck!

In my early elementary years, I spent most of my time — from second to fifth grade — near my Endwell, N.Y. home one block from the Susquehanna River. I walked uphill on Shady Drive to Hooper School on Main St. — where commercial railroad trains roared past on the track behind.

So, although I was unaware of it at first, I lived on the “other side of the tracks” from the more upscale part of town — with its  larger, costlier hilltop homes high above the river flooding that plagued my neighborhood.

Susquehanna River near River Road in Endwell, N.Y. (2018). Those of us who grew up below Main Street near the river took a certain tough pride (and still do) in being River Rats — in contrast to the tonier kids who lived in hilltop homes on Snob Nob. Photo: Molly Charboneau

River Rats vs Snob Knob

A shortage of classroom space sent us fifth graders to the junior high building in that part of town. And by sixth grade, when my class met in the high school building atop the hill, I had become aware of the difference between us “River Rats” and my tonier classmates who lived on “Snob Knob.”

Yet despite the class differences — or perhaps because of them –those of us who lived below Main Street took a certain tough pride (and still do) in being River Rats.

Sure, we endured springtime floods that threatened our small homes. But we could also walk to Carvel for ice cream or overtown to Endicott or to the nearby bowling alley — which were all in our part of town. That gave us a youthful independence that the Snob Knob kids  (who had to be driven everywhere) could only dream of.

Rabbit names

Living in our Endwell enclave also meant that most of us River Rats spent time with one another when not in school. That was particularly true of me and my brothers when we were young — and we developed our own childhood language and literal naming conventions that have lasted into adulthood.

Rabbit. My brothers and I took our pet rabbit’s preference for spaghetti-sized leaves of grass to be a sure sign that he was Italian. So we named him Luigi. Photo: Pixabay

For example, there were the rabbit names. It must have been Easter when a yellow stuffed rabbit arrived in our household — but what to name it? We kids tried out a few names — then my brother Mark noticed the box was labeled “Bunny Maize.” Wait, the rabbit came with a first and last name? Done!

We also had a real pet rabbit that was kept in a large cage in our yard — and faced a similar challenge naming him. Pondering possible monikers, we sat around feeding him leaves of grass and noticed that he was only eating the skinny ones that looked like spaghetti. “He must be Italian,” someone said. “What about Luigi?” Prefect!

Our own familial language

Tricolor Neapolitan ice cream is still known as “van-choc-straw” in my family. Photo: Wikimedia Commons

Then there was the tricolor Neapolitan ice cream that was popular in Endwell, given the area’s large Italian-American population. Despite it’s official name, we always got the store brand that was labeled “van-choc-straw” — for its vanilla, chocolate and strawberry components — so that’s what we call it to this day.

And thus — without realizing it — my brothers (and later my sisters) and I developed terms and expressions that were our family’s own and still give us a familial chuckle all these decades later.

Up next: S is for Sisters: What a surprise! Please stop back. 

© 2020 Molly Charboneau. All rights reserved.

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4 thoughts on ““River Rats” and rabbit names #AtoZChallenge”

  1. Love the pride in the other side of the track and consequent independence. How fun to have your own family language too.

    1. Thanks, Pauleen. We were a rough and tumble bunch on my street. Amazing that the River Rat spirit has lasted into our adulthood and retirement — as has my family’s own special language.

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