Sunday, August 16, 2009

Sunday Memories - A Visit from Another Her New York: "It Looked Chaotic But It Was Quite Organized."

Irene, mother of one, Lower East Side Girl through and through, remembers Her Orchard Street and Other Sundry Moments .

One of the few stores left where Irene can buy her socks and nylons

"I remember the ladders that rolled along the wall of shelves and the hair accessories all stapled outside on each box so you could really see all the barrettes and clips. Thousands of products, all the merchandise, all stapled on the outside of the boxes. You'd have to ask for what you wanted and they'd go get it for you.

When you were Chinese, they never paid you no mind until you were ready. And it wasn't like we were dressed nicely. We shopped on Orchard Street every other week. I don't know what my mother was buying.

I'll tell you what Orchard Street taught me. It taught me to negotiate. Those Jews didn't respect you if you didn't. If you didn't they were insulted. These days I don't bargain. There's no one there to bargain with.

My friends and I wandered the streets incessantly. People watched out for each other. My mother never worried. I wish my son had the freedom I had. He's eleven and can't cross the street by himself. He's starting now. He's starting on the bus. But when I was 7 (second grade) and my brother was 4 (Pre-K), my mother put us on the 6 train to visit my aunt in the Bronx, a cruddy part, and no one questioned that. My brother and I walked to the Municipal Building and went under the turnstile. I don't think that my mother was lazy. She worked hard and needed some time to herself and did not care to spend five to seven hours in my aunt's hand laundry store. We were pesky and insistent so she relented and let us go. If I did that to my son, I'd be arrested. But I hear that from everyone, in Queens, here, everywhere. Kids are just not independent like we were.

And I confuse my friends because it's hard for them to understand how it could be so fantastic to have lived a less than idyllic life in the LES among projects, tenements, gangs, and having to watch your back. I laughed when I read about your asking your friend to put away his camera because he might get mugged. To this day when I sit in a restaurant I have to sit facing the door so that I can see who is coming in or if trouble is looming, something I learned in my youth that I cannot shake, even if I am in a fancy restaurant.

When you get older, and reach back into your memory, you don't remember vacations or trips. You remember the boring moments. My father worked six days a week, long, long hours. So I remember when on Sunday, his one day off, he'd join us because it was so rare. Everyone in Chinatown went to City Hall Park because it was green and beautiful. I remember the rare Sundays my father joined us in the park. I remember that, not the first vacation we took to Toronto when I was in my late teens. My son has been everywhere, San Diego, Sanibel Island, Puerto Rico, the Caribbean Disney Land, everywhere. Soon, he'll be going to Costa Rica and probably China. You know what his favorite memories are? Bedtime, when we read stories."


c.o. moed said...

From Charles in Cincinnati, Ohio who couldn't get google to allow him to post. Thank you so much, Charles.

Irene's remembrance of a particular store reminded me of youthful visits to my Grandpa Goldzwig's clothing store in tiny Miamisburg, Ohio: "Fashion Dress Shop". Modest and completely old-fashioned, it's storefront was one link in a chain of old buildings along a business street unchanged for decades. One highlight of every visit to see Grandma and Grandpa at their store was a lunchtime excursion to an old restaurant around the corner.

The store was not well lit and I paid no attention to the clothes. My brother and I would snicker at the nude torsos on the countertops that displayed the latest bras, which in the midwest probably meant a year behind anything then seen in New York. Grandpa Saul always stood straight and almost motionless, a cigar or pipe usually near at hand.

Years later I inherited the standing chrome metal ashtray from the shop and took it with me when I went away to college in St. Louis. Grandma Rose, shy and nervous, showed us the cash register, always a hit with kids. We were even more taken in by the ancient green safe that was tucked away into a dusty corner. I imagined what riches were surely locked away inside it. In old stores like this one, footsteps echo and silence hums. The merchandise stands at attention, quiet and obedient, never shouting with outlandish colors or patterns.

It never seemed too odd that my Grandpa owned a woman's clothing store. He was too honest, too elegant, too quiet and polite and handsome to invite inappropriate comments from a young boy enthralled by the differences between the sexes. I don't remember when they left their business behind them. I was too preoccupied with oil painting and art films and my own neurotic responses to what I saw as a world spinning into confusion. That simple, quiet store was a remnant, a part of my family history that lies out of reach and almost out of mind.

Bowery Boogie said...

Thank you for sharing! It's sad that the bargain district is fading away.

c.o. moed said...

Thank you and thank you for visiting!