Originally posted August 10, 2010
Another on-going series of New York stories
Joyce and Laurel’s father and his family grew up next door to
my father and his family in the tenements on Henry Street. Not the hip,
over-priced, badly renovated, tons of cache, faux-street-cred tenements
of today but the rat-filled, roach-saturated, filthy, over-crowded
tenements of yesterday.
Their great-grandfather and grandfather
had the stables down the street. They were the blacksmiths. Laurel and
Joyce say it like it is, no bullshit. Maybe that came from the horses
because you know you can’t bullshit a horse.
taught himself English, showed up to whatever work he could get,
despite suspected depression and was pro-union (although there's
speculation it was just an excuse to be self-righteous and punch other
people besides his wife and kids). I think workers should be fairly
paid for their work and I’ve shown up to every job I could get despite
suspected depression. Yeah, I got a temper but unlike my grandfather I
keep it in check.
After the co-ops were built and the tenements
disappeared, our families all got new fancy apartments near one
another. In our world fancy meant elevators, hot water, toilets inside
the apartment, no rats and less roaches. Trees too.
(Dana's husband, George
was one of the couple of men who got those co-ops built.)
once in a while, Dolly their mother would say "Let's go visit Florence"
and they would come over and sit at the kitchen table, watching the
trains going back and forth. Both of them knew the plaid "lumberjack"
jacket from LL Bean and the Kedd sneakers Florence always wore. No one
in the neighborhood looked like her. So it made sense they would
They also knew we all walked everywhere. Spending
carfare was a very serious decision and if it wasn’t necessary then we
didn’t. And by necessary, I mean if the destination was less than an
hour away by foot, the answer was no. Even if it wasn’t, like Gramma’s,
we had to walk back.
Laurel and Joyce still live in the old
neighborhood that was built on top of the old-old neighborhood. I come
downtown for tea and talk. As I walked in the door, Laurel said,
"Betcha walked here." Of course I did. And although I’m not wearing
plaid, it’s clear to see from my sneakers to my jacket, I got Florence’s
Both of them point out the window to a new, ugly,
blue high-rise rising on the other side of Delancey. “Blue Smurf
dick,” they both chortle. Like I said, no bullshit.
reminds me they played with my hair during those visits. I don’t
remember. But something inside me remembers more than what they did
with my braids. I will probably get details wrong and forget about
dates and lose track of which family did what, but I don't get wrong the
neighborhood. Because, sitting at Laurel’s kitchen table, my lower
east side accent returns full force and I talk like I was six and home
Inheritance. Neighborhood. Heritage. All of the above.