Yesterday night, after dinner at an Italian restaurant in Brooklyn, I asked David if he’d drive to where my grandmother lived when I was born. The area is called Borough Park and is now inhabited by an ultra-Orthodox sect of Jews, called the Hasidim.
I remember my frequent Saturday visits to Grandma Fannie’s when I was a little girl, in the fifties. My mother, sisters and I would climb the two flights of steps to her apartment in an old building. The dingy hallway always had a smell that I hated, but it disappeared once we were inside. I remember helping my grandmother hang the wash on a clothesline that ran from her bedroom window, across a courtyard to another building; eating at the dining room table that went on and on, and doing my homework at a desk in the corner of the living room. I swear I remember writing a paper on the explorer’s at that spot.
My aunt Sylvia was around 30 at that time, unattached and still living with grandma. I would sneak looks inside her closet to see her shoes, handbags, hats and jewelry, which all seemed so glamorous.
David and I pulled up to the building, which looked pretty seedy. The door to the hallway was ajar, so I ventured into the filthy vestibule, which was packed with children’s bicycles. The smell was the same as it was half a century ago, if one can remember smells. I started up the steps and heard children’s voices inside grandma’s old apartment. I tried desperately to imagine myself at 10, standing right where I was, but, of course, I couldn’t. I was tempted to knock on the apartment door, but turned back.
I had an eerie feeling during this brief visit to the neighborhood where my parents lived when they met. My mother’s parents, Rose and Sam, ran a candy store-luncheonette, located in Fannie’s building. It’s now a tacky grocery and gift store. I pointed out where the old-fashioned lunch counter had been and could almost see my grandpa making me a malted in the green Hamilton Beach gadget. He poured it from the stainless steel pitcher into a cone-shaped paper cup that sat in a plastic base with a handle.
I wished I could share my memories with my grandparents and parents. No one is alive who remembers the way it used to be. My sisters were too young to recall the details. The texture of our lives is awesome.