Friday, August 8, 2008

Summer In Brooklyn

I've lived in a number of different cities (Boston, Chicago, Los Angeles, NY) - and I find it curious that I've ended up living in Brooklyn, where I was born. I never imagined that I would find myself living here, since we left when I was only one. We lived, first in Kew Gardens, Queens, and then further out on Long Island, in a typical suburban town, Plainview. For my mother it was a dream, a split level house where she could tend to her garden. Plainview was a good place to grow up. I could ride my bike everywhere. But when I became a teenager, all I wanted to do was "come to the city."

The photo was taken before I was born. My sister is topless, second person on the right, and my mother is sitting in the back on the right.

What I'm thinking about today, as we get ready to leave for California tomorrow, is my memories of Brooklyn in the summers. Every Saturday, we would drive in to see my grandparents and all my aunts and uncles and cousins. My sister and I would be in the back seat, generally fighting (she is eight years older than I and she always won.) The windows of the car were always open (no air conditioning in those days) and it was hot. Really scorching. The baseball game was always on the radio and I remember Phil Ruzzuto's voice so clearly.

We'd arrive at my grandfather's house, a wooden frame house in Bed Stuy. I believe that my grandfather and his wife, Fanny, were the only white people living on the block. It had become the largest black community in the entire country at that time (the 60's) and I loved going there.

We would always start out in the dining room of my grandfather's house, except in the summer, when we would eat in the backyard. The backyard had a long table and there was a big oak tree and grape vines everywhere. I loved the food my grandmother Fanny served us. My favorite dish was a cold fish stew with pieces of whiting (or sometimes flounder) that my grandfather caught in Sheepshead Bay, and cooked carrots, potatoes, onions and possibly a bit of sugar, because it was always a little sweet. Sometimes there would be lox and bagels and always many kinds of baked goods because my grandfather worked at Levy's bakery (which had been owned by one of my relatives.) They would serve ruggalah, babka, danish, you name it we had it. In the winter, we'd eat inside at the large dining room table, generally heavier dishes like brisket or stuffed cabbage. I can't remember much about the conversation, only the food.

The best part of the summer days would be when my cousins and I would walk to the candy store on the corner, passing all the kids playing on the street. They were riding their bikes or jumping rope (double dutch) or playing potsie. I'm sure they didn't know what to make of us. We would smile at each other, but we were too shy to say anything and they were too. I used to love looking at their hairdos, which were works of art, hundreds of braids on their heads, or pigtails. I wore my hair in a boring ponytail and so did my cousins.

My cousins and I would go to the corner candy store and buy a few comic books, (usually Archie), a bottle of Coke, and an ice cream, then return to my grandfather's front stoop, read, and survey the action on the street. I longed to jump rope with the girls, but I just didn't have the nerve to ask. It was hot and sticky, but I never wanted to go back to my boring suburban block. The only thing to see in our neighborhood was a father (or my mother) mowing the lawn and an occasional car driving by.

So now, years later, my family and I live in Brooklyn and it is still pretty fascinating. My neighborhood, Fort Greene, is very diverse and while the streets aren't as busy as Manhattan streets, they still have interesting stories to tell. I live next door to a woman who runs a day care center with her daughters, so everyday there are always adorable kids getting ready to go to the park. One of my neighbors plants the most beautiful flowers in many of the tree beds and tends to them. And the park is where we all hang out, the center of the community.

I'm a little sad that we're leaving Brooklyn for two weeks in the summer, but one of my other passions is swimming. My sister-in-law has a pool in her backyard and I will be in there everyday and hopefully we'll get to the beach at least once. When we go up north to the land, we have a large livestock watering trough on our property (seriously), which we all climb into when it gets hot. We'll probably also go to the Eel River at least once. (I haven't seen too many eels over the years.) It's a gorgeous place to swim. I'll add upload some photos when I return.

Water is the goal right now, but hopefully we'll have an Indian summer so we can still have time to enjoy Brooklyn.


Mia said...

I am going to miss your daily blog. See you when you get back ...

Robin Amos Kahn said...

I promise to write while I'm gone and to read your blog every day.

I just added an old photo of my family sitting in the backyard of my grandfather's house.

I need to know how to add my favorite blogs on the page. Can you tell me? Is it okay to add yours?