We numbered a family of five when my parents purchased a three-story brownstone in the now gentrified neighborhood of Crown Heights, Brooklyn. The house was on a one-street block of stoned, row houses. Three houses retained their front gardens. Everyone else smothered any potential for rose bushes or hedges under a slab of cement. This made it easier for most families. The only gardening they had to worry about centered around the children they planted. And in 1953, there were quite a few on the street where I lived.
My parents purchased the house from the Carussos. When they moved out, they left three
Caucasian neighbors behind. One lived right next door to us. She was a nice lady, stayed to
herself, but often staggered home from a bar two blocks away. There was another
woman directly across the street from us. All I remember is that she had thick, thick legs that
she squeezed into tight, beige stockings, and she walked in black, wide heels with laces. Whatever was wrong with her legs didn’t impede her mobility.
There was also a nun on the block. She used to always give candy to the children. Eventually, she moved around the corner to the housing for nuns. Whenever I'd pass the place, a high, gray cement wall obstructed my view. Everyone respected that wall because we knew nuns lived on the other side, but we had no idea how the residence looked until years later when they tore down the wall revealing the building, now affordable housing for all seniors.
My next-door neighbor, eventually sold her house to a middle-aged couple with one child; the other neighbor who lived across the street sold hers to a mother with one son and a grandmother. For decades the families that I grew up stayed on the block. For the most part, upward mobility did not mean moving away; it meant going to work, college, or the military.
Cars and buses may have ripped down the streets perpendicular to ours, but, they turned down our block slowly. On any given day, during the summer, eight to ten of us might have been in the street playing hide-go-seek, running races, or jumping double-dutch. If necessary, we would scream, “Car!” anyway just to be safe.
And after Mr. Pero (name change), who worked for the Park's department painted our favorite games in the street, more children played outside until the mosquitoes circled around a dimly-lit lamppost, and parents whistled or opened windows to say, “It’s time to come in the house now.” With a two-inch paint brush, he painted a skelly court on the street, a hopscotch game, and bases, so we could play punch ball, and the guys could play stickball. I remember the big number 2 he painted around the sewer for second base while parked cars served for first and third. Without a swing or a seesaw, we had our own playground on that block.
I always felt pretty insulated from the world and most of its problems living there. That is not to say problems didn’t arise, but for the most part, we lived on a block of peace and tranquility. With “Saint” as part of the street name, the planners, no doubt, planned it that way.
I warmly remember turning down the block to reach my house and greeting neighbors who sat
on their shaded stoops drinking sodas and chatting. They didn’t only know my name; they knew my mother, father, sisters and brother. After marriage and children, when I thought about moving out of Brooklyn to Long Island, the realtor showed my husband and me a few houses. I knew that a community where no one sat outside was not for me. I wanted my children to walk down a block with neighbors outdoors who smiled widely at them.
When a person goes home they should feel at home and receive all the warmth the community can provide. That notion taught me something about writing. In a world that can be chaotic
and alienating, I want my words to make my readers feel at home. I want them to get their
favorite coffee or tea, pull up a chair, and allow me to serve a gift of words to entertain,
enlighten or elevate. We can even share stories. I hope this stroll down my early decades inspires just that.