I share so much with my best friend, Cam but one of the nicest parts of our friendship has its roots in common ground. It takes a kid from the Bronx to understand another kid from the Bronx and it has been the glue that has stuck us together so nicely since age fifteen. Sure, we both went to the same high school, lived in the same city after we married, got as close with each other's family as we possibly could without the benefit of blood-relation but, it is our place of birth that forms our solid foundation as friends. So, when we wondered how best to spend some time together in New York last weekend, I suggested that we walk down Memory Lane together and hit the road for "Da Bronx". It had been a long time since I last did that and for some reason, I really felt the need.
First stop was Hollywood Avenue. My mother and her only sister, my Aunt Millie, grew up in a two family house almost on its corner. Her aunt, uncle and three cousins lived upstairs. Births, deaths, marriages, wars, good news, bad news; the cycle of life was repeated there, over three generations. The history that this house held! My grandparents' history. My mother's history. My parents' history. My history. Standing before the house, now very changed from its original appearance, it all wrapped itself into a place in my heart. I stood there, breathing it all in as if my life were passing before me in one quick moment. No, I did not cry. That would come later, on another street.
I just wanted to take it all in; to remember moments of my own childhood and to envision other childhoods. I transported myself back in time, not only my time, but the time of my parents, my grandparents. I did not have to look into windows. My windows were open and always have been. In my mind, I saw my mother coming home from school, her first date with my father, her exit from the front door on the arm of my grandfather, dressed head to toe in the beautiful wedding gown that my father insisted on paying for as a token of his life's promise to always provide for her. I see babies coming home from the hospital and relatives coming to visit. I smell countless dinners and see children, excited about holidays. I can hear my grandfather, delivering his inevitable after-dinner speeches, making his political views known to everyone gathered around my grandmother's large mahogany dining room table. I see myself as a flower girl for the wedding of my mother's cousin, the one who lived upstairs in that home,shared by two brothers. I hear my Aunt Theresa, coming down the stairs in the morning to have coffee and then, I hear the same little tapping on the pipe in the kitchen, beckoning my grandmother to come upstairs every afternoon for a different kind of coffee. I see myself at her side, sitting at the table, drawing doodles on Aunt Teresa's paper napkins while they talked again only hours after the morning meeting. I feel the love.
I breathe some more and look down the driveway and I see my brother and I waiting for our Uncle Peter to come home from his day at work, as we giggle and hop on the sideboard of his car and ride down the driveway. He used to call it the "Kindergarten Bus". I remember a rainy day, looking out the window onto the driveway and believing that the raindrops, hitting the pavement, were toy soldiers marching. I look across the street and see the home of my mother's uncle, the youngest of her father's brothers, still standing in between two apartment houses, holding its own against modernity, the last of its kind on that part of Middletown Road. It used to be brown, now it's white. The little store that once upon a time was a shop owned by my grandmother, is now all boarded up. The "candy store" on the corner of Middletown and Hobart Avenues is no longer. Neither is the little deli a few doors down. I cannot fathom a child so young as I was, frequenting both of these, totally on her own. I was seven when we moved away from the Bronx. "Things"certainly were very different then.
And, in the location that once was the fruit and vegetable store, a short walk from the doorsteps of their house, the one my grandmother visited daily, now stands the McNulty Funeral Home. And I remember one by one, the wakes and funerals, each one taking with it an occupant of the house on Hollywood Avenue.
Stay tuned for Part Two, Jarvis Avenue