Tuesday, September 2, 2014

Part Three, Finale

Vera on Jarvis Avenue remembered my mother as "Angie". That's what she was called by friends in the Bronx and most of her family.My father called her "Ann".

"Angie had a little girl who gave her a lot of problems going to kindergarten" she tells me as she points across the street to P.S. 71.

"No, it wasn't kindergarten. It was the first grade.I was that little girl"

I stood in utter amazement as my early childhood stories were told, as if I were a total stranger to my past. As many times as I tried to insert myself, Vera took the other track but in the end, it all worked out. We took our photos and we returned to the car, the one that we had parked right at the scene of the crime from the day before. Was that blood in the street? Could very well have been.

Time for lunch. On to a spin around the streets that weave around and come out by Crosby Avenue, the former home of my great-grandfather, the one he left his home in Tocco da Casauria, in the Provence of Abruzzo, Italy, just northeast from Naples. I don't know very much about my grandmother's past but I have been to Tocco and I have seen the very mountains that she saw every day until she left the country at age 14.There were not highways, no sophisticated forms of communication, just trust, bravery, and a relative or two who brought children to the New World, leaving everything behind. I'll never know how that was done and visiting that tiny remote town filled me with wonder and respect for my grandmother and her siblings.

From Crosby we made our way to Buhre Avenue where it meets Westchester Avenue and I look up at the elevated train tracks, and I listen to a sound that I've never forgotten nor has Cam, the "ELL" coming into and leaving the station. Cam's bedroom as a child was right on Westchester Avenue and the train noises were as much a part of her young life as were her dreams of one day living in London. My thoughts traveled to the spot, at the base of the station steps, where I would wait for my mother to return from her day at work.
Buhre Avenue. Dr. DeVana, our dentist. The little grocery store, one that was slightly bigger than the alimentari found in the small towns in Italy; my grandmother's friends, their greetings I dreaded.I can still feel the pain in my cheek as it was grabbed by bony fingers and held on to as my head was shook from side to side during the discourse.In broken English, or maybe dialect Italian, my grandmother was reminded of how big I had gotten since......was it last week when we last did this?Ouch! I knew I was in for it as soon as we spotted yet another little lady, all dressed in black, coming our way.We parked the car in the area near St. Theresa's Church.My parents were married there.My brother and I, baptized there and made our first communions.Family funerals, weddings, other babies baptized,  they all became real at the old church which has been replaced by a modern structure. The school for which my father helped raised start-up funds, the one I ran away from and never finished that school year, it's still standing. Not sure it still stands as a school. Wild horses couldn't get me to get close enough to the door to find out! I remembered all of the street names as we strolled towards our lunch destination and commented on how well-kept the homes were. The cultural mix on those streets has changed dramatically but residents still plant gardens in front of the houses.As I passed one in particular, the branch of a tall wild rose bush dipped down, close to my face. I grabbed a cluster or the most fragrant red roses, seven sisters all on one bough, and instantly, I was able to enjoy yet another memory. Roses don't smell that way anymore. St. Theresa is known as "The Little Flower" and roses are her signature scent. Last time I smelled anything like that was on the way to my daughter's wedding, in the car. I know what I was experiencing. I do.

We took time out for lunch in one of the last Italain trattorie in the neighborhood and then on to one of the last Italian pastry shops before getting back in the car and on to completing my journey. Cam's would be next but first, past the place where my grandmother used to buy live chickens that ultimately would be part of the best chicken soups.

The Number 6 train, above the ground
Westchester Avenue was the "Main Line"in that part of the Bronx, known as "Pelham Bay". Moms, mine included, walked baby carriages in little convoys with the other post-war new mommies, down the avenue to Westchester Square.My father's first station house for the 43rd Precinct, was to the right as you exited the Square and went on to Parkchester.It moved from that spot many years ago but the 4-3 is still alive and well. I wonder if they are too busy with their own current problems, no longer supporting their brothers in the 4-5 or 4-7, in those days considered to be much more in need of back-up.I'm sure that my mother had many a sleepless night over that or, did my father just not tell her that he was spending his shift in "Fort Apache?" Probably not.She never would have survived.It was at Westchester Square that Cam's and my stories converge but I will stop here. We both remembered the movie theater on the other side of the Aveunue and wondered if perhaps, we might have been there together at some point in our past. My grandmother went to the "show" faithfully, alone, or sometimes with me and Cam, with her older cousins. We remembered the hospital that once stood there at the Square and the library, amongst so many other parts of a childhood that we can't seem to dismiss. It was King Solomon who wrote: "The days come and the days go; one generation passeth away, and another generation cometh, but the earth abideth forever. The sun also riseth, and the sun goeth down. Beautiful words for what my heart was trying to say.

The years have come and gone. I can't recapture them but I like to at the very least, take a look at the paths that led to who and where I now am,. New sun rises, new sunsets. The warmth of an old friendship. It all makes sense and that's all I ask. Sense.
It does not get much better.  Good friends, Good meal. The Bronx. Period.

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