Friday, September 16, 2011

Childhood Memories

I wrote this series of "memories" of my childhood on April 12, 1984 when I was 39 years old. I have reproduced it here with a little bit of editing.

When I was young we lived in a four room apartment. The halls were dark and musty and I played on the stairs with my yellow dump truck. One day I left it there and never saw it again.

My Aunt Annette and Uncle Sherwin lived in the next entrance. After dinner with my family I would go over to visit them and have my second dinner. Unless my Aunt mentioned it, I don't think my mom and dad ever knew that I was having two dinners.

Grandpa H would rest in the darkened bedroom while shadows played with the blinds.

Grandma L would send me to the store to buy olives and pencils.

Grandma H always smelled like fish and liked to eat boiled bone marrow on rye bread.

Sometimes Grandma and Grandpa H would walk to our apartment from theirs (10 miles) and wait on the back porch until we got home.

We would take Grandma and Grandpa H for a ride in the car to a drive-in that sold accordion french fries and had a larger than life size hot dog dressed like Tarzan on the roof. My father had installed the drive up order boxes for the drive-in so they treated him like a celebrity. The place was called, "Super Dog."

Once and a while I would take ten cents from my mother's purse without telling her. In addition to my allowance, I used it to buy penny candy.

Mr. Hartell and his wife lived next door. She gave me yellow raisins. One Thanksgiving my mom brought her turkey dinner in bed because she wasn't feeling well. She died shortly after that and I missed visiting with her.

Mr. Hartell died not long after. We hadn't seen him for a week and a bad smell was coming from his apartment. My dad called the fire department. The strong box filled with money that Mr. Hartell had shown my father was gone after the firemen took the body away.

When we would visit my Grandma and Grandpa H, I would help my grandma pick onions from their victory garden which was in the empty lot next to their shoe repair shop. They lived behind the shop.

Through the curtain that separated the shop from my Grandparent H's living space, there was a humped style wooden clock sitting on a table just to the right. When the clock was running, a little window just below the "12" changed from white to red to white etc.

In Grandparent H's living space, Grandpa would set up saw horsed and boards to make a table for the family to celebrate Passover. There would be benches for sitting. Grandma H covered the table in a lace cloth she made and we were warned not to mess it up. Since the holiday services usually took two hours, Grandma would slip each child an egg so we wouldn't be hungry. The children usually got the giggles during the service and Grandpa H always got angry with us.

Grandma L would watch television and repeat that the characters said.

My parents would tai to Grandpa and Grandma H in Yiddish when they didn't want me and my sister to understand. We usually did and had to keep from giggling.

My mom used to make Christmas Press Cookies using the ironing board because there was very little counter space in the kitchen. In the middle of the kitchen a cord hug down from the light. At the end of the cord was the on-off switch and a plug. This is also where mom would plug in the iron. In those days most ceiling lights didn't have wall switches.

Once I locked myself in the bathroom. When my father finally got me out, my parents were so happy to see me that they yelled at me.

Mr. Goldstein owned the little "mom and pop" grocer store at the end of the block. She always called me "dark eyes" and gave me licorice.

My mother would set large pots full of water on the back porch and my sister and I would play "beach." The bricks on the porch wall were so old that they would crumble when you scraped your finger nail across them. We would pretend the brick dust was sand at the beach.

My parents slept on a sofa bed in the living room and my sister and I slept in the one bedroom. I slept in my crib until I was six because the family couldn't afford to by me a bed. I sucked my thumb until I was nine.

In those days, I don't know if it was because we didn't have a lot of money or if it was just that way, but my family had only one fan. It was a floor fan and sat in the middle of the living room while we watched T.V. We would take turns sitting on it to be the most cool. At bedtime, my parents kept the fan for themselves and the kids had to deal with the heat.

Before bedtime my sister and I would check under the bed for Boogie Men and make sure the closet was closed for the same reason.

Once my father brought home a short Christmas Tree from work. We put it in a pail, propped it up with coconuts from Florida, and decorated it with art projects my sister and I had made in school and which my mother had saved.

When I was sick, I would play with my cars on the window sill and watch people on the street below. When I was older my mom and dad still slept on the sofa bed, my sister got the bedroom and I had a "cot" under the window in the dining room.

I remember a dish I painted in school as a Mother's Day gift. It was a pretty flower in pink and blue and my mother kept it on display in the dish cabinet in the dinning room.

Sometimes when my mom and dad were out, I would stand on a chair and explore the things kept in the dish cabinet. I thing some of them were supposed to be kept secret. I never told.

My friend Ronnie and I would sit on the stairs in the hall of his building and he would let me look at the things in his cigar box which included bits and pieces of shiny broken jewelry that his mother gave to him.

I remember waiting with my uncle for my aunt to come home with the new baby. I watched out the window until I say them coming up the walk with my mom and dad. They let me hold the baby.

Once a little boy was hit by a street car near the street where we lived. I couldn't understand why his shoes got knocked off but my father said so. I was afraid to ask for any more information.

When Grandma H died, I stayed home and cried instead of going to the funeral. My mom didn't think it would be good for me to go.

Great Grandma L lived in an apartment hotel. When we went to visit the halls smelled like moth balls. She would give us milk and home made poppy seed cookies. The nice round cookies she would give to her lady friends when they played cards. She saved the bits and broken pieces and middles and ends for us. We were always afraid of her so we carefully behaved.

Once my dad brought home a dog he found a work. We called the dog Lucky.

Sometime after Lucky had died, my dad found another dog at work. It was a collie and we called it Red because of the color of his coat.

I always had turtles and fish for pets. When the fish died we flushed them down the toilet. When the turtles died, my father gave me one of his watch cases to use as a coffin and we buried the turtle in the patch of dirt on the first floor under our porch. I made a little cross from popsicle sticks. One year they paved the patch of dirt with black top so the turtle bones are probably still there.


  1. OMG---playing beach with pots of water and brick dust?!

    I love these mini-vignettes. They're so provocative and get one thinking about one's own life. What a powerful way to recall the details of one's journey...

    I think you have discovered a new genre. Seriously.

  2. Funny how many similarities are found in the childhoods of children from different locations, heritage, customs, family dynamics. I see that I am not the only child who was present at two dinners.

    He-Who-Mows remembers tasting nicotine on his thumb after he sneaked cigarettes from his girl cousin, ten years older.


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