Driving down Lincoln Avenue in Chicago at Catalpa Avenue, I looked up to re-live in a complete instant picture, part of my childhood past, which I am now trying to put into words for you.
At that corner of Lincoln and Catalpa, sits a three story building, shops on the first floor, apartments on the second and third.
My Auntie Esther, in her forties and divorced, lived in one of those second floor apartments with her teenaged children Sheila and Normie and her mother, my grandmother, Sarah.
Max, Sarah's husband had been long dead and Sarah fragile and barely mobil since her accident in the car. Grandma was getting out of the back seat when Auntie Anne pulled away from the curb without looking to make sure Grandma was fully out of the car.
My father never forgave Anne's what he called "Her Carelessness," causing Grandma's broken hip and following life decline. He was always retelling the story every time we visited either Anne, Esther, or Grandma; although Anne lived in California with her husband, my father's brother, Ben, so we didn't hear that version too often.
I remember visiting Esther and Grandma in their typical Chicago apartment: starting in the living room overlooking the street, with a bedroom off to the side; past the front hall entrance, large enough to greet your guests and hang their coats in a closet, and also a place for the telephone table; with a hall continuing past a bathroom and separate bedroom on the left, and into the dining room, width of the apartment, which opened to the kitchen, with an additional bedroom tucked in at the back right before you got to the back porch. Can you picture that? I still can.
Sheila and I would sit at the kitchen table and practice our Spanish, which we were both studying in school. My sister and Sheila would go off to Sheila's bedroom to do whatever while my cousin Normie and I would look at his comic books and other treasures that he kept under cover in his bedroom.
Esther had a bedroom, and Grandma, at her own insistence slept on the sofa in the living room, which with her "stuff" scattered around was really her bedroom. I remember that she loved to sit by the windows for hours on end and watch the cars and people traveling and walking down the busy Lincoln Avenue.
She spoke in what they called "Broken English," which meant she really spoke Yiddish with a few English words thrown in, just enough for us kids to understand as the adults all spoke Yiddish when they were with her.
Often they would tell a joke or off-color story in Yiddish thinking the children wouldn't understand, the important word being "thinking," because we did and had to stifle our giggles so as not to give ourselves away.
Grandma always smelled just a little bit like fish if only because she loved to have fish at least for breakfast and lunch and sometimes for dinner. She ate it with her fingers to make sure all the bones were found. From Grandma I learned to love having onion with my canned salmon and spreading bone marrow from the home made soup bones on rye bread.
Esther smoked up a storm as did both of my parents, if I remember correctly. They talked a lot and discussed things. I don't really have many memories of what the adults did as my cousins and I involved ourselves in our own activities.
I do remember loving my Auntie Esther (all of my Aunts were called Auntie.) She was a Jewish, strong, crude kind of Auntie Mame to me (if you know that movie. Mame, however, was as oppositely rich and sophisticated as Esther was poor and common.)
Skip to my remembering living on Anslie Avenue at 9 years old, and not going to my Grandma's funeral as my parents felt I was too young to experience such things. Skip to me being just a few months away from being 70 years old.
That is some 61 years later and my driving down Lincoln Avenue in Chicago, looking up as I passed Catalpa Avenue to re-live part of my childhood past. Does seeing it take place in my mind mean it is still going on, there on the second floor?
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