Contrary to common myth, it does not take a village to raise a child—it takes a family, but for childhood-enhancement: Nothing beats colorful neighbors. For a moment-I’ll pretend three extra families were at our last Thanksgiving feast on Fat Foot Avenue. It’s 1957: Eisenhower is president, Marilyn Monroe is a movie queen and the Brooklyn Dodgers deserted us for Los Angeles. After breakfast, my father and uncles will move the couch to make room for an extended table in the living room, the women are already chopping, frying and stirring and Grandma Rose is in command. The aromas from two kitchens mingle in the front hall welcoming all who enter like angels at the gates of paradise.
Tootsie-across-the street: I’m sure she had a given name, just as I know she had a husband and sons, but her nick-name, Tootsie better-suited her. Ample, with a love for garish house dresses and an aversion to bras, she’d take station at her opened front window, position her pillow on the sill, lean over and watch the world go by. She had only a few of her teeth, but scads of wiry brown hair and a voice sanded down from smoking that made her sound like trains screeching to stop. I picture Tootsie and her brood seated close to the kitchen-so she won’t have to shout to Grandma.
Kathy-down-my street: Our student population was a kettle of Catholics, Jews and Protestants. All, but Kathy attended PS 165. She went to a faraway school wearing the same outfit every day. (I hadn’t heard of uniforms) One long blonde braid bounced at her back as she ran down her steps heading for her father’s car in the mornings. It was all very suspicious since the rest of us walked to school. On a Sunday in May, I stood in amazement as I watched Kathy exit her house in a bride’s dress. I bolted into the house to beg my mother for one too. It was then I learned about Roman Catholic communion traditions and the realization that my bride dress was still years away. I’d like Kathy to sit near me-maybe she’d let me try on her communion dress.
The Johnson’s and their daughters: The Johnson’s were the first black family to live on Fat Foot Avenue. They arrived with two daughters close to my age and a sadness that never left them no matter where they lived: Weeks before their move, their only son was killed in a car crash while serving overseas. Their home was so quiet, it felt like a holy place to me-I tiptoed from the front door to my friends’ room. The girls; Elisha and Tamara invited me to join their Brownie Troop. I had gone with them several times when the leader asked that my mother come the next time. Mom came along one evening, talked with the grown-ups and pitched in on our nativity pageant project. When we came home, I washed up for bed while my parents spoke about my troop. Through the bathroom wall, I heard them commend themselves for raising a bias-free child since, after months of meetings, not once had I mentioned I was the only white girl. I wasn’t sure why this made them happy, but like all 9 year-olds I was glad I did. I wish Mr. and Mrs. Johnson could sit near my Dad- he’d know how to make them smile.
I’ll save stories of Dr. Weinstein who lived with his mother in the last Victorian house on the street and Crazy Mary who sat on her fire escape without wearing underpants for another blog at another time. For now, The Fat Foot Avenue Chronicles end like the last old photos in a cracked leather album; worn and faded, but still filled with life.
Enjoy Thanksgiving-whether at a feast for fifty or alone with a glass of wine. If you’ve had the time and sight to read this, there’s much to be thankful for—