When Grandma Rose married Moe and moved to Avenue H near the brewery, we moved to Osbourne Street. Our landlady, Sadie Pincus didn’t heat the house until late into the evening when her husband came home from work. Three years after the big chill, we landed on East 22nd Street, where Mom took her first steps out of her housewife circle to join The Eastern Stars, The March of Dimes and mah jong tournament teams. After another three years, we left Brooklyn behind us and followed Aunt Evie out to Flushing, Queens. In the six years without the tether of 504 Thatford Avenue, we had become nomads.
Our third apartment was between the Long Island Railroad and Main Street. Grandma Leslie had died that spring, leaving Grandpa to move into the alcove off our living room. The rattling of the hourly trains to Manhattan joined the bustling noises of Main street and chimed in with Grandpa’s snoring to compose a cacophonic nightly ear-splitter. In the daytime, he’d question the price of Mom’s groceries and argue throughout dinner with Dad over Grandma’s meager estate. I dialed up the sound of It’s My Party (and I’ll Cry if I Want To) to top volume to drown it all out. One evening, Mom invited Dad for an after dinner stroll. As they stepped out onto the sidewalk, she put her foot down. “Grandpa is ruining our lives.”
They found him a bed-sit in Brooklyn, close to Grandma Rose’s home for emergencies and far from ours for our sanity. After that, our Sunday dinners changed to occasionally at Grandma Rose’s, sometimes at Aunt Evie’s, once in a while at our place. The grown-ups in our family were either buying their first real homes or like my parents, planning to. 1963 began with our family life moving on pretty much the way we expected it to. Dad was general manager of RoseLine Kitchen Laminate Company, Mom was becoming mah jong champion of Queens, little brother attended grade school and I had just entered Eron Preparatory in Manhattan.
On Fridays at Eron, regular classes ended at lunch time. Students who didn’t require remedial work were released, while those struggling through calculus or French stayed behind for extra help. To ensure my early escape, I devoted myself to study, just enough to keep me exiting at noon.
Along with hundreds of unsuspecting commuters, I boarded the seven train at Grand Central Station and headed for home. Together, we climbed out of the darkness onto Roosevelt Avenue and found the street abuzz. Shoppers were pouring out of Gertz department store, some were crying, all were talking. I assumed the frenzy was confined to the store. Maybe there was an escalator accident. An old woman in a worn fur coat stopped to remove a lacy handkerchief from her purse and wept openly in the street. A young mother stopped with her baby carriage to pat the woman’s shoulder and guide her away from the streaming crowd.
I was sixteen; callow and uncaring, yet I stopped at the store window pretending to admire a dress display just to listen in on the overlapping conversations. A man’s voice cut through the din, “I knew this would happen. He was doing too much.” I couldn’t make sense of his words or the scene. I walked past it all towards home excited to tell my mom all I had witnessed.
End of Part 1