If you are expecting facts or impersonal history, you'll not find it here, just thoughts about a place where I once spent time and cannot return. My parents were both born and raised in Brooklyn, in different schools, different neighborhoods and different parishes. Bay Ridge and Our Lady of Angels versus Bath Beach and St. Finbarr's. I think it's a Brooklyn thing, like their accents.
They both were part of the effort during World War II; my mother a courier at the Brooklyn Navy Yard and my father a translator in the Army. Each made it through The Depression, back when people gathered around the radio for news or entertainment and a loaf of bread cost a nickel. The only things my parents had in common were being Roman Catholic, the Mass was in Latin, which they both had studied; each had a father who came to Ellis Island from Ireland by way of Liverpool, and both were encouraged to seek higher education, eventually becoming teachers.
They met through the clever machinations of my father's sister, who played piano for the nursery school where my mother had her first teaching job. They were at a fundraiser, a church carnival at St. Finbarr's, my father's parish. According to my mother, she was stationed at a booth with stuffed animals for prizes and my mathematician father was the Bingo caller. I have seen photographs of my mother from that time, with her strawberry blonde hair in waves, her thin waist and deepset eyes. She has always been beautiful, even in black and white. She says his first move was to have a glass of beer sent over to her, which didn't impress her.
At the time, my father's mother was dying at home, barely forty years old. My mother had recently lost both her father and brother, months apart. So maybe they had grief in common, too. In any event, they married on December 26, 1949 and lived with my grandmother in Bay Ridge for the first few years. She was a teacher as well, at P.S. 201 where my great-aunt was the Principal.
The reason I won't go back to Brooklyn has nothing to do with shootings, burning buildings, or changing demographics. It is my parents' love and heartache story. It is a place I choose to keep frozen in the fragments of the past when Brooklyn was simple and safe and mine. Before I knew the details.
The reason I won't go back to Brooklyn is because my grandmother's small victory garden was where I learned the difference between mint and ivy, where roses bloomed impossibly red and white, tomatoes grew unstaked, where birds were fed breadcrumbs, and where wandering butterflies emerged from dark back alleys wearing yellow and black, as if not quite mourning.