When my parents
married, my father bought a small apartment building on East 228th in the Bronx
. I spent the first few years of my life there (plus many visits over the subsequent 20 years - there are still relatives living within a mile or two of that block), and a lot of visual and aural memories remain, sometimes appearing in my dreams
It was one big extended family in the building. My grandmother lived in the basement apartment. A bare light lit my way down the stairs; I held the bannister and/or held onto whichever adult was making the walk with me. One trip downstairs involved the promise of something called Junket, which I think was some sort of custard dessert that my grandmother had made that day.
On the first floor, there were two apartments - my folks and I lived in one, while the other was the one that was rented out to non-family tenants, though I think that was at one time ours; the switch occurred when I was too young to remember any of it.
I remember the old black-and-white television (Philco?); we didn't get a color set until 1966 or so - that was a Zenith, purchased at a Korvette's department store in Westchester on a Saturday morning, I think. The ghostly face of Eric Severeid as he did his commentary on CBS. The Huntley-Brinkley theme on NBC (Dvorák? Beethoven, I think). The big green couch. The big, wide, built-into-the-wall bookcase, with Ayn Rand and Erle Stanley Garner and Nero Wolfe and the World Book and more. The audiophile stereo. The grownups having parties, while I was failing to sleep. "Watermelon Man" playing. Horace Silver. Mongo Santamaria. Lee Morgan.
One night, the folks tried to put some Johnny Walker Red in my warm milk, in a last-ditch attempt to induce sleep. I can almost smell it now, and I think the smell must have alerted me - I remember backing out before the first sip. This happened in the kitchen.
Grilled cheese, melting in the broiler of the oven, as I peeked along with Mum or Dad to see if it was done. There was one afternoon that I asked for some juice, and both parents answered "Huh?" at the exact same time - I hadn't spoken loudly enough. Peanut butter and/or jelly on Ritz crackers. The smell of coffee in the morning. Ugly scrambled eggs and failed attempts to get me to like it. Some sort of instant oatmeal (Gerber? Beech Nut?) that I liked a lot - laden with sugar. Grape Nuts. Milk came in bottles, with peel-off wax lids. Hi-C drinks.
My bedroom. Toys. A toy box. A record player - speeds 16, 33, 45, 78 RPM. Records: Ramsey Lewis' "The In Crowd" (my fave); a Brook Benton 45. A few more. All played at 16, 33, 45, 78 RPM at one time or another. WABC. The Beatles' cartoon series on ABC, hipping us three-year-olds to stuff that was now old. Playmates and I strumming our air guitars, singing "Yeah yeah yeah!", "I wanna hold your hand!", over and over and over. Learning the alphabet and words and spelling with various educational doodads - I was Mum's precocious little guinea pig.
Parents' bedroom. The king-sized bed a safe haven from the occasional nightmare, which usually involved being chased by some sort of invisible tickle monster - I was ticklish. There was an alarm clock in there. A telephone. My first foray into using the telephone: I called the neighborhood cab company over and over (it was the only number I knew, from reading the sides of the cabs) until the dispatcher called to complain. You shouldn't have taught me to read.
A view of out back from the windows of both bedrooms. The garage. The backs of buildings on East 229th.
Top floor. Two apartments. Two sets of aunts and uncles, plus a cousin attending Divinity School. More desserts. Games of Po-Ke-No played by the adults. More music playing. Stuff from Barbados - magazines, brochures, souvenirs. The best homemade ginger beer in the world (made from the top secret family recipe) - too strong, just right. Makes your nostrils hurt.
Head outside, down the long hallway; reverberations from the tiled floor. At the building entrance, there's the mailboxes on the right. On ours: Mum and Dad's first initials, then the last name. The front stoop. Sunny day. Cars parked. Our Chevy Impala. Across the street, a Cadillac Eldorado, and one of those Lincoln sedans with the door handles adjacent to each other. My cousin's Volvo.
Mum in her starlet shades, pushing me in the stroller towards Bronxwood Avenue, passing and greeting the smiling old lady sitting on the stoop at the next-door building. Then a small alley, and a descending vacant lot, with stuff growing wild in it. Grandmas calling out in Italian for little Louie or Joe to come in for lunch or dinner. There was a candy store across the street, as you head towards Bronxwood. A funeral home, next to the vacant lot? There was a bar around the corner, facing a big, block-long factory of some sort.
You've read this far? Congrats! I've run out of instant memories; this is about all I could grab on short notice. Try These Boots Are Made for Walkin' and Die, Trombone Boy! for a couple more things.