Tuesday, March 9, 2010

Echoes and eclairs...

When I was a girl and visited my grandparents in their third floor walk-up apartment at 1908 Newkirk Avenue, I had several great things to look forward to. Well, besides being made to feel I was the most original, wonderful, grandchild to ever eat an eclair or learn to read Dr. Seuss. But in addition to my doting grandparents, the adjacent apartments had welcoming neighbors, each living utterly different lives.

To the right, in apartment 3B, was a Brazilian (or was it Colombian?), family where I would visit, soon affect a Spanish accent and play with a girl about my age who had, I think, my name too! This girl arrived in Brooklyn periodically. I am left with the taste of their food, so unlike what white folk were eating in West Hartford in the 60s, with fragrant meats, rice and beans. Their apartment filled with family members, all talking at once. The colors were sharp—definitive reds, starched white lace racing around skirt hems, waving black hair, snappy pink dresses. I remember getting letters, with flamboyant postage stamps, from her for several years, and when I opened them I could smell the lemon furniture polish, perfume, and hot pepper that suffused their living room.

To the left, in apartment 3D, a refined elderly woman had a very well dressed child named Cordelia come visit. We would sit on the carpet attempting to fill our grandmothers with the joy of watching us play together. And while I admired Cordelia's carefully waving hair and pale blue wool coat, I don't actually remember talking or laughing very loudly. And yet I looked forward to seeing her. I did my best to hold the teacup very properly and eat the tea biscuits without getting too many crumbs on my favorite pilled orange sweater. The colors in this apartment were as if a faint blue gray fog had rolled out of the seascapes on the walls. They told me that they were related to the very Hudson who gave the river its name. I couldn't believe The Hudson had been a Mr. Hudson once. It was clear that no rivers had been named after members of my family, who being Jews, had needed to move often throughout history and took their names with them.

If I were to write and illustrate a picture book based on this memeory, I'd like to revisit the wonder of being an ambassador of cultural exchange in Flatbush. And how I'd patterned myself, like human silly putty, on the lives they projected. Given my penchant for fantasy and science fiction, perhaps the neighbors would live further away than South Hampton or South America? You never know.

Of course, the best part was the welcome in 3C, where the rituals of mutual delight still make smile. Here's to the mushroom barley soup, the scrabble games, and the well-told stories. It is wonderful to have grandparents who adore you, I don't need to remember any of the details exactly to know that one thing completely, with all my heart.

1 comment:

Deborah Atherton said...

Our first memories, and most likely some of our last--those wonderful days with the grandparents. And the mysteriousness of their homes, with the odd nooks and crannies and somewhat inexplicable furnishings and decorations. Great evocation, Claudia!