I spent my early childhood in a state that, at the time, was called the melting pot of the world, New York; specifically I lived in Brooklyn, New York.
At a very young age I lived in a Catholic children’s home. My mom had tuberculosis and could not care for me. I vaguely remember living in two apartment buildings after I was released back to my mother’s care, but at age twelve I remember clearly living in a three-story walk-up on Warren Street. We moved there when I was nine because our family was growing and we needed a larger apartment.
When we first moved in, the neighborhood was quite nice with a mixture of one-family homes, apartment buildings, garages and a wonderful deli on one corner and a drug store on the other.
Our apartment was in a typical brick building with a fire escape anchored to the front of the building and a small fenced in area called an airy-way. The fire escape was a blessing on hot summer evenings to escape the stifling heat of the apartment. It was also a great place to sit and listen as the Puerto Rican neighbors that lived next door would play their guitars and sing late into the evening.
Each floor of the apartment building was one apartment. I lived on the second floor with my mother, three brothers and my brother’s father who from this point on will be referred to as, the-man-who-lived-in-our-house.
There was no air-conditioning so most summer evenings all the windows would be open and would stay open through the night. There were two entrances to the apartment one entered into the kitchen, the other into the living room. Having two entrances came in handy once in a while when the-man-who-lived-in-our-house would come home after a night of drinking and kick in one of the doors and we would run out the other.
The roof was where the-man-who-lived-in-our-house raised homing pigeons. The roof was always smelly. And then there was the basement. I only ventured down into the basement once and knew I would never go back. It was dark and forbidding and always made me feel that there was someone or something lurking in the shadows.
Once as I was walking down the stairs and a rat suddenly ran from the basement and stopped at the bottom of the stairs. I stood frozen on the stairs not knowing what to do. I feared that if I tried to run it would chase me. As I stood there thinking about what to do, the rat decided to jump. All I could do was crouch down and pray it did not grab hold of me. Thankfully, it jumped over my head. I ran as fast as I could out of the building and all the way to the corner. Breathless and sweating, I stood there for quite a while before gaining the courage to go back. From that point on I never walked the steps, I ran.
The apartment was spacious with a large kitchen, two bedrooms, a living room, bathroom, a small hallway with a pantry and coat closet and one extra room the-man–who-lived-in-our-house used to repair TVs and radios. This small room eventually became my bedroom after the-man-who lived-in-our-house moved out.
The kitchen was painted white with white and black tiles, there was an ice-box, a wood burning stove, hot water heater, a sink and a large laundry tub. The rest of the house was always painted in dark colors, There was forest green, maroon and a very dark blue as I remember. My mom was into monochromatic decorating so she would always change out the window blinds to match the colors of the walls.
My mom was the building superintendent. The title of ‘super’ meant that she was in charge of keeping the building swept, mopped and reported any repairs that were necessary. She was also responsible for keeping the airy-way and sidewalk swept each day. For these responsibilities she was afforded a much cheaper rent than the other two tenants.
To this day I do not refer to any place that I lived as my home but rather places that I have lived. A home, after all, should be a place that you remember fondly. Unfortunately, I do not remember this particular space, or for that matter any other places I grew up in fondly rather, I remember the roaches that would scurry as soon as a light was turned on, sweeping up mouse droppings on a regular basis, and crying myself to sleep because the bed bugs would torment me each night as I tried to sleep.
What I do remember fondly were our neighbors. The tenants on the first floor were American Indians. The gentleman was a chief and would don his headdress each time he attended a parade or other special event in and around the city. Their apartment was filled with dogs and cats and so much furniture. They were fortunate because they had a wonderful back yard with a grape arbor. I would look down and see their cats walking on the arbor all the time. Every so often they would offer my mom a bowl full of grapes that smelled like cat urine. She would graciously take them but I do not remember ever eating a one.
The tenants on the third floor were so friendly. They both worked and had one little girl. I do not know what the dad did for a living but he was an amateur photographer on the weekends and loved to play the xylophone. I used to love hearing him play whenever they had parties. He offered to take my First Communion and eighth grade graduation pictures. They were lovely.
I also loved the neighborhood. It was in this neighborhood that I came know of many different cultures, many types of food and music. It was as though our little neighborhood was a microcosm of New York City.
As the years rolled by many of the dwellings in our neighborhood became more and more run down and people started to move away. We moved away when I was fourteen. I returned after I graduated from high school to see if any of the neighbors remained. There were only two left and they were packing up to leave. I learned years later that the neighborhood had been torn down to make way for a hospital.
Writing 101: Day Nine-Home