Sunday, June 21, 2009
Father's Day Thoughts
My old neighborhood in Crown Heights - Brooklyn,NY-1946
My father always seemed larger than life although he was only about five feet seven or so. His voice was booming and he was the kind of man who never made a quiet entrance. He was a salesman and I think it didn't matter what he sold. He was able to get you into conversation and before you knew it you were trapped. Yet, he was a very compassionate man most of the time except for that time when I was about seven or eight and I came in after playing in the snow with my fingers frozen. My parents owned a dry goods and trimming store then and there was a radiator in the front. My dad always warmed my fingers when they were cold so I ran to the radiator and put my hands in front of it. But that wasn't enough and I needed my father's warm hands to cover mine and make them feel better.
He was in the middle of a sale with someone, but I begged him, "Daddy, my hands are cold. I need you to warm them." It would have been okay if I had stopped there, but being hungry and cold I wanted instant gratification. I yelled, "Daddy, my hands are cold!!" At that point he came over to me and I saw I'd gone too far. I tried to smile at him and get him to put back the expression that I loved so much that would make me feel all better inside. But he glared at me and then he told me to go home. We only lived a little way down the street in a section of Brooklyn that was mostly cement sidewalks and city streets. Where trees were almost non-existent and weeds covered my backyard looking like trees and bushes, because they had grown so tall.
So I trudged home in the city slush to my mother and the welcoming smell of my favorite meal, spaghetti and meatballs. But my mom's face didn't have a smile either and I worried what was going to happen. She didn't say a word and made me sit in silence until I heard my father's key in the door. Actually I always knew he was coming when I heard his footsteps climbing the one flight up to our apartment. He'd always come and give me a hug and then I'd sit on his lap and we'd talk. But tonight he came in and sat down at the kitchen table while my mother continued getting dinner ready. I saw the sauce she whipped up from scratch and the spaghetti already cooked and waiting in a bowl for us. She poured the sauce onto the spaghetti while I watched and then the most awful thing happened to me. She only put out two plates on the table. My father looked at me and said that I had done an awful thing and I had to be punished. Then he said that since this was my favorite meal I would not be allowed to eat supper. He sent me to my room, which was on the other side of the kitchen. They closed my door and I had to hear my parents eating that spaghetti and meatballs through the door all while I was crying so hard that I thought I was going to die.
As I heard their forks scraping the plate I hated both of them so much. How could they do such an awful thing? I was starving and couldn't even go to sleep. My stomach growled and I curled up in bed to lay there until morning. But my mother and father weren't heartless and later after they'd eaten my mom brought me a snack. I think it was a cheese sandwich, but I wolfed it down and I think she hugged me. I don't remember it that well, because it was so long ago. But unfortunately that night was to have dire consequences for me.
After that night I couldn't even eat spaghetti and meatballs without feeling sick. I got heartburn every time I ate it. This continued until I was out of college. I never forgot the pain I felt when I heard my parents enjoying the meal right behind my door. It wasn't until I was able to talk with them and that wasn't until I was an adult, that the whole night was put to rest. But this is Father's Day and I suddenly remembered it.
My dad had a very short temper, so he used to yell a lot and when he was really angry he'd chase me and my little brother around the house with a rolled up newspaper threatening but never laying a hand on either of us. He'd always tell me that if I didn't stop the behavior I was exhibiting that he would get a "Cat 'o Nine Tails" . I never knew what that was, but it scared me a lot. (When you click on the link you can see what it looks like. At the time I had never seen one, but the sound of it was so scary I'd do anything when he talked about it.:)) But at the same time he would go out of his way to get me anything that I wanted.
But my father didn't stay angry long and soon he'd be telling us a story or a joke and we'd be laughing again. I loved to sit on his lap and he'd make everything better with a gentle touch and a smile. He was a very creative man and drew doodles that should have been framed. He always lettered the signs for the store and he did them meticulously. We had some famous customers who shopped in our store, because of my father and his reputation. People liked to come there and listen to him. Sid Gordon, who used to play for the now defunct New York Giants baseball team, lived on our street and he and his wife came into the store to get materials. It's hard to believe that such a celebrity of his time would live in a second floor walk up over a toy store. Today he'd have a huge mansion somewhere with a locked gate and millions of dollars from his career. But then baseball players lived in their own neighborhoods. Sam Levinson, the comedian, lived in Brooklyn at that time too and my mother was friendly with his wife who came into the store
I miss my father most on holidays like this one. When Father's Day comes I really have no reason to buy a present. I've been without him since 1972 when he passed away in his sleep not wanting to bother my mother when he woke up so wet he had to change his pajamas. I remember him making tea using a metal tea holder as a tea bag. He'd put loose tea into it and slip it in and out of the cup. Then being the product of the Lower East Side and a big family where food was something you pushed into your mouth as fast as possible to make sure you got your share, he would slurp his tea and sigh.
His father always drank tea out of a glass and slurped it too. He came from the a small shtetl in Poland called Gradnoh which I mentioned when talking about the Holocaust. They adopted the Russian idea of drinking tea from a glass. I didn't think there was anything wrong with the slurping or my father's habit of humming in between bites at the table. Looking back, I guess he had terrible table manners, but it didn't matter. No one cared about that in his circle. They'd all been brought up to stuff in the food and leave a clean plate. What would my father think about our world now?
He was a self taught man having dropped out of school by eighth grade to work. He read the newspaper cover to cover every day and watched the evening news when that was the only news program they had. He was up on current events and loved to expound on the situation to us. He knew what it was like to be poor and he didn't want his kids to have to live the life he had led. He grew up tough and he had muscles like steel before his heart attacks that weakened him. He'd been a chauffeur for the Jewish mob, an airplane mechanic in the Air Force, a worker at Wellbilt stoves, a storeowner and finally an appliance salesman for Friendly Frost. But when I sat on his lap all I knew was that he was my Daddy and he'd make everything okay.:)
This was supposed to come out yesterday, but with my family home all day it was a little difficult. Plus, I made dinner for my husband for Father's Day. More in the next post. See the following post for the recipe.
Meanwhile, I found this great website full of people who have lived in my old neighborhood. It's so great to relive old memories. It's called Eastern Parkway memories - Brooklyn,NY. If you lived in Brooklyn around my time, go over and take a look at the pictures.
Protect My Blog
This work is licensed under a Creative Commons Attribution-Noncommercial-No Derivative Works 3.0 Unported License.