|On Friday the eighth
of February 2002, the United States Postal Service
was good enough to issue a new commemorative stamp
that reads "Happy Birthday". It happened to
be my mother's birthday. She became a number of years
old. Since my mother was going out on a date for her
birthday, Ms Keogh, my more significant other, and I
celebrated with her on the following day. Saturday, a
day that was unexpectedly warm, a sky that was
sapphire blue, Ms Keogh and I took my mother into New
York to celebrate the event.
We strolled the community known as Pelham Parkway,
where my mother spent her childhood and adolescence
and early womanhood. We stood outside each of the
apartments her family formerly occupied and listened
to stories associated with each one. We walked along
Lydig Avenue with my mother remembering what every
store used to be sixty-five years ago. She showed Ms
Keogh the hairdresser where her mother went to have
her hair "shingled" to the consternation of
her rabbi husband. Amazingly it was still a
hairdressers, but not the same one. My mother also
pointed out the shop where she first met my father.
In those days it was a radio repair shop, which
included record players. They also sold records. My
father had built a television in the back. It was the
only television in the community and my mother's
brother took her to see it, which is how they met.
Now the street is dotted with shops selling cheap
Underneath the el we drank coffee and ate bagels and
lox. Ms Keogh asked the waitress, "Do you have
seltzer?" and my mother and I laughed. This was
the Bronx, you no longer have to ask IF they have it.
We concluded lunch with New York style cheesecake.
Ms Keogh, Mrs Bentzman, and myself walked over to a
large brick house, an oddity among the surrounding
apartment buildings. This was once the home of the
saintly Doctor Sobel. He delivered three generations
of babies into this Bronx community, myself included.
The man was legendary and the anecdotes my mother
shared with us are too numerous to include here. On
another occasion, perhaps, because his good acts
could easily fill one of these short essays, and
because so great a man as was he deserves to be
remembered. His former home is now a gynecology
clinic and realtor.
The three of us arrived at 2260 Bronx Park East, the
apartment building in which I spent the first five
years of my life. I could still point out the windows
of my parents one bedroom apartment. We then crossed
the street to the park, where all my first adventures
unfolded. In just a few steps we had reached the
extent of my old world, the limits of my wandering
when I was a tot. Our walk took us beyond the
playground at the end of the world. It was the top of
a hill and now we found a walking bridge across the
highway that entered the New York Botanical Garden on
the other side. We barely explored the 250 acres of
rugged woodland that afternoon. I knew nothing about
the Botanical Garden while we lived there. My
memories are of the Bronx Zoo just to the south.
Still, I've been back to visit this area of the Bronx
a few times with friends. I showed Ms Keogh the
racing Bronx River, only a few feet wide. We three
crossed high above it on a beautiful arching stone
bridge that spanned the small canyon.
At the end of our stay we drove out to the far east
end of the Bronx, to City Island. My mother used to
hitchhike out to City Island with friends and a
picnic basket. Later she would ride in the rumble
seat of a friend's coupe. I had never been there, had
never known it existed, this tiny island, hardly more
than a mile long and only one or two blocks wide
residing in the western end of Long Island Sound. It
was hard to believe we were still in the Bronx when
surrounded with the setting of a New England seaside
We ate dinner overlooking the small harbor, the sun
setting in our window. My mother had her favourite
dish, steamed Maine lobster. As the horizon flared
red, orange, and yellow, the lights began to twinkle
on the Whitestone Bridge. It was night by the time we
were eating our desserts. In the distance we saw the
sparkling towers of Manhattan, the coloured lights of
the Empire State Building, perhaps fifteen miles
away. Our waiter, who came from Macedonia, told us it
used to be you could see the World Trade Center from
this restaurant's window.
After dinner, we climbed into the car and motored our
merry way back to Pennsylvania, where I spent most of
my childhood, all of my adolescence, and some of my
early manhood. We all agreed it had been a wonderful
day in the Bronx, the weather just perfect for
strolling. But the weather had been all wrong for
February, for winter. This winter has had an uncommon
number of unseasonably warm days, afternoons when one
could step out without a coat or sweater.
This has been another disturbingly unnatural winter.
The full-fledged snowstorms of my childhood, the ones
that closed the schools from time to time, are no
longer yearly occurrences. As a child I used to turn
off all the interior lights and pull back the
curtains from the sliding plateglass doors in the
living room. I'd arrange myself next to the glass
with my pillows and wrapped myself in a blanket.
Having only the backyard lamps lit, I would watch a
furious storm, inches away, filling the tree-enclosed
yard with deep snowdrifts. The beauty of a Bucks
County winter can now only be found in the paintings
of the Pennsylvania Impressionist, such artists as
Walter Emerson Baum, Edward Redfield, John Fulton
Folinsbee, and William L. Lathrop.