Suburban Soliloquy #51

A Number of Years

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 electronic goods.

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 village.

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.

Bruce Bentzman

This is the fifty-first in a series of regular reports from the life and times of Mr Bentzman. If you've any comments or suggestions, the writer would be pleased to hear from you.
Mr Bentzman's collection of poems, "Atheist Grace" is now available from Amazon, as are "The Short Stories of B.H.Bentzman"