BY HELEN ZEGERMAN SCHWIMMER/SPECIAL FOR THE AJT//

Coney Island photoI grew up in a modest third floor walk-up apartment on west 3rd street in Coney Island.

Outside our kitchen window, which overlooked a courtyard, my father had suspended a long clothesline that extended about 30 feet, the entire length of the courtyard.  It was in constant motion.

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There was no washer or dryer in the house, only my mother’s wooden and metal washboard that converted our bathtub into a laundry. After vigorously scrubbing our clothes she carried them into the kitchen where she removed the wooden clothespins that hung in a bag alongside the window and expertly pinned each item to the line.

Several hours later, my mother reeled them in, dried and smelling of sunshine. But more than just laundry was reeled in from the clothesline one magical Chanukah night.

As we got ready for bed, my father announced he heard a noise outside our kitchen window. He purposefully pulled on the clothesline, reeled in a large black sock, thrust his hand inside and to our childish delight pulled out two bright orange tangerines!

How did they get there?  My father laughed knowingly and said they must have been left as gifts for my brother, Milton, and me.

Maybe it was the Christmas carols we learned in public school or the constant barrage of holiday television ads, but we were only too eager to believe that we weren’t forgotten.

In school, my third grade class was busy rehearsing the play “Christmas Everywhere.”

My classmate, Teddy, and I starred as the brother and sister who visited different countries to see how they celebrated the holiday. I was given the role as a reward for winning the class spelling bee, but there was much discussion in our house as to whether I should take part in the play.

Allowing their child to participate in a Christmas celebration worried my parents, Holocaust survivors, who had only been living in America for five years, but were very respectful of my school and my teacher, Mrs. Reilly.

The matter was settled when my mother consulted her very worldly cousin, Betty, who insisted it was only a play, with the emphasis on “play.”

And so I sang “I saw mama kissing Santa Claus” and other holiday favorites and finally felt like an American child.

While Papa Claus remained an elusive fantasy figure who never descended on our rooftop, one Chanukah night my daddy gave me the gift of a loving memory that still warms my heart almost 60 years later.

Helen Zegerman Schwimmer is the author of the acclaimed anthology, “Like The Stars of the Heavens” and the video, “A Taste of Shabbos with Rebbetzin Esther Winner.”Visit her website, helenschwimmer.com 

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