By Shaindle Schmuckler | firstname.lastname@example.org
Trying to describe a life being brought up in the Bronx is not easy to do for the folks in Nebraska or in the South.
In truth, it would challenge the imagination of all people unless you hail from the great borough of THE BRONX. An easy, innocent life, marred only by the sirens indicating that we should huddle under our school desks in case the Communists invaded. We were all so terrified of the Communists. The picture I created in my mind of what a Communist would look like was not a pretty one. I am guessing the bogeyman looked better than the Communist.
We always felt safe. Safe was not a word frequently used. We were not forewarned to “be safe” or “stay safe.” We were not warned not to speak to strangers. The word itself was simply a way of life; we never considered that the word needed to be spoken.
We played outside until dusk, when we were summoned for dinner — dusk, the seemingly gifted hours of the day. Dusk is still my favorite time of day, and it still feels like a gift.
We played hopscotch and were never reprimanded for coloring on the sidewalk. We played stickball, and the cars would slow down if we were in the middle of running the bases. We played basketball in the schoolyard and were never attacked or robbed. We played jump rope, bounced the Spalding ball to “A, My Name Is,” and always made room for one more kid from the block.
We knocked on the doors of the apartments of our friends and cousins. We all walked to school together, sometimes assisting one another in carrying some project or another. We never deliberately, or by accident on purpose, ruined one another’s homework.
We owned the block. We weren’t mean or spiteful about it. We did not need gang colors to recognize one another.
We rode the buses and the trains freely by the time we were 11 years old. If we needed directions, the bus driver happily helped out. (Of course we were taught to say please and thank you.)
By the time I was 10 years old, I walked through Crotona Park on my way to Southern Boulevard and Boston Road, where I attended Yiddesheh shule (Jewish school after public school) five days a week. This trek was two to three miles long. I climbed the rock mountain, located in the middle of the park, without incident.
Once, I was approached in the park by some mean kids who asked me for money. I was a little scared, but no panic necessary because I knew they weren’t going to kill me with a random gun or knife. I didn’t have any money, so they left, angry but without incident.
We lived in a neighborhood, a real neighborhood. Grown-ups looked out for children who were not necessarily their own. We had my mom’s beauty parlor squeezed in between Hoffman’s grocery store and Prylucks drugstore on the corner. If you dared hang out near these stores, you knew to be alert to the prying eyes of Mrs. Goldberg, the neighborhood spy and tattletale.
Walking to school, passing many stores and shoppers in various neighborhoods, we never questioned their intentions if they asked us a question or made a comment like “Finished with school already?”
High school was a bus ride away, or we could walk, but it was a long walk. There were gangs with names like the Fordham Baldies and the female version, Fordham Baldettes. No metal detectors required. Actually, zip guns would not have sounded the alarm of a metal detector.
Was there trouble? Of course. After all, we were over 3,000 teens with raging hormones, all in one building. Lunatics with illegal weapons were years away. The concept of a terrorist did not exist.
And then President Kennedy was killed.
Then 9/11 woke us all up to a brand-new kind of horror.
I felt the beautiful childhood I’d had move further and further back in my memory bank.
And along came Judy with an unexpected, precious gift: memories.
It turns out Judy, who lives in Nebraska, who lived in my apartment building, whose dad played cards with my dad, who played kings and queens with me, who lived next door to my cousins, who played hopscotch and jump rope with me, who shared my childhood, found me. Sent me photos of friends and cousins. Reminded me of these memories, memories that are our very foundation, memories informing our lives as we live them now, the first road on a life’s journey.