My sister Maggie sent me an undated photograph.
There is so much history in this one amazing photograph in front of the four-story apartment building at 790 Elsmere Place, the Bronx.
My grandmother “Mama,” and grandfather “Papa,” Uncle Joe, Aunt Ruthie, elegant cousin Loretta, my handsome Dad and beautifully posed Mom and her baby sister Jeanette (all of whom are now deceased) and cute little me, being held by Mama. We are all standing in front of the tenement house on Elsmere Place, their first apartment in America. Only my Uncle Jack, aka Zaidle (z”l), is missing. He was overseas fighting for our country.
It must have been a holiday or birthday; we are all farputzed (dolled up).
So, what are the stories behind those faces that makes this photo so important?
For starters, let’s talk about how brave Mama and Papa were. They packed up their belongings, their four children, and around year 1915, headed to the land of milk and honey. Included in this group of explorers was a cousin, whom they claimed as their fifth child.
A side bar: For their cousin to fit into the birth order, all birthdates were changed. The result of this farce? If you lie enough times you begin to believe your lie as truth. We never really knew any of their birthdays. We guessed, and if we got it wrong, as in too old, we would hear the devil himself straighten us out.
My Mom lived to be one of these lies: 69, 70, 71 maybe even 72 — poo-poo-poo.
I loved going to Elsmere Place. Only three or four blocks from my own apartment on Prospect Avenue, it seemed like a different world. Many private houses, smaller apartment buildings with gardens, and secret alleys to play in. I loved that I had a totally different group of friends on Elsmere Place.
One time, I had this plastic bubble contraption. Everyone knew to blow out to make these semi-permanent bubbles. If you inhaled, the fumes from the plastic would knock you out. My Aunt Jeanette tried it. The next thing she knew, and the next thing we witnessed, was her ‘falling out’ on the sidewalk. We got the evil eye when we started laughing. Even as kids, we knew to stop and help her up. This was quite the scene: people yelling, people running in what seemed to me at the time, in circles. Obviously, it made a huge impression on me, I still remember it like it was yesterday. (Oy, did I just say that?)
Although you can’t see these things in this photograph, they are all present. Pesach seder, learning to ride a bike, my friend Brenda, who was a magnificent piano player, the grandfather clock in the living room, Mama’s sewing machine in the hallway on which I learned to sew, the French doors separating the living room from Mama and Papa’s bedroom, the long, oh so long hallway that reinforced my fear of the dark, and the teeny tiny bathroom six people shared with the Pesach fish swimming in the tub.
Is it really possible a photograph can summon up all these, and many more, memories? Every time I look at this photograph, I am consumed with delicious slices of the past.