So reads a sign in Brooklyn, NY. “…In America” is the ending. There are many places in America that seem to cling to their residents’ memories–Squirrel Hill in Pittsburgh, Pikesville in Baltimore. There is however something magnetic about Brooklyn, especially for those who grew up there in the late ’40s, ’50s and early ’60s. It is a badge worn proudly and even combatively.
It is odd to me because as the headline infers, Brooklyn is a big place. People, let’s says from Pikesville (I’m married to one) will often ask me if I know this family in Brooklyn or that. Brooklyn is one-fifth of New York City with over a million people living in the borough. Imagine how many Sid Schwartz’ or Harry O’Conners there. And if they lived in a different section of Brooklyn–forgedaboudit. They used different modes of transportation, went to different schools, had different accents. They might just as well have lived in the Bronx or Brattleboro, Vt. And yet they all, when asked their origin don’t say New York, they say Brooklyn. When those of my age speak about psychic pains, they all say rooting for the Dodgers.
Permit me a detour to drive home the point. I discovered that Facebook has dozens (hundreds?) of affinity groups. If you’re into Praying Mantis’ there’s probably a group for you. Thus to find a group called, “Growing up in Brooklyn” was to me like finding a quarter on the sidewalk–exciting but not exactly an inducer of high blood pressure. I was, of course, curious so I joined and here is what happened.
After a few weeks of the typical “who would possibly be interested in that?” postings, two people posted three different things and suddenly it was the fourth of July in the inbox. The first was a picture of two cakes and the question, “Anybody remember these?” Well about 1,000 people did, all of them correctly identifying them as iconic cakes made by the iconic Brooklyn bakery Ebingers (pronounced in Brooklyn Eh-bing-jers), whose goods can still be found in supermarkets in the Mid-Atlantic market. But that was the tip of the icing.
There was an outpouring for Ebingers that sounded like it was for one’s favorite grandmother. There came roadmaps for where the respondent’s Ebingers was located. And of course, nobody made a given cake as well as their Ebingers. Some people found that they never knew there was one here or there, in this neighborhood or that. Probably a useless factoid because most, like the one near my house, are long gone. But people reacted like it was a new discovery. Remember, 1000+ responses and “those cards and letters,” as Dino used to say, are still comin’ in.
Then there was the posting of four pictures: eggs, biscuits and gravy, pancakes, and bacon. The question was, “Which one of these had to go?” I stopped counting in the nine hundred and eighties. It’s amazing how many people don’t like eggs. Some reverently expound about pancakes and rue that today either weight, gluten, syrup, butter and so on have separated their bellies from this love of theirs.
Except for a very few like me who had spent considerable time in the deep south, Brooklynites would need an airplane bag if they had to eat biscuits and gravy. Yet, though not on the list, grits did get some kind comments like, “It’s like Cream of Wheat but chewier.”
And one must feel a pang of sorrow for Brooklyn’s Orthodox Jews of which there are tens of thousands. Most all respondents, who I assumed by name recognition were Jewish, would rather fight than switch. Brooklyn and bacon seemed inseparable.
The home run was this question: “What do you miss about your childhood in Brooklyn?” This hit an emotional nerve and truthfully, a team of a sociologist and psychologist would have a field day giving intuition to the many more than 1,000 answers (so far). I am neither, so I’m going to take the Joe Friday approach and give you just the facts. You can lay the whys and wherefores over them.
One thing seems to stick out above all other responses. People miss their moms and dads, women especially miss their moms. (BTW Happy Mother’s Day, youse guys!) These answers often expanded into grandparents, favorite aunts and uncles, and generic family gatherings, usually on Sundays and usually at some other relative’s house.
Many of the girls remember a “Dick and Jane” kind of childhood often at odds with the reality of some parts of Brooklyn at that time. They felt safe. They chatted at the candy store, walked to school together, played girl games in the streets. There was one woman though who amazed me by stating emphatically she missed playing stickball in the street. I never saw a girl play stickball. But hooray for you, kiddo. I hope you became a pioneer in women’s athletics!
For guys, it was games and more games, all with “spauldeens” or “pinkies,” pink, rubber balls. Box ball, penny ball, stickball, stoop ball. Mostly for guys, but for a lot of girls too was the walk to the neighborhood pizza joint. Sitting on the stoop and talking was very popular providing no one was playing stoop ball.
Then too were the sights, sounds, and places. One person dreamily spoke of watching the fishing boats come in at Sheepshead Bay. While Prospect Park was a big favorite, there were many smaller parks that held many bigger memories. There were even some very micro-memories. One person missed his pogo stick. Another, that I think would ring true to all teens no matter what the decade, was simply stated as missing, “my room.”
Then there were the wistful comments like being able to run, or run fast, or even walk at a good clip, not waking up with this that and the other thing hurting, being able to eat all the things you could taste thinking about but were stricken from your life’s list by a spouse, a doctor, or, though not often, common sense.
There were those like me who missed the whole kit and kaboodle. They answered the question about what they missed from their childhood with one word–childhood. One person did amplify–no mortgage, no car payments, no medical bills just being a kid.
I feel a little transparency is warranted. I am Brooklyn through and through. No matter where I am is where some part of Brooklyn is. But I didn’t dumpster-dive in old memories of older cakes just because they were from Brooklyn. As you know, this summer my memoir, “The War of the Itchy Balls and Other Tales from Brooklyn” will be published. I was curious how my memories stacked up against others well distant from me though still Brooklynites. I even found that several others have written books, mostly e-books it seems. I will read a few. However, the question remains, “How did the memories compare?” The answer is…read my book–at least from my perspective.
WARNING: you will have to do without me for two weeks. The dog sitter and house sitter are moving in whilst the bride and I scram for a bit. You can always comfort your wrenching separation anxiety by scaring up my website: http://www.atleastfrommyperspective.net.
Now repeat after me, Read! It’s good for both of us.