Tuxedo on the Uptown Bus


Immediately after work on August 14, 1985, I walked down Park Avenue to the corner of Thirty-eighth Street. I had planned to meet my boyfriend there; we were going to walk over to the Bide-A-Wee animal shelter to adopt a kitten.

It was stifling. He was late. Neither of these was a surprise. Bored, I pulled my hair up into a ponytail and wandered along the sidewalk, dodging other sweaty New Yorkers and chewing my right thumbnail. I idly perused the display in the window of the Hallmark store. I looked at my watch several times. If he didn’t arrive soon the shelter would close and my frail wishbone of opportunity would snap.

Finally, I saw him trudging up Park Avenue South. I grabbed his arm. “Come on! Come on! They’re gong to close!”

“They’re not going to close.” He looked at his watch. A quarter to six. They were going to close. We scurried along East Thirty Eighth Street, making it in the door just before the guard lifted his key to lock it.

“I came to adopt a kitten,” I announced brightly.

“Good for you. Got lotsa kittens down there,” he answered. “Go right over there to the Adoption Office.”

While I headed to the office to complete the paperwork, Jamie followed the guard’s chin jerk and walked downstairs to the cat and kitten room. By the time I joined him, he was already stopped before a cage. Inside was a howling black and white kitten; her little paw was stuck out between the bars and she had dug her claws into his Armani suit jacket and nearly into his wrist.   He smiled goofily. “I think this one wants to come with us.”

She was tiny – a ten-week old domestic shorthair, black with white paws, a white bow on her face, and a white bib under her chin. She looked as though she was dressed for a formal occasion so we named her Tuxedo. We paid $15 for the kitten and $2.44 for a cardboard Bide-A-Wee carrier to take her home in and headed for the uptown bus.

Since we lived in a converted brownstone way up on Central Park West, we had to change for the cross-town bus near the Park. It was a long ride and the buses were like airless tin cans.  The kitten was frightened and scratched at the box trying to escape. There were no seats together so Jamie took the quivering box and sat on the left side alone. I sat on the right next to another cranky commuter.

He put the box on the floor, near his briefcase, next to his feet. The scritching noise continued. There were a few plaintive meows, barely audible over the roaring, belching bus. Then the howling began.

New Yorkers tend to ignore each other on public transportation, preferring to sit rigidly, our body language telling everyone near us that no, they don’t actually exist, after all. This bus was no different. Through the shaking and the clawing, no one turned toward Jamie. Even the stifled mewing garnered no response. But, as we were turning onto CPW and he opened the box to comfort Tuxedo, a change occurred. Her head and shoulders popped up like a jack-in-the-box toy and she yowled with relief as she scrabbled up his pant leg to sit in his lap. The entire bus all but cried in unison, “Ohhhhhhhhh! A kitten! Look, a kitten! Awwwwwwwww.” The bus nearly tilted to the left as every rider rose from the seats and reached to pet her.

I have never seen anything like it, either before or since. I have watched television stars enter restaurants and no one looked up from his entree. I saw a bride ride the subway in a big, poufy, white dress and veil and no one cracked a smile at her. But a little kitten on a hot summer day melted every heart on the bus.

Jamie tucked her back into the box so we could exit at our stop. Total strangers, adults, called after us, “’Bye, kitty.” “You take good care of that baby, now.” “Bye, you have a good night.”

Tuxedo lived with us for the next fifteen years until kidney disease struck. I think of her every day, but mostly in August, when I remember the uptown bus ride with the winsome kitten who captured the commuters’ hearts.

Rain at the Beach, 1967


When I was a child I spent dove-colored afternoons with my sister, sitting by her side at the kitchen table,
scrubbing Crayola colors onto the pages of a book,
careful to stay within the black lines as I made Underdog’s ears scarlet and Sweet Polly’s dress violet.

Fighting over the periwinkle,
we tore the paper wrappers to insert the nubby tips into the sharpener (“built in!”) on the back of the 64 color box.

My mother sat nearby on the scratchy brown couch,
with her legs propped on the coffee table.
Steam curled from the cup near her feet,
the fruity scent of Constant Comment filling the air as she read or poked a needle through canvas in the dim summer light.

My father snored in his leather recliner,
open book balanced on his ample stomach,
fighting World War II again in his dreams,
As the rain shushed onto the roof and puddled on the porch,
splotched the red Delta 88 convertible in the driveway,
and trickled silently into the sand.

Rated G

IMG_7983One Saturday night in August 1973, my mom and dad joined Aunt Fay and Uncle Nick on a double date to Hathaway’s drive in movie theatre in North Hoosick to see the popular gangster film The Godfather.   Because they returned late, everyone was in bed, forcing them to share their thoughts about the movie the next morning. My father raved. It was brilliant, so complex and evocative of its time and place. My mom agreed; the story and characters were so realistic yet the dialogue was so full of poetry. Listening closely to the film review, my grandfather nodded thoughtfully.

My parents returned to the city later that day, leaving me upstate. The next Wednesday evening after dinner, my grandfather turned to my grandmother.

“Hey, Ruthie, let’s pack up the Peanut here and go see that movie the kids were raving about. You know, the gangster film.”

My grandmother looked up from her crocheting, frowning, and nodded slightly, yet pointedly, at me, Peanut (so nicknamed because I am the youngest grandchild), lounging on the sofa. “I don’t know. I talked to Fay about it and they say” –  here she stage-whispered “the word ‘fuck’ in that movie.”

My grandfather raised his left arm as if to push away her concern. “Peanut has heard it before. She just heard it from you. Come on, let’s go.”

Grabbing sweaters we set off in my grandfather’s maroon Delta 88 the few miles to the theatre. It was dusk by the time we made the left turn by Delaney’s Hotel, and we could see that the line at Hathaway’s was so long cars were pulled over onto the side of the road, trying not to block the entrance to the gas station or Tate’s Diner as they inched forward to the box office; by the time we reached the ticket booth, The Godfather tickets had all sold out, leaving us with a Faye Dunaway and George C. Scott film about a woman oil wildcatter called Oklahoma Crude. My grandfather sighed with disappointment and turned to my grandmother. “Well?”

“We’re here now, Kenneth, no point in going home. We’ll just watch the George C. Scott movie and see the gangster show another time. I like George C. Scott. Remember how good he was in that Patton?” Her tone made me think she was placating him because, however much she had or had not enjoyed Patton, she was pretty happy that The Godfather was off the menu; she had no intention of taking her younger son’s youngest child to a movie in which dirty language was bandied about.

“All right. But we are seeing the gangster show next week,” my grandfather grumbled, handing the money to the teenage girl in the booth.

We followed the other cars into the rutted field and berthed in our allotted space. As my grandfather adjusted the silvery speaker on the driver’s side window I went to the concession stand for popcorn and soda. Returning, laden, I plopped in the middle of the back seat and leaned forward between the armrests to listen to the piped in music until the graying sky had turned a bluish-ebony and the movie could begin.

I don’t actually remember much of the film. I just know that it was going along pretty well until Faye Dunaway’s character had to explain to someone about why she felt no need of a man to help her hold onto her oil-rich land while the big oil companies plotted and schemed to steal it from her. She didn’t want a man, she announced. She was prepared to do everything a man could do in the oil fields and beyond; in fact, she concluded, “if I had a dick I could fuck myself, too!”

My grandmother gasped, then shrieked. She spun in her car seat faster than I had ever seen her move and before I realized what had happened she clamped both hands on either side of my head with a viselike grip, squeezing my brain to near pulp as she covered my ears. “Kenneth!” she howled. “That word! There’s that word!” My grandfather stared at her wordlessly for a minute, and then said softly, “Ruthie, let go of the kid.”

When she finally released my head, I reached up and tentatively tried to separate my earflaps from where they had been all but embedded in my skull. My poor grandmother. She had so liked George C. Scott that she completely forgot the salty language he had used as General Patton and, having never seen Bonnie and Clyde, had no idea who Faye Dunaway was. She was quiet for the rest of the night.

We never saw The Godfather that summer. In fact, I didn’t see it until it was released on VHS, at which point, I realized that the dialogue contains very little swearing and no character ever uttered the dreaded “fuck” at all. I don’t know whether my grandfather ever got the chance to see it, as he died before home video technology was available.

I think of my grandparents every time that movie comes on TV.  Last summer, seeing it on a pay channel, I commented idly about how it always reminded me of upstate New York and my grandparents.  This puzzled my father and I realized that my grandparents had never told the story, so I did.  In the telling it occurred to me that it says everything there is to say about my grandmother – to me, at least.  Her finer instincts to protect me were so strong, she never realized the insidiousness of the Trojan horse George C. Scott movie.  Evidently, if she really wanted to keep my adolescence rated G, she should have listened to my grandfather and taken me to the gangster film.

Hot Summer Nights

IMG_7972-3My favorite childhood companion was my stuffed Bantam Morgan dog. She was a third birthday gift from Uncle Fritz Danster, a Holocaust survivor and professional photographer. I loved my parents, my cousins, and my best friend, Patti Reyman, but Morgan was my constant companion.

It was early July, 1963; I was not quite four years old. My parents had gone away for a week’s vacation leaving my sister and me with our grandparents in the city. We had driven up the country (our phrase for the vacation house in upstate New York) for the weekend. It was late and I was in bed; I was supposed to be asleep but between the relentless heat and the sound of the TV I couldn’t drop off. I reached for Morgan, and in pulling her closer to me for a chat, heard a snick sound – like something hard and plastic had hit the linoleum floor. Feeling Morgan’s soft face I realized with dread that the sound had been one of her black plastic button eyes falling off and disappearing, probably forever. She would now need an eye patch like the one worn by my cousin Karen to correct her lazy eye.

Filled with horror at my friend’s potential fate, I shrieked and burst into heaving, gulping sobs. Both grandparents stumbled over one another to reach my small maple bed. “What’s wrong?” my grandmother gasped in fear.

I continued howling. “It’s Morgan! She can’t see!” I held up my stuffed friend. In the glow of the bedside lamp, it was evident that one of the button eyes was indeed missing. My grandmother sighed in relief that it was the toy and not me. “Oh, is that all? The dog lost a button? We’ll find it and I’ll sew it on in the morning.”

Shocked at her callous dismissiveness of my friend’s suffering, I emitted another ear-splitting wail. “No! Now! She’s blind! She’ll fall out of bed ’cause she can’t see where she’s going! Now! We have to find it now!”

I was wide awake at this point; thanks to me, so was everyone else. With a sigh and a snap of the switch, my grandmother flooded the room with light from the overhead fixture and commenced the search while I clutched Morgan and snuffled.

It took about fifteen seconds to find the button; it had, after all, fallen right next to the bed and hadn’t even had the energy to bounce anywhere in the sultry night. My grandmother fetched her sewing box and, under my watchful gaze, reattached Morgan’s eye thus restoring her sight. Perhaps due to the drama, Morgan and I fell asleep right after the surgery.

I sometimes think of Morgan’s accident on hot summer nights; occasionally I think of it randomly when I see her perched on my bed. It’s been over fifty years since her brush with blindness and more amazing, even, than her miraculous recovery, is my grandmother’s reaction to her misadventure, specifically the speed with which she assuaged a little girl’s pain and fear by repairing her stuffed friend immediately.

I miss my grandmother and her trusty needle. She could fix lots of things; I could use her skill now.

Strawberry Fields Forever


When I was little, my family would leave the city on summer Friday evenings just before sunset, after my dad and grandfather returned home from work and it was no longer so hot outside. The drive upstate on the Taconic was boring so I often fell asleep.
Saturday mornings were busy and everyone had a task; the first stop for my grandparents and me was Grand Union in Hoosick Falls for the meat – chicken or steak – that my dad and grandfather would grill in the huge brick barbecue they had built years before. Next we drove to Faile’s Dairy in Cambridge for fresh eggs and heavy cream. My mom would grab my sister and head to Moses Farm Stand in Eagle Bridge for sweet peaches, firm-fleshed Jersey tomatoes, corn on the cob, and strawberries all picked earlier that morning.

I remember the strawberries best of all – plump, luscious, bright-red, and freckled. Soon they’d be swimming in a cold-water bath in my grandmother’s deep kitchen sink, then placed on a paper towel to wait while she mixed and baked an all-butter pound cake. Smelling the fruity berry scent and the rich aroma of the cake bought everyone into the kitchen. No one had the patience to wait until the golden cake was cooled and sliced into three equal layers or to watch my grandmother hand-whip the cream and spread it thickly, then dot it with the shiny red berries. She swatted away lots of probing fingers with her metal spatula while she assembled. Even though there were other things, delicious things, to eat before the cake, the highlight was my grandmother’s strawberry shortcake.

My grandparents are dead and their house long-sold. Faile’s Dairy is out of business. My sister and I are past middle-aged. But sweet, red, summer strawberries live on in my imagination and my garden.

Lost New York


If you sit through the bitter end of a movie filmed in New York City, you’ll see that the closing credits contain a little circular logo from the New York Film Commission:  it says “Made in New York” in white letters on a blue ground.  Me, too: I am a native New Yorker from a long line of native New Yorkers, people who were truly Made in New York.

2474 Grand Avenue, Apartment 18 C, third floor, Bronx, NY 10468, halfway between Fordham Road and West 190th Street , was my family’s home.  My grandparents moved there in 1939, remaining until the mid-1970s.  It’s where I came after leaving Fitch Sanitarium where I was born early one October morning in the late 1950s. At just over 7 pounds, with black hair and indigo eyes, I was the only girl in a nursery populated with squalling baby boys. Fitch, a private hospital founded in 1849 by Dr. Charles W. Fitch, was peculiarly placed at the intersection of West 183 Street and Sedgwick Avenue at Loring Place, within walking distance of our apartment, or taxi distance, if one happened to be in labor.  I was escorted into the world by Dr. Daniel Martuccio, with the assistance of Mary Crean, an ob-gyn OR nurse who was such a good friend to my grandmother she was practically family.  To me they were always Dr. Dan and Aunt Mary.

Immediately upon meeting me that rainy midnight, Aunt Mary tied a string of beads to my wrist: black ink on white glass spelled my entire name, the same first and middle names as my grandfather’s mother, each letter closely following the other, no spacers: the unlettered beads alternated pink and blue.  I imagine Aunt Mary squinting as she poked through the wooden box containing the letter beads, her glasses perched on the tip of her nose, the same way my glasses do now, as I have long since passed the age she was on the autumn night when she strung them. Family lore says that after Dr. Dan tied the cord, Aunt Mary wrapped me in blankets like a papoose and said, “You finish up, Dan; I got what I came for” and promptly carried me into the waiting room to meet my father and grandparents.  My older sister, at home with my teenaged cousins, had to wait a few days to meet me.  Interestingly, she’s never complained about that.

I haven’t been back to 2474 Grand Avenue in years, not since the day in the early 1990’s when, on a pre-zoo detour, I saw that the entire front of the building was changed, added on to, blown out like a boil.  The addition paid no homage to the building’s original architectural classification; it was that ugly, more–room-inside-so-who-cares-about-outside style.

“That’s progress,” my husband shrugged, shifting the car into Drive, completely acquiescent of construction in a city that never stops rebuilding itself.

I scowled.  “Humph.  Desecration, more like.”

“Of what?”

“My childhood.”  What did he know?  His grandparents’ original Tudor house in Forest Hills Gardens remains unchanged to this day: no one has opened a tarot-card-reading shop where he used to play.

When I was little, 2474 Grand Avenue was big, not huge like buildings now, but normal-people big, like buildings in Greenwich Village.  It was a lot like every other building on the block in size and tenancy, which means it was nowhere near as grand as those on the Grand Concourse, but you could never have convinced me of that.  In reality, 2474 Grand Avenue probably wasn’t an especially large building, even when new in 1926, but it and its two identical siblings were distinct from their neighbors by the addition of roomy courtyards created by having the lobby situated back several feet from the sidewalk, bordered by stone balustrades and up two sets of steps: raised flowerbeds then framed the steps and paths.  On ordinary summer days, I played Barbies and jacks in there with my sister or by myself; occasionally my cousin Carl came over and Barbie’s pink world was stretched to include olive-drab GI Joe.  On days when Joe stayed home (Carl said he was “on maneuvers”), Carl and I played Go Fish or Old Maid, sitting opposite each other at the edge of a single step and using the flowerbed wall as our card table.  Neither my mom nor our grandmother had any trouble keeping an eye on us from the windows upstairs.

When it was time for a bathroom break or a drink, the lobby was reached easily through heavy glass doors decorated with black iron scrolled into a curly Italianate design.  The floor was black and white checkerboard-patterned marble and a pastoral mural was painted on the back wall. The lobby was cool and dark and had twin staircases at either side that always reminded me of our cousin Nicholas’s sticky-outty ears.  I recall ascending those stairs to 18 C many times, my little legs climbing, climbing, climbing, while clutching my mom’s hand.  At our landing, the doors stood, all alike, shiny and black.  What they lacked in individuality, however, they made up for in locks, seemingly dozens of locks, locks to be opened just in time  – or not  – when a little girl really had to potty.  On those days when I was on the inside of the door, the clinking and jangling of these locks were like Christmas bells to me, heralding the arrivals of my mom, my dad, or my grandfather.

Besides the locks, the only other really interesting thing about the front door was its proximity to the enormous coat closet.  I loved the coat closet; its dim interior smelled like the polish for my dad’s shoes and the traces of My Sin by Arpege clinging to my mom’s out-of-season wool coat. My grandfather’s red metal toolbox resided in the closet.  The heavy, glass seltzer bottles lived there, too, napping in their wooden crate, rousing themselves drowsily only on Fridays when Mr. Schmuckler, the seltzer man, took away the empties and left full ones in their places.

By city standards, the apartments in 2474 Grand were huge, with up to three bedrooms, a black and white tiled bathroom, and a living room that ran the entire width. Each living room on the street side had three large windows. The front window closest to my grandfather’s favorite chair had a wide sill, and like the old men in “Prufrock” or a solitary house cat, I hung out that window observing the opera of the street and looking for my sister, for my cousins, for my mom and dad, but mostly for my grandfather coming home from Grand Central Station, where he worked days as a Ventilation Cleaning Gang leader (essentially, a supervisor in charge of the crews who ensured the air quality in the station and its tunnels) or from the business he and my grandmother owned at 178 West Fordham Road, where he worked evenings repairing televisions and radios.  I sat on that sill a lot, playing with Colorforms plastic shapes and cutting paper dolls from old Montgomery Ward catalogs.  Sometimes I colored or connected-the-dots.  One day I accidentally knocked my sister’s souvenir Statue of Liberty out the window from that sill, breaking her torch.  (The statue’s, I mean, not my sister’s.)  Ironically, Miss Liberty currently stands on a bedside table in a guest bedroom in my own house looking perfectly content; unlike my sister, she got over it.

The kitchen in the back was narrow but not too small; we had a table and chairs in there and we all fit around the table at the same time.  The table was placed next to another big window with another big sill, wide enough for a child to lean on and unobtrusively stack peas, while hoping for pigeons or my grandfather’s parakeets to swoop down and eat the evidence.  My grandmother, who had lost her right leg from the knee down due to a childhood playground accident – an unsecured wrought-iron school gate swung into her from behind slicing her leg and damaging it irreversibly – perched on that sill, too, while she hung laundry on a line connected to our building with a pulley.  The pulley had a companion across the way, attached to someone else’s building, just outside someone else’s window.  I was surprised when my dad told me a few years ago that my grandfather had hung that clothesline; when I was little I believed that my grandmother knew the person on the other end of the rope, the person who utilized the line on days when she did not.

Walking the five or six blocks from our apartment to my grandparents’ business with my grandmother on summer mornings brought one of my life’s enduring highlights  – approaching Shields’ Bar and Grill on the corner of Grand Avenue and Fordham Road.  On summer evenings, the air around Shields’ formed its own cumulous cloud of appetizing scents like onions and hamburgers frying: raucous laughter and jukebox music spilled through its open windows, sparking my imagination.  In the clear morning air, however, it sat quietly, looking somewhat squinty and unkempt and smelling vaguely of yeast.  Nevertheless, every day on the back step rested one of the biggest pieces of ice I had ever seen; each day the block was uniformly square, about three feet by three feet, resembling an ice cube plucked from a giant’s lemonade glass. When I asked my grandfather how that was possible – our refrigerator didn’t make anything that big – he took me to the icehouse near Yankee Stadium.  Dating from the 1920’s, it made ice for the Bronx Terminal Market and other places.  I stood on the sidewalk, amazed: who’d’ve believed there really was a place that did nothing all day and all night but make enormous ice cubes?

In my imagination, huge aluminum ice cube trays, held by six burly men, were balanced under a massive tap and filled with water.  When the flow stopped, the men staggered to a big freezer and slid the trays into position, one by one. Then, when the cubes were solid, the huge handle cranked back, popping out the cubes, ready for delivery to places like Shields’.  Daily, inches from that massive block, I’d balance on tiptoe and attempt to peer into the screened back door, searching the gloom for the sources of the smells and the mystery of who exactly used that big ice cube and for what, but the dimness inside always prevented it.  My grandmother prevented it, too, tapping my right ankle with her crutch and saying, “Come on.  There’s nothing in there for you.”  Really?  I bet there was, if only I could have finagled a way to get in and find out.

My grandparents’ business was an electronics sales and repair store called DeVoe Radio & Electric (named by my dad, after the park situated just across the street), dating from the days when people still needed specialty stores and it was cheaper to repair than buy new. My grandfather fixed small appliances, like radios, and later, televisions, in the back and my grandmother ran the front of shop and kept the books.  Although DeVoe certainly wasn’t the only electronics store in New York or even in the Bronx at the time (an advertisement for the new General Electric vacuum cleaner placed in the May 19, 1949 edition of The New York Times lists dozens of them), it was one of only two on Fordham Road, and thus, well-known with a loyal clientele.  My grandfather ensured this by stocking cutting-edge products for his customers to try.  (Decades later, a waiter at Smith & Wollensky made me cry by relaying how he saw his first televised World Series baseball game playing through the front window of my grandparents’ store in 1947 when owning a television was uncommon.)

On most summer mornings I sat high up on the counter and played with the receipts poked onto a little brass pole, the receipts from in-store sales or from home repairs that my grandfather would pull from a leather folio when he returned from a call.  Sometimes I’d sit on my grandmother’s lap drawing or crafting paper clip chains (lacking the fine dexterity required to braid the more difficult chewing-gum-wrapper chains that so captivated my adolescent sister and teenaged cousins) or playing Hopscotch on the sidewalk until I felt like a melting Popsicle, and dragged myself next door to Mr. Pigola’s candy store for a cherry Coke.  This was a real cherry Coke, made with two kinds of syrup, cola and sweet cherry, tapped from soda fountain optics into a clear, ice-filled glass with the word “Coke” etched onto the side in script, and stirred with a long, twisted metal spoon.  It tasted cold and sweet and fresh.

Sometimes my grandfather invited me join him on an evening repair call. He would grab his heavy repair case and we’d be off, me trotting beside him on the wide sidewalk, clutching his free hand, and chattering.  If the location were farther than a few blocks away, we’d drive in his red Chevy Impala station wagon.  When we reached our destination, I’d follow him upstairs to the apartment; I always sat quietly where directed while he slid out chasses and changed tubes.  Occasionally someone would offer me a cookie or a glass of soda.  One elderly lady gave me a pocket-sized teddy bear to keep.

My summer days passed this way: all were virtually identical, like running those paper clip chains I made through your fingers, observing each clip’s uniformity in size and shape, with only a minor variation in color and contour.

One variation involved my mom leaving her job in Manhattan early and meeting me at the store rather than allowing me to walk home with my grandmother. I never knew when she planned to do this: hearing the shop door’s bell, I would look up and see her enter.  One such day, after re-braiding my hair and helping me pack away Barbie and Skipper, she said she and I were going for a walk.  When I asked where, she shook her head.  “Mm-mm.  It’s a surprise.”

We exited DeVoe Radio to the left, popped into the liquor store to say hello to Mr. Jacobson, waved to Mr. Applebaum as we passed his pharmacy, and continued walking along the pavement toward Sedgwick Avenue.  We stopped at the corner and didn’t cross, even when the lights changed. I waited with her, holding her cool, dry hand with my little, sweaty one and used the rubber toe of my left Keds to scratch a mosquito bite on the back of my right calf, a mosquito bite I had gotten “up the country” – my cousins’ and my name for my grandparents’ weekend house upstate.   I looked around – apartment houses, the Berenson’s grocery store, Louie Carbone’s fresh fruit and vegetable market, the butcher shop – all places my dad had worked as a teenaged delivery boy – Ralph Camera’s Gulf station, and long, long Fordham Road with the rushing highway at its base.  As the minutes passed I began to grow restless; I’d seen all this before.  Were we ever going to move?  Where were we going, anyway?  This was the wrong direction for the zoo or Aunt Fay’s house. We’d already passed the park so we weren’t going to the swings and we’d passed Piggy’s so we weren’t going to have a soda. To ride the Staten Island Ferry or see the Balto statue or the Alice clock – both in Central Park  – required traveling to Manhattan first and we were nowhere near the subway. Pretending to ignore my shifting weight and unasked questions, my mother merely gazed through her cat’s eye sunglasses at a distant point downhill.  Seconds passed.

Finally she nudged me gently and gestured with her head.  “Look. Look.”

I turned my body slightly to the right and there was my grandfather, climbing the hill from the railroad. Before my mom had even released my hand, I burst away like a dog chasing a squirrel.  My grandfather, laughing, let his Daily News fall to the pavement and caught me just before I crashed into his knees.

My mom had followed me; she bent to retrieve the paper and tuck it in her big basket purse. We walked up the hill in the fading sunshine, the three of us holding hands with me in the middle.  We stopped at Mr. Pigola’s for a packet of cherry licorice and continued along Fordham Road to meet my grandmother, just locking the front door of the store.

The workday was sighing to a close.  My dad would be home soon, and my sister.  There were groceries to buy at Daitch on the walk back to 2474 Grand Avenue, groceries that would contain the inevitable Breyer’s chocolate ice cream so beloved by my grandfather, my dad, and me. There was chicken to roast, potatoes to mash, and peas to stack on the back windowsill.  There were saltines to poke through the bars to my grandfather’s parakeets, and finally, just before bed, scoops of chocolate ice cream to eat from clear, pressed-glass bowls while watching Perry Mason, curled in my grandfather’s lap, in my grandfather’s favorite chair as the sun set behind the water towers on the city rooftops.