Friday, October 31, 2014

Halloween and Samhain

My grandparents and most of their generation did not know what to make of Halloween. My mom did go to Halloween Parties, in fetching costumes, but it would have shocked and dismayed them to imagine sending her to people they didn't know -or even people they did know, and they did know quite a few in their area- for "free" candy. I don't think my dad's family celebrated Halloween at all.

 When we lived on Long Island, my brother and I did go to the neighbors' houses for trick or treating, and the kids from neighboring houses came to ours. A little later on, in Queens, I did go to a few Halloween Parties and had various amounts of fun. The most fun, however, was the Halloween when I was already living in Cherry Hill, my senior year, but went back to Queens for a party at the end of which we all attended a midnight showing of "The Night of the Living Dead" in costume. There was some pot being smoked nearby...did not matter one way or the other. Everyone was cheering the zombies.

I still like the idea of Halloween and parties, but now it is Samhain that means more to me as I honor the people closest to me who have gone elsewhere on this day when the spirit world is closest to this world. My thoughts are always with you, and you are always with me.

Mom. Nanny. Poppy. Grandma. Grandpa.

Wednesday, October 29, 2014

Two Timelines

Sometimes I feel as if my life had two timelines, and the other life would have led me to spend a lot more time with my grandparents and mom than I did. You see, part of me just wanted to be with them. But somehow they kept pushing me to get out, to find friends, to find significant others. (Okay, at certain points, I must admit that I didn't have to be pushed too hard..)

But I keep thinking these days that if they had let me stay with them without pushing me to get out and away, I would have been so happy. I could have chronicled the lives of the people I loved most, could have taken care of them more. I would even have been able to go to a local university -Queens College of CUNY probably would have been my choice- and I would have written about them, would have majored in both politics and English. I might have also been a proofreader, which would have satisfied me, as well. Just to be with them.

But see, when they did push me out, I found significant others they didn't necessarily like. I guess that in their hearts, they wished me to settle down with a nice Jewish man and have children. Oh boy, was that not going to happen.

So I ranged farther and farther afield...but there were so many times when I just wanted to be with them.

I almost want to write a book that would feature the first timeline, the one that would have me staying close to them, taking care of them and writing about them.

Saturday, October 25, 2014


Four generations of us went to Alexander's on the corner of Fordham Road and Grand Concourse in the Bronx:  two of my great grandmothers (mother's mother's mother and mother's father's mother), my grandmother (mother's mother), my mother and myself. We all took the BX 12 bus there from the White Plains Road and Bronx River Parkway/Pelham Parkway stop. (Actually, I think that even my dad went to Alexander's. He took the BX 20 from a stop not too far from where he lived in the Amalgamated Housing Development near Van Cortlandt Park. See? Everyone came to Alexander's.)

One time I needed something to wear for a party, but my grandma wouldn't go with me because I was wearing a -well, a halter that was a bit on the revealing side. She said angrily that she wouldn't be seen with me. This was very very unlike her. I would guess that I was in one of my rebellious phases. Sorry, grandma :(  However, my mom, not quite as shocked by the halter, agreed to accompany me to Alexander's. I ended up getting a snazzy disco type vest for two dollars on one of their bargain tables. I think that even my mom liked it. She bought a blouse.

You boarded the BX 12 bus from the stop where the road opened out into the ramp for the Parkway and a hill above it. You could see the stately light tan brick Art Deco buildings in two lines at the cross streets of Bolton Av, but your eye led you on to where the gates for the Bronx Zoo and the Botanical Gardens stood about a mile on. As the bus passed the small bridge over the Bronx River, you craned your neck to see the river flowing placidly past.

The bus then made its way onto Fordham Road, and you passed Fordham University and Arthur Avenue, Little Italy of the Bronx. Then you passed more stores and of course Schrafft's where people went for ice cream after shopping or after a movie, which made quite a lot of sense, since there were two movie theaters withing walking distance.

The bus disgorged you and more than half of its other passengers at what was known as the Alexander's stop. It was even fun to be part of the crowd disembarking because you knew that most of you were bound for the same store.

The first Alexander's opened on East 149th Street in 1928; the second one, the one we referred to when we said the name,  opened in 1933. One of the wonderful things about it was that for a long time, people of all classes and ethnicities shopped there. It had something for everyone - bargains, high end, somewhere in the middle. Some of my favorite pieces of clothing came from there, as they did for my mom, my grandma, and my great grandmas. That 1970's disco type vest of black with silver sparkles all through was a standout. I probably gave it away, although like Bilbo with the Ring, I kept sticking it back into my chest of drawers when I thought I'd sent it away :)

Alexander's closed in 1992 after several attempts were made to save it.  They never found a store to take its place, visually or culturally or economically. I did eventually find stores that I liked a lot. But never one that matched the sheer, easy fun of going to and shopping at Alexander's on Fordham.

Tuesday, October 21, 2014

Millie Flirts

For elementary school, my mom attended P.S. 105, which was about three blocks away from where she lived. The school, she said, was about 95 percent Jewish.

However, things changed when she started to attend P.S. 83, almost a mile away, for Junior High. Here, she said, there were more Italians than Jews. This meant, she said, Italian boys who wore leather jackets and carried knives and walked with a swagger. Things became a lot more interesting. My mom flirted outrageously with them after school when they (well, one at a time) would meet her behind the school or at the park. She found their street toughness and dark dark eyes invigorating.

And her daughter inherited her appreciation before she even knew that once upon a time her mom had met Italian boys behind school or in the park.

I Fell In Love - The Roches

I know there was something about you that I liked, yeah
But I only realized it when I spied you
At your mother's house last week
I'd only ever seen you on your bike, yeah
I thought you were a slick affected
Switch blade flashing motorcycle freak

I never understood, you slur your words why
You walk that mean and tough guy walk
Of all the other guys who hang around
The kind of animal that goes in herds, why
But at you mother's house last Sunday dinnertime
With your defenses down

I fell in love, I fell in love, I fell in love
Flowers in your hand
Such a fine young man
Dressed up a suit and tie
Hear my love cry
I fell in love, I fell in love

I'm probably not the kind of girl you think you want, why
I saw you with that slick affected
Switch blade flashing motorcycle blonde
I've got to make you turn around and see me
I saw you at your mother's house
I know you have it in you to like me
Such a fine young man
Catch me if you can
Don't be such a tough guy
Hear my love cry
I fell in love, you fell in what?

Suzzy Roche; Terre Roche
Published by

Monday, October 20, 2014

Bookstores and Beverly Gray

When my grandfather was in his early twenties, and frequenting the Village (Greenwich Village), he found some wonderful bookstores (they tended to carry both new and used books then). This was in the early 1920’s. He also found some excellent bookstores in Harlem, which he liked a lot.

When he became Night Managing Editor of the Bronx Home News (yes, the Bronx had a newspaper, an  excellent one) in his thirties, he found some very good bookstores on East 149th Street in the Bronx, before the Bronx was broken up by expressways and many of its neighborhoods were bulldozed.

When my mom was starting to read -1934- my grandfather started to buy books for her in two neighborhood bookstores, around Pelham Parkway. Penrod’s was one. I don’t remember the name of the other. He bought her the latest Nancy Drew books (which were current at the time) and those of another series which she liked much better, the Beverly Gray books.

Beverly Gray lived mostly in New York and took a world cruise in a yacht and was attracted to a Count with a very questionable past. She then was kidnap(p)ed by pirates and lived to tell the tale. She was also in love with a dashing detective.

Nancy Drew lived in a small town and solved mysteries pertaining to houses, clocks and staircases. She had a boyfriend who was about as exciting as lima beans.

When we would go to my grandparents’ apartment –once a week, then once every other week- I would go into the closet smelling of old books and pillows and clothes and extract a book, which I would then read. The smells were almost as wonderful as the books. But not quite.

I remember how my mom’s glowing hazel eyes would sparkle when she talked about Beverly Gray, and how we laughed when we finally got to discuss them from an adult perspective. 

No contest – for my mom or myself J 

Monday, October 13, 2014

My Own Best Place(s) to Live

We've seen so many of them - surveys and scientifically compiled lists of places that supposedly are best for us to inhabit. But guess what - we are all individuals with preferences not on any best-places lists.

With this in mind, I provide not places, but items that would rate as things I would want in my cities/places of choice.

Good Jewish bakery. Would bake challah, raisin pumpernickel, several kinds of rye bread, cheese danish, babka, rugelekh, khomentashn, Linzer torte cookies, mandelbreyt, black-and-whites, Chinese cookies (only baked by Jewish bakeries in NY, so you can see that they're not Chinese at all, but are called that), charlotte russes, those amazing bakery cookies with chocolate on top and jelly in the middle and colored pink or green, bugaches (small pastry with thick dough sweetened with honey) and different kinds of gooey chocolate cakes.  Hell, this kind of bakery would top the list of things wanted and would probably rate as a reason to live in a city all on its own.

Good Jewish delicatessen. Pastrami, corned beef, tongue, kosher salami, stuffed cabbage, kugels of all kinds, blintzes, matzo bray/brei, rye bread, pumpernickel, good mustard, Enough already? Not quite..

Good pizza place. New York pizza. And no, this does not mean toppings until one can't see the pizza. Best:  no topping except the sauce and cheese, with the right distribution of sauce and cheese and oil and a well done crust.

Good Indian/Pakistani restaurant. Preferably buffet, but as long it has really good biryani, kebabs, tandoori chicken, and fish curry, as well as excellent naan, that would be just fine.

Good dairy restaurant. Mushroom cutlets and thick, uncompromisingly creamy and dense cream cheese cake.

Good supermarket(s) and food stores, both fresh produce and packaged.

Park. Lots of trees and benches facing away from traffic. Good place to watch sunsets.

Lake or river.


Public transport, especially but not only trains.

Railroad station.

Art fairs/artists who sit in parks and paint.

Coffee houses (not chain).

All night diners.

Night time safety so I can walk around at night and not feel threatened.

Candy stores.

Chocolate place(s)..

Ice cream place(s).

Lots of wonderful old buildings (apartments and houses).


And last but oh so not least:  Tolerant of people of all ethnicities, races, genders, orientations, sizes, ages.

Does such a place exist?

The way I look at it, there are a few that come close. (And they do not necessarily follow my Favorite Cities List, although they may kind of intersect with it).

Brookline, MA

Forest Hills, NY

Madison, WI

Burlington, VT

New Paltz, NY

Ann Arbor, MI

Saturday, October 11, 2014

Helping Those We've Never Met

When the grape and lettuce boycott announced by the United Farm Workers began in 1975, all of us (Mom, Dad, Ron (brother), Grandma (mom's mom) and Grandpa (mom's dad) stopped eating grapes and lettuce. We just stopped. None of us complained about having to do so. We knew that we were helping our union brothers and sisters in California and across the nation.

And in 1975, I joined and became active in the Brandeis University Boycott Support Committee.  We picketed stores and informed customers why they should not be buying grapes and lettuce. We were almost arrested more than once. But we were simply told then to stop chanting. (Now we would have been arrested, I'll bet.)

I felt that I was following in my grandparents' footsteps in trying to support and help people I'd never seen or met.

Friday, October 10, 2014

Secret Gardens of the Heart

A show called "Valley of the Heart," put on by Teatro Campesino and written by Luis Valdez, has been in theaters in NY and LA lately, and has been successful. Teatro Campesino is the theatrical component of United Farm Workers.

"Valley of the Heart" takes place in the 1940's, when the Japanese owners of a farm in California are sent to a concentration camp in Wyoming. Some of the Mexican farm laborers are told to watch over the farm. Many interesting occurrences ensue, including a love story.

The ILGWU (International Ladies' Garment Workers' Union) also created a theatrical group in the 1930's. They put on the extremely popular show (at the time) "Pins and Needles." One summer, the son of the camp director at the adult camp to which my mom and her parents went in summers decided to have the Pins and Needles players up to put on their show and other shows. He also invited a French chef, who made blintzes like the best of crepes.

He almost bankrupted the camp.

My mom, however, had her choice of desserts and waiters and busboys. The latter competed to see who could bring her the best dessert. She was 14 and gorgeous, although not as gorgeous as she would become.

I wish there were a machine that would allow us to visit the past, invisible, without changing it.

Tuesday, October 7, 2014

Dining at The Savoy

When I was in my thirties and forties, my parents and I would take extended weekend trips to places that weren't exactly next door, but weren't that far - like to Toronto, Montreal, Vermont.

On the way to Toronto, we stopped off at, among other places, Rome, New York, the place in which I was born (and which made me the only one in my immediate family not to be born in NYC). My parents decided that we would dine at the restaurant in which they used to eat fairly regularly when they lived there, but especially beloved by my mom during the four months before I was born. It is called The Savoy.

When we entered, my parents were amused to see that the tables bore the same red and white checkered tablecloths they remembered from more than thirty years before. The place had expanded and so had its menu, but there were still many dishes they recognized.

I took a look at the menu. Without a lot of thought, I ordered the Spaghetti Savoy - spaghetti with sausage, mushrooms and green peppers in marinara sauce.

My mom looked at me. "That's what I used to order when I came here when I was pregnant with you," she said, amazed. "It was my favorite."

"I guess I developed a taste for it then," I joked.

Great food, and The Savoy still seems to be one of the most popular restaurants -and Italian Restaurants- in North Central NY State.