I was raised in a modest house. My Father worked from sunup to sundown; my mother cared for the home and along with my older brother, we lived on a main street that ran north and south through our small suburban town.
Five houses north of Front Street, our two-story home rested across from the vacant land that was once part of an airfield on Merrick Avenue.
The neighborhood was not unlike others of its class. Often, I walked to school through the various side streets, and often, I noticed cars warming in the driveways during the cold weather.
Tails of smoke puffed from the mufflers while men of their household hurried from their front doorstep with cups of coffee in their hand, slamming themselves inside the driver’s side door, and heading off to earn a living.
Most of the homes were similar in style. No one was overly rich or exceptionally poor. We were a middle-income town that was complete with the common dysfunctions of everyday life.
Many of the homes proudly waved our Nation’s beautifully colored flag of red, white, and blue. I suppose we were part of a different time then and our ignorance was simple.
I admit there was a clear separation between races, however, I was taught not to see things such as color or racial background. There were different parts to the neighborhood. One was named Jew Town because of its obvious number of Jewish Homeowners.
I was raised Jewish as well, but our home was not in Jew Town, and I was frequently reminded of my family’s misplacement.
I never liked the term, “Jew Town,” but I was forced to accept it.
Then there was Mitchel Manor, or The Manor as we called it, which was the military housing, and perhaps the only injection of color to an otherwise white world.
The Manor kids mostly clustered amongst themselves. I suppose this was because they understood each other. They understood the frequent moves that came with military life as well as the new beginnings in new schools and meshing into new crowds while trying to make new friends.
Every fall, the high school began its football season and each spring, the little league would parade from the parking lot at Prospect Park.
Little kids dressed in baseball uniforms, led by bands and banners, marched from Prospect Avenue, making a left onto East Meadow Avenue, and then they turned left onto Front Street before heading down to Merrick.
(That was my street)
The parade headed north on Merrick Avenue, passed the homes on the east side and the vacant land on the west. They marched up to the baseball fields, which was just south of Hempstead turnpike. But along the way, proud parents stood on the sidewalks, waving and cheering as the little ones passed by.
I saw this as a perfect embodiment of our society; I saw this as a description of innocence. This was an innocence that could only come with my generation. It was an innocence of ignorance, perhaps, but there was safety in our unaware time.
I was so unbelievably young then. I was young and learning.
These were the days when I was home before sunset. This was the time when dinner was on the table and families ate together. There were no video game interruptions; there were no televisions on during mealtime. Fathers sat at the head of their tables and mothers hardly sat at all.
I remember these days well. I remember my mother’s mashed potatoes. I remember when she made pork chops and she cut them for me so I would not have to.
When I was sick, she took care of me, and when needed, my mother took me to the doctor. She was the one to come in if I was scared. She was the one that cleaned my scraped knees, or washed my cuts with some form of stinging solution and gauze pads.
She warned me, “Now this is going to sting a little bit,” and I would try to brave the pain, but usually, I would cry and my mother would comfort me.
I write these words in parenthesis to emphasize her ability of motherhood.
I often think about that stinging solution my mother put on my scrapes.
I think about the warning, “This is going to sting a little bit.”
There was no difference when it came to medicine. My mother would pour the reddish colored liquid into a huge tablespoon, tell me to “Open wide,” and then she would pour the rancid taste down my throat.
“The worse it tastes, the better it will make you feel,” she said….but I never believed that.
Perhaps this tiny lesson in childhood is a metaphor for life’s experiences.
I am reminded of sayings like, “It has to hurt before it can heal.”
My mother would tell me, “The sting means it’s working,” and if I cried too much or complained about the pain, my mother would express, “Well then maybe this will teach you not to fall out of a tree again.”
(Not that I ever fell out of a tree….at least, I don’t think I did…but I use this as an example)
Physical discomfort is life’s natural lesson.
Pain is a motivational tool….I just think it’s easier to deal with when there’s a mom around to gently say, “There….it’s all better now”
I never thought my mother would age. Somehow, I thought she would always remain timeless.
But now it is me; it’s me speaking with doctors and nurses. It’s me explaining, “You have to take your medicine if you want to feel better.”
It is my turn to explain things, and it is my turn to feel helpless because I cannot make my mother feel better.
I have not had anyone cut the crust from my peanut butter and jelly sandwiches in a long time. And judging from the roundness of my stomach, I have apparently learned to cut my own pork chops quite well.
I take my medicine when I need to. I sit at the head of my own table and I try to teach my child not to see things like color or racial background.
In four months, I will have achieved my 42nd year of life.
I am no longer scared of the dark, or the Feetie Monsters, which hide under the bed.
I am a man now. I am a father and homeowner.