During the Covid years, I, like so many of you, had time on my hands. I finished my latest novel, The Tree of Lost Secrets, but I also wrote a few short stories, and bits and bobs of memoirs. Here is one I thought I would share. Enjoy!
A Girl From Brooklyn
At five, I lived with my mother and father (my brother wasn’t born yet, thank God) in a classy, at least at the time, apartment building near Linden Boulevard. The apartment itself is a blur. What has remained in my memory, were the hot summer evenings I spent catching fireflies, those amazing flying bugs that blink on and off in the night as if battery-powered.
I would accompany my parents to the rooftop, “tar beach” they called it, greet their friends, assembled in deck chairs across the asphalt, drinking Long Island Ice Teas and smoking Lucky Strikes and Camels (before they became Kool Kamels.)
Friends like Mrs. Goldblatt, a syrupy, buck-toothed woman whose hair was always perfect. I mean perfect. Blonde, cut short, and poufed to a bubble shape, it was coated with so much hair spray that if you accidentally bumped against her head, you’d be bruised for a week. Mr. Goldblatt, on the other hand, must have wished he were so fortunate to have hair like his wife’s, since he was mostly bald with some long, wispy black strands stretched across his shiny pate.
The evenings always started the same. Mr. Goldblatt would grab me around the waist, lift me from the ground and spin me around until he was dizzy. I learned to close my eyes so I wouldn’t get dizzy too, although it would have served him right if I threw up on him. Then, he would set me down and pinch my cheeks in his calloused fingers, leaving two red welts behind. I grinned and bore it.
I tried to make my escape to my favorite corner of the roof, but fifteen-year-old Tony Parucci began his usual cant, “Lynnie, Lynnie, what a little ninny.” Everyone laughed. I kicked his shins but made no impression.
“Beat feet, you little ankle-biter.” His ugly, pimply face chortled at his own dumb humor.
Meantime, Mrs. Goldblatt began her litany about the heat. “Oy vey, this is the hottest summer I ever remember, never such humidity, mein Gott, what is happening to the planet?”
“Hilde, love,” Mr. Goldblatt would reply. “You say this every summer. It’s always hot.”
Two points for Mr. “G.”
The rooftop door opened then and two of Tony’s pals from high school swaggered out. The three of them clustered together yukking it up, hands in the pockets of their baggy shorts and tank top undershirts that made them look like hoodlums. I knew about hoodlums, of course, from watching Dragnet on the brand new black and white television my father brought home one day. Sergeant Friday would frown and tell his partner, “Those kids will turn into hoodlums yet.”
“Yup,” his partner said, in a tone so serious you’d think he was talking about something important. What an odd ball.
I loved TV, even though my mom wouldn’t let me watch much. She thought my time was better spent learning to read and write. In fact, the only reason we had a television was because my dad owned an appliance store on Atlantic Avenue.
My father was cool. He was six foot-two, fair-haired with hazel eyes–a Kirk Douglas look-alike, arrogant and smooth and super smart. I inherited his hair and eyes. My mother, on the other hand, was a tiny, five foot-0, dark-haired woman with blue eyes and high cheekbones. She had a lot of spunk but not much education. I got her high cheekbones, short stature, and spunk.
Rooftop soirees were a stage for my dad. He would entertain the neighbors with his adventures from the War, how he captured a Japanese flag in the Philippines and received the Medal of Honor for killing a kazillion “gooks” along the way. Was that a good thing? Mr. Carney from the first floor would pipe in with his experiences and off they would go, back to Germany, or Italy or the South Pacific.
At this point, I was thoroughly bored, so I reached into my mother’s giant canvas bag, pulled out my jar and slipped away to a dark corner at the top of the world. There I would sit cross-legged (we said Indian-style) and gaze up at the black sky dotted with shimmery stars.
Each sojourn to the roof gave me the opportunity to hone my bug-trapping skills. I would open the hole-punched top of my mayonnaise jar, its insides smeared with a tiny bit of honey, and sit quietly with it, waiting, hardly breathing, until a blinker would alight. Then, if I were lucky, I would catch him in the jar with the lid and twist it on. I could spend hours and hours watching him buzz and twinkle inside the jar.
At some point in my forays into the science of entomology, perhaps I had turned six, it dawned on me that the little critter was desperately trying to escape and not just flitting around to amuse me. I was horrified. How could I be so cruel? Immediately, I unwound the top and set him free. From then on, my rooftop visits were no longer as thrilling, but I glowed in my new magnanimity.