January 2, 1956  Tags:  no responses


Walentas Clock Tower

Therefore the Lord God sent him forth from the Garden of Eden, to till the ground from whence he was taken. So he drove out the man; and he placed at the east of the Garden of Eden an angel with flaming sword …, to guard the way of the tree of life.  Genesis 3:23


My father was the longtime foreman of Cel-U-Dex Corporation, an office products company founded in 1909 by C. R. Chamberlain, and located in the now historic Walentas Clock Tower Building in downtown Brooklyn.  The factory was an easy 15 minute drive from our home in Park Slope. The short car ride took my father along the bumpy cobble stoned streets of the waterfront, under the iron and granite shadows of the Manhattan and Brooklyn Bridges, following the trail of abandoned trolley car tracks to Front Street.

In 1957 Mr. Chamberlain announced that Cel-U-Dex would be moving to New Windsor, New York, a small town next to Newburgh, New York, about 70 miles upstate on the other side of the Hudson River.  Like other executives of that era, he had moved to the suburbs and was now taking his factory with him for an easy commute, and abandoning the inner cities’ encroaching post war, urban blight.

My father had gotten worse since his car accident, and had been finally been diagnosed with Parkinson’s disease – the “Shaking Palsy” as it was once called.  He had started to shake, his face was sometimes rigid and his slowness of movement made it difficult to walk, like a lumbering giant lurching from chair to chair to keep from falling. In the beginning these symptoms would come and go, making my mother believe it was all in Dad’s head and he could control it if he really wanted to. There were many fierce arguments – highly verbal, ugly spats that were just a symptom of deeper marital trouble.


Dad with fellow co-workers on the roof of the Clock Tower Building

Alas, the Parkinson’s and the factory’s move to Newburgh posed a bigger challenge.  My father and a fellow entrepreneur were just on the verge of leaving the company and starting their own firm that would have manufactured plastic index tabs. When my Aunt Laura heard that he still wanted to do this, she laughed and told my mother what a fool my father was. “How’s he gonna start a company now that he is sick. And if it fails, where does that leave you and the kids, Josie? Then who is gonna hire him, a cripple? Him and his big ideas, where are they now? You better tell him to stay where he is.” So Dad gave up on his idea. He had a heart to heart talk with Mr. Chamberlain and told him about his Parkinson’s that he had been trying to hide from him.  Mr. Chamberlain, appreciating my Dad’s loyalty to the firm (of course not knowing he had planned to leave and compete with him), told him he always had a job there no matter what may happen, and advised that he move his family up to New Windsor.

For a year or so, before he could figure out how to buy a house, move and uproot his family from his beloved New York City, Dad commuted not on the tolled NY Thruway, but on a hazardous, slow, two- and- a-half hour commute. From the snow and ice of wintertime to the hot and humid pre-air conditioned summer, he traveled up the twists and turns of Route 9W, north through sleepy hamlets with their many stop lights, and up and over the serpentine road of the fog- shrouded Storm King Mountain. On the other side of this lowering massive rock lay the town of New Windsor, nestled in the humid, verdant expanse of the Hudson River Valley where Mr. Chamberlain had erected his new factory at 218 Mac Arthur Avenue, in an industrial tract in this very small rural community.

To save on gas money and knock off sixty minutes of travel time, Dad decided he would stay week nights in the Bronx with Nona and my aunt “Titzie”. This meant I only saw him weekends. During the week, my mother made me call him every day at 6:30 pm. Since we didn’t have a phone at home, I would walk down to the corner candy store, swing open the folding door of the wooden phone booth, and collapse the door along its noisy overhead track that always stuck till I jerked it closed. I put my nickel in the slot and waited for the ding-a-ling, dialing Cyprus-8-6482. My Aunt Mary always answered with a loud “OLLO!” as if I was calling from China.  “I lova you so much, holda the wire!”  My Dad would get on always sounding a bit tired, and I would recount my school day or excitedly tell him of the latest show album I had bought. I could hear my Aunt yelling from the kitchen, “Tonio, hurry up, Tonio everything is getting cold!”  He would reluctantly hang up. Joining Uncle Nick, Nona and my cousin Viola, he sat down to a delicious hot supper before going to bed at 8pm in order to wake up at 5am for the long commute back to New Windsor. But before I put the receiver down I used to sing as if to him, “Good night, my someone, good night, my love…” from The Music Man.  He never heard it.



Looking back from the Palisades Parkway


The clink of the nickel dropping down into the metallic coin box woke my interrupted lonely serenade.  I always pushed the coin return button to see if my nickel would come back. Sometimes it did and I would buy a serendipitous Snicker Bar, gobbling it outside the candy store – “Standing on the corner, watching all the girls go by… .”  I hurried home to dinner, breathlessly bounding up the stoop, my tongue flicking around my teeth for any stray chocolate or errant peanut.  Since it was dusk, Mom used to time me for fear I would be kidnapped by the gypsies who used to live around the corner behind a curtain in the back of an empty store. The only gypsy I knew of was from the I Love Lucy classic operetta episode where Lucy was the snaggle- toothed “Queen of the Gypsies.”

On Friday nights, my Dad came home around 6 pm; Mr. Chamberlain let him leave early and he was driving in reverse commute. My mom usually had prepared a fish dish for him since it was Friday. Before he had even picked up a fork and ate some of her delicious Shrimp Creole, she grabbed me and rushed out the door saying a quick goodbye.  She would join my Aunt Laura at the local “Chinks” on 9th Street before we went to the movies. My aunt always called it, “Ladies Night Out” since they had both worked so hard during the week and deserved an evening off. The restaurant was an old fashioned chop suey parlor with hanging red lanterns, glaring neon in the window, grinning dragons, sticky vinyl black booths and over large menus with selections from Columns A, B, C or D. They always chose from B, which let them include Lobster Cantonese, bright red carapaces with yellowy egg sauce, my mom’s favorite.   Dessert was a choice of a scoop of ice cream or pineapple chunks and maraschino cherries with toothpicks stuck in them followed by a “complimentary” fortune cookie – “A journey of a thousand miles begins with a single step.”

We would walk directly across busy 9th Street, mid-block, dodging traffic to our neighborhood movie theatre. The RKO Prospect was a grand movie palace not unlike the Loews Paradise up in the Bronx that my Dad would occasionally take me to. At the ticket kiosk that was rimmed in yellow light bulbs, my mom plopped down a dollar for me and her, and got back ten cents change. No one paid attention to start times then, so we just went in whenever we were done eating. We passed through the Grand Foyer avoiding the concession stand, never buying popcorn – “too expensive!” We were like three blind bats groping our way to our seats in the Stygian blackness, since the usherette with her flashlight was on cigarette break. Peyton Place was the main feature. In the darkness, I whispered to mother what happened to Selena in the barn, only to be shushed up by Aunt Laura who gave me a stern look and a poke that reminded me of Mrs. Danvers in Rebecca that I had just watched on Million Dollar Movie. We would leave only when my aunt blurted out, “This is where we came in.”


RKO Prospect on 9th Street, Brooklyn

After the show, Aunt Laura would head down back to her place on 10thh St. and 4th Ave. while we stopped by the drugstore on 9th St. and 7th Ave. for a pint of ice cream to bring home for my father.  He would usually be asleep in the living room with the TV set still turned on to the Friday Night Fights, his hand quietly shaking as it drooped over the arm of the floral printed club chair.  He always asked me how I enjoyed the movie, and I gave my critical review as my Mom served him some now softened Bryers strawberry ice cream. I crawled into bed pushing piggy Michael over to his side and listened to the agitated conversation of my parents, trying to find out what they were intensely whispering about. It was late.  I dreamt that handsome Dr. Rossi of Peyton Place sat on the bed next to me, holding my hand, telling me he found a cure for my father.

Saturday mornings were spent doing cleaning chores around the house under the eagle eye of my mother, while my father tinkered with the car parked curbside. The ringing clanging bell of the knife man would alert us that his cart was downstairs, and my mother sent me out to the street to get our cutlery sharpened. Sometimes, Ms. Francis, the spinster neighbor who lived in the brownstone next door, would invite me over for tea and read me a book.

At night, my Dad would sometimes drive up with to Yonkers Raceway for the trotters with my Uncle Cy, Aunt Laura’s Lothario of a husband. My father loved to bet, and much to my mother’s chagrin, he often won – “You spend more time with the horses and with that bum of a brother-in-law than with me.” He would always give me a quarter from his winnings. After Sunday Mass, we had one o‘clock dinner either at home or at my Polish grandma’s in Bay Ridge, as Dad would spend Sunday nights up in the Bronx with Nona to get a head start for his drive to work on Monday morning.

Such was the cycle of the Brooklyn weekends in those years in 1956 and 1957 – of B movies, chow mein, candy bars, phone booths, ice cream and gypsies.

However, one weekend would be different. Very early on a late spring morning, Aunt Laura unexpectedly came over to watch my brother and sister. Dad told me to go downstairs and get in the car, tossing me the keys. He soon came down with Mom, who had packed a picnic lunch so it seemed. Mysteriously they didn’t say where we were going as my Dad took the roller coaster West Side Highway at a gleefully high speed till we crossed the imposing George Washington Bridge. In a very few miles there was greenery everywhere, an Eden that I had never seen.  Panic started to set in, maybe they were going to abandon me in the woods like the hunter in Snow White, since I had been wetting the bed week allot that week.

Our big, black rambunctious car made its way north on the newly opened Palisades Parkway, getting back on Route 9W at Bear Mountain Circle. My face was pressed up against the rear side window astonished by rushing springs cascading down into frothing streams and the deer I think I saw glancing up at me as he ate some tall green grass.  Our car made the steep ascent up Storm King Mountain, slowly swerving to the tortuous inside shoulders of the narrow road, higher and higher with the valley way below us till we got so high we would soon have to come down. However, first we pulled over to a lookout spot. I got out of the car and ran into the woods to pee. When I came back I peered over the ledge and wondered at the breath-taking expanse of the valley covered with wild flowers. “Consider the lilies…even Solomon in all his glory was not arrayed like one of these.” Mom had spread out a blanket and we ate olive loaf sandwiches. We all got back in the car and Dad said; “Watch this!”  He shut off the engine, coasting down in silence, breaking all the way down the darker leeward side of the mountain.

He started the car again, picked up speed as we sailed past a large farm on the left that smelled of newly tilled earth. I had to squint to see a large white mansion with barn and silo silhouetted by the hot white disc of the sun, burning my eyes. We crossed over a bridge spanning the sluggish, brown, backwater of Moodna Creek. Dad,  with  both hands firmly grasping the wheel to keep his shaking grip steady, turned left at St. Joseph’s, a country church named in honor of the Virgin Mary’s husband,  patron saints of fathers; another turn at the corner where a lonely gas station stood guard, empty and forlorn. Then a country highway with a palimpsest, center yellow line, divided a cemetery on one side and a large field of browning hay on the other; a left on a bumpy dirt road called Cedar Lane.


My sister Karen, in front of 47 Cross Street

My father slowed down even more as he turned right, and slid to a stop on the gravel and tar road into the macadam driveway of 47 Cross Street. There squatted a small gray one story, Cape Cod house, squeezed between a smaller Ranch house on the right and a live-in trailer home on cement blocks on the left. In the front was graveyard like, ash burnt dried-up lawn, with almost dead dandelions weeds struggling among the straw-dry grass. A miasma of dust hovered around the vehicle, my mother sat stiff backed in her seat. I started to nervously ask who lived here when, with some trouble, my Dad turned back around and tried to give me a smile from his frozen set face. He almost fell getting out of his side while my mother grunted under her breath and slammed the car door shut when she got out.

I refused to get out. I got on my knees on the back seat, looking out of the rear window, hot from the noon day sun, trying to see back to New York City, now blocked and guarded by the towering sentinel of Storm King Mountain.  “Young Man, get out here now!”  I keep looking up into the blinding sun. Suddenly Dad opened the rear door and grabbed me in his arms, carried me across cracked cement path and plucked me down on the front steps of the house.  He rang the door bell that gave a dull vibraphone sound, pulled out some keys, opened the door and entered into the darkened front room. Dad, holding on to the door, turned around looking down at me, his speech slurred from the disease, intoned from the darkness:  “We’re home.”


(To be continued)

 November 18, 1955   2 responses


November 18, 1955

It was a five days before Anthony’s birthday. His Aunt Laura, as usual was visiting after their early Sunday afternoon dinner. Aunt Laura helped his mother cleanup the dishes and made some tea. The sisters both sat knee to knee around a pink and gray top Formica kitchen table with matching vinyl chairs. Both gently blew across their saucers to cool down their hot Lipton tea with Carnation Evaporated Milk.

For the past two weeks, he had driven his mother crazy, begging her to have a birthday party. He had gone to many parties at his friend’s houses but he never had one of his very own. He circled the kitchen table like an Indian, pestering his mother and making sullen looks, as he grabbed a “black and white” Ebingers cookie from the green bakery box.

“Please Mommy, please, please, p-p-p-lease.” At his final p-p-p-please, all of a sudden, his mother put down the saucer and burst out in tears. She sank down on the chrome kitchen chair, putting her hand to her head and sighed, “Yes, Anthony, you can have your birthday party on Friday after school. Just be quiet”.

Aunt Laura rose up from her chair like a black bolt of lightning, and gave her nephew a look that could kill. “Anthony you are such a bad, boy! You have no consideration for your poor mother, you only think about yourself.” She put her hand on her sister’s shoulder. “Josephine, it will be too much work for you in your condition. Josie you gotta rest. He doesn’t deserve it anyway.”

As she sat down, Aunt Laura stubbed her big fat toe on the bottom of the Formica kitchen chair. Anthony sniggered but turned away not to show his smile. He wondered what his mother’s condition was. She was acting funny lately, and she had gotten very big around her middle. His mother had told him he was going to have a new sister, but he did not put the two and two together. His bratty brother Michael was already three years old and he didn’t remember how he had magically arrived. His mother laughingly told him, the stork brought them. He went to the school library and looked up storks. Mmmm…

Anthony was so upset he made his mother cry but he still wanted his birthday party.  Standing in back of her chair, he put his arms around her and whispered:  “Mommy, I’m so sorry I made your cry and you’re not feeling well. I promise to do all the work. P-p-please, Mommy.” His mother whispered back that he could invite his second grade classmates of St. Thomas Aquinas for a party after school on Friday.  He tried to give her a kiss, but she brushed him away.

He was such a lucky boy. He would now would celebrate his birthday twice – once with his classmates after school on his actual birthday and then one with all of his relatives came over on Sunday. Aunt Laura was not happy as she nosily started to clean up the table and rattled the teacups in the enamel kitchen slop sink. She glared down at the smiling boy. He gave her a big toothed “black and white” cookie filled grin.

His Dad came back from Nona’s house.  He went every Sunday afternoon to visit his mother who lived way up in the Bronx.  “Tony”, as all the adults called his father, gave his mother money for the party. That Monday morning she gave Anthony two whole dollars to go down after school to buy decorations at Kresges on Fifth Avenue.

All day in class, his stern teacher, Mrs. Morris, had to wrap his knuckles with a ruler to stop him from passing around notes inviting his friends to his party.  The night before he had written out ten notes in his best cursive handwriting. He would rather do that, than ask his friends and stutter and be laughed at.

Please come to my Birthday Party
Friday November 18
463 10th St.
3:30 pm.

After school, Anthony ran up Ninth Street to the 5 &10 on 10th Street, only two blocks from his home. He first poked his nose in the record department to see if any new Broadway albums had come out. He finally made his way to to see what the theme would be for his party: Mighty Mouse, Roy Rogers, Howdy Doody, Flash Gordon or Lady and the Tramp. After spending at least an hour deciding, he had planned splendid party of blue crepe streamers, white balloons, Mickey Mouse paper plates/cups and a Pin the Tail on the Donkey game. With his last nickel, he bought himself a Snicker Bar that he ate on the one home.  He went straight to the front hall closet to hide his purchases. He rummaged around the back of the closet, chock-a- block with Christmas decorations to see if there were any birthday gifts for him since that’s where his mother always hid the Christmas presents. No presents! All he knew was that his mother had said he would get a very special gift that year but it wasn’t in the closet. What could it be? What could it be???

Since he got home late, he hurriedly finished his arithmetic homework so he could watch Kukla, Fran and Ollie after dinner at 7:00 pm. At 8:00 pm he got on his knees to say his usual evening prayers, blessing everyone, asking Jesus to get him a Jack-in the-Box for his birthday  – the tin one where Jack would leap out with a freaky ghoulish glee. He also prayed that his Aunt Laura would stub her big fat toe again and it would fall off. He jumped into bed and dived under the yellow chenille bedspread. He gave his brother, Michael a kick and shoved him over to his side of the bed. But Michael kept turning and tossing until Anthony finally had had enough and took his pillow and made a fort wall between him and his brother. He used his Teddy Bear instead of the pillow that night to sleep on.

In the middle of that late chilly November night, Anthony got up with a start when he heard his father and mother talking in loud whispers across the way since they all slept in one big front room of the Park Slope brownstone. He played dead as he tried to listen to what they were saying. Finally his father came over and sat next to him on the bed and whispered with a definite seriousness: “Anthony, I have to take your mother to the hospital. Go back to sleep and take care of your brother. Your Aunt will be here by the time you wake up. Be a good boy for Daddy.” “Is m-m-mommy ok?” Anthony stuttered.  “Be quiet. You’re the oldest, watch your baby brother and go back to sleep” and with that, Anthony’s father turned off the lights and left the room with his mother wrapped up in her big woolen coat. Anthony heard the front door close. All was quiet again. He covered up his brother Michael with the bedspread, gave him a soft kiss on his forehead. He fell back to sleep.

At 7am his Aunt Laura came bursting in, expecting to find the house burned down. “What are you still doing in bed, you lazy pig?” He always got up at 7:30 am so he didn’t know what all of the stink was. “Hurry up now, get dressed, it’s time to go to school. If I were your mother I would have put you in The St. Vincent Home for Boys a long time ago” Every time they would drive past the home on Atlantic Avenue in downtown Brooklyn, his aunt would point to it and say “If you don’t behave we’re going to leave you there with the rest of the bad boys”. Sometimes his mother would threaten to give him away to the Gypsies who told fortunes, living in an abandoned store around the corner.

He was so excited about his party even though it was still two whole days away. He could barely put on the clothes that his mother had laid out the night before: clean white BVD’s, pressed navy blue chino pants, yesterday’s old wool socks, a white starched shirt and a maroon knit wool tie embroidered with STA (St. Thomas Aquinas). Finally, he managed to get dressed after wrestling with his pants legs that he had put on backwards. Just as he was about to leave, Aunt Laura said “Tell all your friends that you can’t have your party because your mother is sick!” Anthony was stunned. “B-b-but Aunt Laura! We have to! I have all the stuff bought. I invited them all.” She stood in the doorway blocking the way. “Your mother will not be back until Friday and you are not having a birthday party and that’s that. So un-invite your so-called friends. I will cancel the cake. Do you hear me? You are not!” She let him pass but not before she stubbed her big toe on the kitchen table leg and yelled out a loud: “son of a bitch!”

Anthony ran out the front door and slammed it behind him. He was so hurt that he could not even relish Aunts stubbed toe. He didn’t have time to write notes so he had to tell his friends, one by one. They didn’t laugh when he stuttered. They all said they would bring him his presents, they were already bought anyways. It didn’t seem fair to Anthony that they should have to give him presents without going to a party.

Anthony’s father came home late that night without his mother. He heard this Dad and Aunt whispering something that sounded like Preemie. Was it code? Was his mother dying? His father went right to bed. The next day Anthony went to church after school and knelt down at the altar rail of the Mary Chapel and prayed for his Mother and told Jesus he was sorry he hated his Aunt Laura but still wished she would disappear like the melting Wicked Witch of the West. He said “Three Hail Mary’s” and one “Our Father” like the priest would have asked him to do at Confession. Aunt Laura made supper that night and his mother was still not home when he went to bed.

Anthony got up very early Friday morning, his birth-day. His father said he could stay home from school to watch his little brother. Aunt Laura couldn’t come over, she had to work at the A&P chocolate factory down in the Bush Terminal Buildings. He pictured her in a white chef’s hat like Lucy on TV. “Roll them!” he snickered.  After he had his bowl of Cheerios, smothered with sugar, he turned on the Dumont TV and watched all the soap operas his mother would tell him about.  In the middle of the afternoon, even with his brother annoying him, he got so lonely and so, so sad. Drying away dramatic tears, he went to the closet and got all the party favors out. He quietly decorated the entire kitchen in blue crepe streamers and white balloons as his brother watched from the kitchen linoleum floor. Anthony put his party hat on with the elastic band under his chin and sat at the table and started to eat only the red M&Ms. He sang “Happy Birthday” to himself. He didn’t stammer when he sang.

Suddenly the door opened and in shuffled his mother and father. His mother was cradling a small bundle. Anthony was so happy to see her and was just about to tell her about mean Aunt Laura canceling his party when his mother said “Wow! How beautiful the kitchen looks Anthony. How sweet, you decorated it for your new baby sister.” Leaning down to him, she lifted the bundle’s pink coverlet and showed Anthony his new baby sister, Karen. Her eyes were closed and crusty with sleep. It was the tiniest person he had ever seen so he guessed a stork could carry a baby. She was small as a peanut. Aha! Peanut not Preemie!.  He decided then and there to call her Peanut.  His mother went to the bedroom. She laid Peanut down next to her and both took a nap. Anthony glowed that he made his mother so happy. He didn’t tell her he secretly had decorated the kitchen for himself.

Later that night, all the relatives unexpectedly came over. There were the two grandmothers: Nona and Grandma; all the Italian and Polish Uncles: Nick, Larry, Phil, Ed and Joey; his Aunts: Mary and Mary and his Cousin, Viola and of course, his wicked Aunt Laura. They all oohed and ahhed at the new blessing and all draped themselves on the couch, the two club chairs and kitchen chairs dragged into the living room. Dad opened up some whiskey, passed some frosted high ball glasses around and they all toasted him on his new daughter. Anthony kept poking his father till he gave Anthony a sip that made his lips pucker up.

In the middle of the festivities, Anthony’s mother took Karen to the chair-less kitchen table and laid her gently down. Anthony followed her in. “She has to be changed” his mother said. There was a sour smell mixed of Johnson & Johnson baby oil and poop. As she took her diaper off, Anthony eyes widened.  He couldn’t figure it out. “Where’s her Pee-Pee? She ain’t got any.” His mother laughed gently. “She’s a girl, Anthony. Girls don’t have Pee-Pees. Don’t ask so many questions, you are such a curious boy. Now be quiet and go back in the other room while I finish.” His Aunt Laura came in to help and pointed her finger shooing him to leave.


Anthony stopped in the bathroom on the way down the long hallway. He climbed up on the toilet bowl cover. He pulled down his pants and held his pee-pee in his hand so he could admire it in the mirror. His mother was always yelling at him to stop playing with it. He realized he had something his little sister didn’t have. His brother, Michael had one too but so much smaller. Even his Dad did, he guessed, though he had never seen it. He smiled. He was very proud of it. He put it away, climbed down from the bowl. He put the toilet bowl seat lid back up as his mother had taught him.


As he entered the parlor, the lights went off. What happened? Not another circuit breaker that always goes off? He moved slowly down the dark corridor toward the living room. Then with a start, he jumped as he heard everyone singing:

“Happy Birthday to you!

Happy Birthday to you!

Happy Birthday dear Ant-hony,

Happy Birthday day to you!”

They all clapped and laughed as he entered the living room, beaming. And there was Aunt Laura, standing in the kitchen doorway, carrying a big white whipped cream birthday cake. He started to cry as he blew out all eight candles. All his relatives kissed him, patted his back and his little butt. He then turned to his Aunt Laura and gave her the biggest of hugs. She sorta smiled. Thank God, Jesus didn’t hear everything he prayed for, he thought.. He cut the first slice of his cake and on purpose, got some whipped cream on his nose and made them all his relatives laugh.

When his Mother came back in with Karen, they cried out – “Bella bambina – What a beautiful baby – She looks just like you, Josie.” His mother gave the baby to Grandma to hold. Nona looked stonily on. His mother reached behind the couch and pulled out a beautifully wrapped present. “You didn’t think we would forget your birthday, silly boy?” He uncharacteristically tore the ribbons and paper off and there was his Jack-in-Box!  He wound it up. It played “Here we go ’round the mulberry bush, the mulberry bush, the mulberry bush, here we go ’round so early in the morning” and out sprang the Jack in the Box. He pretended to leap up in surprise as he gave his mother the biggest kiss and got whipped cream on her cheek. His older cousin Viola yelled out: “He looks just like you!”  All his relatives laughed again. His Aunt Mary, walked over to the closet and pulled out two winter coats she had bought at the Arthur Avenue Open Market. Anthony politely thanked her. “Give Titzie a big kiss!” Like an octopus’s tentacles, her kiss sucked his cheek out.

Rock & Rye was rolled out and liberally poured over ice as the Polish and the Italian accents bounced around the room accompanied by platters of capicola with caponata and kielbasa with potato salad that had hastily been purchased at their local neighborhood delis. Aunty Mary puffed on her Kent cigarettes like a locomotive; half eaten plates of birthday cake were strewn on the coffee and end tables.  His grandmothers sat as sultans in their court – détente. The streamers started to fall from the heat melting the scotch tape glue.

Aunt Laura organized the cleanup. Anthony’s mother retrieved his sister like a little chick, that was laid to rest in a nest of his relatives coats tossed on the bed .Even Dad was teary eyed good byes. Kisses on one cheek from the Polish contingent and two cheeks kisses from the Italians; bye-byes and ciaos. At 8 pm everyone was gone, all the grandmothers, aunts, uncle and cousin. The house was once again quiet. Exhausted, the Napoli family all went to bed early.

 Before he went to sleep, he got on his knees, said his prayers and asked blessings for his entire family including his Aunt Laura.  He thanked him for the Jack-in-the-Box and even the two coats too. But he knew the best present of all, was the one his mother gave him, his new baby sister, Karen Jean – Peanut. Anthony wished a special blessing on her and promised Jesus he would love her all his life and take care of her (as his Aunt Laura said he should). Although he and his sister’s birthdays were three days apart, November 15th & 18th, they would always celebrate them together.

 So Anthony did have his birthday party after all. And on Monday morning, he would get more presents from his classmates. He would thank them all, one by one. He did not stutter…

Karen Jean – Peanut

November 15, 1955

 October 13, 1953   no responses


I was so excited. My Dad was taking me to Union Square to see my two favorite TV stars live, in person: Molly Goldberg and Ethel Mertz. My parents loved The Molly Goldberg Show and I Love Lucy. I would squat on the floor like an Indian between Mom and Dad who sat behind me on their gray and pink floral art deco couch. I got to stay up a bit later when these two shows were on. Mom usually bought special snacks, Wise Potato Chips and some of my favorite Hoffman Cherry Soda.  Ethel tickled me when she would stick out her tongue behind her husband s Fred back. I laughed at Molly’s Yiddish accent as she leaned on the window sill and yelled out: “Yoo-hoo, is anybody there…?”

It was a warm Brooklyn day in June when we hopped in Dad’s black DeSoto – just him and me to see Ethel and Molly. My father was very quiet as he maneuvered down Flatbush Avenue passing the Fox and Paramount Theatres, past the red and gold storefront of Junior’s. The Myrtle Avenue El Train rattled by us as we reached the Manhattan Bridge.

I turned the radio on as usual as we climbed up the bridge ramp but my dad reached over and abruptly shut it off. I thought I had done something wrong. He said I didn’t but to be very quiet when we got to the rally and to stay next to him and be a good boy.  Manhattan crested into view as we turned onto Chrystie Street directly into Chinatown onto Jewtown to the East Village along Second Avenue. My dad was great at finding parking spaces and he somehow squeezed into a tight spot on East13th Street behind Luchow’s, the famous German restaurant.

I was bursting with anticipation to see the TV stars as I held my Dad’s hand, who was still strangely solemn.  As we walked up 14th Street, huge crowds were gathering around: men dressed in dark suits, all wearing Fedora hats; ladies with hats or kerchiefs. Some were carrying homemade signs which I couldn’t read. They were all quiet and solemn too like a funeral, like black ants assembling around a hill that I had seen once in Prospect


When we got to Union Square it was so filled with adults that I couldn’t see the stage. Dad put me on his shoulders so I could just barely make out the speaker’s platform. I strained to hear what they were announcing. After many speeches and cheering I ask my Dad when Molly and Ethel when coming out? He took me down off his shoulders and looked amusingly at me and laughed slightly and smiled.

“Who, how did you get that idea?  Ha-Ha… Ah …. No, no you silly boy. Anthony, we are here for an important reason. We are all to protest a grave injustice being done to Julius and Ethel Rosenberg.”

I didn’t understand.

“So Molly and Ethel won’t be here?”

“No they won’t be, you go the names mixed up baby.

“Oh” I said with sad disappointment.  So Julius and Ethel will be here?”

‘No they won’t be” He started to explain but stopped when the crowd began yelling again.

“Just be quiet and when we are done I will take you up to the Merry-go-round in Central Park.”

“Yes, Daddy,” I obediently replied.

 I held his had tightly now since the crowd was beginning to push and swirl around us, like dirty bath water whirring down a drain.  I didn’t’ understand but I knew something special was going on by the way people were chanting. Some women started to cry and wail. I couldn’t help it and I started to cry too not knowing why. After an hour, Dad sensed this was all a five year boy could take and we walked back to the car. I knew to be quiet.

On the way up to Central Park, my dad explained to me that the Rosenbergs’ were unfairly tried for  spying just like Sacco and Vanzetti, two Italians that I heard my Dad arguing about with my Aunt Mary. We were there to speak out against it. He mentioned something about a big bomb and Russia. I was so confused but happy to be alone with my Dad and to hear him talk with such passion even though I could only grasp a little. I asked my Dad what would happen to them as he lifted me up onto a Carousel horse. He didn’t answer me as he stood next to me, holding me and onto his hat as the horse went up and down and round and round – the organ played the Sousa march”El Capitan”.

We got home around 5:30 pm just in time for our Friday night supper. Every Friday my Aunt Laura who lived down the block on 10th Street would join us for dinner before a movie. Mom had prepared fried fillet of flounder that night since we couldn’t eat meat. Once again, it was strangely quiet at the dinner table, even my argumentative Aunt stared into her bowl of macaroni with plain tomato sauce.

After supper, my Dad went into the living room to read the evening edition of The Daily News. My Mother asked my Aunt if she didn’t mind not going to the movies tonight, she wasn’t feeling well. She went to lie down on the bed. She had been doing that a lot recently. My Aunt Laura cleared the table, washed the dishes while I dried.  I asked her what was going to happen to Julius and Ethel.

“They are gonna fry those awful Jew spies. I wish I could pull the switch myself. They are going to electrocute them tonight at 8 o’clock and I hope they both go straight to hell and burn again. Wait and see, they say the lights will dim when they pull the electric chair switch up in Sing-Sing”

I once stuck my finger in the electric socket when I was exploring so I knew this was a very bad thing. A shudder ran down my spine and I almost dropped the bowl I was wiping with my terry cloth dish towel. I started to ask another question when my aunt brusquely told me it was time for bed even though it was not quite the usual 7:30 pm.

When I said my prayers and asked Jesus to help take care of Julius and Ethel my aunt gave me a slap.  I spun around and looked at her meanness. I climbed into bed and pulled the sheets over my head, hating my aunt.  I couldn’t fall asleep. I could hear my Father watching TV and the front door close behind my Aunt as she left.  My Mickey Mouse watch read 7:45 pm as I tossed and turned. It seemed like an hour before 8pm came. I was waiting for the lights to go out so I knew they were dead.

Mickey’s big hand with a white glove reached 12 – 8pm. I shot up and ran and looked out of the window.  I swore I saw the cobra-headed street light flicker and flare when a muffled collective moaning rose from the neighborhood like when the Dodgers lost to the Yankees in the World Series.  There was no one on the street.

I heard someone coming down the hallway and I jumped back in bed and pretended to go to sleep, very still. I could smell my Dad’s Old Spice as he kissed me on the forehead and whispered, “Good night silly boy.” He sighed and went back to the parlor. I slept soundly that night and in the morning my mother made us pancakes as if nothing had happened.

My Mom wearing a black lace mantilla took me to church at St. Thomas Aquinas.  After 9am mass, my dad drove us out to Grandma’s for Sunday afternoon dinner always held at 1pm after my Polish uncles got back from the 12 o’clock mass. . We took the new Gowanus Expressway to 96th Street in Bay Ridge.

“Anthony, why don’t you turn the radio on?  Aren’t the Dodgers playing?”

I looked up at him as he smiled at me as I pushed the button. I went back to school on Monday. No one talked about Ethel and Julius. I took 9th Street home after school so I could pass the Avon and RKO Theatres to see what was playing. My Mom always took me on Friday nights with Aunt Laura to see the double features. That night we watched I Love Lucy on channel 2 and The Molly Goldberg Show on channel 4….

“Yoo-hoo is anybody there…?

Julius and Ethel Rosenberg were not.

Post Script:

Julius and Ethel Rosenberg were the only American citizens ever to be executed for conspiracy to commit espionage. In retrospect it seems an extremely harsh sentence, but the political landscape of the 1950’s McCarthy era created hysteria which saw the ‘Red Menace’ of Communist domination everywhere, and their execution was widely supported by the public at the time.

Julius Rosenberg was electrocuted first, at 8pm, Ethel Rosenberg followed, and was still alive after the first attempt: she required two further charges of electricity to kill her: as a result of her small stature, the electrodes fitted poorly, in a chair designed for larger male occupants.

 August 11, 1953   no responses

My father and I, before the days of air conditioning, often went to the park on Sundays to escape the heat during then the Dog Days of summer. It is ironic and coincidental that the parks we visited were all designed by Olmstead and Vaux.

When we lived in Brooklyn, my father took me by the hand for a short two block stroll up 9th Street to the entrance of Prospect Park, the jewel of the designs of Olmstead and Vaux. We would toss my red ball that he had bought me, back on forth on the Long Meadow. My father was very lean and athletic and we would sometimes race up to the Picnic House to get out of a sudden summer shower. He always let me win.

One day the whole family went to the park and while Dad and I were playing catch, my younger brother Michael somehow wandered off up into the Ravine when my mother wasn’t looking as she tended to my newly born sister in her ornate big, black baby carriage. After a short frantic search, a policeman returned the crying lost boy to us. He cried harder when dad gave him a good smack. I was rewarded for my help with a paddle boat ride on the lake followed by a vanilla custard ice cream cone. In the early 1970’s when I came back to Park Slope after graduate school, I returned to Prospect Park only to find it in disrepair and crime ridden.

I have always thought of Central Park in Manhattan as my back yard, living from 1966 at various times only a block from the park on West 83rd Street; West 110th Street and now West 96th Street. My father first took me there in 1953 after we attended a rally for Julius and Ethel Rosenberg in Union Square. We drove up in his car and he put me on a stationary horse on the great carousel by the Dairy Barn. It wasn’t long before I was leaning out on the moving horses that went up and down, reaching out to snatch the brass ring. That is my only memory of Central Park with my Dad, so Central Park belongs more to me than to us.

When we moved to Newburgh New York in 1958, my father would take me to Downing Park for his outdoor exercises to stave off his encroaching Parkinson disease. Downing Park was in the middle of Newburgh and designed by Olmstead and Vaux in memory of their landscaper mentor Andrew Jackson Downing who designed the Mall in Washington DC and who died an early tragic death. Downing Park was a green oasis in the blighted chaos of Newburgh, a rundown river city in the Hudson Valley.

His sickness was the reason we moved upstate, since his factory relocated there in that great mass urban exodus to the suburbs of the 1960’s. The gravel paths that wound around the lake and up the hill to the Pergola were perfect for my father’s peregrinations; it gave him good traction. He was very self conscious about his stumbling and shuffling due to his disease, and the park was usually empty early evenings when we took our walks. He would lean on me as we walked around and around; his fixed glance straight ahead,

concentrating on his impaired motor skills to build up his agility. We didn’t talk except to point out a squirrel, bird or roller skater coming precariously close to our path.  Sometimes he would build up momentum and he would be able to walk a short distance without faltering. This made him very happy and a smile would somehow shine through his rigid face. I could sympathize with this forward movement and joy of being able to walk without assistance for those few steps. I would feel the same way when I sometimes could get a string of words out, glide along and not stutter till the last syllables.

“Let’s go feed the ducks!” My father used to love to feed the ducks on Polly Pond in the park. He would give me 25 cents to purchase corn feed. I would go into the Stone Shelter and the lady behind the counter would give me a tiny brown paper sack with the top folded ever so neatly down and stapled shut. We would walk to edge of the pond and the duckies would waddle up to our hands and peck up the corn. In the fall came the aggressive geese that would bellow and bluster and suck up the corn like an angry vacuum cleaner. I Ioved their warm breath on my open palm.

Downing Park, Newburgh by sisudave.

Downing Park after a storm

In July and August, after my walk with Dad, our family stayed for the weekly band concerts. An amphitheater was built in 1936 out of flag stone and granite. Green hedges lined the upstage while a moat filled with goldfish separated the platform from the audience. The audience sat on long green wooden benches on a hill that slightly rose up, a mini-Greek theatre. The concert band was comprised of Italians who wore crisply pressed white shirts, captain hats with black pants and ties looking like a Good Humor Ice Cream Man in his truck.

The program was usually comprised of marches; famous classical miniatures and Broadway show tunes. I was in heaven. Stars and Stripes – William Tell Overture – A Symphonic Portrait of Porgy & Bess (arranged by Richard Russell Bennett) – Leroy Anderson’s Bugler’s Holiday – The Blue Tango. Sometimes a local soprano would sing “Un Bel Di”, “I Could Have Danced All Night” or “Summertime” There were theme nights too: Oktoberfest! – Italian Night! – Salute to Broadway! – Victor Herbert Tribute! and Down South American Way! etc. There would be guest appearances by a barbershop quartet, a Dixie land band, jazz combo or student accordionist playing “Lady of Spain”. I would get goose bumps when he shook the accordion to vibrate the last chorus. I would sing to myself “Lady of Spain, I adore you. Pull down your pants and I’ll explore you!”

My Dad sat in our car parked on a roadway right above the rise of the hill to listen to the program since he didn’t want anyone to see him shake from his palsy. I would sit in the front row all by myself while my mother and sister sat a few rows behind me. I sometimes had to chase down my brother Michael running around behind the stage. We usually didn’t stay for the whole program and left after intermission. My mother got bored easily. I would try to spy out a friend or neighbor who could drive me home. I hated to leave and miss the second half. I am sure I made a pest of myself to people I hardly knew, begging them for a car ride home. I felt trapped in Newburgh, you couldn’t get around unless you had a car and my mother was not a “soccer mom” type who would gladly chauffeur her children to their activities.

It was always sort of sad looking back up the hill to see my father sitting in the car alone like Quasimodo, a lonely gargoyle silently listening, hidden in the shadows of the green cathedral of leaves. Parkinson had left his face expressionless, set in a fixed dull stare of non-emotion. I would run up between numbers and bring him an ice cream cone that I bought from the Good Humor truck. At times I would gently wipe off the vanilla drips from his stubbly chin.

One night there was a sing-along and all the audience joined in. My family was not the sing- around-the-camp fire kind of family. We would watch the TV show, Sing-along with Mitch in silence. I was particularly self conscious about singing around people even though I sang along to my Broadway LP’s when no one was home. I gave John Raitt a run for his money when I sang both parts of “Hey There.” This is curious to me, since I never stuttered when I sang so you think I would “Sing Out Louise!” any chance that I could get. I had a beautiful voice when I was younger but when I became a teenager and to this very day, I can not hold a tune and sing flat. I worry that I don’t sing good enough. I never play a game I can’t win so I guess I don’t sing out loud from fear of my mother’s ever present criticism that lingers till.

However that night the voices of the audience so filled the night air in the park that it was hard to resist. Everybody was lustily singing along as I looked back and saw my father mouthing the words from the car with a big smile on his face. I couldn’t hear my father singing but like a deaf man I could “lip read” the melody of his voice.

“Casey would waltz

With the strawberry blonde

And the band played on.

He’d glide ‘cross the floor

With the girl he’d adore

And the band played on.

But his brain was so loaded

It nearly exploded

The poor girl

Would shake with alarm

He’d ne’er leave the girl

With the strawberry curl

And the band played on.”

I mimed the words…”C-C-Casey would w-w-waltz…”

Downing Park is still there up in Newburgh; Prospect Park is there and has had a renaissance in Brooklyn. And I walk every week in my beloved Central Park that will be there for all time. My sister and brother are still here. My dad however is long gone.

I remember our days in the parks – Prospect, Central and Downing – whenever I hear a marching band or a duck quack or a goose hiss, or the ding-a-ling of an ice cream truck, or the organ at the Carousel. I hear my father’s silent voice singling along. Maybe one day I will sing a song out loud and not give a damn.

“And the band played on …”

Thank you Dad


thank you, Olmstead and Vaux.

“Sing, sing a song  (press to listen to this song)

Sing out loud

Sing out strong

Sing of good things not bad

Sing of happy not sad.


Sing, sing a song

Make it simple to last

Your whole life long

Don’t worry that it’s not

Good enough for anyone

Else to hear

Just sing, sing a song.


Sing, sing a song

Let the world sing along

Sing of love there could be

Sing for you and for me.


Sing, sing a song

Make it simple to last

Your whole life long

Don’t worry that it’s not

Good enough for anyone

Else to hear

Just sing, sing a song.

 November 5, 1947   no responses

My sister was rummaging through our family home attic and she discovered an “autograph album” from my mother’s graduation from the 8th grade.

My mother, Josephine Krokti, graduated in June of 1943 from the Catholic Parochial School of the parish of St. John the Evangelist in a Polish Section of Brooklyn on 21st St. between 5th and 6th Avenues.

My Polish side of the family grew up on the “wrong side of the highway,” Robert Moses decimated and sliced the neighborhood in two with his Brooklyn-Queens Expressway (BQE). So the Krotki’s lived on the side closest to acrid, backwater bay of Red Hook Brooklyn in New York City among industrial buildings, warehouses, factories and stables.

My grandfather, Roman Krotki owned a horse and cart and would plod the local neighborhood streets selling fruits and vegetables. Unfortunately I never knew my grandfather since he died of diabetes from excessive drinking. Therefore our family was a matriarchy led by a stern, Slavic grandmother born in Krakow, Poland named Josephine. There were two sisters: Josephine (my mom) and Laura and four brothers: Philly, Larry, Eddy and Joey. I never called my uncles by their full names always Uncle Joey or Uncle Larry. There was a younger sister but she tragically died when her clothes caught on fire.

The Polish side of my family was cold and bitter as a cheap, Polish potato vodka, warm when first going down but hot and bitter when it hit the stomach.   The BQE cut off them off from the nourishment and sunlight of the community. They were isolated, living on the cold, hard, stony cobble-stoned streets in the gray shadows of the elevated highway. They were embittered by their poverty and the sourness of their existence flavored my upbringing.

Meanwhile, this “autograph album” is a wonderful window opening up some sunlight and insight to the mores of the day, June 1943. It took staring at that date several times to dawn on me that my mom was in grammar school during the height of World War II.

I imagine my mother passing the book around for her classmates to sign.  I love the innocent naiveté of the entries undimmed by the cold reality of the war being waged. You can sense the anticipation and the youthful dream growing for a happy family life of a home of ones own filled with loving husband and beautiful babies. The same Brooklyn soil for these seedlings would bear sweetness for some and unexpected fruit for others.

I have scanned some pages from the album-

Josephine Krotki

2 Good 2 Be 4gotten