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Thursday, February 11, 2016

Grandpa's Chair

There comes a time in one's life when he looks around the commuter train and realizes he is the oldest one on the train.  Changing cars doesn't help; same demographics.
Same thing at family gatherings when you realize you are the patriarch.
How did that happen?  Last year you were sitting at the kids' table drinking grape juice and trying to get it to come out of your nose.  Now you're sitting at the head of the table in the chair that only grandpa sat in.  That comfortable buffer in the form of older relatives is gone and there ain't nothin' separating you from you-know-what.
You're next, buddy.
Once you come to grips with your own mortality it's time to take inventory of your past. You 'inventory takers' are my blog readers.  All of a sudden the place from which many of us escaped decades ago is important. 
So, where were you for the past thirty or forty years?
What, you think Brooklyn stood still waiting for its prodigal sons and daughters to return?
Unfortunately, as I write in one of my earlier blogs, our memories can't always be trusted.
Brooklyn, our Brooklyn, maybe wasn't so hotsy-totsy to start with, like we now remember it.  It probably never was, but we had nothing to compare it to.
Trust me, our Brooklyn - East Flatbush, East New York, Crown Heights, Brownsville, Pigtown - didn't get no memo 'bout gentrification and certainly no memo about regentrification.  Our neighborhoods would need remedial regentrificcation and a summer school semester to maybe be a candidate for a Starbucks.  Health warning:  Don't hold your breath waiting for that to happen!
A side note:  I'm not talking about the neighborhoods surrounding Madison or Midwood or those areas west of Flatbush Avenue just north and south of Church Avenue where some of the old Victorians sell for close to two million dollars.  I'm referring to our neighborhoods.
Okay.  When you drive down the side streets, the residential streets, at first blush, things look the same as we remember them from the fifties and sixties: kids playing in the street and well cared-for attached and semi-attached private homes - except for the security gates and bars on the windows. Now that's the business to be in: wrought iron fabrication or, more likely, wrought iron fortification.
It's the commercial strips that have changed.  You know, the ones along Church, Utica, Nostrand and Rogers Avenues and the ones in the small strip centers.  They show the most change.  Forget about the premier shopping streets: Pitkin, Flatbush, the Highway.  You want dollar stores? You've come to the right street!
All the stores that were there when we were born and still there when we moved away, all those stores that our parents owned and worked at six days a week so you could go to camp in the summer, trust me, they all closed up the day after we left town.
What? You think the kosher deli around the corner from your house was going to keep the pastrami hot just for us, if we ever returned? And the round knish?  Yeah, I know, you liked the square one. Well, Sol, or Irv or Dave or Murray or whatever his name was threw them all out and followed you to Long Island or New Jersey or Arizona or, more likely, Florida, where he opened a larger, Brooklyn-style deli, with twelve kinds of gourmet, designer knishes and, if you want, you can get mayo on your pastrami sandwich.
The further we get - in distance and time - the more we fall in love with our neighborhood.  I have a friend who headed up the Alumni Association at Brooklyn College.  Her hardest job was getting recent graduates to join.  Fast forward thirty or forty years and the alumni are banging on her door clamoring to join their beloved alma mater.
I find my blogs cater to older people.  (Notice I make the distinction between old and older.  Older people are not as old as old people. This flies in the face of everything you learned in eighth grade English. Go figure.) My East Flatbush Memories blog is more of a community service for chronic delusionals - including its creator.
Years ago I asked our son if he ever thought about his elementary school days. By the time he was in elementary school we had long since moved out of Brooklyn to Long Island, near the Sound.  "Nope!" I showed him the responses to this blog and from groups on Facebook and the fond memories the readers have of their Brooklyn childhood.  His response: "But you didn't do anything." I explained the fine art of stoop ball, ("What's a stoop?) hit the penny, punch ball and using a manhole as second base or just sitting on Sammy's stoop to hang out.
So, here I am, trying to avoid sitting in Grandpa's chair and holding on to the memories of those years more than a half century ago, where we did nothing, but somehow had a great time doing it.

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