To be perfectly frank, we prefer to publish on subjects, concerning man’s persona and advancement, his pursuit of wisdom and mature prospective, on morality especially, in these equivocal times, on the impact of scientific development on human society, on lifestyles, traditional and contemporary, and current events, which may be revelatory of positive human aspiration, and as well, his dark side.
However, we have received some requests, from some our followers, for additional posting on the subject of our earlier years, in ethnic (Eastern European) Brooklyn. This is in essence, truly ancient history. To date, in our more than 400 mini-essays, we have published only three on that truly venerable subject: “ A LONG TIME AGO, IN BROOKLYN,” # 399, concerning immigrant life, during World War II, “PIGMENTED SPEECH, # 394, an observation that the American-English lexicon(compared to Yiddish) contains a dearth of “feeling words,” requiring that colors be used as a substitute, and “LOSING OUR MARBLES,” on the role of marbles, as an essential ingredient, in the interactive life of very young Brooklyn boys.
In an attempt to please our followers, we will, for the moment, return to the overcrowded, hot tenement life, the street food venders (ex, “Mom’s Kosher Knishes), the sellers of hot baked potatoes, and the venders of hot “arbis (cooked chickpeas, or garbanzos). In this time capsule, we also return to the remaining horse-drawn wagons, fruit and vegetables, (invariably Italian), used clothes for sale or purchase (predictably Jewish) and knife and scissor sharpening. Additionally, to the ancient wagons that delivered large blocks of ice, for the pre-refrigerator, ice boxes; the “ice man” would perform the Herculean task, of seizing each large ice block between his pincers, and deposit it on a worn out towel on his shoulder, and climb the tenement stairs to reach each of his customers, with that prodigious, cold weight, and install the ice blocks, in identical manner, in each customer’s ice box, in the building; there were a great number of multiple level apartment houses, in the neighborhood. His horse would wait, peacefully, at each building. Horses also waited, peacefully for the deliveries of milk, seltzer or other products delivered in the buildings. Heavy trucks, with chutes, would empty coal into barrels, held still by coal deliverers, and then rolled over to an open window to the basement of apartment houses (tenements) and emptied down the chute, placed strategically for the receipt of the coal, from each discharged barrel, until every building’s order was delivered. The janitor of each building, then would laboriously, shovel the coal to a designated area.
Most of the produce shopping, however, was done at avenues, or streets, populated by pushcarts. Purchases of other foods, as desired, were generally located at, or near that street. The atmosphere was deliciously redolent of pickles and “schmaltz”, (fat) pickled herrings, each, sold from separate large wooden barrels, by sellers, who, consistently, bore the aroma applicable to their respective inventories. The retail food stores, even during the war, were reasonably well stocked with cheeses, appetizing fishes, fresh bread, and ground coffees.
These were basic, but delicious foods. We had a working agreement with a young friend, who was the sibling in his large family, unluckily designated to do food shopping. We would perform the favor of accompanying him (then, “walking him”) and received as agreed consideration for such service, a large, green, sour pickle. We would walk him, on such missions, even when it rained, and discovered that the taste of sour dill pickles markedly improved with rain.
When we were old enough to graduate from marbles, we played softball, basketball and handball, in the City Park. We would play until exhaustion, relaxing against the park fence, with a cold bottle of Mission Orange Soda, in, perhaps, a somewhat less elegant replication, of high societal attendance at “apres- ski.”
We have a poignant memory, of, dutifully, skipping our customary pastimes, like ball playing, to engage in the wartime citizen program, to collect cans and other metals, needed for the war effort; on one occasion, we went to the nearby grassy lots to trap lightening bugs, as requested, for a military naval experimental program. No one, young or old, refused requests, related to America’s war effort.
There is a special anecdote, which I dare not omit from these selected, early recollections:
As we, the offspring of the heavily accented, Old World Style, immigrant parents, grew older, and experienced American Standard Speech, from teachers, from the radio media, and non-immigrant friends and their parents, our own spoken style and accent, improved and morphed to the American style and intonation. Immigrant parents, naturally, continued to interactively communicate in their familiar, nuanced vocabulary and pronunciation. By the time we reached College age, by virtue of our exposure to the American way of life, we naturally spoke in the American (non- accented) style, and employed proper American vocabulary. The people, with whom we, generally, came in contact, also spoke American Standard Speech. Essentially, the only Eastern- European accents we experienced, were that of our parents, older relatives and their friends. As time went on, should we would note any young person with any nuance of an accent, we would probably, look at them askance and critically.
One day, an elderly European- born neighbor, asked our mother for the following favor. The neighbor was planning to visit a relative in New Jersey, and asked that we look in on her caged bird, and feed him, during her absence. We, of course, agreed. The bird was a small, beautiful, shiny black mynah bird. We went to feed it, one day, completely ignorant of the fact that this species, like the parrot, has the ability, to accurately mimic sounds as well as human speech. Just as we were carefully, filling the little receptacle on the side of the cage, the bird, suddenly and loudly, emitted a rather long torrent of loving Yiddish words, in the precisely accented voice and scratchy tone (as spoken) by her elderly European-immigrant owner. We still remember the shock and surprise, but most especially at the bird’s precise replication of his owner’s elderly, Ashkenazi accent.