In past writings, responsive to readers’ request for material on the subject of our childhood, we have written of our childhood, in the ambience of 1940’s Brooklyn, then, generally populated, with recently arrived immigrants, from Eastern Europe, of our growing up in the nuanced context of their imported folkways and their insecure feelings of displacement, their poverty and lack of sophistication, their earnest, but barely successful, attempts at communication in the new language, and their aspirations for themselves, and markedly, for their American children.
We have attempted to convey a visual glimpse of the times, the trolley cars, ice delivery men, the remaining horse drawn wagons, the immigrants’ nuanced use of language, the Brooklyn Dodgers, movies and, even the little boys’ game of marbles. We have significantly touched on the public apprehensions during the Great War, and on universal citizen efforts to be of support in the war effort.
The irresistible combination, of our present, (quarantine)reading of Marcel Proust, and a recent further request for personal nostalgia, we find, irresistible. In compliance with said recent request, we would relate a childhood experience, involving some striped crockery and also refer to a great poet, William Wordsworth. But first some additional background.
In our childhood life which, we have attempted to portray in past writings, there were several features, which are significant to the particular subject of “Striped Crockery, Connecticut and William Wordsworth. One of these subjects, William Wordsworth, is the easiest of the three to relate. While, the conclusion of this note will complete the Wordsworth connection, for now, we would reveal, that we have always been great admirers of his; the rest to follow.
It is important, in the apprehension of the theme of this mini-essay, to sharply focus, again, briefly, on our storied childhood.
The vista, from the front window of our childhood residence, if you peered, carefully, through the bars of the partly rusted, fire escape, was simply, a portion of the street, below, with a partial view of the prevalent extent of activity. Looking straight ahead, one could see the, less than luxurious buildings, opposite. From the rear window of our bedroom, in which three brothers slept, you could see the back alley of our building and that of the two adjoining buildings, three cellar doors, some metal, partly rusted, garbage cans, and on special occasions, a hungry alley cat.
Our territorial range, or limits, were confined to the four blocks to school, the vacant lots, nearby, and on occasion to the neighborhood barber and the movies. There was no television in those times, and we were totally unsophisticated and ignorant of matters beyond our, nine-year old circumscribed, experience. Our parents had no means to send us to camp; effectively, travel agent, was our local library, sending us, by its literature, outside the pale of our, scruffy neighborhood domain.
Imagine our joy and disbelief, to be advised by our Mother, that we were going to visit her sister in Middletown Connecticut. We are unable to tell if John Glenn, prior to being blasted off on man’s first flight to the Moon, or we, were more pumped up and anticipatory. Middletown, Connecticut, seemed so far away that we took two buses to get there; one to Meriden Connecticut, and the second to Middletown. My Uncle, Morris, picked us up by car and drove us to his, and “Tante” (Yiddish for “Aunt”) Anna’s, house on Main Street. We had never seen anything like it. We stayed for a glorious, countrified and, obviously, memorable week.
Our Uncle and Aunt, (the latter, our Mother’s eldest sister) of course, were immigrants. Uncle Morris had come from a long line of prominent Rabbis, and was eternally bitter at the necessity to work as a postal letter carrier. Incidentally, the letter carrier of the day, delivered the mail, on foot, for an assigned daily area of several miles. It is our understanding that he, as an unknown entity, in those days, a “Jew,” made many favorable impressions along his route. Morris was an avid reader of the New York Times, and had an excellent (if mispronounced) vocabulary. He was also a successful gardener and grew everything from peas to rhubarb, for family consumption. We will never forget his fun-filled assignment, to keep us busy, of removal of bugs from his vegetables, and putting them, for their final rest, in a small can of kerosene.
We also experienced our first, screened in porch. Just imagine, you could be indoors and, simultaneously outdoors; even lie there on a “chaise.” This was a marvelous and comfortable discovery, but the most memorable event, and the singular event of our entire week and the one, determinative of our nuanced title is yet to come.
On one day, during that “magical” week, Tante Anna suggested that we have our lunch, outdoors. Apparently my Aunt and Uncle, had a wooden table with attached benches .This item of outdoor furniture is, of course, quite common, but, then, to us, it was remarkable. My Uncle picked and brought to the table, all sorts of beautiful vegetables and produce, “grown in his own garden”, nearby for our lunch, with whatever dish, Aunt Anna had prepared.
It is necessary, as an aid to understanding, our complete delight and amazement at the entire experience. A beautiful day, lunch outdoors, on a wooden table in the country, the vegetables picked from his nearby garden by my Uncle Morris; our totally, inexperienced reaction, to the happy country meal, will never be forgotten.
A significant, and apparently, enduring element, of this happiest and most exciting experience of our then, truly unworldly and unsophisticated, experience, was the phenomenon, that all of the glasses, dishes and crockery, had colored stripes on their edges. This feature has always been tucked away, somewhere deep in our consciousness, as being associated, one supposes, with our normal human aspiration for happiness. For example, our coffee cup, and cereal bowl, throughout our life have, eternally, had colored stripes on their edges.
The explanation, for the above, is best furnished by our most revered poet, William Wordsworth, who, wisely and poetically said, “The child is father to the man.”