A Rambling Remembrance
It’s 1959. I’m five years old. My brother is four. My grandmother and her friend are doily-on-the-furniture old.
We live on the fourth floor of a four-room railroad flat on Third Avenue. It’s in the Yorkville section of Manhattan, which is nestled east of Carnegie Hill and south of Spanish Harlem.
A big yellow taxi pulls up and the four of us climb in. We’re on our way to the Polo Grounds.
My grandmother and the crony settle themselves in the back seat for the ride uptown; laughing at old age, massaging arthritic knees. My brother and me rocking in the fold-up seats that face the old ladies, we’re hanging on for dear life.
“You kids are going to break your necks if you don’t stop wiggling in those things.“
The Polo Grounds is in Washington Heights, just north of Harlem, it was once home to major league baseball’s New York Giants; the Giants having left for a sunnier climate in San Francisco the previous year.
My mother is home at the apartment. Pregnant with her twelfth, and last, child. It is Autumn and she is due in a few weeks. She needs some rest from the constant demands of attention. We don’t complain — much. She’s a good mom. We’ll spend the day with Nanny.
My grandmother and the old crony are ladies-room attendants at the old ball park. My brother and me are run-amokers; bent on running-free through the stadium. We’re good at it. Growing up in a four-room railroad flat, any chance to run-free was appreciated.
I never remember entering the stadium. In my memory we are always on the inside going about our duties as responsible adults and restless street-kids.
During our visit there’s a soccer game going on. The stands are almost empty. Nanny is seated in her place in the ladies room. My brother and I have our hands out, waiting for refreshment money. She hands us a few coins and tells us to behave ourselves, and not to run-off too far.
There the remembrance ends. I’m guessing this sort of thing doesn’t happen today. Four and five-year-olds running about major league stadiums without any adult supervision. But that’s the way is was back than.
During the summer of that same year I was hit by a taxi. I had broken the rules and crossed a street I was not allowed to cross. Having had my taste of rebelliousness, I was making my way back across the street when I slipped and fell. The taxi ran over my arm. Entirely my fault. I ran from between cars, and against the light. I was an easy target.
I remember enjoying the sympathy a fractured arm brings out in people. Felt a bit like a child celebrity the way folks fawned over me; signing my cast with get well wishes.
Those two memories seem to haunt me the most. They’re the ones that pop into my head without giving proper notice.
The first, with a jolt of happiness for the freedom of being set-free in a ball park.
The second with a jolt of fear that my youthful freedom almost got me killed.
As I grew older, that particular fear had made me a bit too cautious. For good or bad, those incidents have defined me, because, while I encourage a go-for-it attitude in others, I too often pull the reins in on myself.
Maybe that’s why I took to writing. Writing offered me another kind of freedom.
The freedom to run free without leaving my seat.
Photo courtesy of Wiki Pics: https://commons.wikimedia.org/w/index.php?search=polo+grounds&title=Spec...