I grew up in Brooklyn during the 1940s and '50s. For much of that time the great Brooklyn Dodgers were a neighborhood obsession. I went to many games, enjoying Robinson, Hodges, Reese, Koufax, and Campinella play for the glory of Brooklyn. One fixture at the games was Hilda, a woman who clanged two bells whenever Brooklyn scored a run. She always carried a sign: "HILDA IS HERE!" Happy Felton's Knothole Gang, which featured aspiring ballplayers and appeared on television was another Ebbets fixture.
I was Bar Mitzvahed at the Crown Heights Yeshiva. The synagogue there was beautiful and Mr. Price, my Hebrew teacher, was as proud as I was.
28 May 1999
I grew up going to the Oceana Theatre with my mom, getting melmac dishes she received for every movie we viewed. Our walks home took us by Irving's Deli and Mrs. Stahl's knishes. Mom couldn't resist and we often came home with corned beef, wrapped in white paper, potato and kasha knishes, mustard, pickles and anticipation of the feast to come. Food in Brooklyn was a rite of passage, the way to the heart and a feast for the soul. We lived to eat, ate to live and everyone around us joined our everlasting quest for the best, the cheapest, the latest hours, we could muster. No one knew about cholesterol, the hazards of beef hotdogs, the dangers of cheese-ridden pizza. We were a happy, careless lot, cheering our players at baseball games while chomping down a hotdog and orange drink. Our days at the beach, well, do you remember the men with the ice coolers who ran about saying " Ice cream, get your cold ice cream and lemonade, here!" He always had a sidekick with him, often his child or someone tagging along in hopes of making some quick cash. The pops he sold were the coldest Good Humor pops anyone could sell. The hot sand, muggy afternoons on Brighton Beach were lightened by that ice cream. Ah, those were the days. Brooklyn was a true neighborhood, laced with Italians, Jews, Old Europeans, Puerto Ricans, eating, babbling, arguing in the streets, loving the stoops of their street, and just plain old hanging out. Those were the days, my friend.
29 May 1999
One day, when somebody heard I was from Brownsville, Brooklyn, she raised an eyebrow and shot back: "You? But you're so well-behaved." I knew what she meant of course. She meant here I was, this well-dressed white girl. If I'd been Black, or selling drugs, or coming after her with a knife to take her pocketbookthen, to her, maybe I could be from Brownsville.
Well, I am from Brownsville. It was the poorest place I ever lived. It was the best place I ever lived. You want to know why? Because people were together there. There were African-Americans, Puerto Ricans, Jews, and people of the Caribbean. All the grownups looked after all the children. The school was everybody's business, and so was the community. It was during the Civil Rights Movementthe best period of history in my lifetimeand peace, justice and a stake in this country were at stake. Brownsville is where I learned about community, and taking responsibility for the well-being of the people around you. Learned that from both my parents, Alex and Helen Efthim, and from Willa Webster, and Thelma Hamilton and Major Owens. There are some great people in Brownsville, and some great kids growing up there now.
29 May 1999