Of scarves. I recall asking my mother why a woman waiting to pay for her groceries was wearing a dead animal. After hushing me she said, “It’s a fashion.”
Of scarves. Recently I learned that the dancer Isadora Duncan lost her life in a most bizarre manner. She loved long silk scarves— the type you could fling over a shoulder— and that was her downfall. On September 14, 1927 her scarf became meshed in the rear hubcaps of her car. She was strangled by the movement of the car. Gertrude Stein, never one to shy way from saying whatever came to mind, blamed the death on Isadora’s penchant for affectation in fashion. Stein was a plain dresser.
Of scarves. Am I mistaken when I recall striped wool scarves six feet long? Every school had scarves with their school colors. I had dated a boy who attended Columbia and the scarf was a Christmas gift. Being short a scarf that long entailed considerable fiddling to find a way to live with inches of unneeded knitting.
Back to chronology. Sometime during my third year we moved to 176th Street in the Bronx— a slanted block off the Grand Concourse. We lived on the first floor, but it was the second floor because it was a flight of stairs up from the lobby. Yet when you looked out the window we were not two flights up and you could easily open the window and jump out— without causing undo damage.
At this point I must jump ahead to note that for years no one was concerned about our proximity to the street, but by the time I entered Junior High School, what is now called Middle School, our windows could only be opened six inches. My father’s friend created some impediment so that the window could not be opened beyond a hand span. All neighborhoods change.
We moved just after my grandfather died. I don’t remember him except for one vivid picture. He was sick and in bed. Everything was white—the sheets, blanket, his pallor and next to the bed was a large metal canister. Today I assume that was oxygen.
When he died my grandmother came to live with our family. Was I three or a bit older? I don’t know and there’s no one left to ask.
176th Street. Once there were six trees on the block. Each tree in its own square of dirt and surrounded by concrete.
Our three room apartment—2B was identical to every other B apartment in the five story building. You entered and to the right was a narrow kitchen with a small place to eat. Straight ahead was a dining room and beyond that a living room with two windows that looked out on the street. The bathroom was to the right of the dining room and just beyond the bathroom was the bedroom. To my child’s mind it was huge. Later on it held a dresser, a double bed, a single bed, a desk , a small metal bookcase, and a standing wardrobe. And a large window looking out on the street and another window that faced an alleyway.
My earliest memories of 124 East 176th involved watching the mailman deliver mail, walking with my mother to the incinerator, and being outside when coal was delivered—watching it pouring down a long chute right into the basement.
I’m not certain how old I was when I heard the peddler call out “ Old clothes” or did he say “ I sell old clothes” ? I’m not certain how old I was when I discovered that the jelly man with his cart of hot jelly came during the cold months. He dipped marshmallows in jelly, twisted the stick so that it didn’t drip and sold them on our street corner. The other treats came later—egg creams, Charlotte Russe desserts, long pretzels, wax lips, and Dixie cups.