Monday, December 13, 2010

Coming of Age at Christmas

As I look back on that day, it was a real coming of age type of day.  I remember clearly standing by the front window of the subway as we rode back to our home in Brooklyn.  We lived for two years on Fort Hamilton Parkway.  I didn’t like living there.  I missed PS 94 and 53rd Street.  It was the world I had always known.  I knew each house and at least a little something about the people who lived there.  I knew to walk fast when I passed the tenements and to walk near the curb if I walked past the bar on the odd side of the street near 5th Avenue.  I suppose it was because we never had alcohol in the house and because of how my parents felt about it that I was always nervous walking past a bar.  I think I thought someone might reach out and grab me and I’d never be seen again. 

It was a lonely trip back to Brooklyn.  I don’t remember why my father wasn’t with us.  I was at an age where I was beginning to have those inevitable conflicts one has with their mother as they are approaching adolescence.  It wasn’t her fault.  It really wasn’t mine either.  It too was part of coming of age. 

We happened to secure a place on the front car of the subway.  In the little cubicle the engineer was steering the subway on its tracks.  The window in the front of the car allowed me to see the pillars and dark channel we traveled on.  There was a certain place there was an S in the tracks.  I remember saying something to one of my friends about the S in the track one time while riding that route, they thought I was talking about a four letter word starting with S and teased me forever about it.  I had ridden many times on that route and in the front car, I just meant the track formed an S.  Sometimes you’d see another subway coming toward you on the parallel track. 

My father knew the subway system like a master navigator.  He knew whether you should be in the front of the car or the middle or back to ease your exit or your transfer.  His last job in NYC put this skill to great use as he worked as a messenger delivering items around the city.  It was a perfect job for him.

This day, as I rode the train home, I was thinking that growing up had its draw backs.  For as long as I could remember, part of our Christmas joy was a trip to Manhattan to the annual Christmas party for the children of employees of Morgan Guaranty Bank.  It seemed this activity knew no class boundaries.  It was probably in the 3rd grade I realized my father was not a banker.  He worked at a bank.  When asked at school, what does your father do for a living or where does he work?  I would reply he’s a banker.  He worked at a bank that made him a banker, right?  No, he was a janitor that worked all night cleaning up after the real bankers.

There was no distinction on those glorious Saturday mornings at Morgan Guaranty Bank.  Like Catholic mass, there were time slots.  We usually went early as my father was excellent at making sure we had tickets for this event.  A trip on the subway, dressed in Christmas finery would take us to Wall Street or some other foreign area.  Arriving at the huge imposing bank, a friendly face would show us to a room where a magician or clown or other type of children’s entertainer would put on a most magnificent show.  When I was about 3 my joy graced the cover of their January employee magazine.  There I was, with my mom and my dad the immigrant janitor on the cover of a banking magazine. 

Once the show was over, we’d go to the cafeteria.  Free food served by smiling employees!   I don’t remember what I would eat, but I do remember the dessert.  It was a roll of vanilla ice cream, the shape of Swiss roll topped with thawed frozen strawberries.  It seemed so decadent to have strawberries and ice cream in early December.  After lunch we would walk through room after room of the most beautiful dolls.  I think back now and think how boring that must have been for the boys.  But for me, a lover of playing with dolls, it was like heaven.  I wanted one of those dolls but I wasn’t disadvantaged enough to have one.  The staff, mostly female staff, of this great bank would work for weeks to dress a doll to give to a somehow disadvantaged child.  I knew I should be thankful I wasn’t that disadvantaged, but at times I wished I were.  I wanted one of those beautiful dolls.

At last we came to the main event.  It was time to see Santa.  As a small child I marveled at the majesty of this Yule King on his throne.  This year, I was 12.  It was my last time to see Santa.  There would be no more Morgan Guaranty Children’s Christmas Parties.  I was officially no longer a child.  I got a board game from Santa.  Gone were the dolls and the toys.  He looked at me and I looked at him.  We both were uncomfortable.  I was becoming a woman.  I had pimples on my forehead and emerging breasts.  Later that day another sign of womanhood visited me.  It was a coming of age day.

1 comment:

  1. It is always a new discovery for me to read your blogs about Brooklyn. Having grown up in the mid-west I feel like I get a first hand view of what growing up in Brooklyn/NYC must have been like. Your insights of your childhood from your adult perspective is like getting a 3-D perspective.


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