Usually we were traversing the Palisades Parkway, or the Thruway, at dusk, and by the time we were within reach of the city night had settled, earlier than we’d known before, the days shorter now as we sped towards the winter. Perched atop a small throne of blankets and linens, we gazed sadly out the rear window of the family sedan, half convinced we could still smell the jasmine and honeysuckle of the country. We squeezed our eyes tight, hoping that by some magic, on reopening, we’d be heading west instead of east, and it would be June, not September, and we would hold the coming summer new in our hearts.
Then, from a break in the standing trees along the roadside, bright and brilliant and foreboding, was the George Washington Bridge. Before our child’s intellect could process the image and comprehend the arrival, we’d crossed through the toll, covered the span, up and into Manhattan, then the Bronx. There was a hot and smoky feel to the night. It came down like a damp blanket-heavy and suffocating, so unlike the snap of autumn we’d recently known each evening in the mountains.
I remember one year my little brother, not more than six or seven, reciting this little ditty as we crossed into the Bronx, “Oh, what a pity, to be back in the shitty city.” My parents, somewhat dismayed with his choice of words, could not, however, dispute his assertion.
The Bronx sped by, then the Whitestone Bridge. But you were no longer looking. Your head was in your hands, softly the summer leaving, it’s shining days and evening shadows whispering its memories one last time.
You arrived at your apartment building filled with dread and trepidation. No more snapping screen door opening to a world of carefree freedom. Now came the world of locks, and chains, and elevators, and buzzers, and incinerators.
Exiting the car, you stretched out, working two hours of kinks and tightness from your young body. Your dad assumed a General’s pose, directing you and your brother (sister?) to search the laundry room and storage rooms for the ever present grocery wagon that had been scavenged from Bohack or Grand Union. Your mom moved into the building, empty handed, striding forth with defiant purpose, like a diplomat demanding terms of surrender. A wagon secured now, your dad engineered the loading of boxes and bags and loose pots and pans. You pushed the wagon, trailing your mom, entering the elevator that was stuffy and steamy and much noisier than you remembered. You wondered if any of your city friends were awake and about. Was there a chance you’d encounter one this evening? You thought of maybe detouring from your shuttling of family goods to ring one bell or another, but, as if she’d read your mind, your mom called you back to reality with a sharp, “We have a lot of work to do tonight.”
Your first view of the apartment is something unique and solitary in your memory. Never before, or since, had the place seemed so small, so confining, almost as if it were all done in matchbox miniature. Invariably, dad had arranged for the “cleaning woman” to appear the week preceding your return, least you suffer the shock of seeing how dad had lived as he’d “batched” the summer. The place was clean, immaculate in fact, and maybe that was it. It hardly looked lived in. It was more like a snapshot from your past. You felt big, tall, moving through the rooms, until you came to your bedroom. Inside, now, you reacquainted yourself with the bed, the photos on the walls, the view from your window. You held your arms about your body, shut your eyes, took a deep breath, and then, reopening, it was as if you’d never left.
The car is unloaded into the evening. How many trips in the elevator? Ten, twelve, fifteen? Inside the apartment your mom is moving about at a furious pace, as if she’d just discovered crystal speed. She’d determined to have the entire place packed away and in order before your dad returns to the office in just a day.
You’ve adjourned to the living room, where, through a web of cartons and bags and pots and pans, you watch the flickering tuxedo clad image of Jerry Lewis, his blue hair slick, cajoling with the same supplication, “Please! Help my kids!” You watch the barely professional acts perform deep into the night, as the different phone numbers flash on the screen. Every few minutes comes the wording “IN SULLIVAN COUNTY—434-4000.” That’s the Brown’s Hotel, you know, where operators are standing by. There is a country after you’ve gone? Somehow, that was a comforting thought. The bungalows stood, the pool was empty, but it was all there, still.
You don’t remember falling asleep. Maybe you fell out on the living room sofa and your dad carried you to your room. Maybe you’d walked to your bed, half asleep. No matter. The next morning you awake in your bed, the September sun still hot in the city, the light cut in zebra stripes through the venetian blinds, your room already warm and sticky.
You spring forth from bed, eager to find your friends, anxious to display the new talents with the bat or the glove you’d sharpened all across the now so distant summer. Where were the guys? Who was going to be in your class this year? How many days till the Little League Fall play-offs begin? God, did you have to have the Rabbi this year in Hebrew School?
The city streets and playgrounds and courtyards are unchanged, even if you believe you are not. The summer is a warm and cherished and beloved memory. But it is that, and that only. Your real world awaits you now, filled with school and friends and family and work and play and TV and the coming holidays, and then the World Series, and Halloween, and trick or treating, and whatever else God has in store for you.
And life goes on………………