For me growing up in Sheepshead Bay Brooklyn resembled the famous quote from Charles Dickens’, A Tale of Two Cities, “it was the best of times, it was the worst of times………..”
From the moment I took my first breath in Brooklyn Jewish Hospital, I was thrust into a world largely influenced by an ethnic culture other than my own. Of course the memories of my birth have long been repressed but the memories of my first home were not.
My parents and throngs of newly married couples with varying numbers of children, moved into the brand spanking newly constructed Sheepshead- Nostrand Projects in 1951. The “projects” were built by the NYC Housing Authority at a time when the value of farmland was realized through lucrative real estate development. One by one, the family owned farms transitioned into 34, six story apartment buildings, spanning 4 city blocks in addition to co-operative and private home residences built in the surrounding areas. Projects in the 21st century often conjure up images of shadowy figures engaged in drug deals taking place in unlit hallways or gunshots slicing through plaster walls as unsuspecting residents sleep fitfully never feeling safe. The Sheepshead-Nostrand Projects were nothing of the sort.
At the first vestiges of day light, we hastily grabbed something to eat, did just enough chores to fly under the radar so we could call for our friends and start the day. Every day was fraught with imaginative play and physicality. Pink Spaulding balls, bottle caps filled with wax, roller skates, bikes, jump ropes, stick ball and hula hoops were the X-Boxes of our time. Countless hours were spent outside playing with friends rather than sitting in front of a television set or playing Game Boy alone. When Johnny the Ice-Cream man came barreling up the street, frantic cries could he heard by kids standing outside their apartment windows begging their mother’s for ice-cream money. Mothers’ in various attire, would stick their heads out of their windows, and throw coins rolled up in napkins or other forms of transport, down to waiting hands. With the money clutched in our hot little hands we would race down the street trying to catch up to Johnny, who by then was halfway down the block. From Spring to Fall this scene played and replayed daily.
Leaning to ride a bike was a momentous occasion. I vividly remember my brand new blue and white bike. As I hopped up on the seat, my confidence turned immediately to doubt. That concrete suddenly took on an ominous feel. My father reassured me that he would be there to catch me if I should fall. Hmmmm I thought. I was not so sure. I began to pedal slowly at first. The bike wobbled, and then teetered as I leaned away from the fall my bike was trying to take. I felt my father’s hand on the back of my seat guiding me, supporting me and steadying the bike. I didn’t fall, I kept pedaling. All of sudden my tentative pedaling took on its own life form. My father kept pace with my strides. I felt stronger and stronger as my bike remained upright. All of a sudden I was sailing around the perimeter of the grassy knoll that separated two of the buildings. I felt free, I felt unencumbered and then I realized my father was no longer there. I looked back and saw him running towards me as he tried to catch up. He was screaming, “Great job! that’s my girl!” My smile went from ear to ear and then I crashed. As I disentangled myself from my bike, I quickly took inventory of my body and then my bike. All was well. At that very moment, my father was by my side, telling me over and over again how proud he was.
By no means could I say that on that day I learned to ride a bike. I had to take a lot more laps around the block before I became proficient at riding a bike. But I can say that day was truly special; the positive feelings that it evoked and the memories with my father were forever etched in my mind. Growing up in Sheepshead Bay, Brooklyn was indeed the best of times………