It was Thanksgiving weekend of 1960.
Just like the mythical Dick, Jane and Sally would visit Grandmother and Grandfather on their farm, I was off for an overnight visit with mine in Queens, NY.
Clutching my Fun with Dick and Jane Primer to occupy me during the car ride to my grandparents apartment, I was entranced with the colorful illustrations of the bucolic farm.
I could imagine myself frolicking among the pastoral, green meadows, and picturesque pastures, sitting on the front porch of the charming country farmhouse with Grandmother shucking ears of corn, watching Grandfather milk the contented cows, in the rustic old barn.
And best of all, just like my namesake Little Sally, my very own pony to ride. It was so lush and green I half expected the Jolly Green Giant to suddenly appear in the verdant valley. Ho-Ho-Ho
Over the River and Through the Woods to Grandmothers House We Go…
But there was nothing bucolic about Queens Boulevard.
It always came as a surprise that my fastidious grandmother lived in a borough that always looked as if it could use a good scrubbing.
As we drove to my grandparents on that last Saturday in November of 1960, the clear blue skies of suburban Nassau County gradually gave way to a dingy, dishwater gray as we entered Queens.
Whereas the suburbs was a place where every single thing seemed infused with newness glittering with promise, Queens was a borough in which everyone and everything looked as if they had long since passed their expiration date. Its endless blocks of desolate looking warehouses were flanked by squat, dingy buildings and grimy factories; its streets lined with rows of dreary two family attached houses, the grim blue and white statues of Mary, forlornly standing watch over the postage-stamp sized lawns,.
Could this be the same Queens , the home of the great World of Tomorrow that was the 1939 NY Worlds fair? Driving along Robert Mose’s Grand Central Parkway my parents never failed to point out the site where the Worlds Fair had miraculously sprung up out of a garbage dump.
The air was thick with a steady stream of soot, steam and smoke belching from the multitude of factories that dotted the landscape. But the rich yeasty aroma of fresh-baked bread emanating from the Silver Cup Bread Factory that would miraculously find its way in through the slightest crack in the closed windows of our Plymouth, made up for everything else.
As we approached my grandparent’s apartment in Astoria, the wide noisy roadways were darkened by a great tangle of elevated subway tracks, the BMT trains screeching around curves at all hours on the tracks overhead, blocking out whatever sunshine there was adding a sense of foreboding.
Because my grandparents still lived in the same brick, Art-Deco-Moderne apartment house that my father grew up in, by the simple act of walking through the graceful arched entrance way of the once fashionable Buckingham Arms Apartments, I was entering the world of my father’s youth.
The tiny, elevator which four people, a valise and a multitude of shopping bags, all managed to squeeze into, perpetually smelled of cooking cabbage and Pinesoil cleaner.
As the wheezy, groaning elevator doors with their smudged porthole windows, eventually closed, sealing us in this airless chamber in a state of limbo, I had the sinking realization that we had left the safety and familiarity of the shiny new suburbs, where modern taste was part of better living, where no house was older than I was and no parent older than mine.
When at last the heavy metal doors parted in agonizingly slow motion, they opened up into a dim, cheerless, hallway filled with echoes and ghosts.
It was as if the elevator had morphed into Mr. Peabody’s WAY-BAC Machine, transporting me back in time to the 1930’s.
In an instant, I had moved uneasily from the fresh brisk sparkle of the Pepsi generation into the musty, sluggish, moth-balled world fueled by Geritol. With overnight valise in one hand, and my Tiny Tears doll in the other, I gingerly entered my father’s childhood.
Stay Tuned For Pt II
Copyright (©) 20014 Sally Edelstein All Rights Reserved -Excerpt From Defrosting The Cold War:Fallout From My Nuclear family