45-My Parents Visit Me in New York City


My mother and father lived most of their lives in the small city of Chatham, Ontario, Canada. Chatham was 50 miles from London, Ontario and 50 miles from Detroit, Michigan in the breadbasket of southern Ontario. The Chatham-Kent area was famous for growing corn and peas and tobacco. Chatham was the hometown of Fergie Jenkins, baseball player, D’Arcy McKeough, a man of politics, and Sylvia Tyson, well-known Canadian singer.

I had moved to New York City after living in Detroit, Michigan. We ended up on the Lower East Side which was a poor neighbourhood at that time. I lived there with my young daughter and my common-law husband in an apartment that, nowadays, rents for a phenomenal amount but back then it was under rent control and relatively cheap.

My mother wanted to see the Statue of Liberty, so we went down to the tip of Manhattan Island. I’d been covering the expenses up until then but when we got the Staten Island Ferry docks mother said she wanted to pay for the ride on the Ferry Boat that rode you around and past the Statue of Liberty to Staten Island and back.

I said, “Sure, mother, you can cover this! No problem.” She found out that the fare, through tradition, was a nickel. That was a humorous moment. She’s sooner have gone to the island the statue is on and climbed up the steps and looked out the hat and so forth but she had some arthritis in her spine and I didn’t think that was a good idea.

Now my dad, he was what he was; he had prejudices but he tried mightily to overcome them in my presence. I flourished best in a culturally diverse environment of immigrants and people of colour and what have you. I was with my dad and we were walking down the street and a typical New York street hustler was going into a phone booth, probably to make some call about numbers running or dope or something like that. My dad spotted a quarter on the sidewalk outside this phone booth and he was on best behavior. He retrieved the quarter and knocked on the door of the phone booth. The hustler looked around and opened the door. My dad said to him “I found this quarter on the sidewalk. Could it be yours?”

I wish I’d had a camera. The look of astonishment of this fellow’s face when this old white man offered him a quarter, it was priceless. This hustler thought he had seen everything. He was astounded.

Now the big deal with my mother was shopping but I wasn’t going to take her down to 5th Avenue or places like that where she’d spend much too much money. Since I was living on the Lower East Side, I decided to take her on a tour. So, she saw Orchard Street, the pushcarts and all the little stores with the handbags and things hanging like ripe fruit from their overhead racks. We went into Katz’s delicatessen where you could read the slogan in the window “Buy a Salami for your boy in the Army”. Katz’s had many salamis hanging up over the counter. It prided itself on rude waiters and free seltzer water. We had a corn beef sandwich there.

We ambled over towards Delancey Street and ended up in a shop that specialized in women’s hosiery. The lady there was trying to sell my mother these sparkly, gold, almost lamé, stockings that the proprietor thought were very glamorous and would really suit my mother. My mother thought otherwise. She was trying to find an excuse not to buy these baubles. She said, “Oh, Customs will never allow me to take them across the Border.” The shopkeeper replied, “No problem. You just roll them up and stuff them in your brassiere. They’ll never know!”

I went with my Mum to some other places that were, perhaps, more of interest to me than to her. I felt they were of significant cultural importance, such as the site to the Triangle Shirtwaist Fire. This fire occurred where Jewish immigrant girls on an upper floor were slaving over sewing machines and the lint built up. The fire escapes were locked shut. There was a great fire and it claimed the lives of 146 young women. Some were the main support of their families, so it was very tragic. This was back in the early 1900s. That was the beginning of the International Ladies Garment Workers Union.

This was the 60s so we were able to go to Washington Square Park to hear the folksingers around the fountain circle there. I explained to her that this was important cultural phenomenon, or something like that. We went to some Museums – the Metropolitan Museum of Art and so forth. My mother was a painter, so she enjoyed that.

I think my folks had a good time. and They certainly had something to talk about when they got back to Chatham. Not sure they understood my chosen lifestyle but they tried. Parents do.

Wavy Line

© Sonia Brock 2006

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