Doing The Laundry With George

Growing up, my family lived in an old red brick apartment building in Queens, NY. The apartment building was its own little village on six floors. There was a feeling of comfort and safety having neighbors and friends around us.

I had good friends in the building and I ate many meals in my friends’ homes. In Lotti’s kitchen I always ate home-made matzoh ball soup, the matzoh balls light and airy. She introduced me to my first milkshake, made with chocolate and vanilla ice cream and served in tall, cold glasses.

Vanilla Kipferl (Vanilla Crescents)

Vanilla Kipferl (Vanilla Crescents) (Photo credit: sharon.schneider)

In Omi’s house, (my friend Linda’s grandmother) we settled into over sized chairs and we ate many home-baked cookies: granulated sugar-coated vanilla crescent cookies and chocolate kiss surprise cookies. To this day I can feel the taste of the melting sugar on my tongue, I have seen several duplicates in stores but they missed a very important ingredient: Omi’s special kind of love. I didn’t have grandparents and Omi made me feel like part of the family.

English: Windows in the red brick wall of an a...

My older sister and I, individually, had to do the laundry as our chore. In an apartment building, a couple of old washing machines and one dryer lived questionably in the basement. The basement was dank, dark, dimly lit and uninviting. Thinking back, there never seemed to be anyone else down there doing laundry, it was an experience you just wanted to hurry up and finish, it felt scary being there alone.

I would lug the metal shopping cart, that we also used for groceries, and hold on to it with both hands grasped behind me. It always left a lingering metallic smell on my fingers.The elevator always shook and made loud scraping mechanical noises as it bumped and lurched to a stop in the basement.

The only person who lived in the basement was George, the handyman.  We assumed from his accent he came from Romania or Russia but that was never confirmed.  George was a happy and unconventional man. When you talked to him, most likely he was upside down, standing on his head. There was nothing scary about him, in fact, when the door to his room in the basement was ajar we always felt safer.

Clowns Upside Down on the Ceiling

Clowns Upside Down on the Ceiling (Photo credit: wht_wolf9653)

George spoke little English but every so often he would determinedly either call himself Mr. Rockefeller or call my father Mr. Rockefeller; why we don’t know.

We accepted George the way he was as if he was a character jumping out of the pages of a John Updike novel, smelling slightly of old, cheap wine. All the mothers said “he was harmless.” Back then, he was.  In the sixties, that was normal, we trusted people. We didn’t even question his unusual style, we just laughed with him.

If you were lucky the two washing machines would be free when you had to do the laundry, the sense of achievement and happiness would be intense. I would dig my sweaty fingers into my jeans pockets, front and back, to find three quarters for each machine. The smooth shiny coins were placed in the slotted circles, I waited to hear the metal clinking sound as they dropped down.  Once I put in too much soap and bubbles, huge iridescent sudsy bubbles, started cascading down from the machine, everywhere. I was both thrilled and terrified at the same time. I ran for George.

There was one large dryer but more fascinating were these huge hanging racks that we would have to pull out of the wall and drape clothing on the clothing rods; how this was allowed and sanctioned by the fire department I will never know. Once we pulled back the steel rods and draped our clothing we could see the individual fires blazing. After we pulled our clothes from the hanging rods the clothes were stiff and scratchy. There were no fabric softeners, anything that was on those rods to were as crisp as burned toast.

Chemical Brothers

George lived in our building for many years, we would try to get  in touch with him by phone but he generally didn’t pick up. More often one of us went to his room and knocked loudly on his door.

One day, he disappeared, no one had seen him for a while. Everyone was talking about it but he literally vanished from one day to the next.

In my young imagination, I decided he must have rejoined the circus, as of course, a clown. He already had the sweet smile, the jolly personality and the impeccable skills for standing on his head.

When I remember George I remember him upside down, firmly saying “Mr. Rockefeller.” Why he did this nobody knew, but we all accepted him for who he was.  No one ever heard from him again but after all these years, I never forgot him.

 

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Snail Mail

Sheriff's Badge

Image via Wikipedia

WHEN THE WORLD WAS A BRIGHTER PLACE…..

 

I sent a handwritten letter with photographs of my children to a wonderful man, earlier this month. We adore this gentleman and I dubbed him The Sheriff, many years ago when we lived in a small suburb of Boston. The Sheriff, and his wife Louise lived down the hill from us on a cul de sac. My children were young, 2 and 4, back then and The Sheriff was very much a part of our lives. He invited us to his July 4th bbq where my daughter sat on my husband’s shoulders, seeing fireworks for the first time, covering her ears and screaming. The Sheriff was invited to my son’s fourth birthday party and he arrived bearing a plastic green dinosaur that still lives lovingly in our basement; I cannot part with it.

I received a letter from Mr. and Mrs. Sheriff last week thanking us for the photos. The Sheriff was so touched we remembered him and that we still thought about him after all these years. We had kept in touch, though not often and once we even paid him a surprise visit but it had been a few years since we had communicated.

The two and four year old little kids he had known were now 16 and 18. When the children were young I bought a Sheriff’s badge for him and he wore it proudly; every time we ran into him he had it with him. It was plastic and silver and if it wasn’t attached to his shirt, he had it in his pocket. I know in my heart, he still has it, tucked away somewhere, in an old green address book or in the corner of a dusty bedside table. Even if it is missing in action he would never throw that sign of honor away. If we never saw him wear that badge again, he will always be The Sheriff to us, the one person who made the whole neighborhood “home.”

Dedicated to George

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The Jellybean Dinner

December 20, 2009

Last night my children and I had dinner together upstairs in our bedroom. My husband was off to Western Mass. to bring our “lovey”  dog to his parents for Camp Callie.  Usually,  If we go away our sensitive dog, Callie,  stays at home and our neighbors and friends come in to feed her and walk her but this time the grandparents wanted to have the dog and take care of her. She loves them.

My son was in an absolutely celebratory mood, a Junior in High School, he also works every day after school, with the exception of “off limits Fridays.”  He came home happy, haven gotten a Christmas bonus from our lovely neighbors and he was thrilled. As a mom, I of course was thrilled for him. In addition to money they also gave him a huge selection of jelly bellies and a box of chocolate for the family.  Quite a lovely and thoughtful gift from his employers (our neighbors!)

I gave Tim money to get dinner for us and he went to his favorite place, Villarina’s, to buy some wraps for Jillian and for me. I can’t begin to express the love and fun that was at the meal as the three of us crowded around my bed as we ate and talked. We were excited becauae we were going away for a few days to Aruba, something that Tim had been looking forward to and had not been able to go for years.One of his closest friends, Aaron goes almost every holiday to visit his grandmother.   Our moods were bright with the promise of tomorrow and without the more formal seating of the kitchen table.

For pre-D, (pre-dessert)  Tim opened up his box of assorted jelly beans and started tasting them and of course, threw some to Jillian and to me. There was  laughter and joy and warmth I hadn’t felt in a long, long time. I felt like I hadn’t had this opportunity to just be with the kids for a long time. After all, I had been sick for almost two years. Look at what I had missed!!! The jellybean dinner was the payoff. The opportunity to be with my two teenagers as we laughed, and teased each other and caught up on some old memories. This was worth more than any expensive dinner I could have gone too. This was living; this is what I was meant to do with my life. My life goal.

I was home, with both children around me, not stressed, and full of fun. for a holiday wish, you just can’t get better than this: a memory of fun, closeness,love and warmth and yes, at least 50 different flavors of jelly beans. Happy Holidays to all!