Now and Then

by Myra Goldberg

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          So like every other older white woman in Morningside Heights, I do Yoga.  The pandemic class, beneath a tree in Sakura park, has a ten-minute meditation, and during those minutes, I always end up imagining the house in Sunnyside.  In the meditation, I am climbing the steep stairs to the second floor, then running out the back door to the commons, then back in my crib, tearing down the window curtains and spilling baby powder all over.  My grandmother laughs, my mom not so much.

 

          We left Sunnyside in December 1949 and moved to the suburbs where we never fit in. We moved, in part, because the 1950's was all about the suburbs, and we followed the zeitgeist.  We moved because people threw garbage on our lawn because they didn't like my mother, a socialist, being president of the PTA, and neither the left nor the right trusted her, although it was the local priest who told their parishioners to vote in the public-school election to defeat her.  Many people probably wanted to throw that garbage.  Conflict, and then McCarthyism followed us up the Bronx River Parkway, but was more muted in Westchester, where people spoke in whispers about attending parties for Republican Spain.

      It is 2021, pandemic time.  I was in Spain the last time we could travel and people still did not speak about that war or like you asking about it.  My granddaughter's Spanish summer camp was in the suburbs of Madrid, the last battle of the war.  Now we are back in Sunnyside, because, like my thoughts in meditation, we've followed our favorite pediatrician from Morningside Heights to their new  office in Sunnyside.  I am overjoyed by the beauty of the trees and the pleasure of walking down 47th street, peopled by the ghosts of my childhood.

            My daughter's twelve-year old, her 2-month old, and her partner are with us.  Kenny and the baby go for water, and I take Anna, 30, and Ariella, 12, to look at our old house.  We find something like it.  Then something else like it.  I can't remember the exact address, though I remember the look and feel of things from my meditation. There are some common lots behind the houses, but the one we played in, with a big rock, has been parceled into individual yards with a narrow path from one end to the other.  A beautiful space made into fenced in lots too small to run in, for the sake of an idea : ownership.

            I stride through, as someone appears on a back stoop.  Not friendly, says my daughter.  They don't want us here, says my granddaughter.  It's okay, I say.  This is public property.  But is it?  My daughter, half black, rolls her eyes at her daughter, black, white and Dominican.  I am the white Grandma, who thinks she's welcome everywhere, who drags them places, where they are not.

            When I was young, there were no Black people in Sunnyside or in the suburbs and white people were not white, but Italian, Irish or Jewish, like us.  I look at the woman again. Not friendly.  We leave Sunnyside's extraordinary trees.  We drive back to Manhattan.  We may or may not have found my old house.  We will be back for the pediatrician again.  I will come back for the sheer pleasure of encountering a past that feels like a dream or a meditation.  Trouble and joy have followed us from city to suburb to city, from childhood to old age, but the trees have kept growing.

         Myra lived in the Gardens on 47th street until she was six when her family moved to Westchester.  She still knows Sunnysiders and vividly remembers others from that time.      

 

          Myra Goldberg is a professor and a writer who got her Bachelor of Arts degree at the University of California in Berkeley and her Masters at City University of New York.   Her stories have been published in many reviews and journals, and she is the author of the novel, Whistling and Rosalind:  A Family Romance.  Myra teaches writing in the MFA program at Sarah Lawrence College, and lives near her daughter and granddaughter.