by Myra Goldberg
Sometime ago, I wrote an essay called WE. It was about the many We’s I have belonged to, starting with my family, who belonged to a larger We called secular Jewish eastern European lefties becoming Americans. I located our We in music, for unlike our Westchester neighbors, we listened to folk music, blues, jazz, classical, and didn’t—as a family—get behind pop until rock arrived. We read a lot. We were for unions and poor people and against nuclear testing. We went to Broadway musicals and learned all the words to Fiorello. We took lots of lessons – musical and artistic and also played sports. We ate rye bread and sour cream, instead of white bread and peanut butter.
A lot of this, along with our relatives, had travelled up the Saw Mill Parkway with us from Sunnyside, where we were recognizably part of the Jewish leftist world as apposed say, to the Irish Catholic world (who lived next door to us.) I say leftist because although at some point my parents were Communists, my mother was ornery, outspoken, and wedded to Thoreau’s nature and individualism and got in trouble, as she told it, with the Communists for inviting socialists and liberals to speak when she was president of the PTA. Meanwhile, a priest apparently told his parishioners to vote in the public school PTA election to defeat her and the Jewish Communists. Garbage was thrown on our lawn in '48 and in '49, we moved to Westchester. I was six years old. My brothers were eight and four. According to my father, this move had as much to do with finding my brothers dodging cars to play ball on the street as the trouble with the neighbors and the PTA. But it also had to do with a visit to some ex Sunnysiders in Westchester where we found a house the same weekend and made the trip up the Saw Mill Parkway many many people were making to the suburbs in those years.
And yet. Along with visiting relatives – the ones who didn’t move up the parkway with us—but stayed in Sunnyside, I preserved Sunnyside as both the site of conflict, according to my family’s stories and an internalized paradise, full of other children, with its child friendly scale, its courtyards with rocks for climbing, and its people like Cal Lobel, Ruthie Horowitz, and Mark Solomon, who I would meet later – Ruth at New Dance Group, Cal and Mark at the Walden School, and recognize as being members of the tribe my family had belonged to years before . That culture, with its shame about the crimes of Russian communism, and the fear associated with McCarthyism and the Cold War, its taste for music that later entered the sixties and everybody else’s life, its immigrant loyalties to the poor and its lust for America, its upwardly mobile striving and its heart and some of its culture in the working class, is still an important part of my We. I credit it with my brothers and my ability in the sixties to step back from crazy politics without stepping outside an anti-war, anti racist framework, and I credit it with my sense of what a good world or a good America could be. (Something like Sweden or Sunnyside, only more diverse. Maybe with a better handle on conflict.) Periodically, I take the seven train from Manhattan and find Greeks, Turks, hipsters, dried apricots, yogurt and no perceptible advance in conflict resolution.
Myra Goldberg lived on 47th street until she was six. She still knows Sunnysiders and vividly remembers others from that time. She teaches writing at Sarah Lawrence College, has published a novel, a collection of short stories and many essays, and lives in Manhattan near her daughter and granddaughter.