GROWING UP 'BROOKLYN'
...Andy's a Brooklyn kid and proud of it!
(Can't ya see da 'attitude' on his kisser?)
A childhood spent picking up courage and 'attitude'
By ANDY MURCIA
Im a man in my 60s and on occasion I reflect on my life and think about my early years as a boy growing up in Brooklyn, N.Y. in the 1940s. Reflecting back upon ones childhood is something old, cool cats like me do for fun.
Im not sure why but I always felt special my being born in Brooklyn. Was it the place? Was it my folks? Our family lived in the Canarsie section of Brooklyn, seven of us kids being raised by an Irish mother from the lower east side of Manhattan and supported by our cop father.
Pop was a good provider (a Lieutenant on the NYPD) and Mom knew the art of running a family and a home. She made it all work. Mom would have made a great CEO, as she was an expert at delegating duties to my four big sisters.
My sisters were like Mamas Squad. They helped her make our house a happy home. I was the baby for awhile, until my brother Joe was born in 1950. I was blessed to have not one but four acting mothers in my four older sisters. They took excellent care of me, but my thoughts always go to Mama who raised me her Brooklyn way.
Mama lived by her own set of rules and she taught me to live by them as well. Here are just a few of what I call Mamas rules for growing up Brooklyn. I bet some of my Brooklyn pals will identify with these:
1. You have to have nerve, which to Mama was just another name for courage or as my Jewish pals would say Chutzpa! Life was too short to take any crap from anyone, says Mama. It was said that, "If nerve was oil, Id be a millionaire!"
2. Only suckers waited in line. When Mama sent me into the bakery to get the buns and I took a few minutes longer to return because there was a long line, shed say, Youre a little kid. You go right to the front of the line and speak up loudly. Only saps wait in line!
3. You must call things as they areno beating around the bush. For instance, there was a very thin girl called Mary Cox who sat in front of me in the second grade. She must have had a lousy diet because she broke wind quite often. So, following Mamas advice, I raised my hand to the teacher the next time Mary let one go on me and when the teacher said, What is it, Andrew?--I said "Mary just farted again! The teacher quickly admonished me, saying, No, Andrew, you mean she passed gas! I said; Nope, Ive been to the gas station with my Pop and that was a fart! Of course, I got sent to the principals office and a note was sent home to my Mom and Pop. Mama asked me just one question, Did the girl fart? I said yes. And that was the last I heard about that.
But growing up Brooklyn was not so much what you did as how you felt and carried yourself. It was more of an inward feeling. I walked around thinking I was ready for whatever came my way. I was always on the look out for anyone who would try and con me in some way. Mama told me that someone would win and someone would be No. 1, so why not me? So, I tried my best at everything I did, but hardly was I ever in fact No. 1 at anything. But I didnt mope around over losing either. Id simply suspect the thing must have been fixed. This was how Mama had me thinking by growing up Brooklyn. You might say that I had attitude before people even used this term very much.
Now dont think I walked around cocky, strutting like a rooster. Not so. The feeling I had was way inside me and it came from a good place. It was about having confidence in myself. Thats what my Mama gave to all us kids. I was not condescending towards the other kids. I liked everyone unless they tried to cheat me in some way or another.
I knew and liked all our neighbors in Canarsie, Brooklyn. There were the Jews who lived downstairs, the "Guineas" across the street and the Polskis who lived in the basement. These were the names Mama and others used in referring to these families. These terms weren't used to offend these families; it was just how they were identified. I would guess they all referred to our family as the Irish or Micks or the Spanish or Spics? The main thing was that we all liked each other, and we got along mostly well. Except for the crazy bastard, as Mama called him, who lived on the corner over the tavern. He was suspected of being a kid hater. Today hed be considered a child molester.
Mama often helped each of these families in some way or another. If Pop came home with a giant bag of potatoes, Mama would send me downstairs to "the Jews to give them a bunch. She said they would make Potato Knish out of them and maybe wed get a taste. In my reflecting I think that perhaps we were all too poor to get uppity on each other in those days. Our only choice that made sense was for us all to get along. So, we were good to each other.
Growing up Brooklyn came with me to school, too. I remember when the teacher said it was cookies and milk time at school, I ran to be first. I remembered what mom said about only saps waiting in line. This also may have had something to do with the fact that I was a fat boy who just loved to eat sweets!
Mom said people should be happy. She never liked a waiter in a deli who had what she called his mug on. So when she ordered her eggs sunny side up and he brought them with the yokes broken, Mom told him to take them back. Once a waiter refused to take them back, so she flung the eggs at him and he was wearing them as Mom and I made our escape. I laughed until my face hurt seeing those eggs on the waiter's mug.
I wanted to be just like my Mom. And I was for most of my childhood anyway. Of course, when I became an adult I had to tone down Moms way of doing things for fear of going to jail. But I still have a lot of that good feeling element about myself that Mom gave us all growing up Brooklyn.
As I got to be a teenager and became interested in girls, I found that my growing up Brooklyn attitude or courage served me well. Here I was--this short, chubby, pimple-faced boy, asking the best-looking girls out on a date. Sure, I got turned down 99 per cent of the time, but I thought they must be nuts to pass up a chance to go out with me! I mean I knew I could dance and make fun for them with my keen sense of humor, so it was their loss.
As I got much older I learned that "best looking" only mattered if the girl was beautiful inside, otherwise Id forego exterior looks any day for interior quality of brain and heart. Eventually I found both when I married Ann Jillian. She is beautiful inside and out.
But as I look back on my Brooklyn years through my adult eyes now I realize how poor we were in terms of dollars but how wealthy we were in terms of family fun, surrounded by all that love. Why my Mama, Pop, sisters, and brother would have killed anyone who harmed a hair on my head.
You see there was way more than a tree growing in my Brooklyn, there was a family of seven who made fun for each other just because we were all growing up Brooklyn in Brooklyn, and we were all together and in love.
©2009 by Andy Murcia. The Murcia caricature is ©2003 by Jim Hummel. The photo is the property of the author. All rights reserved. This column first posted Nov. 30, 2009.
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