The streets have the same names and numbers as then but close to fifty years have passed since we moved out. I recognize Liberty Avenue and the deafening sound of the "A" train over our heads is, if anything, louder than I remember. That has not changed. I point out the kosher butcher store which now sells mobile phones. The Casino movie where we used to see double features plus a newsreel and cartoons is now a colorful fruit market stripped of its marquee. On the four blocks between the house where I was born and the one we moved to when I was 3 there are four or five stores selling Indian clothing and fancy wedding sarees and other objects of Indian art and culture. Bearded Siekh men in turbans are on the streets as well as their colorfully dressed wives and children. About the only shops that remain the same are the bank (which has a different name now and the laundromat.
We turn up our side street which used to be shaded by canopy of tall oak trees which in summer made our street feel appreciably cooler than the hot elevator covered main street. But today many if not most of those original trees are gone. There is much more cement than front gardens which once flourished. A few tall trees are left and a few more young trees are optimistically planted where the old ones used to be. They give hope, but for now, the street looks sad as if forcibly shorn of its locks.
Everything looks smaller too, as if some alien force shrunk the houses. What I remember as a big apartment house turns out to be just three stories high. And then we are standing in front of my house. The siding has been redone and the front porch taken down and new steps lead to the front door. At first I say to David 'that's not my house'. But that's the door that my father and grandfather installed when we bought the house and they 'fixed it up'. Then I look at the picutre window in the front bedroom where we used to put our Chanuka menoras and it looks more familiar. My mind is racing, flooding with memories and trying to reconcile the proportions. I am expecting to see my Italian and Irish neighbors, but like us, they have moved away making room for the newer immigrant communities.
I am reminded of the summer evening between the 7th and 8th grade. My best friend (from the neighborhood, not the Jewish day school I attended) had graduated Catholic elementary school and her parents made her a party in their backyard. They played records and we danced the Twist ('round and around and up and down we go again!). I didn't eat the hamburgers they served. A friend named Frankie walked next to me from Ginger's house to mine (all 4 houses down the block) and my mother saw us from the window. That was all it took, she told my father it was time to move on to a neighborhood with more Jewish kids. By January we were out of Richmond Hill.
We drive on the street where the shul used to be. I know it is not there. It was sold and then there was a fire. It was painful to see an apartment house standing where the double staircase had been. I couldn't even bring myself to photograph it and we didn't stop the car. I was afraid I would cry. I loved that synagogue with its stained glass windows and crystal chandeliers. My great-grandmother used to be there every week with her green covered t'chinos book. It was where I learned to daven and love Israel. If we had stopped, I might have cried.