A walk through my favourite parts of Brooklyn brought with it unexpected surprises and a small detour.
On an unseasonably warm March Sunday morning; Brooklyn beckoned for a long walk through its tree lined streets and quaint neighborhoods. I have been feeling the effects of a sedentary winter, the crazy health scares and the political scene, like many of us; so taking a long stroll was just the medicine needed to wake up my winter body. It seems my idea was not a novel one, as there were many fellow sun worshipers taking their long awaited dose, of freedom as if they had been let out of their winter prisons.
After a hearty breakfast with a friend at her neighborhood Greek diner, ( yup every neighborhood has one); I decided to start my walk admiring the incredible victorian inspired architecture of Ditmas Park, with the final destination aimed at the neighborhood of Bay Ridge, ( the other Greek enclave outside of Astoria, Queens.
I first walked though my old neighborhood, taking a fresh look at familiar streets, eyeing suspiciously at new stores opening up where neighborhood staples had been open for years. The obligatory stop to say hello to my favorite Yemeni neighborhood bodega near my old street lead to a quick conversation and a joyful reassurance that god will look over us all. I suppose as a spiritual atheist I’ll take all the blessings I can get. I kept my pace walking up the hill between Greenwood Cemetery and Prospect Park. There lies a little secret street not many people know about well protected from real estate sharks tucked in a triangle all on its own. The architecture is a mixture of old wooden houses and pre WW II two story single family homes. Thankfully most of them well preserved and owned by old timers who desperately hold on as best as they can. Primarily an Italian American neighborhood until the late 1970s.
I know now that making time for diversions on my walks is always rewarding, because as I stood at the top of a quiet crossroads between my old neighborhood and Greenwood cemetery, I caught the eye of an older gentleman sitting on his stoop taking in the sun while reading his newspaper. I didn’t have a deadline except for making sure I was back home by sunset, which left a good 3 hours for my stroll. I greeted the older man who introduced himself with a smile. “Hello!” I say “taking in this lovely sun I see.”
Jack, is a genuine Brooklyn local, born, raised, married, had a family and lived on this block his whole adult life. Italian- American ( as are most of the old timers of this neighborhood since the early 20s) from the island of Favignara just off the western coast of Sicily.
-You’re looking well! I said which was part encouragement part truth, and he quickly replied “it’s all the extra virgin olive oil from the mother land!” To which I replied “oh I could not agree with you more, I’m from Athens and I don’t buy anything other than olive oil from my country” What unfolded was one of the loveliest conversations I’ve had the privilege of having.
Jack introduces himself with a sweet smile on his face, probably quite glad someone from the neighborhood stopped by to say hello. He is a spry 91 years young, and despite his blood thinners and according to him horribly restrictive diet, has a youthful demeanor about him. He has lived in this very neighborhood since he married his lovely wife in the early 1920s. He quickly pulled out his wallet to show me his wedding day picture which showed a handsome dark haired man with his strong gaze, standing proudly next to his elegant Italian beauty of a bride of 61 years. They moved from their cold water flat to this gem of a neighborhood, had two children, 3 grandchildren and 2 great grand children. I asked if his wife was around and a slight sadness overtook him as he explained her passing 2 years prior.
– I’m lonely now, everyone I know has passed on, my kids live outside the city, yes they visit but not often enough. He said as his eyes grew darker. Things have changed here over the years. You know what did it? That damn highway, ripped through our quiet neighborhood and changed everything since the 60’s.
-You don’t like change, Jack?
– No! He responded quickly in a distinctive Brooklyn accent now rarely heard around these neighborhoods.
– These ugly apartment buildings going up all over the park, I hate them!
– I don’t like change either, but what can you do? I’ll visit you Jack! I said and I meant it. Having lived with my amazing land lady of 95 years, I know how older people crave company.
-If I’m alive! He quickly responded.
-I just found you Jack, don’t leave me just yet! I joked and he laughed a toothy smile.
-Ok let me ask ya a personal question. He goes.
-Ask me anything, I respond ( fully knowing what would come next)
-You have someone ? he asks with a concerned look.
-Ah Jack… Not really.
-What! A lovely woman such as yourself?
-You wanna be my beau, Jack? I smiled.
He smiled back, and at that moment another neighbor brought by some chrysanthemum bulbs that he couldn’t use, and I lingered a little longer before I said good bye.
– I’ll see you soon Jack! Take care of yourself. I’ll bring you some spinach pie next time I come around. I won’t put too much feta in it.
– May god keep you happy and healthy always. Take care of yourself, you’re a lovely young woman. He gave me a soft embrace and I reassured him I would keep my promise to come by again.
As I walked up the hill towards the cemetery it hit me, how many times I drove by Jack’s house in the four years that I lived down the street from him and never passed by. The time was right and I do hope I get to see him again. These precious moments for him are morsels of sweetness in a life that has long changed since he moved to this quiet hill in Windsor Terrace.
– Bless you Jack! I waved as I resumed my stroll, realizing I had spent a good 45 minutes talking to my new friend.
The sun hit my face once more and I took in a deep breath. Thanks Jack, you’re a gem.
Till tomorrow. Keep walking.