For displaced, misplaced, and nostalgic ex-Brooklynites
The Mayor of Pigtown
ones with answeringmachines. If you wanted to see your favorite television program, you had to be home when it aired. If someone called while you were out, you never knew. The world in 1965 was simpler, if not quite as user friendly. It was bigger too and Brooklyn, New York accounted for a microscopic spot on the globe.
Wingate Park was the greatest place to spend a spring evening. On the way up Hawthorne Street, Siobhán ran ahead of her father and brother to see if her best friend was out on her stoop. Before going to the playground, they stopped at Roma Ices on New York Avenue where she and Debbie Alonzo ordered large chocolate ices and tried not to laugh out loud when a black kid from down south stepped up to the window and asked for an "icee."
There was a playground just half a block from Siobhán's house, but the one on Winthrop Street wasn't nearly as nice or clean as Wingate Park. The best part about it was its location right next to Wingate High School or, as some of the Saint Francis kids called it, "Our Lady of Wingate."
The high school campus was much more fun than any playground. Teenage athletes looked on in amusement as the younger kids attempted to run a lap around their track. Siobhán and Debbie always ran out of steam before the halfway point, but the girls didn't care. They walked the rest of its length, engaging in fifth-grade gossip while staying out of the paths of the real runners.
In the shadow of Kings County Hospital's laundry smokestack, the girls rolled down the small grass covered hills that separated the track from the sidewalk. The smell of fresh green growth and the sound of crickets as it began to get dark made this place feel more like the country than a part of New York City. The pig farms that had once dominated the area when this part of Brooklyn was indeed country were long gone, but residents still referred to their neighborhood as Pigtown. It was a name spoken with pride.
When it was time to head home, her father gave the signal from the bleachers where he sat listening to his transistor radio. Jump rope rhymes were still in the air as they left the park. The girls walked ahead of Siobhán's father and talked, scratching heads and elbows itchy from rolling in the grass.
Siobhán admired her friend. Debra Alonzo wasn't afraid to speak up or ask for what she wanted. And she was better at Double Dutch than any other girl in their class. She could jump well past a hundred, while Siobhán could rarely make it to ten. The only reason Siobhán's classmates wanted her to join in when they jumped Double Dutch was because she agreed to turn the ropes for the entire lunch recess. She would have preferred to be popular for her ability to jump the longest, but at least a "steady ender" was always in demand in the girls' schoolyard.
At home though, Siobhán was the champ. Using the line that ran down the middle of the kitchen linoleum as a substitute for the two ropes, she jumped from side to side as she imagined her classmates counting along with her.
"2-4-6-8-10. 2-4-6-8-20. 2-4-6-8-30..." She continued jumping past one hundred, imagining the expressions of awe on the other girls' faces.
Debbie wasn't only blessed with superior jumping genes. She also had brothers old enough to be married and invite their little sister to stay at their houses overnight with sisters-in-law, nieces and nephews. Siobhán's brother was twelve. That made him just old enough not to want to be bothered with her anymore and still young enough to give into peer pressure when the seventh grade boys decided to tease her.
Back on Hawthorne Street, the girls wished each other goodnight. They'd meet again bright and early in the schoolyard the next morning.
"Siobhán Macalla Barry!" the nun yelled. "The four-hand reel is over! Stop dancing and sit down!"
The class laughed. The boys were louder, of course. Sister Mary Edith glared at Siobhán as she smoothed her uniform skirt and eased into her fifth-row seat. She was embarrassed, but just slightly. She looked back at the nun with pretended remorse. The stiff habit was so tight around her forehead and face that it made her cheeks bulge like a hamster's and kept her lips in a perpetual fish-faced frown.
Was it any wonder the kids called her "Sister Mary It-ith"? Who was she to make fun of anyone? How could such a young woman be so miserable? So what if Siobhán had done reel steps from the cloakroom to her seat? Was it such a terrible sin? And yes, she was well aware that the Saint Patrick's Day play ended two months ago. In one more month, the fifth grade and Sister It-ith would both be history too, thank God.
Now that the term was finally coming to an end, she could laugh when she remembered how the class had reacted on the first day of school the moment they saw who their new teacher was. Thomas Castagna took it the hardest, proving the boys weren't as tough as they'd have the girls believe. For the first few minutes after she walked into the room, he sat staring straight ahead, muttering, "It...It," under his breath.
Well, It would be somebody else's bad news in September. Siobhán's sentence was almost served and she wasn't about to let Sister ruin a perfectly good Friday. Let her ramble on about fractions, the one true church and predicate objects. No one's paying attention anyway. Why do schools insist on teaching kids things they have no use for?
The windows on the left side of the second-floor classroom provided an excellent view of the sky high above the row of two-story homes that lined Lincoln Road. To Siobhán, the sky was infinitely more interesting than anything going on inside the school building. Every so often, a jet plane came into view as it soared high above the clouds past the school. While she watched the tiny speck until it disappeared from sight, she wondered about its passengers and their destination.
Siobhán loved going for drives to the airport with her father. The high-pitched chant of jet engines made her heart beat faster. She planned to make flying a regular part of her adult life. The world was changing and Siobhán would gladly meet the future on its own terms.
"Why the desire to fly in a jet all of a sudden?" her father kept asking.
"I just want to," she'd announce with a grin.
Siobhán didn't mind answering her father's question. It was posed with genuine interest and not for the purpose of making fun of her the way some of the kids and teachers did. If he didn't understand her reply, that was alright. She knew it was too much for the adults to understand completely. On the other hand, she had no tolerance for the kids who didn't get it. For all she cared, they could stay at Saint Francis for the rest of their lives.
Siobhán was going to be a writer or a musician—maybe both. She already knew she would not be riding the subway to work five days a week or doing any job that required her to wear a uniform. Having a boss was out of the question too.
Siobhán's head turned in the direction of the noise. As her eyes met Debbie's, her friend pointed to the jump rope that sat neatly coiled on the floor beneath her desk. Siobhán gave a shallow nod and the two girls quickly faced the front of the room before Sister It-ith turned around.
At lunchtime, Siobhán left her sweater in the classroom. The noonday air smelled of sunlight and it was even warmer than it had been the day before. Her navy blue jumper, thick knee socks and black velveteen shoes were clingy and heavy. She longed for a sleeveless blouse, a pair of shorts and her Keds.
The girls decided on regular jump rope today and that meant Siobhán wouldn't be turning the rope for the whole hour. The brand new piece of clothesline gave a healthy snap each time it hit the ground. During the second round of "Two on Time," Margaret Sullivan missed her cue and had to take Siobhán's end.
Siobhán got in line behind Mary Dwyer just as Debbie called out, "Down the Mississippi!" She motioned for the girls to turn the rope and she jumped in.
"Down the Mississippi where the steamboats push...push...shove!" they sang.
On the word "shove," Theresa Costello jumped in and pretended to shove Debbie out. The game continued until pushing and shoving no longer held their interest.
"All In Together!"
One by one, the girls jumped in until they were practically knocking each other over.
"All...all...all in together girls! How d' ya like the weather girls? January...February...March...April...May...June...July..."
On "July", the rope caught Maureen Walsh's jumper and the game was over.
"July!" they cheered in unison.
For Siobhán, July couldn't come soon enough.