Tuesday, December 23, 2014



You can take Salem out of the country, but
you can't take the country out of Salem

If you are around my age and can remember a time before cigarette ads were banned on television, you now have an annoying ear worm.  You're welcome.  Can you believe that all those physicians were feeling Lucky?  P.S., there's no Surgeon General's Warning on this ad.  It's old, like me.

Today is a Sea Day.  No stops at any ports of call, just rest and relaxation aboard this floating hotel.  Times like this, my mind starts to wander off into strange territory.  Today I wandered into Brooklyn, city of my birth.

751 Daniel Street, North Woodmere

I have been a true-blue suburbanite most of my life.  Besides the eleven years I lived with my grandparents and brother in our high ranch in the Five Towns, I have spent all the years of my married life but one in the 'burbs.  I like the 'burbs.  I like having a backyard with a kumquat tree and splashy hibiscus.  I like having property and a patio and a pool.  I love expansive lawns and green green St. Augustine grass and a peaceful view of water and trees.  I like suburban schools and Boy Scout troops and martial arts schools and synagogues. The 'burbs are the best place to raise a child.

Central Florida has towns and cities and suburbs and country.  Real country, with no visible neighbors and very few paved roads.  Working farms with citrus trees, cattle, or corn as far as the eye can see.  Neat brick ranch homes, large airy barns, and a mailbox barely within driving distance.  Or no farm, but a family who prizes peace and privacy above all else, doesn't mind driving an hour each way to do their food shopping, and are okay with the kids being driven two hours each way to attend their district public schools.  Huge pieces of property peppered with mobile homes in a questionable state of repair.  What they all have in common is a complete absence of a town center, or even a neighborhood.  There are a lot of people who love that isolation, prefer raising their kids away from the bad influences of overcrowding and negative opportunities and are up to the task of quality homeschooling.

915 East 7th Street, Brooklyn (Midwood)

When I was a very young child, living in Brooklyn, "country" had a whole different meaning.  My grandparents had a summer house in the country, and that was probably pretty accurate, as it was located upstate (defined as anything north of the Bronx) in Monroe.  Each home had quite a lot of property around it, and I used to help my Pop mow the lawn.  Never mind my lawn mower was constructed of plastic, I was helping.  We had a patio and a pear tree that we could see from the kitchen window over the sink.  That was before the Dark Times - Joyce and Mike were still together and home in Brooklyn taking care of my little brother - and my relationship with my grandmother was special and precious.  Once I got a little older, all hell broke loose and my brother and I went to live with my grandparents, and the definition of "country" was extended to include anywhere on Long Island, as long as you pretended not to know that Brooklyn and Queens were on Long Island.  "The Island" was just that part of Long Island covered by Nassau and Suffolk Counties.

3521 Kings Highway, Brooklyn (Flatlands)

Okay, I could possibly see Suffolk County being called "the country" - the Long Island Expressway barely crossed the county line back then (although Vanderbilt Motor Parkway had once stretched from Queens to the western shore of Lake Ronkonkoma), and there were a hell of a lot of potato farms all the way out to Riverhead and the Forks - but by the late fifties my Aunt Ceil, Uncle Louie, and cousin Cary had only moved as far as Bellmore, on the south shore of Nassau County, and my grandmother insisted that was country.  Never mind that it was a normal suburban street with sidewalks and neat front lawns and a school bus stop on the corner.  My grandmother often said that Aunt Ceil lived in the country, but it was still better than the house she had wanted to buy out in the anarchist wilds of Islip.  The family was uniformly scandalized by that flight of fancy, and someone managed to talk her out of it.  Probably her bossy sister, my grandmother, who never lived any further out on the Island than the Five Towns, in the most southwestern corner of Nassau County, tucked tightly up against Far Rockaway and Rosedale in neighboring New York City.  Mom (my grandmother) was definitely a city girl, so when Rob and I were buying our first house, in Ronkonkoma, she asked if the garage was attached, and I replied, "of course it is, Mom ... and we even have indoor plumbing." She was not amused.

2177 Cedar Avenue, Ronkonkoma

I realized, at least within the last few years, that I am more like my grandmother than I usually like to admit.  I could never live in the country, or even in the more isolated sections of suburbia.  Of course, there is absolutely no part of Long Island that could be considered country anymore, but I'm not really talking about Long Island.  The country in Florida is entirely real, and at least in my own head, I have given it some thought.  Idle thought - the Keys, the Panhandle, one of the habitable islands in the middle of Lake Toho.  I said the 'burbs are the best place to raise a child, and they are, but I am way past that point in my orbit.  But if I allow myself to go beyond idle thought, what I feel is a frisson of fear.  I need to be able to see my neighbors, even if I don't know their names.

Sadly, no relation.  Nathan was actually the first name of the founder.

I really think it is the Brooklyn in my blood.  I was born in Brooklyn Jewish Hospital, and that pretty much tells you everything you need to know about the essential me (if you really care about that, which you certainly may not.)

Although we moved out of Brooklyn when I was nine years old, I never really left.  For one thing, my Pop owned businesses in Brooklyn; first, Vijax Coal and Oil up in Greenpoint, and then as a partner in Plaza Home Improvement.  As a very young man, he started out driving Mac trucks for Vijax, his father's business, and as he used to tell me, he "knew Brooklyn like the back of his hand."  I loved when he would pass on his knowledge and all his backroad travels. Yes, even Brooklyn has backroads.  While I was living in Howard Beach, in Queens, I was so close to the county line, I could spit into Brooklyn.  I attended Long Island University at their Brooklyn campus, right across from Junior's Restaurant, on two different occasions - graduate school and paralegal school.

The old Brooklyn Paramount is now part of the Long Island University - Brooklyn Campus

While I was working at Robert Hall Clothes on Metropolitan Avenue in the Maspeth/Middle Village area, I would go out of my way to find creative backroads home, which almost always landed me somewhere in Brooklyn.  (Fellow New York City peeps - ever take the Interboro (Jackie Robinson Parkway)?  On purpose? It was like driving through the City of the Dead, which made it so interesting.)  When I was dependent on mass transit, and especially while I was attending LIU, I would purposely take convoluted routes so I could experience new lines and stations in Brooklyn.  I loved that borough like nobody's business.

Where I fell in love ... with lobster.  I was five years old.

So, over 15 years ago, when I first needed to pick an online handle for the old Orlando Sentinel message board, the name that immediately popped up in my mind was "brkexpat" - Brooklyn Ex-Patriate.  Never mind that I had been living in various Long Island communities since 1962, my connection to Brooklyn is that powerful, as well as eternal, because just last year I found  a bunch of my father's family, my Osher relatives, and a number of them still live in Brooklyn. 

I'm essentially a city girl, and it's best that I realized it and accepted it before I bought a home out in the boonies.  Because ...

You can take the girl out of Brooklyn, but ...

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