James and I had to head to New York City for a few meetings so we decided to seize the moment and make a weekend of it.
After five decades, I returned to my roots to visit the neighborhood I came from, Williamsburg, Brooklyn. We had been hearing a lot about it on television lately; as crazy as it seems, the old area of run down walk-up’s and tenements had made a 360 degree turn to become one of New York City’s most sought after communities! When you think about it, it actually makes perfect sense, as it’s literally 10-minutes (2 subway stops) from Manhattan with majestic views of the famous NY skyline. I guess the bigger surprise should be; why didn’t someone think of it sooner?
The ability to not only go back to Williamsburg, but to be able to take the time to visit some of the very places so significant to my childhood, was both exciting, and at times, quite emotional. I plan to Blog about the various experiences separately (in about three different Blogs) to give each of them the attention and the respect that they deserve.
At 14th Street in Manhattan, James and I boarded the “L” train for Brooklyn and four stops later we emerged out of the subway on the very block of my young childhood. Of course there were a few changes but for the most part, things had stayed so eerily the same, I almost felt a bit like Ebenezer Scrooge from Charles Dickens’ “A Christmas Carol,” half hearing the “ghosts of my childhood past,” laughing and playing on the sidewalks along with the Muldoon kids.
The biggest change noticed was to my old building, which was now sans its beautiful slate steps, and cast iron, cannonball banister. The antique, glass paneled, wood framed double doors had been removed in lieu of a very 1970’s government office building style aluminum framed door. Yuck! What were they thinking?
I learned before our trip that Our Lady of Mount Carmel Church, one of the many neighborhood parishes, was in full “feast” mode, celebrating the annual Festival of Saint Paulino, a local patron saint to the Italian immigrants who had settled there from the town of Nola. It is a tradition that is over fourteen hundred years old and culminates with the carrying of the Giglio throughout the streets of the area. One hundred men haul the seven story structure (that holds an entire twelve piece musical band) on their shoulders to the delight of the cheering crowd.
Back when my family lived in Williamsburg, the Giglio was carried down our block (Metropolitan Avenue) and actually dropped in front of our very building! These days it seems the Giglio takes a different (and smaller) route down the street in front of Our Lady of Mount Carmel Church but is just as exciting as ever.
The book I am writing about my mother, “Unforgettable (Trudy’s Story)” has a small story in it that covers the feast and the Giglio and I was excited to see how well my memory fared after a half century. I had given James the pages from the chapter which covered the feast to get his take on it. Turns out; he was astonished to see how accurately I remembered the details, noting that by visiting the scene, he could almost picture our family (along with the neighborhood locals) filling the streets in celebration.
As poor kids from a Brooklyn tenement, this annual feast was a highlight to our summers and to have the opportunity to go back after fifty years to the sights, sounds and the smells of a bygone era, was a remarkable experience that reignited cherrished memories that I will forever be grateful to hold in my mind and in my heart.
Until next time,