A boomer comes full circle. He’s moving

Just last month, New York City essayist and public relations consultant Bob Brody wrote a letter (which we published on BoomerCafé) to his 2-½-year-old granddaughter Lucia Antonia, who lives in Italy. He told her, “I’m coming over there. I just need to tie up some loose ends.” He’s done that now, and he’s on his way. To stay.

Within the next few weeks, I’ll be moving from New York City to Italy. There, I’ll reunite with my wife, son, daughter, son-in-law, and toddler granddaughter. But before I leave, I did something important to me: I visited my hometown.

Bob as a youngster growing up in Fair Lawn, NJ.

My mother and father migrated in 1954 from the New York City’s Bronx to Fair Lawn, New Jersey, my baby sister and me in tow. In joining that vast post-World War II exodus from city to suburb, we graduated from a one-bedroom apartment near Yankee Stadium to a red brick split-level colonial three bedroom on a quarter acre near a former World War II Army base.

We lived catty-corner from the local firehouse. Any time the siren blared its alarm, volunteers rushed by car and foot from all over. They leaped over the surrounding wooden fence and scrambled to don uniforms and helmets to save the day.

I scheduled a visit with our home’s current occupants. I toured the kitchen where I once ate Twinkies, the bedroom where I first smoked pot while listening to Jimi Hendrix on my stereo, the den where I watched the “Superman” TV show, and the basement where I played my Ludwig drum set in a futile stab at being cool.

Bob Brody.
(photo by Aaron Showalter, New York Daily News)

I strolled around my elementary school, where in spring and summer we played stickball against a strike zone painted white against a brick wall. Belting a shot over the shrubs straightaway bought you a home run. Nearby, I touched the trunk of the tree I once climbed, the branches thinning ominously the higher I rose. I stopped to pay my respects at the sacred spot where I first dared to kiss a girl. She had freckles, and to this day I have no idea if I kissed her right.

A mile away, I checked out Memorial Pool, the municipal facility where our family went all summer and every Fourth of July for the fireworks. With every boom from the pyrotechnics, I, ever the class clown– and inspired by movies I’d seen about war, crime, or cowboys– would keel over, hand clutching my heart, head flung back in agony, swooning as if gravely wounded. It always cracked everyone up.

The Brody living room is starting to empty out.

I drove by the Fair Lawn Jewish Center, where I once played hooky, smacking a handball against a wall directly outside, only for the principal to come catch me in the act. In class, I stole coins from the tzedakah box, designated for charity. The teacher asked if I had taken the money and I lied. Here, against all odds– most notably my hardships learning Hebrew– I had my bar mitzvah.

Last, I ambled along Alden Terrace, around the corner from our house, where my friends and I played all day and into the dusk. Every Sunday afternoon in winter, with clockwork regularity, we gathered to play touch football out in the street. We were 12, maybe 13 years old. We came together magnetically, without even a phone call first.

Goodbye, Forest Hills Gardens.

Our playing field stretched from telephone pole to telephone pole, about 50 yards, with curbs as sidelines. As if inheriting a habit from our streetwise, city-bred parents, we competed between parked cars, even though a landscaped park up the block offered spacious open fields. We huddled and called our plays as if nothing else going on in the solar system mattered or ever would. We remained oblivious of everything else, our minds intent only on the next pass, the next catch, the next touchdown. No wonder. We had all the time in the world.

Granddaughter Lucia Antonia in Italy.

We boys all lived on the same block or two, attended the same school, took the same classes, had the same teachers. We went inside each other’s houses. We knew each other’s mothers, fathers, brothers, and sisters. We kidded around and left pennies on the railroad tracks to be crushed by oncoming trains and held contests to see who could burp the longest.

So, back I came via the George Washington Bridge from this valedictory pilgrimage to my hometown. All through the 1950s and 1960s, my father drove our family of four over that bridge to visit our maternal grandparents in Manhattan. The bridge loomed tall and long, its steel and cable framework skeletal yet all muscle.

Bob’s home desk overlooks a section of Forest Hills, Queens, New York.

As we crossed, I always looked to the right, toward the south, because there, spread out along the horizon, lay the heroic skyline of Manhattan. I felt a gravitational pull as the city beckoned. It was Oz-like, promising everything I had seen in movies and read about in books. There, in those offices and apartment buildings, my career and life would bloom, bringing me to the present day.

As it happens, our house in southern Italy will give me a second chance at small-town life. It will feel safe. People will treat each other with trust and respect. Playing soccer with my granddaughter will restore my sense of boyhood play. Before long, it should all feel exactly like home.

——————————————————

Bob’s memoir is, “Playing Catch with Strangers: A Family Guy (Reluctantly) Comes of Age.”

16 Comments

  1. Having left Fair Lawn myself, and now that my parents have passed away, I have no physical ties to my childhood home. Reading this account by Bob Brody, took me back to a time and a place I loved. Thank you, Mr. Brody! I wish you all success and happiness as you recreate your life on a far away shore.

    1. Bob so happy that you have moved on to a new chapter of your life. FairLawn meant so much to me. My childhood growing up with my parents friends a Fair Lawn schools including Radburn school Thomas Jefferson junior High school and of course Fair Lawn High school class of 71. Went on to enjoy next episode of my life. Enjoy
      .

    2. Bob so happy that you have moved on to a new chapter of your life. FairLawn meant so much to me. My childhood growing up with my parents friends a Fair Lawn schools including Radburn school Thomas Jefferson junior High school and of course Fair Lawn High school class of 71. Went on to enjoy next episode of my life. Enjoy
      .

  2. Best wishes as you head into a new chapter of your life. I live 5 minutes from Fair Lawn, so if you are ever homesick, I can send loads of photos!😊

  3. Bob: very nice familar story. We moved from Brooklyn to that part of Jersey when I was young. In fact, I worked summers at the Nabisco factory in Fair Lawn. Wish you the best in Italy.

  4. Have a wonderful life in Italy! Living in Fair Lawn as a youth was the best of memories! Enjoy your granddaughter! Hope to see you whenever we have a 50th reunion!

  5. Fair Lawn is an amazing place to grow up. So many great memories. I moved to Centeal Jersey in 1981 and drove up so very often to the Swiss Pork Store…cooler in tow. My parents have both passed away but I took a special trip before moving out of the state.
    Enjoy being with your family and pass on your memories of one of the best places ever.

  6. Reading your prose about our hometown is a wonderful thing. I lived exactly 3 houses from yours… right on rhe corner of that fabled Alden Terrace, and played stick ball with many of the same boys. The big difference is I’m still here… in my 48th year volunteering at that firehouse, responding to over 900 calls annually. It”s still a wonderful place to live. To raise a family. To make memories.

    All the best to you, Bob. Godspeed on your travels.

    1. Hey Jack. My late husband Larry Katz lived next to you. He loved Rex so much we had a Great Dane

  7. Thank you for the great memories, and happy sails to you! Growing up in Fair Lawn was a privilege… We grew up during times when we could play in the streets with friends or ride our bikes until dark and be safe. We had fabulous schools that prepared us for college, and town-sponsored recreation at schools during the summer months. I also have fond memories of the pool at Memorial and fireworks. Hope you enjoy every moment of your next adventure in life!

  8. I too have fond memories of growing up in Fair Lawn. Wonderful small town life. Enjoy your new journey to Italy to begin making new memories with your family😄

  9. I am so lucky that we got the chance to meet. My students at The Academy for New Americans will never forget you and your wonderful stories. I wish you nothing but the best. I see a new book in your future , “Playing Catch with My Granddaughter”.
    Best of luck. Evelyn Gomez

  10. Bob…Such a wonderful piece that brought back wonderful memories of my childhood in Fair Lawn. Best Wishes for your next chapter in Italy. Hope to hear more of your passe’ compose’. 🙂

Post a Comment

Your email address will not be published. Required fields are marked *