The Garden Plot

In the spring of 1957 we were scheduled to move from out apartment on Bank Street in Greenwich Village with our three-year-old son and one year old daughter and move to a garden apartment in Eastchester, New York.

Why? Why would we ever leave the Village? Well, we were crowded in our one bedroom apartment that shared with our children and multiple cockroaches. And since we were on the first floor, we were privy to numerous fights, romantic breakups, and drunken singing outside our window. How would we manage when the children were older? Suddenly the day before the big move to the country, I felt inordinately fond of all of it, even the cockroaches that only surfaced at night.

The day before the move, I developed an excruciating pain in my right side. This can’t be, I thought. This must be psychosomatic. I pushed the double stroller to the park that held our two children who hadn’t a clue their life style was about to change. I sat in Abingdon Square Park with my friends Skippy and Gussie and Esther while our children ran around crazily in the fresh spring air.

I could hardly talk. The pain vacillated. One moment I was gasping for breath, the next I was reminiscing and swearing that we’d always be friends, Gussie, Skippy, Esther and myself.

The Village. I had lived in New York City all my life and frankly I loved every neighborhood. But my favorite neighborhood, hands down, was Greenwich Village. Stan and I lived there before we married and certainly we vowed we’d never leave. What did I love? I loved the winding streets, the immediate good mornings to friends and strangers on leaving our building. I always stopped to view the flowers at the green grocer around the corner. And the Launderette owner Arnie, I admired his big muscles and the way he called me “Honey.” I cherished the old lady across the street who owned forty cats. Oh the small restaurants. Before we had children we went to Beatrice’s quite often after coming home from work. And Seville, we went there weekends often with friends. They served incredible paella, the clams and mussels and chunks of lobster oozing out of the saffron rice. And then there was the White Horse where went for a beers and a hard-boiled egg. The White Horse is where Dylan Thomas hung out with other writers to talk, argue and often get intoxicated.

I loved the drugstore near us with its striped awning and serene interior. Later, when we had children, I often chatted with the owner about baby medications. The A@P was on the corner of Sixth Avenue and we made our way through its crowded aisles on Saturday mornings. Oh and the Greenwich Movie House…how much better could it get on a rainy afternoon than to go to a first rate movie plus a newsreel, and coming attractions and then find our way to John’s Pizzeria where if we were lucky, we didn’t have to stand in line. Certainly, I could never ignore Abingdon Square, the small playground right across the street from our Bank Street apartment. We mothers took turns throwing out the broken beer bottles in the sandbox before taking our children there in the afternoons. And we babysat for each other so we could run over and buy a grocery item or two at Gristedes or take a child for a haircut.

On weekends Stan and I usually took the children to Washington Square that was more attractive than Abingdon and not as close to home. On the way, we passed Balducci’s where we bought fresh orange juice and pastries for all. Once settled in the Square, Robbie ran to the swings. Judy cooed and napped. The same old men played chess and we nodded at them from benches we found under the trees.

However, the afternoon before the move to Eastchester, I sat with my friends on a bench in our usual neighborhood playground. Suddenly I was enveloped in pain. I wrapped my arms around my waist and tried to push the spasms away.

“This is crazy,” my friend Gussie said. “We’ll watch the kids. You have to go to the doctor. Maybe it’s appendicitis.”

“Why would I get appendicitis the day before I move,” I said.

“You have to go. The kids will be fine with us.” Skippy added.

“I don’t want to move,” I said. “I changed my mind. I will not sew curtains and bake apple pies. I just won’t. I’m sorry I ever thought of it. Now Stan will hold me to it.”

“No he won’t,” Gussie said.

“Yes, he will.” I thought of those lovely winter strolls around Christmas when Stan and I popped into craft stores. As we inhaled the scent of lavender and spices, we sipped mulled wine and deliberated about gifts we might buy.

“I’m calling a cab but first you must explain to Robbie you’re going to the doctor and will be home later. And he and Judy will stay with us. I’ll go to the drugstore and call your doctor and tell him you’re coming.”

She hailed a cab and I went over to our doctor whose office was a few blocks away. Dr. H was bespectacled and serious. ” Your white blood count is up…. I think you have a kidney stone and I’m going to drive you to Mt. Sinai Hospital. It’s on my way home. Why don’t you call your husband?”

“That’s impossible, ” I cried. We’re moving tomorrow.”

The whole family took it as some kind of bizarre joke. My mother took over with the children and Stan drove them up to our new garden apartment. I spent one night in Mt. Sinai hospital waiting for the kidney stone and nothing happened. Nurses kept tip toeing in to see if I’d produced.

When I complained, the resident suggested I be patient. The following day after my mother made a particularly biting remark about the inventive ways I got out of hard work. I got out of bed, changed into my clothes and took a taxi up to Eastchester. I left the hospital without official permission and jumped into one of the cabs lined up at the curb. I gave him our new address, 5 Field End Lane, Eastchester

“It’ll cost you,” he said.

“I am waiting for a kidney stone to drop. I can’t take a train,” I explained.

“Jesus lady,” he stared and me and then pulled out into traffic.

I said a sad farewell to the young budding trees in Central Park, to Harlem, to the Bronx. I longed to jump out the door and race back to our apartment at 75 Bank Street, to greet Arthur, our doorman who was an ex con and enfold my children in my arms. At six Stan usually came home. I waited to hear his footsteps as he walked through our courtyard.

The driver finally pulled up to our unit, which was identical to all the others. All of them were two stories high. Was I crazy? What were we doing here? I stared at the fields of grass. Robbie came rushing toward me, his pacifier in his mouth. My mother carried Judy out in her arms.

“You have to take him off the pacifier. This isn’t the Village,” my mother said.

I entered a new life in this land where I had my own washing machine, white curtains, no living room set yet, a single parking space for a car and behind the kitchen a communal clothes lines.

“Here we are. Home,” Stan put his arms around me. “We even have a plot where we can plant our own garden.”

“How wonderful,” I said and began to weep uncontrollably.

Joan Halperin