I still remember the last butt-whipping I got from my father. We were moving from 156th St. & St. Anne’s to the Bronx River Houses in The Bronx. Don’t know why we were moving, I was perfectly content living in a building where we had family looking out for us, but I was seven so what did I know. I was so excited about moving into a building that had an elevator. The move was complete and we were returning to our new apartment, after dinner at Mama’s house.
I skipped ahead of my family and jumped on the elevator. The door closed and all I saw was my father’s panicked face in the window. Naturally, I also panicked. The nice lady standing next to me told me to get off on my floor and wait by the door for my father. So I did. After what seemed like hours, but was really a matter of minutes, my father came flying off the staircase and whacked me down the hallway. Once we were inside the apartment, the belt came off and I really got it. Lesson learned although I still get twitchy on elevators occasionally.
But what lesson had I learned? I know I now hated our new home and neighborhood. I also hated elevators. As an adult the understanding that I was in potential danger finally registered. Back then, all I knew was that my life had changed drastically. I was trapped in my not-so-ivory tower. My sister and I would look out of our twelfth floor window and watch the traffic where the Cross Bronx Expressway and Bronx River Parkway met. We would entertain ourselves by throwing tissues out of the window and watch the tissues float up, down and sideways during their gentle descent to the ground. There was no playing outside with our cousins. Playground time was limited to when our mother could take time away from working, cleaning and cooking. Our father became a weekend father as he was working full-time and attending City College at night. What was a kid to do but yearn for Mama’s house! At least at Mama’s house we had our cousins and could play outside without waiting for an adult to accompany us. How did we know that we were safe by virtue of being Don Jose’s grandkids!
In the two short, yet endless years we lived there I heard words like Spic, Nigger and rape for the first time. Two of those words were yelled and received angry responses, so I was afraid to ask what they meant. The third was whispered and received whispered responses so I knew that one was the worst one and its meaning would remain a mystery for years to follow.
The year was 1965 and The Bronx was in decline. El Condado de La Salsa would survive the Lindsey years (just barely) but wouldn’t make a comeback for years. We all survived it and I never lived above the second floor again.
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