My younger sister Janet is here in West Orange for a visit. She was, like many of us, born at the Beth, but she has, like many of us, wandered far and wide. For the past 54 years Israel has been her home. It’s safe to say that this is a permanent move! Her husband Zeev lies in the Herzliya Cemetery and her two adult sabra children, each with two kids of their own, live near her. For me, seeing her in Israel is a frequent event but seeing her in New Jersey is where memories reign. Shared memories of our adult lives don’t compare to the recollections from the formative years.
On and on we remember. Like today when I am decked out in a housedress! We recalled that our mother, a very smart and educated woman, wore housedresses. No, not all the time. Just most of the time. I am sometimes willing to wear my housedress out of the house to such places as the supermarket or butcher. I’ll even wear it to drive to my children’s homes. On the other hand I would not wear it to travel or to a restaurant. My mother would only go out in her housedresses to take out the garbage or walk the dog. A housedress is just that. You wear it in the house.
There was a huge uptake in the sale of such attire during the pandemic. At least for women! It seemed kind of silly to get all dressed up with no place to go. But wandering around in pajamas was somewhat slothful. So what did we need to wear to be comfortable and yet appropriate? We looked to the past and rediscovered housedresses.
When I think of my aunts and my mother, living on Aldine Street in the 1940’s and 50’s, they rarely wore pants and it would have been simply silly to put on a tailored suit or linen dress to cook dinner or scrub floors. My mother was the kind of housekeeper who always made sure the house was immaculate, especially on days when the cleaning woman (never girl by the way) was due to show up. So what to wear was a no-brainer. Housedresses were the thing.
And so, comfort wins and housedresses are in again. Viva la housedress. It will be interesting to observe what happens to the housedress as the pandemic disappears.
But, for our tour of Newark, I would not choose a housedress, a bit inappropriate for touring a major American city. Whenever Janet arrives on these shores we tour Newark. It’s not that we don’t know what we’ll find. It’s that we do know what we’ll find. Yet, time does have its ways of moderating memory.
Thus, the driveways seem so narrow compared to our day. The one on the left of the house bears special memories for the two of us. That was where I cured what her ophthalmologist on High Street, spending inexorable amounts of time, failed to do. Janet was born with a minor ailment, a blocked tear duct. For some unfathomable reason this upset our mother terribly. Hence I remember Janet’s infancy too well. It was mainly spent at Dr. Rosen’s High Street office and since there was no one at home to watch me I was shlepped along.
I didn’t invent the cure and I honestly think I was totally innocent of pushing her or taunting her, activities I had been known to enjoy. This time I didn’t do anything at all except run away when she, already about 3 and still with the dripping eye, was trying to play with me. I, three years older, ran faster. She fell on the driveway. Hard! Screamed and cried. And, voila, opened that cursed blocked tear duct. Call me an accidental heroine. To this day I take pride in my victory. Never again did I have to go to the big gray and white stucco home/office of the esteemed Dr. Rosen.
Today, serendipitously for sure, I received a periodic e-mail update from the third in our little gang at 83 Aldine Street. Our housemate Marty lived with his parents across the hall from us on the first floor. Marty is my age (which makes him ancient now) and much of our early playtime was spent together. We played the childhood games of the era, especially those that were suitable for boys and girls. Basketball in the backyard. Ping pong and hide-and-seek in the spooky cellar with its fierce monstrous oil burner, a green nightmare that we now know still exists. I don’t remember Marty playing hopscotch which must have been for girls only. Or Russia.
Marty got on the nostalgia wagon and wrote about something long forgotten by me. My Aunt Edna and her husband Uncle Abie owned the first television in our four family house. Every Tuesday night, promptly at 8, the entire household gathered in front of the new black and white TV to watch the Milton Berle Show, starring Uncle Miltie himself. I remember this show as if I had seen it earlier today! Milton with his slapstick sense of humor, How many pies in the face did he get? Marty remembers even more about those Tuesdays at 8. He wrote about the two dozen folks sitting in the darkened room, and the silent streets. The world we lived in stopped for a full hour when Uncle Miltie brought smiles and laughter to us. He was, to us, the real harbinger of the television era, a simpler time with no cable or Netflix, but which brought families together to share a good time.
Janet struck up a conversation with one of the present occupants of our house, the house that Zayda built nearly a century ago, a house that must have magnets to pull us back so often. It was this neighbor who told us that the furnace still belches away. He said it scares him too!
And so, we proved yet again, that you can go home again.