After the parade and before making our way home, I decided to scope out a couple of the surrounding neighborhoods in Brooklyn for potential places to live. For weeks now I have wanted to pass by my grandparent’s former brownstone, the one I spent so much of my childhood in, and the one I hadn’t even passed by since I was 15 years old, on 44th St. across from Sunset Park.
Though both of my grandparents have been gone for quite some time now, I had been feeling a bit nostalgic about my time there. So we drove by, unsure if I would remember the building number. However, the minute we drove up, I knew exactly which one it was.
I ran the bell, not sure what I would say to whomever answered.
When I was a child, there was a cherry tree in the backyard where my cousin and I spent endless summer hours sitting on a baseboard made by our grandfather. He had placed this baseboard on one of the tallest, strongest branches, where by climbing a ladder he had attached, we could reach all the cherries and sit up there eating till our bellies almost hurt.
I remember the tree very well, and all the beautiful cherries that grew from it. I wanted to see it one more time. I rang and rang, waiting for an answer.
I almost left, when a young, American woman answered. “Yes?” she asked looking at me skeptically.
“Hi. I wonder if the owner is here, or landlord. I grew up here. My grandparents, who are no longer alive, used to own this place and I wanted to maybe take a closer look at the cherry tree in the yard?” I blurted out, knowing the request was strange.
“Um, well…he’s not here. Leave a note on the door, he’s hard to reach,” replied the woman.
“Ok, well, can I just peek at the hallway, I don’t want to come in I just need to see it…for me,” I insisted.
“Ok, well…” the woman hesitated, “but I’m not letting you in because I don’t know if you are crazy.” Back when I lived here, my neighbors not only knew each other, but where also more trusting, more open, and far less judgmental and critical of others. There was none of that in this woman. I inspired nothing but fear in her.
I almost laughed at sounding crazy to a city newbie, but I peeked in and saw the stairs where me and my cousin played hide and seek, and the hall where we often walked through.
“Thank you,” I said before I walked away.
I still had an urge to see the tree. So, I went to the building next door and an elderly lady, who must’ve been 80 or so, opened. I greeted her in English, the woman responded in Spanish. I told her how I had spent my childhood next door, and how it was more than 25 years ago, and could she please let me take a peek at the tree from her window.
Gently the woman held my hand and let me in. She talked to me about the area, and how long she had lived there (during my time there and long after my grandparents have been dead), and how she spent endless hours alone. She opened her kitchen window and showed me the yard, my yard, next door.
There, in a garbage ridden backyard, I saw my beloved tree. Its branches broken, its trunk weak. The strong, tall, proud branch that once helped me reach the sky had broken off, with only a rotted stump left behind. Next to it, leaning on a fence, was the baseboard my grandfather had built, abandoned, unused. It brought tears to my eyes, all the memories of my childhood mourning the sight.
As I wiped the tears from my eyes, I hugged the woman and thanked her for her kindness. She welcomed me back anytime.
I don’t plan on returning. Those things that made this my home, my neighborhood, my community are no longer there. I will hold on to the memories in my heart. Cherries, tree, and all.