Short Stories 





City Steps by Joan Heron

There were 21 steps between each floor of the building where I lived with my family in the 1940's. Our five room apartment was on the sixth floor, just under the roof.  Unlike most of the other families in the building, we had a bathroom.  Before moving here, we lived  in a place where the bathtub was in the kitchen.  Most of the time a large enameled metal cover allowed it to be used as a counter.  But on Saturday or Sunday nights, my brother Fritzie and I had our weekly baths. My mother washed my long blonde hair with a bar of Ivory Soap.  In the winter, she turned on the gas oven and left the door open to help dry my hair before bedtime.

The time between bath and bed was our most fun time.  Fritzie and i sat next to each other in front of the big wooden radio in the kitchen and listened to Jack Benny, Fred Allen, Fibber McGee and The Lone Ranger.  Hi-Ho Silver was the exciting cry that kept us leaning forward in our seats. We weren't allowed to listen to scary stories like The Shadow  but when my parents were out, we did just that.  Fritzie always got frightened and wanted to climb into bed with me after The Shadow was off the air.

Going up and down all those stairs was a job in itself. After school each day I was sent down to get the mail from the boxes on the ground floor. Sometimes the letters I brought back had important news. My father was considered an alien during the war since he came from Germany.  He had to report to an office downtown. So sometimes there was a scolding letter about failure to report. My mother was afraid he would be deported.

Sometimes there was a check for my father about an article he had written for the  German newspaper in New York City or a translation he had done for a German author. He told me about the difficulty of translating poetry and retaining the rhythm and music of the words.

Mail for my mother was usually about her job with the IRS.  Or a letter from one of her thirteen brothers and sisters, most of whom still lived in South Carolina.  My brother and I traveled alone on a Greyhound bus to visit an aunt and uncle for the summer.  I was six and he was four so I had to make sure he didn't do anything silly like wet his pants or run away when we got out at a rest stop.

I went shopping after school most days.  I had to be very careful with food stamps and get the best price for the apples and potatoes at the market.  The shopping bags got real heavy after walking a few blocks.  Coming up the stairs, I put the bags down at each flight and rubbed my hands where the string handles cut into my palms.

After my chores, I went out to play.  The edges of the black slate stairs were so rounded and smooth, I could slide down most of the way without stopping.  Outside we jumped rope or skated on our steel roller skates.  I wore the skate key on a string around my neck.  I needed it to shorten or lengthen the skate parts and to tighten the clamps that held my shoes in place. We also played hopscotch or potsie as we called the game. A good potsie was made from the top of a medium sized can which was folded into quarters and used to throw at your next place to move.  Sometimes my Italian friends brought  yummy snacks out to the game. I remember my first bite of a stick of spicy pepperoni.

Sometimes Fritzie and I went down those stairs to go to a movie or a concert in the park.  My mother took us to the Museum of Narural History.  We liked the exhibits of giant roaches, spiders and beetles the best.  My mother took us to the pool or the beach and taught us how to swim.  She was a physical education teacher but couldn't find a teaching job in New York during the depression. My father was writing a book about the history of New York City and took me to places like the house where George Washington slept.  I thought it was boring but we had lunch in a restaurant afterwards and I liked that.

On Sundays, Fritzie and I were given two nickels each. We took the subway to the end of the line at the Bronx Zoo. There we could get out and see the animals but then we had to use our second nickel to go home.  Or we could just stay on the train when it turned around and went to the tip of Manhattan.  If we didn't get out there, we could go back home and with the saved nickels,have an ice cream on the way.

That building, with all its stairs and memories, is long gone, replaced by housing projects.  The friends I played with are scattered.  Reminders of the spicy Italian meals I enjoyed in their homes return each time I make a pot of sauce. The adventures I had on those city streets will remain with me always


Joan Heron, a regular contributor to Lost Coast Review is the author of Chai Budesh? Anyone for Tea? A Peace Corps Memoir of Turkmenistan (2008) and A Girl Grows Up in New York City (2011), both published by Publish America and available on Amazon

Reader Comments (2)

Great visuals. Very enjoyable. It is interesting to read the perspectives of the older generation. Write more please!

May 21, 2011 | Unregistered CommenterLinda Saslow

I enjoyed reading this story; I know so little about my father. Who knew he was called Fritzie?

May 22, 2011 | Unregistered CommenterDelia Seligo Boehle

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