Before I begin, I want to make it very clear that the story I am about to tell is from the memory of a 5-year-old. Now, some may ask what I could possibly remember at such a young age? All I can respond is simple… enough. I may not remember everything, nor will I be able to tell you exact dates and times.
Hell, I won’t even remember most of the names, but I can tell you what I saw and experienced that stayed in my mind like it was yesterday. I can even describe what kind of day it was. It’s what I refer to as IMPACT Memories, moments in time that affected me one way or another, good and bad.
For starters, I remember living in the projects in Manhattan on 17th Street and 9th Avenue. We lived on the second floor with graffiti sprayed on the walls and in the hallways, and boy, did it smell of pee all the time. I remember the lobby with the metal mailboxes on the wall and the blue elevator that we used countless times.
I remember my brothers and I jumping up and down inside just to make it shake and scare our sisters as my mother, the female version of Ricky Ricardo, would yell at us in Spanish. Yes, we were an army of eight, six boys including myself, and two girls.
There would have been nine of us, but my sister, Mildred, at the age of three or four, died in my father’s arms before I was born. I remember my dad telling me the story when I was about 30. I’m not sure if I am ready to tell that one. To be honest, I don’t know if I ever will. I really have to put more thought into that before I make that final decision.
Anyway, when there are eight hungry kids ready to have breakfast in the mornings, it was survival of the fittest. Whoever got up first were the lucky ones because there were only a few cereal bowls, and if you weren’t fast enough to get a bowl, you had to use what was left… metal pots.
The same ones we used to boil water and heat soup with and also to go mouse hunting with. I’ll explain that one in the next story. We didn’t have much silverware either for a family of 10, so we had to wait until someone else finished eating before we started fighting for the spoons.
I remember eating my rice puffs with a fork once and just drank the milk from the pot… at the age of 5, I learned to improvise! Now, back to my real mother, Carmen. Lets see, she was Puerto Rican, short, heavy and only cursed at us in Spanish. My dad, Edward was an average-size Irish and English truck driver with a receding hair line.
He had deep roots in Ark-low Ireland, County of Wick-low and Liverpool, England. (I learned all that from Ancestry.com. It’s a pretty cool site and I highly recommend it for anyone who really wants to learn their family history.)I talk in past tense about my real parents because they are no longer alive.
My dad passed away on Oct. 3rd, 1993 at the age of 56 from a massive heart attack while driving his truck. My mother died just last year right before Christmas of 2012 at the age of 76 from all kinds of health issues. I wasn’t close to her at all, and to be honest, I didn’t even go to her wake or funeral.
I have my reasons and let’s leave it at that. The last time I saw her was at my niece’s sweet 16 birthday party in Yonkers about nine years ago. Before that, it was around 1996 on a New York City street for about 10 minutes. The only thing we had in common was that she gave birth to me.
I did get really close to my dad during the last few years of his life and I tried to make up for lost time, which you really can’t, but we managed to get to know each other again as father and son. Better late than never, right? My dad died alone, and that really bothers me even to this day.
No one should die alone… no one. Had he only taken his heart medications like he was prescribed, maybe he would be alive today to see and love his great grand children. OK, let’s get back to where I lived because I tend to drift from time to time. Oh, did I tell you that we had a family of future stars living right across from us in the next building on the sixth floor?
The Wayans Family from the 80’s hit show In Living Color!!! Keenan, Damon, Kim, Marlon and Shawn… I don’t remember the younger ones, but I think my oldest sister and brothers played with them in the courtyard that was between our two buildings. I might have also, but I don’t remember.
Now I do remember hearing the sound of my dad’s truck as he would pull up in front of our building. My brothers and I would run down the stairwell to be the first to see him so he could pick us up and put us behind the wheel and let us honk the horn… I remember that like it was yesterday.
I remember my mother having parties in the apartment with her friends, and she had lots of them… lots of male friends. I would sneak down the hallway and see them playing cards and dominoes in the smoke-filled kitchen with beer cans on the table.
I didn’t see my dad anywhere, but would watch my mother dance to Spanish music as she would move around shaking her wide hips with a cigarette in one hand and a drink in the other. When she would spot me, she’d yell at me in Spanish and I would run back laughing to my bedroom where my other brothers were watching TV.
I would tell them what had happened, and one by one they would sneak out themselves and would do the same thing. And yes, my mother yelled at them the same way she yelled at me… I’m actually smiling now just thinking about it. But soon, the smiles and laughter we shared with each other would fade from our faces… something was not right.