About a month ago Grace Camblos, a biographer, photographer, and author, invited me to participate in a four week memoir writing class. One of the “prompts” she gave to us was to write about, “The house I grew up in.”
I remember it well. The address was 144-15 33rd Ave., Flushing, Long Island, NY. We moved there in about 1938. It was a two-story house with a finished attic and basement and was the third of three houses on the block. They were the first of many, built by Abraham Levitt, who went on to develop Levittown on Long Island and in Pennsylvania.
I was 14 in September of 1942 and I just got back from eight weeks at Camp Man, the Queens County summer Boy Scout camp, at Ten Mile River in upstate New York. It was a Monday morning and the High Holidays had just begun. My grandmother’s room was just next to mine at the head of the stairs. I got dressed and was heading off to school — to Fieldston. As I passed my Mema’s room, her full-time nurse came out and said, “I can’t revive her.” We went into her room and turned her over so she was face down with her head to the side. I climbed on top of her and rhythmically pressed down on her rib cage administering artificial respiration 1940’s style, that I learned how to do as a Boy Scout.There was no resistance, no push back. Her body did not respond to the pressure. I could not revive her. Reality struck. I felt the difference between life and death. I felt it in my hands.