Tuesday, July 04, 2017

Fireworks, Springhill Avenue, Baltimore, Md. circa 1953

I was twelve and, with the other neighborhood kids, I sat on top of the hill across from “T.A.,” the Talmudical Academy, where the religious boys went to school. I was with the seculars, the public school kids: Alan, Beverly, Carl, my best friend  Marlyn, and I don’t remember who else. Maybe my little sister. My brother was uptown. Or maybe he was at Towanda, the playground with the cigarettes and baseball field, where the 7th grader, Malcolm, set himself on fire because he was afraid to show his “Papa’s All” father his poor grades. 

My father, from Belarus, called us his American children and though watching fireworks was an American activity, I think I felt more immigrant than American-born. We didn’t know about indigenous peoples, didn’t know to speak a tribal name. This was a Jewish neighborhood, and in Baltimore every sect had its own alcove. Nancy Pelosi - her father was Mayor Thomas D’Alessandro -  lived downtown in Little Italy. She was just a year and a half older than me, but we wouldn’t have known each other anyway. I being Jewish and she being Italian.

The only time I went to Little Italy was a few years later, when on a date, we all went out for Italian food. I don’t know if Nancy D’Alessandro Pelosi ever came to my neighborhood. Maybe if she wanted to try Jewish food and sought out a delicatessen. I know I’m stereotyping, but that’s the way it was then; at least, that’s the way I remember it. Poles here, Irish Catholics there. The only time I had contact with Blacks, before the schools were integrated, was when I took the #5 bus downtown through Pennsylvania Avenue. White Christians lived in Roland Park, where Jews and Blacks were not allowed. Adrienne Rich's family lived there. They passed, and she was in her twenties before she found out she was Jewish. (Read her Split at the Root).  

Anyway, watching fireworks in Northwest Baltimore was a strange kind of fun then. The flourishes and colors weren’t particularly exciting, but sitting on a hill (and not in a synagogue) with members of my tribe was. Watching those fireworks on that hill gave me a sense of belonging. They don’t do that for me now. My mother didn’t get excited about them either. While I was outside with the neighborhood kids, she was home sewing. My father? He was out somewhere, probably playing pinochle.

I’ve lived in Seattle since 1976; the Pacific Northwest since 1970. When the fireworks start my dog sits in a corner shaking. I sit with her. Neither one of us appreciates what some call a celebration. Especially in this age of Trump, I see nothing to celebrate.


Bethany Reid said...

Our dog suffers too. I'm glad to see you blogging-- your voice is needed!

Esther Altshul Helfgott said...

Hi Bethany. Thanks. Good to see you here!