Growing Up Rich...in the Small Things
I grew up in a small apartment in a borough of New York City...the building had 6 floors which we called stories, each with 10 apartments. Real privacy was impossible...whatever we didn't hear with our own ears the gossipmongers spread. Yet I loved growing up this way...I loved hearing the sounds of other families...I loved always having friends nearby.
For years my Dad grew flowers and plants on our fire escape... until the Fire Department said it was a hazard. Most of our windows faced a large Victorian home with lots of trees and shrubery. It was in so many ways a rich childhood.
How many kids have a chance to see a real monkey? Our monkey's name was Ralph...he was our upstairs neighbor's pet and often escaped first to the neighboring tree and then into our apartment.
How many kids have the chance to run their own animal rescue group? My apartment's basement had empty storage rooms, no kid should have been exploring, but I'd like to believe it was all for a good cause. My best girlfriend Annie and I found our animals on the streets...malnourished...beaten...hungry. One at a time we rescued them...kept them in my basement room...I was especially zealous about taking the garbage down constantly and stopping by with food. Annie's family had relatives living in the country and she found the adoptive homes...I think we rescued 11 before my Mom caught me in the act...end of the road for the rescue org. Our last one was a beautiful Irish Setter, very skinny with cigarrette burns...so very scared but he/she let us pet him. And I'd like to think he lived a long and much happier life.
How many kids can learn about life just from the families they live with? Alcohlism, domestic violence, poverty, depression...we had it all, but it was tempered with kindness, laughter, and old-fashioned good neighborliness. My best friend Billy lived across the floor from me, one of the middle children in a family of nine. They lived in a 3 room apartment...his Dad in a wheelchair from a car accident...we knew money was especially tight for them. Billy used to watch TV with me every night...together we explored every nook and cranny for miles. He taught me water pistols, I showed him how to make bow and arrows from tree branches. He was the sweetest kid I ever knew. The last time I saw him he was sitting on the steps, head in hands, crying. The family's furniture was lined up on the sidewalk, some contents spilling out onto the street. That's what they did in those days to people being evicted. I tried to talk to him...tried in some way to help. I don't think I realized I would never see him again.
This isn't meant to be a sad story...quite the opposite. Mostly it was an exciting way to grow up. The streets as well as the parks were our playgrounds. What we didn't have as toys we learned to make. We created our own games...
One of my specialties was writing letters. I wrote letters to the editors of National Geographic magazine requesting additional info and often they responded. I wrote to Esquire Magazine when I was 16 requesting a job...they responded and I still regret not contacting them (as they requested) when I graduated from high school. I read anything given to me by my neighbors...not sure if that was such a good thing. lol
I remember living with such a strong sense of excitement...life was an adventure...our first and only family vacation was to Rockaway Beach, a 2 hour subway ride away. Although I don't remember a minute of the "vacation" every time I get excited now seems like a replay of how I felt when my Mom told us, "we're going on vacation!"
Although at times tinged with sadness, I believe my early days taught me to recognize the joy! And that's a lifetime gift.