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What Year Is It?

I’m not a nap kind of person, but today, I found myself nodding off before lunch. I guess it’s old age, or perhaps it’s because I was up till 3 AM and awake at 7 AM. No, it wasn’t wine or beer, if you’re thinking that. But I digress, as I am apt to do nowadays. My eyes grew so heavy that I leaned back on my chair and closed them.

One cannot fully comprehend how the synapses of the human brain work, but the result is often magical. It certainly was for me on this day.  I found myself running out the door of my old William Cramp grade school, across the yard, and through the wrought-iron gate. When I was on Howard Street, I picked up the pace. This astonished me because I haven’t run for many years. Maybe I should not have eaten those mushrooms?

After I crossed over Ontario Street, I saw my reflection in a shop window. It was shocking. I was about 8 years old, and my hair was auburn again. How fantastic is that? Down Howard Street I flew, and as I approached the Olympia Restaurant, the smell of French fries and hamburgers cooking made me stop. I searched my pockets for some money, but there wasn’t any.  Maybe being a kid again was not a good thing. Nah! It was great.

I dodged the cars on Allegheny Avenue, waved to the barber as I passed his shop, and almost slipped on a patch of snow. When I rounded the corner onto Wishart Street, I began to walk. The Pullmans had two big Santa pictures in the windows. Was it Christmas, I thought? The Moffetts hadn’t taken their paper in yet, so I grabbed it to check out the date. December 23, 1952.

Holy crap!  What luck. It was Christmas in my old neighborhood.

I hesitated at the bottom of the steps to 125 West Wishart, my childhood home. Those steps were the scene of many games of stepball, or I guess I should say they will be. I was bit apprehensive thinking I would once again see my departed grandmother and mother. Was that even possible? I was very confused, but I so much wanted to see them again. I braced myself and opened the door. Then, I walked into a house that I hadn’t been in for more than 47 years.

My grandmother had her coat on and was pulling a basket on wheels, she used for shopping, across the living room floor. My mom was clearing out the spot where our Christmas tree would go.

I was dumbstruck and couldn’t talk. My mom walked over to me and said, “Didn’t you hear me?” She felt my head like she always did when trying to determine if I had a fever. Of course, she did. Back then, diseases like Polio had no vaccines. Parents were always wary when a kid got sick.

Still, a bit mesmerized, I just handed her the piece of art I had made in school. It was a picture of Santa holding the hand of the little baby Jesus. Or, at least it was supposed to be. My Mom took it and showed it to my grandmother, whom we all called Nanny. They both gushed over it and taped it to the refrigerator.

“What a beautiful snowman holding a cat’s paw,” Nanny said.

I was going to explain what it really was, but I just smiled.

“Go shopping with Nanny and help her, Buddy,” my mom said.

Wow, no one had called me Buddy in a very long time. It felt good to hear my old nickname. Nanny and I walked down Wishart to Front Street past the American Store and then up Front Street. We stopped at the light at Allegheny Ave. I saw my grandfather and a few of his friends standing in front of the corner bar. I started to say hello to him, but Nanny pulled me across the street.

Front street was lit up like a Christmas tree, and it took my breath away. We stopped for a minute in front of the appliance store to look at the TVs in the windows. The small screens were full of carolers singing “Oh Come All Ye Faithful.” When they finished, we walked up to the bakery. Nanny bought a buttercake, some Kaiser rolls, snowflake rolls, and a few Danishes we would have for breakfast. Then, it was on to my then–most favorite place, The A&P Market.

My favorite part of shopping with Nanny was when we went down the coffee aisle. It smelled of freshly ground Eight O’clock coffee.  I was in luck on this day because Nanny needed coffee. She placed the beans in the grinder, and the dark brown gold filled a red bag. Before she closed the bag, she held it up to my nose. It was better than any perfume I had ever smelled.

When we got home, it was time for dinner. That was the one time when the whole family was together. My dad had left his poolroom and Pop his corner and both were sitting at the table, as were my brother, Bill, and sister, Roberta. My mom was dishing out meat cakes, string beans, mashed potatoes, and corn. Nanny put the items she had bought away and came back with the butter cake on a plate. She placed it on the table and said, “It’s Christmas Eve, so we can have this now.”

A sense of excitement came over me—one I hadn’t felt since my children became adults. Christmas 1952 would be amazing. Then, I woke up.

As my eyes adjusted to the light coming off of my 60-inch TV on the wall above the fireplace, I realized I was back in 2019. Thanksgiving had passed, and we were now in the Christmas season.  I‘ll be spending Christmas 2019 with people I love, and I wouldn’t want to miss that. But I do wish the people from 1952 could join us. What a wonderful Christmas present my brain had given me. Maybe on Christmas Day, I’ll try to nap again.

Originally posted on The Kensington Neighborhood Alumni Group on Facebook.


Photo: Not from 1952, and not Front Street, but it looks kind of like what Front Street looked like at night in 1952.

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  • Russell, I agree. It has changed, but we have our memories.

    Harry Hallman
  • Hello Harry. Having just read “What year is it ?” , was for me dreamlike in a sense. Stimulated my memories and thoughts of things long forgotten. I remembered taking my girlfriend Linda Fisher to get something to eat at The Olympia after seeing a movie at the Wishart or Midway. When I was about ten or so I had many a steady customer at the A&P pulling their food order home and sometimes up three flights of stairs for a dime or so. But they they were steadies man, and I’d fight you for them. I can still smell the aroma of the fresh ground coffee being ground at the checkout. I can almost taste the butter cake from Weiss’s bakery, the sandwiches from Dave’s deli, and the not so pleasant smell from Cross Bro’s, whew!!. I could go on and on. So many memories Harry. The memories of the good life that Kensington had to offer then. Every factory was bustling. Jobs were plentiful. The steps of every home were scrubbed clean and kept clean. Kids were mostly respectful at least to the adults. It was always a tough neighborhood but respectful, close knit and mostly healthy one. Judging from what it has become one wouldn’t have a frigging clue what that place used to be like. What a sin. We can only remember and dream about those days now Brother. Take care. Russell.

    Russell Edwards

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