Were I to write my epitaph, it would read, “She lived a charmed life.” Those who have only known of me might not agree — but those who’ve known me well, would.
Consider this as evidence of that.
August often stifles New York, as it did forty years ago, with temperatures so high and rain so scarce a brownout swept over all five boroughs, leaving the city sweltering in virtual darkness from dusk until dawn.
We were living in Bensonhurst by then, renting the upper two floors of a 1925 three story duplex; a stucco, fort-like house located on a tree-lined street between Avenues O and P, not far from a rumored underboss residence. It was a neighborhood where no one locked their doors at night and old-country madonnas garbed in basic-black sat in fold-out lawn chairs on cement sidewalks, waiting for the intense fragrances of Sicilian sausage, fennel seed biscotti, and basil-based sauces to waft through their kitchen windows, signaling meals had simmered to perfection and were ready for serving.
Our home’s private entrance had four steps up to the front door. Once inside there was another seven steps up to the hallway landing leading to a bedroom, living room, dining room, and bathroom, with a second flight of stairs to two more bedrooms. A doorway leading off the dining room opened to an eat-in kitchen. Another opened from the living room onto a second floor veranda stretching 25 feet long and 15 feet deep, with a 4-foot high wall leveling off just below the treetops.
We loved that place and porch, especially in August when sleeping outside beat the heat of the house by thirty degrees, and the starlit sky with its dreamsicle moon overhead was about as romantic as any heart could wish for, or mind could imagine.
It was after 10 one night when we were out there, lying on army surplus canvas and wood framed cots, listening to the neighbors battery operated radios synchronized to Casey Kasem naming, And I Love You So, by America’s favorite barber as “holding at 38” on the Top 40 charts when we heard a knock on the door and Liz called out, “Who’s there?”
“I’m looking for Marge,” came a baritone response.
“Who are you?”
“Are you Irish?”
“Then the door’s open. Come on up.”
At the time, I was still recovering from a crash that left me chronically disabled the year before. As predicted, I’d regained my ability to walk, but still needed a wheelchair or walker, occasionally, and a cane, always. As I struggled up and into a lightweight, summer robe, Liz donned hers and, with a Coleman lantern in tow, greeted the fellow, leading him out onto the porch, and offering him a seat at the fold-out card table stationed there for Canasta and Hearts competitions whenever family or friends visited. Then she excused herself to get us all some iced lemonade while I tried to read his face by candlelight.
I liked what I saw. Mike Kelly had a crinkle-eyed smile plastered to his super-sized mug, with a pencil mustache complementing his noggin of silky grey hair.
“I’m sorry to bother you so late,” he began, “but you never contacted us. I had to take the Long Island Railroad from Port Washington after work and two subways — then got lost while walking here from the El.
“Why should I have contacted you, Mr. Kelly?”
“Didn’t you get our telegram about winning Publisher’s Clearing House?”
THE ABOVE EXCERPT IS FROM:
Seriously, Mom, you didn’t know?
by Marguerite Quantaine © Copyright 2019
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