The year 1949 was a year for dreaming. To escape the boundaries of our tiny apartment on East Third Street in Brooklyn, the family routinely strolled over to the posh Ocean Parkway, a few blocks away to choose the home that we would buy. Certainly, it was clear to my parents that there was no chance that we could afford a single-family home, especially on “The Parkway.” But to an eleven year-old, it was important to make a list of contenders, and then sort the whole thing out. It was a process that started as a realistic vision.
On summer Sundays, we would march briskly along Avenue M to the east side of Ocean Parkway and amble north; that’s where the better homes were, in our opinion. My father talked about narrowing it down to three and he would then walk up to their front door, knock, and say in a his matter-of-fact British manner, “We want to buy your house, you see,” and that would be that. We quibbled about using the word “house” versus “home” so that the current owner wouldn’t get too sentimental about selling. Who could say no to my father? Surely, I couldn’t.
In late August, we had it narrowed down to a special house near Avenue J. It had everything that we wanted: a place where I could build things, a private room for my father to call an office and a place that my mother could plant roses. Now, we didn’t know anything about what was inside, we just conjectured. We circled the block of this house many times waiting for the right moment to knock on the door and tell then to move – we are buying it. But the time never came. Bit by bit, it became apparent to me that my father was playing a game, an exercise that I had no intention of partaking. The disappointment grew to the point that I no longer wanted to stroll to the Parkway on Sundays.
Everything changed in September. I thought about a plan all day in school and how it would work. As soon as I got home that day, I flew down the stairs of our apartment house and walked quickly to Ocean Parkway and Avenue J. I stood in front of our future home and pictured our family walking up the front steps and into our vast living room. I took a deep breath and marched up the stairs and stood for a moment with my hand a few inches from the doorbell. I let my finger go and pushed the button. My feet wanted to run away, but my heart kept firm.
A woman about my mother’s age opened the door and calmly said, “Yes?” With a quiet enthusiasm, I said, “My father wants to buy your house and so do I.” There was a long silence and then the woman stepped outside and sat down on the steps. “My husband was born in this house and has lived here all his life. My family lives here. We plan to stay here for a long time. But, I am happy that you admire it. That is quite a compliment. Tell you father that he has good taste, but should look elsewhere.” I swallowed hard and wistfully replied, “But we picked this house. There aren’t any others. My mother wants to grow roses.” The woman put her hand on my shoulders and ended the affair with, “I’m sorry.” I walked home kicking the dirt on the sidewalk ahead of me and stood outside my apartment house for a bit. The game had ended forever.
Many years later, when I bought my first house, as I entered the door for the first time the exciting feeling returned of walking up to the door on Ocean Parkway in Brooklyn. Only this time it was my home. I wish my father could have lived long enough to be there with me. In my mind, I hear him say, “This is the house we wanted and now it’s our home, you see.” And then I planted roses.