Mendel Letters 44 — Sundays

August 28, 2021

Dear Mendel,

Sunday was your day of rest, although I am not sure how restful it was for you with two pre-teenage boys. What I remember is that Sunday, for you, meant no cooking or kitchen work. When I got up in the morning I headed to the bakery on E.L. Grant Highway between Shakespeare and Nelson Avenues to get bagels. You wouldn’t recognize what they call bagels today. They are big, doughy, often sweet, and come in different colors. To call them a bagel should be dismissed as anti-Semitism!

I usually got six bagels, three small plain and three slightly bigger onion bagels and cheese or cherry buns, one for each of us. Then I stopped for the New York Times. When I got home the three of us sat down for breakfast. Half a plain bagel with a little butter and half an onion bagel with a smear of cream cheese. For dessert we had our cheese or cherry bun with milk.

After breakfast I read the sports section of the newspaper and looked through the News of the Week in Review for a current events article for school. In those days the Sunday paper had baseball statistics for every player in the major leagues. I checked the league leaders and all the Yankees. Not sure what my younger brother did. You didn’t have any money, but every Sunday you took out your magnifying lens to check the stock market. You always had a couple of stocks you were following.

I don’t remember what we did for lunch. We probably just finished up the bagels. Our favorite afternoon outing was taking the IRT 4 subway to Battery Park on the southern tip of Manhattan and then riding back and forth on the Staten Island Ferry across New York harbor. You could see everything, the city skyline, the Brooklyn Bridge, Ellis Island, and the Statue of Liberty. The Verrazano Bridge connecting Brooklyn and Staten Island was still under construction.

Sunday nights we ate supper at one of two places. There was a Greek diner you liked on 170th Street just west of the Concourse, I think it was the Athena Diner but I am not sure. If we went to the diner we usually had hamburgers and fries. They gave you all the pickles and cole slaw you wanted and my brother and I gorged. Mostly, we went to the 167th Street cafeteria. You lined up with a tray at a long counter and the men, they were always men, working the counter, prepared your platter. I usually ordered pot roast with mashed potatoes and gravy, and a vegetable with a slice of rye bread. What was special at the 167th Street cafeteria was the seltzer machine in the center of the giant room. Seltzer was included in the meal and you could go up to the seltzer machine as many times as you wanted to.

The Staten Island Ferry was special for both of us. When you died in Florida at age 94, you were cremated and they sent me your ashes. Some we put in the Prospect Park Lake, some off the dock at my step-brother’s house, one vial I sent with friends who were traveling to Israel, we mixed in your ashes at the graves of my mother and step-mother, but the biggest part, my son and I dropped into New York harbor from the Staten Island Ferry.

Your son

Hard copies of these typed letters were discovered in an old camp trunk in the basement storage facility of one of the few buildings that remain standing in this Brooklyn neighborhood. The building is quite decrepit and is scheduled for demolition. The letters were found in November 2048 by a teenager who believes they were written by his great-grandfather. The letters are addressed to Mendel, the letter writer’s father, who appears to have been dead for at least six years when his son, whose name we are unsure of, started to write him. The son appears very agitated in some of the letters. With permission from the family, we are publishing them on the date they were written, only 28 years later.

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