The Old Neighborhood
By Marian Kaplun Shapiro
Truth be told, it was a prison.
The trick was to get out in one piece. The rules were simple:
Don’t piss off the people who matter, wear the right clothes, nod a lot,
run fast when necessary. Don’t cry where anyone can hear you.
Look forward to the Library on Saturday. To rye bread
on Sunday. To Good Humor popsicles in summer. To your birthday.
To inching towards the magic number: 18. Passport to the land of Work.
College. Freedom. Meanwhile, appreciate your friends.
Girls you can trust to keep your secrets. And,
above all, rely most on yourself.
This woman could be saying that she pulled herself out
like someone underwater in a car that skidded off a bridge.
Desperate, gasping, finally kicking the door open
at the last minute. But it wouldn’t be true. She simply walked,
briskly, never looking back, her eyes focused far ahead. When she arrived,
she could have outlined every choice point on her way, told you why
she had gone left, or right. She was thankful to friends, to strangers.
She did not forget the grace of Lady Luck.
Today she takes a little trip to the old neighborhood. Shows her family
where the Woolworth was. The Jewish bakery. She walks them to her school,
red brick stolid, the children, her kids’ ages, lining up in size places
outside its doors. She shudders at the grassless concrete playgrounds, the slides
and jungle gyms just asking for concussions. Dead Man’s Hill, where girls like her
showed off their expertise at roller skating backwards. It doesn’t seem so bad,
though. In the pretty parks the moms, like hers, are sitting on the (same) benches
their toddlers snatching each other’s shovels in the sandbox. Now, Johnny…..
From the perch of middle age she smiles. She observes. Now she is a visitor.
And that has made the difference.