From the sidewalk I gazed at the boarded-up two-story brick and stucco eight-family building at 2132 N. 16th St. As the cold January air chilled my face, I recalled the dilapidated desolate structure as it was during the first ten years of my life.
The building, then owned by the late Nathan Pachefsky (whose son now runs Mr P’s tire stores), was occupied by families named Jubilerer, Schwartz, Haber, Kosberg and Schneider, most of them Jewish. Just south of the structure stood Feldstein’s grocery store, where Mr Feldstein would retrieve items from the high shelves with a long grasping hook, and the front door was graced by the image of a Dutch woman with a broom. Further south were the homes of my aunt Selma Freeman, the Salzsteins, the Fogels and the Milans. Stanley Schuster, now a rabbi in Jerusalem, lived just south of Lloyd Street.
I walked up the driveway on the north side of the building and paused at the boarded-up bay window, where the first Chanukah candles I ever lit had been displayed. Around the corner was the entrance to 2132A, the first floor two-bedroom unit where I was conceived in early 1942, and where I learned to walk, talk and read. My grandmother Ida Joseph had rented the apartment around 1938 for herself and her two daughters Dorothy and Elizabeth; after Dorothy married David Glazer in 1940, it became his home, too. My father is the only living person besides me who could remember our life there.
Of course the yard is the same size now as it was then, but is much smaller than as I remember it. The garden cultivated by the janitor Peter on the south side of the yard is long gone, as is the large swing that we all enjoyed in the summer time. The wooden fence that separated the yard from that of the Moskowitz family to the north has been replaced by metal chain-link fence, and the Moskowitz duplex is now a vacant lot. I strolled around the rear of the building to the south side, where the Feldstein building once stood; the two-story store and apartment structure is gone, its site now another vacant lot.
As I walked around the vacant structure, now just another foreclosed north side multi-family, a man walking two dogs in the street called out to me, “You thinking of fixing that place up?”
“No,” I replied, “but I once lived here.”