|Dennis Ferado on his old Yorkville stoop ~ 411 E 87th Street|
Here is a terrific old Yorkville story written by my friend, Denny Ferado.
Cookies and Milk with Mister Isenfine
From 1946 to 1952 my dad was employed, and shared, as a chauffeur, by two wonderful and noble ladies, both widowed and good friends to one another. Mrs. Johnson lived somewhere along Fifth Avenue in the 70’s. I never knew where her good friend Mrs. C. resided but always imagined her living somewhere in the East 70’s between Park and Madison Avenues in one of those magnificent Beaux-Arts townhouses which personalize that area. Both ladies were frail and slim, Mrs. Johnson the taller. They wore black hats with veils, high-buttoned shoes, darkly-colored, flowered, ankle-length dresses and usually had a fox fur draped around their shoulders. The were both into their seventies and could trace their families back to the very early settlers. Add a couple of walking sticks, brooches, Pince-nez glasses and we are traveling back in time to the turn of the century. Virginia Woolf’s 1937 book, THREE GUINEAS speaks of, and to, the “daughters of educated men,” today as much as in her time, with a powerful plea for women’s rights, intellectual freedom and the cessation of war. These ladies were “daughters of educated men” whom Woolf refers to. I loved the way they dressed and spoke; they were from another world, a quieter and mysterious world. Those two precious ladies treated my dad as if he were their adopted son.
Mrs. Johnson had a son, Peter, a scientist, well known and respected in the scientific community. He was also a bit absent minded. When Peter had to travel my dad would take him to the airport and pick him up when he returned.
One early morning my father had picked Peter up at the airport and was driving him to his apartment on the West side. As they were going through the 79th Street transverse the back door swung open and Peter’s two bags flew out of the car and bounced across the road. Pop hit the brake, shifted into park, jumped out and retrieved the bags. Back in the 1940’s early morning, before rush hour, traffic was nearly nil. He tossed the bags into the backseat slammed the door shut and got back in the car. Peter was sitting in the passenger seat shuffling through a sheaf of papers when he looked at pop and said,
“Damned if I can’t remember what I’m looking for.” He turned and looked into the back seat of the car and mumbled, half under his breath, “I forgot to mention....ah, be careful with the little bag Dominick. There’s an explosive device inside.” Calmly pop said:
“Do you mean a bomb, Peter?”
“Sort of but I carry a vital piece in my pocket so it’s, comparatively, safe.” Pop looked at Peter for a moment thinking, compared to what? He drove. After a short spell, dad, nonchalantly said:
“My wife’s father used to say that fish is good for the memory.” Peter’s eyes glared at the papers in his hands in total absorption. Pop paused for a moment and then asked, “Do you like fish, Peter?”
Mrs. Johnson had a home in Duchess County, New York that my parents would travel to once or twice a year to pick up some items she would give to our family, stuff we could always use. My father might fix an appliance for them and mom would do some cleaning up while my sister and I would explore their humongous back yard that led directly into the woods. One fall day, I believe it was in1948, we were at the Johnson’s collecting a carload of books. Mostly Collected Works, giant gilded tomes with leather bindings (barely liftable for a six-year-old) of Shakespeare, Byron, Keats, Shelly, Milton, Wadsworth, Dante, etc, etc., including a complete set of Encyclopedias.
Despite these wonderful gifts my sister and I were there for another reason. The Johnson’s had, Chester, their sometime caretaker living on their property. Chester was old, older than my parents even--at least in his upper fifties--thin, tall, and he had a weatherbeaten face with a long bushy mustache. He seemed to me an old giant but moved like he was a teenager. He wore a red and black square checkered woolen shirt over a black turtle neck sweater. Black suspenders held up ancient dungarees, and although it wasn’t raining or snowing he wore high, black rubber boots with metal snap latches that were always opened and flapped noisily when he walked. He told my sister and I about the time he was stung by a yalla (yellow) jacket--bees and yellow jackets ruled the entire property. In animated conversation, Chester relived his story:
“Dat blasted thaaang came out of nowharrr, like a kamikaze pilot. Dive-bombed into me like a bolt-a- lightnin’, dead center in the forehead twixt my eyes. Knocked me clean off my feet. I say, CLEAN OFF MY FEET! Down onto my backside heels of my boots pointing straight up at the sky.” He paused, looked at us and started stomping his right foot up and down on the grass as he continued, “Sure as God made little green apples you youngsters got to keep an eye out for them yalla jackets.” The rest of the day saw my sister and I dodging anything wearing yellow, that is, when we weren’t rolling in the grass laughing over how Chester had recounted his tale to us.
Albert Einstein and Peter Johnson were spending the day together in Peter’s laboratory, just off the living room, doing who knows what? My sister and I had to be shooed away from the glass, curtained, French doors from peeking in at the two wizards but mostly the little old one. My sister and I were made well aware of just who Albert Einstein was; he’s “the smartest man in the world.” The two of them were either working on a project or just fooling around, only they knew what they were doing that day.
Mom and dad had finished loading up the car with our treasury of books and were sitting in the living room chatting with the ladies when Mrs. Johnson said,
“I think it’s time we all had some cookies and milk.” She looked over at my sister and I and asked, “How does that sound children?” We answered in unison.
“Yes, thank you Mrs. Johnson.” She continued speaking as she collected the milk and the cookies. “Mr. Einstein says that we are like people in a boat meandering down a winding river.” I got up and began to follow her around. “Everything in sight is the present, behind us, around the last bend, is the past and in front of us, around the coming curve is the future.” My eyes bulged, I couldn’t help but interrupt and exclaimed, “WOW! I thought for a second then queried,
“But what’s he mean?”
“What he means dear boy,” continued Mrs. Johnson, “is that the past, the present and the future are all happening at this very same moment in time.” Mrs. C. spoke:
“Yes. He told us that perhaps if one were to climb out of the boat and waddle to the shore, it might be possible to walk back to the past or forward to the future.” I stood befuddled and was about to say something when Mrs. Johnson spoke,
“Well said, dear. Albert has a way of helping one make sense of the most complicated puzzles in the most simplistic terms” Then she motioned to my sister to come to her. She handed me a tray of assorted cookies and said,
“Now, Dennis, you take this tray of cookies in to Peter and Mr. Einstein,” and handing Margie several napkins she continued, “and you, sweetheart give them the napkins.”
“I like Mr. Isenfine’s mustache, Mrs. Johnson,” Margie said, smiling at her.
“I like his hair,” I chirped. Mrs. C. giggled as she said:
“He could take a comb to it every so often. Mrs. Johnson smiled, said:
“Oh dear.” My mother walked over to my sister and I and began to straighten out Margie’s clothing as we had been running around for a couple hours. Mom asked softly,
“Margie, what did I tell you?” Margie rattled it out like she was brain washed,
“No matter what happens I shouldn’t start to laugh.”
“Good girl.” Then she turned to me straightened out my hair and tried, unsuccessfully, to put a part in it as she whispered,
“And what are you not supposed to say, Dennis?”
“Not a word about his socks.” Mom let out a deep breath as the ladies went into a wave of suppressed chuckles. “I told them both about that, Mrs. Johnson, and they promised they wouldn’t say a word.” She looked down at me, sighed and mumbled, “I should have kept my mouth shut.” Then she pulled us close and asked, “Do you both understand how important that is?” I shrugged my shoulders, know-it-all style, said,
“Surrrre mom,” Margie jumped in:
“Me too Mom, I understand.” Mom walked over and knocked on the closed French doors. We heard Peter’s voice,
“Come in.” Mrs. Johnson opened the door and Mom entered first, carrying a silver tray with glasses of milk and two cups of tea and headed over to a small round oak table with two oak chairs and placed the tray down. She said,
“The cookie people have arrived.”
An unknown but jolly voice announced:
“Marvelous! ve love cookies and milk. Please, cookie people, enter.”
We marched in single file. My mother came back, coaxing me in first, Margie second and Mom taking up the rear She was watching me as I stopped short and was now staring down at Mr. Einstein’s feet. The ladies came whirling in behind the three of us. They settled themselves on either side of the great man and Mrs. Johnson said:
“Albert, I’d like you to meet Margaret’s children.” We stood there and stared up at him. She stepped around behind us and eased us both closer to Mr. Einstein with her hands to the small of our backs saying, “This pretty little girl is Margie and this is her big brother Dennis.” He looked at us a long moment, then looked at my mom and said,
“You must be very proud, Miss Margaret, to have such beautiful children. And so young to be cookie people. Most cookie people I’ve met in my life have been much older. In fact many of them have been grandmas.” Margie blurted:
“Our grandma is a cookie people, Mr Isenfine. She always used to have cookies for us. No matter how bad we are but now she’s sick and can’t make them!” The great man smiled and softly touched Margie’s cheek, as he said:
“You see, I was right. Grandmas control the entire cookie business.” Mom said:
“Dennis. Don’t you want to offer Mr. Einstein some cookies?” Mr. Einstein, looking to me like a tall palm tree that had been left out in the snow, bent over slightly and placed a hand on my head ruffling my hair as he spoke,
“I think little boy Dennis, has more important matters on his mind other than cookies. Is that right Dennis?” I finally tore my eyes away from his feet. I looked up at the man with the glowing halo of white hair, pointed at his feet and said,
“My mom’s right, you have different color socks on.” After Mom’s gasp it was so quiet you could have heard a flea tip-toe by in tennis shoes. The great man leaned over going nose to nose with me and looking right into my eyes he asked,
“Vell, do you like them?‘ looking back into his eyes, I smiled and said,
“Yeah. Why?” Mr. Einstein wiped away false sweat from his brow with the back of his arm and said,
“Because I have another pair at home just like these?” I laughed loudly and asked,
“But how can you tell one pair from the other?”
“The difference is that with this pair the blue one goes on the right foot.” His raised a pant leg and showed me. “See?” I nodded, “But with the other pair the blue one goes on the left foot and the brown one goes on the right foot. That’s how I tell one pair from the other.” A slight pause as I tried to register what he had said, then my eyes grew large and with the wisdom of a proud sage I grinned slyly and said:
“Yeah! I know what you mean.” Albert burst into laughter, walked closer and cupped both of us under our chins with his two hands, smiled broadly, and said:
“You have two vunderful children, Miss Margaret. I feel proud to have made their acquaintance.” He bowed gently to my mother and added, “I thank you for that, my dear.”
Dennis John Ferado Copyright 2012