The week after Thanksgiving 1959, my mother left my brother, Rory, off at my grandparents on York Avenue and picked me up at P.S. 77 after kindergarten dismissal. Together we walked over to the
86thStreet cross-town bus just pulling up to the corner. Mom dropped a Mercury dime (I loved coins my grandmother and father collected them) and a nickel into the hole with the cool sounds where the change went for a ride and took a transfer. I didn’t need one. I was still “little enough to ride for free, little enough to ride a knee." At least age-wise. When I was 5, Mom had a better chance at being elected Pope than keeping me on her knee once we were on a bus. We switched to the Fifth Avenue bus and headed south, I watched Central Park through the window like it was a Disney movie and Mom watched the “hoity toities” walk along the mansions on the east side of the avenue.
When we neared
34th Street, Mom pulled the cord to signal a stop, we got off and walked towards Macy’s. I’d been with Mom shopping a bunch of times but she usually did her best to solo when doing off-the-reservation / non 86thStreet excursions unless she slipped Rory and me by carriage down to Bloomingdales on 59thStreet. A doable stroll from Yorkville with kids in tow.
But here’s Mom and me for the first time alone in the world’s biggest department store. I got nosey.
“Mom why we here, somebody’s birthday?”
“OK.” I was fine with that. Barbara’s birthday was coming up in December. But after Mom bought two blouses, a skirt, a pocketbook, three powder compacts and a fancy umbrella, I started thinking how generous Mom was buying Barbara all these gifts and started feeling guilty because I got Rory nothing for his birthday.
“You’re a good sister!”
“You’re a good sister, buying Barbara all these great gifts.”
“No, I’m also buying gifts for Joanie and
“Joanie and Nan.”
Their birthdays are March and July?”
Mom looked at me funny, it was taking her time to figure out I smelled a rat. She recovered.
“Yes, their birthdays are far off but since we’re here I figured I’d get it out of the way, more time for us.”
At 5, that was a good enough explanation to settle me down. I thought no further about this excessive gift buying so near Christmas. To seal the deal Mom took me to Horn and Hardart’s when we arrived back on
86thStreet off the Madison Avenue bus. I ate Mac and Cheese in a crock. Santa Claus was still safe in my mind.
Here are photos I took of
34th Street. Most of what you see looked the same from a kid's point of view in 1959 when Eisenhower was still President.