This was a mythic moment of my youth, where I began to feel the world beyond my family.
Love is as Love Does
This is the world of Grandma Minnie, the Brooklyn of my youth, full of wonders and windows as far as I could see, out of which countless heads would lean and call for children I didn't really know. But the open windows everywhere made me feel we were all connected, made me feel that each living room washed into the next. I'd sit on the cement stoop and watch one drama waft into the street and mix with another two brick houses down and on up to the roof where pigeons would peck at something unseen. I loved that stoop. Grandma would always come out to sit with me. Just when I'd be drifting into all the unknown life, as I felt the street turn to a clear stream that started in some other country, as I was squinting to see where it would lead, Grandma would appear in her apron, her big warm forearms hot from baking. She'd drape me in those arms, and smile a smile that seemed to know what I was doing.
All it takes is the snap of a towel in morning light and I can see the lighted alley beside Grandma's brownstone, no more than four feet wide. I remember playing handball for hours up and down that alley. This was where I learned to look at things that everyone else ignored: the light off shards of broken glass, the pale dirt lining the cement cracks, the stiff single leaves somehow clinging to certain bricks above my head. It was here, watching a worm inch toward the street, that I discovered the holiness in empty spaces. It's where I found the secret name of wind, which no one else believed was wind because it funneled through an alley and not across a field.
I loved that alley. It wasn't dangerous to me, or dirty, or enclosing. It was a special world of broken elements that no one wanted, void of people, void of the yells coming from the windows up and down the street. It was a private cave in the middle of everything that no one seemed to see. I spent hours, back to the neighbor's wall, throwing a rubber ball off the bricks below Grandma's window. I'd watch her move about her kitchen; hear the clank of pots and the muted grunt of her lift. Our eyes would meet as she'd lay a pan on her small kitchen table and wipe her big hands on her apron. Those warm, bread-potato smells would fill the alley and she'd smile ever so briefly before closing the oven door. And the little rubber ball would return to me and I'd hold it like the heart of a country moved across the sea.
A Question to Walk With: Share the story of a moment while growing up that you became aware of the larger world around you.
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