The Dime — excerpted from “The Scorekeeper,” a memoir published in 2017 by Joy Media LLC
I never thought of us as poor. We gave to the poor. My grandmother defied arthritic legs trudging from neighbor to neighbor to collect clothing and food for displaced Holocaust survivors in Europe and my mother always found a coin or two of tzedakah to drop into tin pushkas for one cause or another. It was a mitzvah to care for the ”less fortunate.” And while my upbringing bore little resemblance to the idealized family life in the Dick-and-Jane readers New York schools still used in the 1950s, our neighborhood was idyllic in its own way, a place where children walked home from school for lunch as I was doing the day I spotted that dime as I started across Avenue O. “Edward,” my mother said in a tone that told me something I might not want to hear would follow, “have you thought that if you found that dime it also means someone lost it? Maybe it was Joyce from the corner. She eats lunch in school because her mother goes to business. It could have been her milk money?” Was it really worth 10 cents to make anyone cry, least of all Joyce?
Well before anyone used the term, she was a latch¬key kid who had to fend for herself until her mother came home from work, a circumstance that housewives on Ocean Parkway associated with profound misfortune, Fathers worked as a matter of course, but mothers went “to business” only if calamities like widowhood or divorce demanded it. They viewed their own days of shopping, cooking, clean¬ing, and childrearing as a privilege. And why not? They had unhappy memories of life during the Depression and the war before making their way into the lower echelon of “the middle class.” That was a term my mother invoked with pride one moment to attest to how far she had come and resignation the next to acknowledge the modesty of our circumstances. The living room in our three-room ground-floor apartment – “The landlord’s calling it three-and-a-half on the fifth floor now,” she would say – had three functions. It was a second bedroom once we opened the rollaway each night and also served as my father’s home office. His civil service salary – she called it “a fixed income” – did not go far, and they would often argue over how carefully she stretched her “allowance” for groceries and other neces¬sities between paydays.
Date (approximate): 1952
Location (approximate): Ocean Parkway between Avenues N and O