The Superheroes of Henry Street

My mother had it in her head to send me to school in a summer dress in the winter time. We didn’t have a lot of money, so I didn’t have too many options in terms of wardrobe.  I was in first grade. The boys were relentless with their teasing. “Hey stupid aren’t you cold? Hey Stupid let me see your panties!” I was the least stupid of the class and won all of the spelling bees.

My father used to wear spats. My uncles on my mother’s side used to make fun of him and sing, “Take off your spats and let all the sh*% fall out!”. They weren’t very educated people. He just ignored them. My father was the odd person out but he was the smartest person in.

My mother’s family really felt education was out of their reach. My mother was unusually driven, but her brothers really did low paying jobs and never aspired to do more. My mother never got past junior high but she was known for getting jobs for other people in the neighborhood! No one ever made fun of my mother.

I hated my Grandmothers cooking, but I was too smart to make fun of her for it. Once I told her I didn’t like onions. She said, “Too bad! Eat them anyway”.  When I picked out the onions and put them on the side of my plate, my Grandmother would throw open the window and scream and curse .while biting her knuckle.

When I had fights with my Grandmother I’d go next door to my Aunt house, and believe me it took ALOT for me to go there, My Aunt used to make fun of my brother , my father and me! She made fun of my eyebrows and said I looked like Don L Lewis, the head of some union who had a unibrow.  Her daughter won a beauty contest. So as a result I felt it was even if I didn’t let her ride my bicycle. I liked my cousin, I just felt this made things even. This resulted in a drag out scratching fight between my mother and my Aunt. This seemed extreme to me because eventually I changed my mind and let my cousin use it.

Seeing people beating each other up was a common thing back then. Once we were driving to a cemetery and some man on the street was beating up some man who had a pregnant wife with him. Well my mother and my aunt looked at their brothers and they all got out of the car and beat him up! They were like a gang that beat up mean people. They were the superheroes of Henry Street. Except sometimes they beat each other up too.

Today I don’t see a lot of street fights or name calling, not in my neighborhood anyway. But when I see someone being unjust to somebody, like a homeless person, I feel very badly. I have to get a SuperWoman costume and walk the Upper West Side at night, I think. It’s the least I can do to keep up my family tradition.  I won’t wear a summer dress this time.

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