VIOLETS IN BROOKLYN
THE WAR YEARS 1944/45
I consider the time we lived in Brooklyn as time in a foreign country. I felt so isolated in a sea of people!
Claude had received orders to NAS Floyd Bennett Field in New York. We once again went house hunting—a thankless job. The house we finally found was a block off Flatbush Ave in Brooklyn. It was a monstrosity of gray clapboard, devoid of paint and tilting dangerously on its axis. It sat on a lot directly over the IRT subway, and shivered and shook each time a train rumbled through.
We occupied the ground floor and entered our apartment from a long hallway from the front door into a main room with twin beds and a living room that overlooked the avenue from a big bay window. The kitchen was quite spacious but had a sink with running water, a vintage 1930 gas range, had an old zinc laundry tub which doubled as our bathing facilities.
A small closet contained “Niagara Falls” which was an old fashioned toilet with an overhead reservoir and a pull chain. No tub, no sink, no shower.
Off of the hall there was a dark rickety stair that led to the basement and the furnace that furnished steam heat. The landlord provided the services of a man who came twice a day to stoke the furnace. I would see him come strolling down the street carrying a little bucket of beer, and he would enter the basement from an outside door to which he had a key. The problem was that the furnace was faulty and had to be stoked up several times a day. Claude was away for weeks at a time and I had to creep down the dark spidery stair to stoke the furnace. There was a light with a pull chain at the BOTTOM, but no light switch at the top. The landlord refused to allow even a small bulb at the top of the stairs.
I was not normally a fearful person, but I really hated spiders ! And I did often wonder if I would find the furnace man stoned on beer at the bottom of the stairs.
The house creaked and moaned in the wind, and during a storm one night I heard the front door fly open with a loud crash. It had a Yale lock on it and I could only think that someone had broken in. I was alone in the house with my baby son Mike. I was petrified!
I peered out my door and saw that the front door was standing wide open!
I had no other option—I had to go close it ! I crept down the dark hall, closed the door—the Yale lock had not been turned.
I decided that the house had shifted in the wind enough to slip the lock.
The house sat on a fairly large lot next to the foundations stones of a derelict building. When spring came Claude and I set about cleaning up the yard. It was almost knee deep in trash and dead leaves. We raked up trash and using the stacked up stones we built a little fireplace for grilling. It was actually quite unique as there were not many unpaved areas of actual soil in the city of Brooklyn. There was even a tree. . . . . . Growing in the yard…in Brooklyn. Imagine that!
Our 18 mo. old son, Mike , had a place to play and to dig in the dirt.
It felt SO good to do normal things in wartime.
To our surprise and delight, violets came up all around the yard that spring. When I think of that funny old house in Brooklyn the scent of violets comes to mind.
Wartime adventures—Betty L. Owen