Tuesday, August 5, 2008

A Brush With History

On a recent visit, my son, who is interested in genealogy, showed me some census records of a house I had lived in as a child. It was many decades ago, but I remember it well. It was located in Manhattan at 297 East 10th Street (near Avenue A) directly opposite Tompkins Square Park. It was one of a row of small houses and, according to the census records, my father was the owner.
As a physician, he had his office on the ground floor, our family occupied the two floors above that and the top floor was occupied by my grandparents. The basement was rented to tenants unrelated to us. I have lived in New York all of my long life and remember all the various homes I’ve had, but none so vividly as the house on 10th Street.
Although he had heard the story many times, when he showed me his internet finding, I told Mare again some of my favorite stories of that house, often dramatically recounted by my father. This was a quiet neighborhood at that time, but, at one point, my father began getting complaints from neighbors about noise emanating from our basement. When he went down to investigate he found three printing presses and several printers hard at work on a publication. The head of the project was Leon Trotsky. I don’t know how my father dealt with the situation but he always implied that he had a role in giving Trotsky some safe haven in his exile. Later, of course, Trotsky went to Mexico where he was murdered in 1940.
While Mare was still visiting me, his son (my grandson) invited us to dinner on 7th Street and Avenue A, his favorite Greek restaurant.
After dinner, the three generations walked nearby to 10th Street and Avenue A. The house at 297 is still there, unchanged. To my astonishment, there’s a doctor’s sign exactly where my father’s sign used to hang.
There’s a real difference that came to my mind. The neighborhood is now a hot real estate location, dubbed ABC. 297 was probably purchased by my father for thousands, it now is valued in the millions. Unfortunately, only the memory, precious as it is belongs to me, not the house.

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