Long before people bought houses in the suburbs that were much too big for them, people lived in small apartments in the city. And most of those apartments were probably on my block too. They were families with sometimes, two, three, or four children, all squeezed into a thin “slice” of a Kensington house you simply called an ”apartment”.
Now, I know all you folks who already moved away are probably chuckling now at how small an apartment you grew up in as a kid. Yeah, I know it can probably fit into your living room of your new construction “McMansion” out in Jackson, New Jersey, but just hold off on the laughter for now, will you? You see, I grew up in one of those “apartments” and it still sits two floors above my head tonight as I write this story. And there’s no need to feel sorry for me either, because there were other families on East 4th that were just as “happy” as us too. All sharing the same fate of “smallness” that I only knew as being normal.
Let’s see, there were the “Compitello’s our “sister ship” family that lived down the block in a similar house as we did. Joe, Mary, and their three children, Nunzio, Peter, and Louise. Oh, lets not forget their dog Susie. All living in the same “slice” of house as we did.
And when my brother Joseph and Nunzio played together, I don’t think they ever complained about the size of their bedrooms. No, they were having too much fun performing science experiments with nine volt batteries to even care.
Then there were the “Briers”, now they lived on Beverley road between East 4th and East 5th. One of those “super-sized” Victorians that actually makes my house look tiny. And just like us, they lived in an “attic” apartment. Ten children and Mr. and Mrs. Brier, and once again I’m sure they were probably having too much fun to even care. All sharing one bathroom no less, in an apartment only slightly bigger than ours.
But my closest “attic” companions had to be the McNally’s next door to us. Clair, Mac, and their children, Paulie, Stevie and Helen. All squeezed into the same space as us.
“God, how could you live like that?” “And I thought the lower east side was bad”.
Well, I hate to disappoint you, but once again we were just too busy having fun to even care. With a string draped from window to window high above my driveway, my brother and I would pass toys to Stevie and Paul from our kitchen window. Just sweet children’s laughter, echoing throughout the concrete canyon between our houses.
And then there were the stories of my Mom and Clair McNally next door, talking about their pregnancies together. My Mom from her kitchen window, and Clair from her bathroom window. Just two young mothers wondering if their second child’s going to be a boy or a girl. And once again the sweet laughter of hopes and dreams filled the shadows of a Kensington Driveway.
You know I may be wrong, but I really feel that the closer you are to other people, the happier you are. Especially your own family. Oh, sure, there are times that you wish you could just get away and have your own space. And that big house you live in may make you happy now. But didn’t you still have more fun living in a crowded apartment in a crowded house?
You better think about your answer, and try to be truthful, Because if you say “no” I think you may be lying.