A long, long time ago, back when I lived in the USofA, I lived in Rochester, New York. In a very bad neighbourhood. It was the kind of neighbourhood you read about in the newspaper and no sane person would never ever go there at night what with the crack dealers and prostitutes and parolees of all sorts and all kinds of goings on.
We lived there in a big old Victorian house with an enormous garden, plenty of space for the kids to play – plenty of kids to play with. Our neighbours lived there, too in their rambling old homes. We liked it most of the time. So did they. We liked each other. There were times it was the easiest place on earth to be.
Summer on Parsells Avenue, hot nights steaming, when everybody’d be sitting outside on the front steps, or on the porches, just hanging. Records, all kinds blasting from cheap tinny speakers, rap, salsa, rock’n’roll, soul, funk, sort of like a music salad as you walked down the street to the corner store for a quart size bottle of Wink orColt 45, kids crowding around the counters looking for the perfect five cent ice pop.
I loved those nights. People would put up card tables on the sidewalk, playing spades or poker, small stakes to while away the hot night. The young girls cruising by in their little floral dresses, showing way too much, causing more of a fuss than they realised, strutting for the boys, especially the ones with cars, shiny fast cars. Little kids screaming up and down the street on their hot wheels, careening past the teenage girls and their foolish drooling beaus. Every once in a while one of them would crash, topple over, skin their knee, bump their head. And you’d hear the screams and their mamas would go running to them, picking them up, hushing their cries, drying their tears, and sending them back out for more crazy screaming and careening down he same bumpy sidewalk.
And the babies crawling all over their mamas. One thing about the folks on Parsells Avenue, they loved their babies. I don’t care what you say about how they treat their kids when they get bigger and brattier, but they sure did love them babies. They fussed over those little ones, holding them, passing them around, never letting them cry.
An old white man lived down the street in a rooming house. Nobody knew what was wrong with him. Some said it was oldtimer’s or the syph, or maybe a head wound from the service. Anyway, he was always walking up and down, saying ‘hi’ to everyone, asking their name, counting the trees. He never did remember anything except where he lived. Probably still there, walking up and down the street counting trees.
Those summer nights under the old maples went on forever, beginning with the first warm breath of spring in May and not stopping until the end of September when the nights got so cold even the little kids wouldn’t stay out past six or seven on their hot wheels.
Barbecues. Most everybody had a barbecue going every single night, filling up the air with all kinds of rapture. Mostly chicken. We all had a thing for chicken. But the Jamaicans would be doing up some goat which smelled so good you could die, not that you would even think about eating goat. And folks who went fishing down on Lake Ontario would come home with catfish and throw it on the grill. The white folks who were just living on Parsells Avenue until their kids got old enough to go to school when they moved to the suburbs, they’d cook up some hamburgers and hot dogs. But it all smelled so good. Everybody had their own recipe for potato salad.
You never knew there were so many different secret recipes for potato salad. Creamy salads, crunchy, some pure white, some a mess of white and green and orange. Salty or sweet or a little bit sour. Mine was always the best – and my neighbour Esther, two doors down, swore she couldn’t believe it was made by a white woman. I never did tell her I learned from an old black lady visiting from Georgia.
Of course there was also shrimp salad, you know, mostly macaroni and mayonnaise with a can of tiny little shrimp thrown in for flavour, peas too. Got to put peas in the shrimp salad. And there were greens and jell-o, too.
It all went down so good. And a good reason to be on friendly terms with your neighbours because if you were around they had to offer you some.
Me, I always just took a little potato salad – making sure mine couldn’t be beat. And a beer. Nothing like an ice cold beer going down on a hot day in the backyard with a barbecue.
Heaven, that’s when Parsells Avenue was pure heaven, paradise on a white paper plate.