I am from city streets. From small houses planted in long rows, brick flowers that rose precariously from concrete soil, hugging each other for safety. From a gathering of European immigrants who found America by following the vegetable man who came down the street in a horse and wagon.
I am from city streets. From Yiddish with grandparents, from English at home and at school, from Hebrew at synagogue. From a never-ending shifting of grandparents and aunts and uncles and older cousins who lived too close and had too many opinions.
I am from city streets. From a father who worked too hard for too little money. From a mother who received too little love but who turned it into an abundance. From hand-me-down furniture. From borrowed clothes. From summers that meant simply no school, and a belief that vacations and camps were for people in books. From working since age 15. From job after job after job. From saving, always saving. From the heady feeling of having earned everything I had.
I am from city streets. From the heat of summer, broken only by the Camac Street Swim Club: a square canvas kiddie pool placed on the small expanse of pavement behind our house. From the mothers who brought wooden folding chairs and sat around it, fanning and talking. From the children who took turns sitting in it, splashing and yelling. From the sound of laughter rippling through the generations, then bouncing out into the sultry.
I am from city streets. From an always-knowing how to ride buses and subways and trolleys. From walking: to school, to stores, to the library, to synagogue. From a comfort in crowded places and long lines and non-stop noise.
I am from city streets. From being awakened in the dark to get dressed for a trip to go fishing with an aunt and uncle. From riding out of still-dark city streets. From falling asleep and then waking up in sunlight, to the sight of a beach and an ocean. From learning in just that way that the world was more than city streets.