It was the end of the long Labor Day weekend following the yearly jaunt to Québec, Canada. Pop and his five brothers rented a space for an amusement booth—a big, annual, family tradition—at the St-Jean-sur-Richelieu Regional Labour Day Fair. They operated a spinning wheel of fortune, luring people to bet a dime on a numeral to win one dollar in return, should their number come up. The siblings made out usually pretty well by Monday evening when they dismantled the game corral.
I always enjoyed going up with Pop. My ornery gang of cousins and I had the run of the entire fair for the whole weekend, multi-sampling every one of our favorite rides, savoring all the carnival junk food and riding horses (English style) from the on-site stable that rented hacks per the hour, allowing us to roam the countryside to our heart’s content.
My family returned home always on Labor-Day Monday afternoon, fighting massive traffic jams and sweating profusely on the NY Thruway. Air-conditioning was an expensive option when buying a new car. Dad had to work on the next day; and on this particular occasion, I was scheduled to begin my freshman year at a brand-new parochial high school. Upon our arrival back in Hackensack after a long, typically eight-to-ten-hour drive, Uncle Leon—my mother’s brother—awaited us in our driveway, being the bearer of bad news: Mum had been rushed to a hospital and was in extremely critical condition.
I stayed home from school the next day and took the bus to visit my ailing, hardly recognizable parent at the county hospital, several towns away. She looked like a skeleton clad in a hospital gown. A thin layer of skin covered her frail bones. She had lost seventy pounds over the past weekend.
Cancer of the uterus did her in, discovered the following day during exploratory surgery, on which she was operated with the hope of saving her life. Back in those years, if a patient lasted more than a week past having been laid open, their chances for survival were quite good. However, she lapsed into a coma, two days after the operation, and died two days later. Her attending physician admitted to us after pronouncing her dead, that when the surgeon went in initially to explore, the decision to close her right back up was immediate; for she was too far gone.
On the way up north last Thursday for doing a photo-shoot of the Empire State Building from all along the Palisades in Northeastern NJ, I decided to drive through my hometown of Hackensack, roughly fifteen miles (twenty-four kilometers) west of the George Washington Bridge. Much to my surprise, the city hasn’t really changed too much since my youth, considering when I moved away from the area was in 1975.
The first real apartment I could call my own had been torn down along with the rest of block on which the building sat, on the north side of Essex Street between Summit and Prospect Avenues. The land is now a parking lot for the Hackensack Medical Campus, a huge teaching facility that was originally a single-wing hospital in which I was born, a good half-mile away. I had hoped to sneak into my old apartment building and take a shot of the NYC skyline from the roof of the four-story structure, affording one of the best views in the city, settling instead for a photo from Standish Avenue nearby and still quite a vantage point, as seen in the photo above.
Before heading out of town for my picture-taking adventure, I passed through my old neighborhood, not even recognizing the house in which I lived when my mother died, thus spawning this poignant remembrance of days gone past. The dwelling had been through a tremendous make-over, converted from a duplex to a single-family abode with dormers on both sides. Had I forgotten the street address, I would have never recognized it.
Another letdown was my grammar school, Holy Trinity School, now a charter school dedicated to the arts and sciences. The Catholic Church couldn’t support it any longer, I suppose, reminding me of Thomas Wolfe’s novel, Look Homeward, Angel, and nothing remains the same.
Overall, Hackensack looks pretty much as it did fifty years ago to me otherwise; and the view of the Empire State Building remains as spectacular as always, even more so when seen from the Palisades.