Wednesday, November 4, 2009

The Castle

Once upon a time, a long long time ago, there were two sisters with brown eyes and brown hair that they wore in braids, and hand-me-down dresses and scuffed Keds. These girls lived in a very very old castle in Brooklyn with their grandparents, the Patriarch and Matriarch, and their parents. In those days, the regular people, the Russian immigrants and working-class Jews, the teachers and tailors, could live in castles in Brooklyn just because that's the way things were.

This castle was five stories high, and its windows and brick front gazed down on Henry Street where it sat, well-mannered, the street a parlor and the house foundation a silk settee, its stoop the polished mahogany tea table where it entertained an always-varying assortment of guests.




In the walls of the castle, the light was dim, and the air was heavy and smelled of old old things that couldn't be named. The castle had ghosts, too, and a cold spot at the top of the first flight of stairs, so that sometimes when the girls passed there, it felt like walking through lakewater, and they shivered.






In the castle, they lived their lives. They ran up and down the five flights of stairs; they shouted to each other leaning over the bannisters, floors apart; they played in the attic, the old servants' quarters, where no one else ever went anymore, and wore the clothes of their recent ancestors (the dead foxes with faces, the red chiffon nightclub dresses, the pillbox hats).

They slept in iron beds with dancing friezes molded on the headboards, under fancy bedspreads, painstakingly crocheted by the Matriarch. The nights in the castle felt sometimes long and dark, and were full of little noises, and often the sisters would reach out to hold hands across the wide yawning chasm between the beds.





Though the castle was not very cozy, it was their home.


But there came at last a time when a wicked glamour fell over the inhabitants of the castle, though no one knew who had cast the glamour, and the people who lived in the castle wondered continually "why us?" Many sad things began to happen to them. Some died, terribly, and some went mad from grief, and there was bitterness and there were complicated betrayals of the worst sort, one after another after another, like a delicate stack of falling cards. Through it all, the two little girls watched and waited and worried, to see what might become of them.

When there were only three left out of all of them, it happened finally that the little girls and their mother had to leave, and a family of strangers moved into the castle at Henry Street.

The sisters grieved their losses, and it was a very hard and long grief, until finally they could go on and grow up.

But the dreams never stopped, and often to this very day the older sister wakes in the grey dawn in her own house, beside her own husband, confused, not remembering where she is, because all night long she has been walking up and down the stairs of Henry Street, and wandering in and out of its kitchens, catching a pale glimpse of herself in its windows and mirrors, and talking with the dead Matriarch and Patriarch, who seem to sit forever at their dining table, drinking their forever cups of tea and eating their forever toast, and waiting for her to come back to them.





And to this very day, she keeps a strangely shaped key on a sterling chain, the key that fits that door, the door to my castle.







All photos of my childhood home taken by my grandfather, Max Pollack

57 comments:

Poetikat said...

What a fabulous post, Leah! I love how you opened it with the castle as the settee in the parlour with the table. Brilliant!
Such a fantastic place to grow up and no wonder you still see the Matriarch and Patriarch drinking their "forever cups of tea" and eating the "forever toast". I shall remember them everytime I indulge in the same. Loved this!

Baino said...

OH Leah so bittersweet. That doesn't look like the home of poor Jewish immigrants at all. It's splendid! I love "the air was heavy and smelled of old old things that couldn't be named" I know exactly the smell you mean, my grandma's house had it. I just couldn't put my finger on it. Great post and pics.

willow said...

This is a WONderful post. I like how you start out narrating with a Sabrina-like feel. What magical memories you have. Such a treasure.

Jimmy Bastard said...

You have excelled all others with this latest post Leah, superb writing flows from deep within you.

I've been back through it several times, and each time picked up a little bit more.

Truly magnificent, and "the dead foxes with faces" line was pure genius.

Very very well done.

otin said...

My Family had a similar Castle in Madison New Jersey, a whole family history of three generations lived there, until my Grandfather died and my Dad and his siblings decided that making money off the property was better than keeping it! :(

Jen Chandler said...

Beautiful post! Thank you for guiding us through the memories of your castle.

I popped over from Willow Manor! Very nice the "meet" you. I look forward to perusing your posts.

Happy Wednesday,
Jen
http://lessonsintheartofslow.blogspot.com

Hunter said...

Just lovely, Leah.

Too Little Time said...

Very well written - K

Brian Miller said...

what a wonderful story with a bitter sweet ending...perhaps the key will return your destiny? ah, i still believe in fairy tales!

mapstew said...

Just wonderful.

The whole story was played out as an animation in my head. I could see all the characters, long and thin, almost like a Lowry painting!

Thank you.

xxx

savannah said...

a dreamy and magical story, sugar. thank you. xoxox

kim said...

very nice. Thanks for sharing your story!

Karen ^..^ said...

Amazing, wonderful story, Leah. Did the pictures come from the gift to Sarge? It's amazing the imagination such old photos can inspire, and you've done very well with it.

I'm off to read it again. Then go pick up my wee one. She's in Cocoa with her dad.

Leah said...

Karen--it's the true story of my childhood, that's the house where I grew up. Even my bedroom and my bed (mine was the one on the left). My grandfather believed in photodocumenting every single thing, every room and nook and cranny. It was a spooky, Gothic place, and my childhood was spooky and gothic, at least part of it. Crazy, isn't it? The craziest part is that my grandparents could have that house, when my grandma was a public school teacher and my grandpa was a free-lance legal photographer. Things were very different in the 1940s, when they bought it.

Leah said...

p.s. I added the postscript--my grandpa took all those pictures.

merelyme said...

Fanfreakingtastic.

While I wanted to be all cold viewing the photos, the words made me warm. Phenom. You are amazing. Totally Talented.

JGH said...

I'm glad I stopped by, too! This is such a great story. What a beautiful home -- I love the image of the two little girls under the crocheted blankets reaching across to hold hands.

I think it resonates because it conveys the feelings so many of us have about our childhood homes and never articulate. I think if I were a building, I'd love to have you as a tenant!

Hit 40 said...

Excellent story! I love the old pictures that you put with it.

Skip Simpson said...

That was absolutely a beautiful piece! Bravo! (Standing O!)

Anonymous said...

Dearest Leah,
Your venerable and most estimable maman has directed me to your blog, where I have just spent a most enjoyable time.I think your writing is magnificent and of course the Henry Street part supplements my own memories of the place. Although I don't think we visited often, (or at all apart from Passovers), it was somehow a very important and vivid part of my childhood. It behooves me now to continue reading as my eyes and time permit. Thank you!PS-I have neither Google nor Blogger account so I will send this as an email.

Leah said...

Cousin B--If you chance to return to this comment section! I so much appreciate your reading and saying hi! Stop by anytime! And I'm wondering whether Uncle Harold took any of these? I think they were grandpa, but Uncle took the header picture of the weather in the streets, didn't he?

xo Your L

Ponita in Real Life said...

Oh Leah! This is amazing! So vivid and imaginative... your words weave images through my head and into those photographs and I can totally see you and your family in that lovely castle. Thank you so much! xoxo

Boxer said...

Wow.

...mmm... said...

What aplce to grow up indeed. Sounds rather sacry in fact. Great ending too.

JeffScape said...

I know it's a tangential reference, but I recently watched Defiance and something about this reminded me of that... possibly the Russian and Jew references, but there's definitely something more.

Ronda Laveen said...

This theme was tailor made for you! I could see and feel the patriarch and matriarch walking the halls, sitting at the table. I could see you and your sister in your beds. I can see why this place has never left you. How could it? It is as if from another dimension of time. It IS from another dimenson of time right next to us.

I read your comment about your grandfather being a photographer in my last post. I am so happy to see some of his haunting work. His eye pulls me into his subjects.

Thanks for this, little one. Thanks.

nick said...

What a wonderful glimpse into your childhood home. As you say, amazingly magnificent considering your grandparents' income. The opulence and detail of all the furniture and furnishings is extraordinary. And your description of the unique atmosphere in the house is so vivid.

But how sad about all the tragedies that finally drove the family out.

Roses said...

Truly wonderful.

Thank you for sharing your childhood home with us.

The Unbearable Banishment said...

Henry Street. Magnificent Henry Street. I wish I could take everyone who reads this post for a walk down Henry Street. It's the crown jewel of Brooklyn Hts.

Nota Bene said...

Just tripped over this...and well worth it too! Beautifully written

Pat said...

This reminds me of my late sister -in-law - but she - with her parents and sister and brother left their castle in Vienna and fled first to Britain and then America where they spent the rest of their lives.
A sad haunting story and I can see the sadness in your face.

MJ said...

When can I move in?

R.J. Edwards said...

A beautiful story and beautiful pictures. TY

Dot-Com said...

What a beautiful home that was! Full of stories, I'm sure. If only the walls could talk!

e said...

A gorgeous post, so well written. You are lucky to have such memories.

Wings said...

How super is this post? Quite wonderful. The pictures are amazing, what a beauitful place. The story is a fitting tribute. Awesome.

Betsy said...

Absolutely loved this! Amazing house! But, you had me at 'scuffed Keds' LOL! What a flashback...loved those!

Roy said...

Wow! this was great! Not just a castle, but a haunted castle, so you pulled a little bit of last week along into this week. Well done!

Megan said...

Extra primo good.

Gladys said...

I loved this. What a wonderful story and glimpse of your life. I too haunt my childhood home in my dreams. My grandmother waits for me there.

Candie Bracci said...

OH MY GOD!What a wonderful post!Truely wonderful!Those pictures are amazing too!I love this Leah!Well done!:)

Marianna said...

Best TT post award! Lovely post and pics :)

xoxo

Scarlet Blue said...

Very atmospheric and haunting.
Sx

Abi said...

That was wonderful!

California Girl said...

Leah, this is an interesting piece of your history. It puts me in mind, in a strange sort of way, of the new novel by E.L. Doctorow on the Collyer brothers of Harlem. Book title "Homer & Langley". I'm sure you've heard of it.

MJ said...

California Girl: That's exactly what I was thinking when I saw these pics!

Only without the Collyer clutter, of course.

One of the best books I've read this year, by the way.

Leah said...

Hey ladies, I will be sure to check that out, I've always been fascinated with that...

I've always thought of my childhood home and certain aspects of my childhood as more Shirley Jackson's "We Have Always Lived in the Castle"...

lettuce said...

magical - so evocative and what an amazing home. I love this.

Maria said...

This is sooo odd. I am starting to wonder if we have some weird online psychic thing going. Have you noticed lately, how often the subjects in our blogs are sort of window images of each other? Weird.

And thank you for the sprite/orange juice idea. I publicly thanked you in my blog, too. But...really...Liv just loved it.

Madame DeFarge said...

Lovely pictures and such fine writing to accompany them. It's the sort of house I've always wanted to live in. It looks great in the sepia too.

Leah said...

Maria: I had noticed that too! It is a bit strange, no?

I'm glad Liv liked it, it's our go-to cheery drink for sickies. Sometimes we like to gussie it up with little drink umbrellas!

GYPSYWOMAN said...

just came over by way of jimmy bastard's place - am so happy to have had the opportunity to visit -

such an incredibly poignant story and so generous of you to share it and you visual memories with all of us - beautifully done!

jenean

The Idle Devil said...

Beautiful. That's all I can say.

Pearl said...

Leah, that was lovely. So poignant, so well written.

Pearl

Liza said...

Wow Leah, you are a brilliant writer.

Tina said...

This is incredibly beautiful and moving. I came here from Time Crook and I am so glad. You are a wonderful writer. I'll stick around if you don't mind.
Tina

Tiffin said...

Leah, I linked here from Jimmy B's page. It was like being in my grandparents' home again. Beautifully written evocative piece. And the photographs were just sublime.
Tui