I am often asked what it was really like to grow up in Hell’s Kitchen in the early 1900s.
I believe Forty Years In A Day answers the question quite nicely. Our story begins in 1900 and follows the incredible journey of a young mother and her four children as they escape from Italy into the streets of Hell’s Kitchen, New York. How much more could I contribute on the subject? But recently, a friend sent me a link to a YouTube audio of her Aunt, Margaret Carlson, who is being interviewed by her daughter. This elderly woman, who has long since passed, had grown up in Hell’s Kitchen. She shares an amazing childhood memory that I think is a quintessential example of what growing up in Hell’s Kitchen was like. I would not be able to describe it with any more craft or poignancy than Mrs. Carlson; therefore, these are her exact words transcribed from Margaret Carlson's Memorial Video on YouTube. http://youtu.be/V55rDRi5Dw0
I was born 1928. I was born in New York City—36th street and 11th Avenue. It was called Hell’s Kitchen. Bad neighborhood. On 11th Avenue there were railroad tracks and the freight trains use to go along the railroad tracks with the cows, and the pigs, and the sheep, and you could hear them all mooing. They were going to the slaughterhouse which was on 28th Street.
I guess I was about 5, and it was early on a Sunday morning, and I was running the streets on the other side of Eleventh Avenue, where I wasn’t supposed to be, but of course I was. Two men were laying on the street. We called them bottle babies. It was depressing days and there was no work for the men so the men use to hang out on the corner and get drunk. You know they couldn’t afford food, but they could get drunk. And they were our fathers, we knew them. So these two men are sleeping, and one man gets up and he picked up a big cinderblock and he dropped it on the other man’s head. He looked at me, and I just raced right home. I raced up four flights of stairs. You always lived on the top floor cause it was cheaper.
I told my mother, “Mama, Mr. So and So hit Mr. So and So over the head with a brick.”
My mother said, “What’d did you say, Margie?”
“Mr. So and So hit Mr. So and So over the head with a brick.”
What a whack my mother gave me. She never hit us. My father’s hobby was hitting us.
My mother never hit us.
“What’d you see, Margie.”
I was crying. “Mr. So and So hit Mr. So and So over the head with a brick.”
She gave me another whack. I landed on the floor, and I’m laying there, and she said to me, “What’d you see, Margie?”
I looked, and I’m thinking to myself she’s going to hit me again. I sat up, and I said,
“I didn’t see nothin, Mama.”
She said, “That’s right, now go downstairs and play.”
That’s how I learned you don’t see nothin, you don’t know nothin.
So I get downstairs and there were lots, torn down buildings. Rubble. Empty lots we call them. And the lot was full of people. I was only little so I climb the rocks and I’m standin there and I’m lookin. The police have a man, blood all down his face, saying, “Did anybody see this? Does anybody know anything?”
The West side was nice, nobody’s there, all of a sudden people are coming out of the woodwork. Of course, nobody saw nothin. So I turn around to climb down the rocks and there is Mr. So and So staring straight at me, right behind me. I just ran home and that was the end of that. But like I said, I knew then—you didn’t see nothin and you don’t know nothin. That’s where I come from.
Thank you, Margaret Carlson, for your story and for reminding us to count our blessings.
My Reveiw: August 2013 ~ Review Copies ~
My rating: 4 of 5 stars
First, I would like to thank Mona Rodriguez & Dianne Vigorito for giving me this book for an honest review. I really enjoyed learning about the characters in the story. We see how this family came to America and learned to survive here. It was a short read compared to how much needed to be shared in the story, so I wish we could have learned more in depth with the characters, but overall, I liked it.
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