A Sunday Outing with Mom
by John Delach
On board a Brooklyn trolley car bound for the Canarsie Pier with my Mom in 1951.
Rockaway Parkway, despite its grand name is a quiet street. Two-family attached brick houses line it for several blocks nearest to the subway station. Even so, as the trolley proceeds south, vacant lots gradually begin to outnumber houses until the scenery becomes mostly fields. The skeletons of a few remaining Quonset Huts dot some of these fields. Now abandoned, my Mom explained on an earlier trip, “The government built them in 1946 to house newly married ex-GIs because regular housing was so short. Two families shared half of building. It must have been terrible.”
Before reaching the pier, the tracks leave the street and enter their own right-of-way. The trolley runs along an uneven gravel and grass path bucking and shaking until it loops into the wooden covered platform that is the Canarsie Terminal. We tumble off the car, walk back to Rockway Parkway, through the underpass beneath the Belt Parkway and toward the pier.
A square parking lot occupies most of the pier. The only structure is a single-story red-brick park house containing an office, bathrooms and snack bar off to one side. Fishermen, using reels and rods, cast from various spots along the apron. Tin buckets and nets on long metal poles line their fishing spots to collect their catch. It is a warm spring day and Mom says, “Why don’t we take the boat ride around the bay?”
“Great,” I reply and follow her onto a gangplank that leads to a floating pier and a surplus navy whaleboat. Mom purchases two tickets for ten cents each and I hurry to grab an end seat on one of the benches. The boat ride though not exciting, is something different. As the boat weaves around several islands, I watch the afternoon aerial parade of Constellations, Stratocruisers, DC-4 and Dc-6 airliners as they follow the approach toward Idewild Airport just over the horizon.
We walk around the perimeter of the pier before my Mom makes her way to a bench to rest and read. I while away the afternoon, wandering among the fishermen comparing their catches, watch airplanes, seagulls and the occasional boat that sails by and, when Mom is not looking, lean over the edge and launch discarded ice cream sticks into the bay.
When Mom is ready to leave, we make our way back to the trolley. Across the street from the subway station, she lets me buy a Three Musketeers candy bar. The toys and comic books in the store are off limits.
I look out the window at the low skyline of East New York as the Manhattan bound subway train approaches its next stop, Atlantic Avenue. The sun that is beginning to set casts orange light through windows on the opposite side of the car spreading it across the floor and the seats. My mother sits near me. She shifts her body to escape the light, but when the conductor opens the doors, a jolt of sunlight assaults her and several other riders forcing them to shield their eyes with newspapers, magazines, hands, or coat sleeves. I too turn away to duck the sun until the doors close again.
I am still enjoying the day and this last train ride. Mom is tired. She has given up another precious Sunday to entertain her eight-year-old son who is too young and too selfish to realize her sacrifice. The train moves on crossing the complex of switches and tracks that is Broadway Junction. I look down at the subway yard with its rows of tracks separated at intervals by cement firewalls, the red brick bus garage, the silver and green GMC and Mack buses parked outside and the remnants of an old Piels brewery. The houses, churches and schools of Bushwick line a ridge behind the train yard and brewery.
This is the last stop before the train descends into the subway erasing my view of Brooklyn. Through the portal, into the tunnel, the wind roars as the train pushes it forward. I look out into the darkness. The window ceases to be the canvas for the images I enjoyed this day and, instead, it becomes the disappointing reflection of my own image.
My day dies with the descent into the tunnel. Today’s adventure melts away as my thoughts quickly turn from the joys of this Sunday’s outing to Monday morning and the dread of returning to the fourth grade.