One of the most important people in my life was born this date, August 6, 1915, so this is 104th anniversary of her birth. Mary was my father’s first wife, he married my mother after he divorced Mary. They remained on a friendly basis and we made the occasional pilgrimage from our home in the Bronx to Mary’s apartment on 112th Street between Broadway and Amsterdam, not far from Columbia University. Mary was important to me among many reasons because her apartment was a place of tranquility in the tempest of my life.
My father was impatient and my mother was mentally ill–not a good combination. Arguments were frequent and loud in my own living space, and I longed to be someplace else. When I was about 7 years old, I walked across the hall to the apartment where my cousin Marty lived and begged him to tell me how to get to Mary’s apartment. Marty was about 5 years older than I was and wise to the ways of the New York City Transit Authority. He gave me directions.
One weekend day soon after, during a robust disagreement between my parents, I walked the two blocks to Southern Boulevard and then another 4 blocks to the IRT 174th Street Station. I didn’t need to pay a fare, because in those days the rule was that anyone who could walk under the turnstile could ride free. And for better or for worse, I’ve always been short for my age. I boarded the Southbound IRT train and watched for the Grand Central, 42nd Street stop according to Marty’s directions. From there, I took the Shuttle Train one stop to Times Square. Being careful to look for the Uptown side, I made sure to take the Number 1 Broadway Local. I disembarked at 110th Street and headed up to street level.
From 110th St., I stayed on Broadway and walked two blocks north to 112th Street. I recognized the street well. The church of Saint John the Divine filled the end of the street. I walked past Tom’s Restaurant (the facade used for the Seinfeld show), the Goddard Space Institute, and the next building was Mary’s. The front door was locked, but someone opened the door for me, and I walked up the stairs to the second, Mary’s floor. I quickly found Apt 2G and rang the door bell. I could hear some rustling around behind the door, and soon Mary was peering through the peephole, but she couldn’t see me–I told you I was short. I knocked, and she said, “Who’s there?” “It’s Jackie, I replied.” “Jackie?!!!”
The door opened and she was completely astonished. The first thing she did after inviting me in was call my parents. She made me a grilled cheese sandwich and something to drink and chatted the hour or so it took before my father arrived to fetch me. He would have been apoplectic were it not for the fact that both he and my mother were just relieved that I had been found safe and unharmed after the few hours I had been gone. We returned home by taxi.
That trip lasted only a few hours, but it was the first of too many to count. After that, I returned to Mary’s house almost every weekend, often sleeping over. In Mary’s house I found good literature. We went to the movies together, Broadway shows, off-Broadway shows, and off-off-Broadway shows. We went to every museum that Mary could find, and Manhattan had a lot of them. We ate all over the Village, Midtown and the Columbia district. If I am somewhat normal today, I owe all that to my life with Mary Love. I miss her every day, but this day I celebrate the day she was born.