Revisiting a Father’s Upbringing to Better Understand Your Own

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(DGIwire)  For many of us, much of our parents’ lives remain cloaked in mystery. It may be deliberate: a parent doesn’t wish to revisit aspects of his or her family history, for a myriad of reasons. In most cases, though, there may be many day to day details they have just forgotten—or can’t imagine that you would find those useful or interesting.

For New York architect and author John Lobell, however, the wealth of details his father, Nathan Lobell, put into his unpublished memoir was both fascinating and useful. So much so that after his father passed away in 1995 at age 84, leaving behind his manuscript, John decided to publish it posthumously. The result: Amazon and Kindle now offer his father’s book, Of Things that Used to Be: A Childhood on Fox Street in the Bronx in the Early Twentieth Century. 

To read this book is to immerse yourself in a bygone era, in the wake of the First World War, where there were no computers, smart phones or Internet. Instead, there was an iceman, a milkman, an “I cash clothes man” and an organ grinder with a small, red-capped monkey on a long chain. There were trolley cars for public transportation, but still some horses, pulling all kinds of carts–including a flatbed with a merry-go-round.

Back then the streets and stoops of low-rise tenements and apartments and homes were teeming with people: the Jews, including the Orthodox, the Italians, and others who shared a neighborhood in relative peace and harmony—no gang wars in that community at least. There was stickball and stoopball and marbles, and everyone’s mother leaning out the window screaming for their sons and daughters to come in for dinner. There was an autocratic grandfather John had never gotten to know, but one who now, through his father’s eyes, he could come to appreciate, despite the rough-and-tumble aspects of his personality.

Reading his father’s manuscript, John knew that the landscape of his father’s and grandfather’s lives, the struggles and joys that had shaped them, what it had meant to his grandfather to be a new “American” and what aspirations he had for his first generation son, might find a ready audience outside his own family. It was then he resolved to publish the book, and try to garner an appreciative audience.

For those of a certain age, this book will bring back vivid memories. The book is especially worth reading for the descriptions of life on the street and for its detailed profiles of several specific families. For some of us, this memoir also offers a nostalgic return to the all-important candy store, where you could linger with your nose pressed up against the glass case, clutching a few pennies, and taking your time with that all important decision of whether to buy the rolls of sugar dots on paper, the liquid in wax, or the minuscule ice cream cones made of colored marshmallow. Another era indeed!

“I’d like to think my Dad’s spirit is looking down at the people enjoying his book, and that it’s making him very happy to share those colorful days and nights growing up in the Southeast Bronx,” says John Lobell.

You can find out more about the book at NathanLobell.com.

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