During the mid-to-late 1960s, our father would mark the New Year by taking us out for Chinese food. Lum’s, which served Cantonese food on Northern Boulevard in Flushing, Queens, was our go-to place.
Before leading us to the restaurant, he would lead us in removing ornaments, lights, garland and tinsel from our Christmas tree. If purchasing the tree was his favorite Christmas activity, removing it was a close second. With the tree’s exit, order would be restored to our living room.
While carrying the stripped tree through our second-floor apartment in Astoria, Queens, a trail of pine needles would leave behind a memory of Christmas long after winter had been pushed aside by spring. We would then drop the tree from a rear window into what passed for a backyard.
Perhaps because I was a timid boy, I found this reckless act to be hugely exciting. During the seconds it took for the tree to tumble to the ground, there was no telling what would happen. Who could be certain the law of gravity wouldn’t suddenly be repealed?
At Lum’s, I recall, there was a well-dressed older woman who would dine alone at a table in a nearby booth. After finishing her meal, she would run her fingers around the rim of the plate to lick them. While I am unable to remember if she first removed gloves one finger at a time, I do remember the silence that filled the other seats at her table.
Tom Seaver, Nolan Ryan, Jerry Koosman and their teammates, who then played baseball at nearby Shea Stadium, could also be seen eating at the restaurant. Because of their celebrity, they were never alone but were joined by fans who stopped at their tables to seek autographs while also offering tips and advice.
After cracking our fortune cookies to get a sneak peek at the year ahead, we would return to our car to visit another older woman, Josephine Salerno, known to us as Nanny. From a window in her dormered, overheated apartment in nearby Bayside, Queens, she would sit watching as we walked up the path leading toward her front door.
Our grandfather, with whom she had purchased the house with nickels and dimes saved while she negotiated the prices for yarn, capuzzelle and baccala with neighborhood tradesmen, had died of a heart attack not long after the closing date. As a result, this next chapter of a marriage that had begun in the Basilicata region of southern Italy would end in midsentence.
Gaylord, a stout dachshund mix owned by our Cortellino cousins who lived on the first floor, would noisily announce our arrival as we stamped snow from our shoes. We would stop to visit with them, and our Bossotti cousins who lived on the second floor, after spending time with our grandmother.
I don’t know how they had spent their New Year’s Days, but I do know we were happy to spend time with them.
Those days and so many like them are projected in my memory as if they are oversaturated home movies. I happily watch them again and again.
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