Guest Post Series (Part 2): Happy Days

Here’s another guest post by none other than my mom, who moved to New York from the Japanese countryside when she was 20.  It is actually a translation of an essay she wrote last year in Japanese for her poetry journal (prose in a poetry journal, go figure!) about her memories of old SoHo.  I have included the original Japanese text below.

Happy Days

by Fusako

My mom, my sister, and me standing in front of our building on Crosby Street, ca. 1975

Every Tuesday and Thursday afternoon, I pick up my granddaughter from her preschool in Washington Square Village on the campus of NYU, a convenient five-minute walk from home.  When the weather is good, I take her to the playground next door to the preschool, an absolute wonderland for small children.  My daughter, Yukie, my granddaughter’s mother, used to play there when she was little too.  In the early-1970’s, she had a friend whose father was a visiting professor at NYU and invited us to play there sometimes.

Back then, we were living illegally in an 1860 loft building on Crosby Street.  Snow would fly into our house through the window frames so we had to cover them with with plastic sheets.  My daughters got many splinters from the old wood flooring that we finally had to put down carpets.  At first, we had a coal burning stove for heat but eventually replaced it with an electric fan heater.  Little by little, we modernized out home, yet we so enjoyed living this unconventional lifestyle.  It was like living in a hideout.  We kept the windows very dirty so no one would know we were living there.  There was no intercom.  When a visitor came, we threw the key out the window in an old sock.  Although we ourselves were newly arrived in New York City, we became known as the veteran old-timers to the even more newly arrived, and our loft became a meeting place for young Japanese expats hungry for home cooking.

My mom holding me when I was a baby

One day, I received a newsletter from a group called the SoHo Artists Association, who was petitioning the City for regular santitation service.  At the corner of the page, there was an announcement for the SoHo Cooperative Playgroup.  I joined, and the group became the center of my social life in New York.  I learned to speak English from the children, and about American customs from their parents.  It was a self-contained community of fifteen families.  We shaped this community at our meetings.  I remember that once a mother criticized another for sending her babysitter to do her shift looking after the children.  The mother with the babysitter replied that she had to go to work, but the group felt that sending a proxy somehow went against the cooperative’s philosophy.  I loved this communal spirit and was very happy to be a part of it.

When my daughter was ten and her sister was seven, I was finally able to look outside my role as a mother and join society at large.  My husband and I had our own business that saw its fair share of ups and downs.  Everything seemed so difficult and complicated back then, but looking back in hindsight, I remember a happy life.

Playing with my granddaughter in the sandbox conjures vivid memories my daughter’s childhood.  Life may very well have been exciting and tumultuous back then when she and I were both young, but now, at 65, back in the same old sandbox after 40 years, I feel blessed to be living a life of peace and serenity.

火曜日と木曜日は孫の花子をデイケアーセンターに迎えに行く。朝からそわそわした気持ちで、午後2時になるまでコーラスの音取りをしたり、メールを読んだり、録画してあるテレビ番組をプレーして時間を潰す。ニューヨーク大学のアパートの一角にあるセンターは歩いて5分、雨でも雪でも楽に通える便利な場所で中庭にはプレーグランドがあり、2才児には最高の条件と言える。花子の母である長女も幼い頃はここで遊んだ。1970年代前半、ニューヨーク大学の客員教授の息子さんのことばちゃんと友達になり、このキーパークに出入りする事ができたのだった。

その頃、私達はクロスビー ストリートに住んでいた。イリーガル リヴィングのロフトは1860年代の建物で窓枠の隙間から雪が舞い込むほどであり窓にプラスチックシートを貼って隙間風を防いだ。床は木がささくれ立っており、長女がハイハイする頃に、カーペットを敷き詰めた。だるまストーブに石炭を燃やしていた暖房は、扇風ガスストーブに換えて天井から吊るした。少しずつ現代文化に染まっていった生活だが、それまではどんな不便さも楽しんでいた様に思う。ニューヨークと言う大都会に住んでいる感覚よりも、隠れ家に住む異端者のごとく、窓は汚れたまま誰も住んでいない様に見せかけ、入り口にインターカムは無く、友達が来るとカギを靴下に入れて窓から投げた。コロッケも天ぷらも全て手作りで、集まってくる独身者や単身赴任者を喜ばせたものだ。

そんな時、ミニコミ紙が送られて来た。この界隈を“ソーホー”と命名したとかでアーティスト アソシエーションの働きかけでゴミがニューヨーク市のもとで回収されるそうだ。3歳児のプレーグループ募集も載っていた。ソーホーの幕開けと共に私のニューヨーク社会生活は始まった。子供を通して英会話、ペアレンツからアメリカ社会を学ぶ良い環境ができた。Sohoプレーグループは15組の家族が集まってできた自治体で、何事もミーティングで決る。ある時、“当番をベビーシッターで賄って自分は出ない人が居る”と言う問題がおきた。“勤めが忙しく休みが取れないのは仕方ないのでは?”“いや、これは我々のフィロソフィーに関わる事ではないか。アナーキーな組織がくずれてしまう“  さすがソーホーの御仁、言う事が違うと感心し粋に思った。発展途上のエネルギーは当時の私にピッタリだった。40年後の今、チリヂリバラバラになったメンバー達                                                                 を家族の様に懐かしく思う。今年の年末はSohoプレーグループ同窓会がある。当時の3歳児達がその親達がどの様に変わっただろうか。胸いっぱいの楽しみである。

長女が10歳次女が7歳の時、私は社会に復帰した。80年から90年代の紆余曲折を通り抜けてリタイアーした。しかし言ってみればこれだけの人生だった。花子と陽のあたるサンドボックスで遊んでいると、子供を育てた頃の思い出がフラッシュバックする。若いときは波瀾万丈も良いが、今は良き友達に囲まれて毎日が平穏に過ぎてくれるだけで幸せである。

5 Responses to “Guest Post Series (Part 2): Happy Days”

  1. Aristides Pappidas Says:

    Since my Japanese is rudimentary I was not able to clearly understand everything written beginning with the sixth paragraph.

  2. petearmstrong Says:

    This was a beautiful entry – really enjoyed it. Your writing is great, and so is the writing of your mother. peace.

  3. Leslie Says:

    Love this post. Wonderful to hear from your mother in her own words about living in Soho then. Also, I totally thought that photo of her holding you as a baby was you holding H!

  4. Ephemeral SoHo « The SoHo Memory Project Says:

    […] show will feature an essay by my mother about her memory of the early SoHo days that I translated and posted here a while back, and I will display related photographs printed […]

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