A family recipe, a childhood memory, a Depression-era handout
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I’m listening to my father and his brother,
both in their eighties, debate their childhood
from adjoining La-Z-Boy recliners.
“We had no toys,” my father insists.
“What are you talking about, no toys?”
My uncle practically leaps from his chair,
except he can’t, on account of his back and his legs
and his feet and his hips. “We had tons of toys!”
Then he lists them: the playing cards
(“Those don’t count,” my father says);
the train set (“Oh, yeah, I forgot about the train set”);
the sleds — “Did anyone else on our block have sleds?”
Uncle Barry asks. “Nineteen-forty, people are crawling
out of the Great Depression on hands and knees, tell me:
Did anyone on our block besides us have a sled?”
My father’s father had a good job delivering newspapers
and brought home sixty-five dollars a week,
enough for Chinese food every Friday
and cupcakes on birthdays.
“We really didn’t have birthday parties,”
my father contends, and my uncle lunges at this.
“What are you talking about?
What about that surprise party
when you turned thirteen?”
“That was the only time,” my father counters.
Don’t even try, Uncle Barry, I almost say,
then catch myself. I want
this unwinnable argument to continue —
forever, if possible. I want
the Brooklyn music of their voices
entwined in a duet with no resolution. I want the song —
half lament, half celebration —
to go on and on and on.