Imagine a four- or five-year-old girl trudging along a wide, paved street, her hand protectively grasped by a much larger calloused one. She gives a little skip to catch up to her companion. The scene is familiar, the old wood-frame houses, the cemetery across the street, the railroad tracks that run under the street. She knows some of the people who live in the old houses, others are people who don’t even say hello.

She wonders why there are so many weeds and trees hiding the railroad tracks from view. Where do those tracks go? She is afraid of going near them. Mommy has warned her. The cemetery is where Grampa and Daddy work to bring flowers to the dead people who live there.

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Finally, feeling the salty sweat on her lips, they reach the big street called an “avenue”. This is where the huge noisy trollies carry people to other places, like Jamaica. One is just starting up after picking up passengers. The bell clangs and she giggles, swinging her grampa’s hand, thrilling to the big noisy trolley as it moves away. Where are those people going?

They cross the street and step up on to the wooden slatted walkway that serves as a sidewalk. She trips as she turns to peer around her grampa to see if he has the tin bucket. Grampa keeps her from falling.

She looks up at the building they are approaching and admires the window boxes that run the length of the white shingled building, Niederstein’s Restaurant. She loves this building and the nice people who talk to Grampa and Daddy when he comes.

They enter through a side door and a pretty woman with lots of blond curls and a dark blue dress with lots of white dots on it greets them, taking the tin bucket. The little girl and her grampa follow the lady to a very long bar. She thinks it’s almost as long as the trolley. It shines. The man on the other side of the bar rubs it with a clean towel.

Ach, shone madchen!. He says, smiling broadly at her. He produces a pretzel from under the bar that she eagerly takes. It’s cool inside, the overhead fans whirring quietly. It was a long walk for a little girl and she grasps the salty treat, taking a big bite. As the grown ups talk and laugh, she savors her treat. Looking up at the ceiling she watches the belts that move the fans. But it makes her dizzy and she sits on the floor.

The lady picks her up and sets her one of the tall stools that stand all along the bar. Bringing her knees up she looks down at the bright brass trough that runs the length of the bar. Water trickles lazily draining toward the far end of the bar. She wonders if it’s there so people can wash their feet on a hot day.

Distracted from trying to make sense of the bar and its wonders, she hears the familiar sound of beer filling the tin pail from the tap. Grampa says the best beer comes from the tap at the bar. She is not allowed to drink beer yet, but Grampa sneaks her a sip when no one is looking.

The people are speaking German now. She doesn’t understand what they are saying as she hears English and Polish at home. But it is a familiar and somehow soothing sound to her.

“Liebchen, auf wiedersehen!” says the barman, and the lady waves from a corner of the restaurant where she is spreading a white cloth on a nearby table.

“Let’s go grampa,” she says wiping her salty hands on the sides of her orange and white checked dress. She pulls him toward the door as he carefully closed the lid on the tin bucket. They step outside into the bright sun. The rattle of the elevated subway, The Metropolitan El, can be heard approaching the station. It’s the last stop. Next week, Gramma, Mommy and she will take the long ride over the Manhattan Bridge to Delancy Street to shop for things that only can be found in the stores on the Lower East Side of Manhattan. The ride on the el will be another adventure.

  • The Metropolitan Avenue Elevated Line, NYC Now Known as the M Train.

Niederstein’s Restaurant


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