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Black Velvet
December 16, 2012 – 3:09 pm | 17 Comments

Childhood memories are vivid, almost indescribable in their detail, and impossible to forget. A Christmas memory I have is that of a black velvet dress  a family friend gave to me for my seventh Christmas.
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The Jersey Year

Submitted by on July 18, 2012 – 7:44 am8 Comments
New Jersey 1975

You like my pants? Don’t laugh. It was 1975.

The Girl Who Played Hookie

We snuck out the side door of Public School #5 in West New York, another 8-year-old girl and me. Unfortunately, I got seen by a viejita who was there to pick her granddaughter up at lunch. She told my grandmother, a neighbor of hers, I was out when I should have been in.

Que lio when I got home.

But, we had not done anything wrong during that wayward lunch outing. We went to swing in the park and went right back to class after lunch. Pero, yo no tenia permiso to be out and my Cuban grandmother — and mother — were not happy with my escape. Quién sabe what could have happened to us, they said.

I spent a lot of time outside that 3rd grade year I lived in New Jersey. If I wasn’t outside with my cousins, and the other city kids who hung out in the street, we were hanging out the window, looking down the street, or yelling across the street to the other neighbors hanging out their own windows. If we were inside, we were watching Happy Days or Welcome Back, Kotter.

While the new school move wasn’t great for me academically, I loved that year of urban city life, it was wilder and bolder than Miami, where I could barely play outside without the Miami grandma wondering where I was. I think I felt free and kind of grown there. I liked the big buildings and the oldness of it all, too.

I liked to to walk down the street to la bodega to buy fresh-from-the-oven Cuban bread for my grandma, or Swedish Fish with my nickels, or sometimes a Charleston Chew. I tried not to peek into the corner bar as I made my way to and from my grandparents’ building. There were a lot of corner bars.

As my daughter prepares to change schools in her own 3rd grade year, I have been thinking about how different my 1975 is from her 2012. How much more unstructured my life was. Life was loud and you could smell the scent of sofrito and cumin and cooking oil and beef wafting out from under apartment doors. You could listen to 10 or more conversations escaping from open windows just by walking down the street.

This was Havana on the Hudson, West New York, Hudson County, N.J., back when bell bottoms were in and the year I was very pasty. (See image, above.)

My own 8-year-old lives in a little country town in Tennessee, in a house settled into big woods. Her mother does not fry. NPR is usually on the kitchen radio. (I know, I am so boring.) I don’t usually let her walk anywhere alone, and her cousins live very far away. She has an ebook reader, a game device and yet spends more time alone reading or drawing than I ever did at her age. It still shocks me she has access to technology I imagined only on The Jetsons.

Even my own childhood was so different from my mother’s, who spent her earliest years in a little town in Cuba, playing stick ball outside with her siblings and neighbors and learning to sit still at the table under the watchful instruction of a stern grandfather. My father, growing up poor in Cuba, made toy trains from sardine cans and string.

But this is what life is, no? A moving forward, like a river, deliberate and ever-changing. When I look back at my own childhood to compare it with my child’s I stop myself, scold myself into remembering that nada es igual. It isn’t supposed to be.

I have my story.
She has hers.

And, I’ll always have Havana on the Hudson.

Life Special Occasion, Hallmark

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  • How I live in quiet surburbia sometimes amazes me when my childhood was so FULL – noises, scents, people -all how you describe. I yearn to share with them so much of my childhood but the old ‘hood isn’t exactly the same (I’m sure it’s changed and my memories are distorted by the rose colored glasses of youth). I take them home when I can so they can see where I came from, why I’m a little bit locita. I think one day it will help them understand me.

    In raising them somewhere so different, it’s been a pleasure to witness what it’s like on the other side of what I didn’t grow up with. I remember visiting family friends in the ‘burbs and being fascinated by their version of freedom.

    Thank you for this!
    Carla @ All of Me Now´s last [fabulousness] ..As You Turn 5

    • Carrie says:

      Carla, I know you know what it was like…and how so very different it is where we are now.
      Strange and fabulous. Then and Now.

      When my college friends from the Midwest visited me in North Bergen years later their jaws were dropped. Couldn’t believe the color, culture, noise, excitement, crazy…

      I loved showing it off.
      And, I am looking forward to going back this summer to visit.
      Gotta cruise Bergenline.

  • That was nice. Por mi parte I’m living bipolar- time in Miami, time in Tallahassee and always longing for the other whenever I’m in one. Y en realidad, isn’t that the one universal truth about childhood? Always wishing we were older, never appreciating the present. But besides that, si, we each have our own stories- and they’re all good.

    Bohemian Babushka´s last [fabulousness] ..Serendipity & Synchronicity- Si,Si,Si!!

    • Carrie says:

      I remember a friend telling me when we were in our 20s: “When are we going to stop wishing we were older?”

      Well, that time is now. Al fin.

      I am grateful for remembering the fun and excitement of being a kid. Never want to stop feeling like a kid, actually. And, especially happy I got to live some of my childhood in Jersey. It made a lifelong impression.

  • Mary Lynn C says:


    I lived very close to #5 school. My godchild, who was six at the time, had transferred to that school and went out the wrong door. My mother and her grandmother were waiting for her and went crazy with worry. “La muchachita, que le pasara?”

    Police were called. The entire neighborhood was mobilized. We were all screaming her name up and down West New York blocks.

    Where did she end up? At the front door of her old grammar school, in upper West New York, about 2 hours later, wondering what all the screaming was about. Her grandmother smacked her on the bottom, and hugged her crying. All was well. Just another Cuban-American day in West New York, NJ.

  • Tracy says:

    I don’t have words – just wanted to leave a quick comment to let you know I’m happy I stopped by to read this today. Stirred up a lot of nostalgia even though we grew up at different times and in different places. Beautiful.

  • Elsie says:

    Carrie – getting busted by a neighbor viejita chismosa was the story of my life when I was growing up in Miami!!I got caught doing everything EVERYTIME!

    hey wanted to let you know that I am blogging… again

  • Alexandra says:

    Oh, yeah! We had a chismosa too. The American equivalent of Glady Cravitz from Bewitched.

    Told my mami EVERYTHING.

    Loved this story, love the heartfeltness in it, loved how you left me with a sweet smile on my lips after reading this.

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