Brick House Revisited

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My childhood home, from age 6-up, in Hicksville, NY

The other day, we were driving out to Ikea on Long Island and I thought: since we’ll be in Hicksville, anyway, why not drive past my childhood home? So, that’s what we did.

I am pleased to report that, at least, from outside appearances, it hadn’t changed all that much.

The front of the house was still covered in brick — every one of which had been laid by my father and his friend Nick, an old school Italian and Master of Masonry — on one sunny Saturday, from dawn till dusk, back in the 1960s.

Trickling hose and trowel in-hand, wheel barrow at my knees, I acted as their assistant, mixing mortar all day long in the driveway. I guess I was about 11 or 12, and excited to help out.

Everything about the old house looked the same, except, perhaps, for the landscaping. The flowers were new and artfully arranged. As were the bushes. There was also a healthy carpet of emerald green sod.

If my father were still alive, he would wave his hand in irritation and say: “Sod? Come on! A waste of money, and I’ll tell you why…”

His secret formula for greening up the lawn was to stockpile the fallout of iron filings produced by his lathe in the garage, sift them into a sack of lime, and then disseminate the elixir over our property via a spreader. It must have worked well because our lawn was always pretty darn green.

As for the bushes, there used to be several yews planted in front of our house. But, one winter, long ago, the oil deliveryman spilled fuel on the bushes, which turned them brown. Not long after, they started to rot.

So my mother sued the fuel company.

A few months later, she and I rode the bus to Small Claims Court, where she was awarded $100, by default. No one from the oil company even bothered showing up.

My parents eventually received a check in the mail, but never replanted. The cash settlement went directly into the bank. The bushes got browner and browner and eventually morphed into a crusty eyesore.

Dead shrubbery aside, what mattered most to them from the very beginning were the bricks. Particularly, that they were “old.”

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Back then, to incite the envy of your neighbors, bricks were more effective than painted shingles, no matter what the color. Bricks announced to the block that your family had money in the bank. My mother opined that embedding randomly placed flagstones among the bricks would add a certain panache.

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What the neighbors didn’t know was that “our” bricks had been purloined from the front lawn of a house on the other side of town, which had been hit by the wrecking ball. According to my father, that meant they were up for grabs.

As a bonus, they happened to be the much coveted “old bricks” (weatherworn, slightly chipped, and in varying shades of terra cotta) as opposed to the spiffy, red, brand new bricks, which my mother eschewed as “lacking in character.”

My father and I made many a pre-dawn raid on the lawn of that wrecked house, stacking the back of his station wagon with scores of old bricks until we had amassed a sufficient amount of to get the job done.

Each one of our brick-runs was then followed up with a cozy trip to The Donut Man.

As a result, it seems that I have inherited from my parents a love of bricks. I love how they grow warm to the touch when heated up by the sun. How crepuscular rays intensify their color. I especially love the memories attached to them.

Here in Jackson Heights, whenever I look outside any one of my windows, I see bricks. The building in which I live is also brick.

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So, I suppose it’s no wonder, then, that I like living here — ambulance sirens, thumping car stereos, and abundant rain notwithstanding. It’s all about the bricks.

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