Sometimes presence is the best of presents.
Though I can frequently be found with my nose lodged firmly in whatever book I am currently reading, I don’t usually greet my husband at the end of my work day with, ‘Umm…I kind of want to finish this book…’. Nor do I typically read while at the bank drive-through, waiting for my morning coffee to brew, or in the middle of the night when I randomly wake up. But a book I started last week made me guilty of all these behaviors and more; I finished it in <2 days. That’s right: Growing Up Bank Street by Donna Florio, a memoir of the author’s 60+ years on one Greenwich Village street, is THAT good.
Part of the appeal is the author’s interaction with celebrities large and small-Sid Vicious overdosing in the apartment across the hall, Charles Kuralt rescuing her mother from a patch of melted road tar, or seeing Broadway star Rex Harrison perform the morning Walk of Shame from a neighbor’s apartment. Best of all: having the real-life inspiration for Auntie Mame as her regular babysitter.
But even unknown characters come alive in Florio’s prose: Sabine, the vivacious beauty who moved to the Village to pursue art, but found love with a quiet WWII veteran. Yeffe, the Native American activist who was actually a Missouri farm girl. Billy Joyce, a retired Broadway dancer whose second act earned him the title ‘Mayor of Bank Street’. Al, her elderly Italian American neighbor, who taught her the secrets of entertaining: ‘The cooking is nothing. Invite amusing people, smile, and keep the drinks going. Buy more candles.’
The author has a gift for observation. We often say, ‘If these walls could speak…’, but perhaps the walls DO speak and we just aren’t paying attention. Florio pays attention, and her readers are the richer for it. Reading this book is like eavesdropping on the intimate lives of a large and amusing family; she essentially invites you to join her fascinating, eclectic, multi-generation community. Or as Florio puts it, ‘People live as long as we remember them’.
If you’re in need of a good book, I obviously (and heartily) recommend this one. Meanwhile, however you’re celebrating the holiday weekend, we hope it is with your own version of community. And we thank you for being part of ours.