Photo of Joey and Arlene seated on runningboard of 1940s car

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About Arlene

Scenes from My Life On Hemlock Street: A Brooklyn Memoir by Arlene Mandell

The Invisible Baby

The paved part of Hemlock Street stopped at the end of our block. Then it turned into a dirt road that dead-ended at a ramshackle chicken farm. Sometimes when it was really quiet early in the morning, I could hear the rooster. And once when a chicken wandered into the vacant lot, Vinny Parisi murdered it and left its head and feet on Frankie Natale’s front stoop.

In the summer of l947, when I had just finished first grade, a raggedy woman in dusty black clothes would walk down our block pushing a wooden baby carriage with rusty, squeaking wheels. She would stop every so often to make sounds at the baby or adjust its blanket. Then she would smile and toss her tangled hair, as if she was a movie star and we, the kids jumping rope in the street, and the neighbors sitting in their folding chairs, were her audience.

“Poor thing, she’s the spinster daughter of that old farmer,” whispered Mrs. Rossi.

“I heard she lost her fiancé in the war,” my mother said.

“Well, I heard she got knocked up and her father smothered the baby so she wouldn’t disgrace the family,” said Mrs. Giannella, who went to St. Fortunata’s Church every morning and knew more gossip than the rest of Hemlock Street put together.

“Meshuggah,” said Mrs. Schwartz, the milkman’s wife, making a circling motion with her index finger near her ear. Then Mrs. Giannella made the sign of the cross and they changed the subject.

I took it all in, even if I didn’t understand everything. I was especially interested in the idea of an invisible baby, since I had a baby brother. He had arrived without my approval sixteen months ago, took up half my room with his baby equipment, smelled terrible and sometimes screamed at night. My mother made me wheel him up and down the street in his carriage.

Maybe it wouldn’t have been as bad if Edward were a girl. To make matters worse, I hadn’t been allowed to go to kindergarten when my mother was expecting him because she was too busy, and when I got to first grade everyone already had a best friend. I was smart enough to know that I couldn’t wave some magic wand, even if I had one, and make him disappear, but wouldn’t it be nice if I could?

© Arlene Mandell, 2009

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Welcome to Hemlock StreetBlock PartyBuilding the Ferris WheelCrossing Pitkin AvenueThe Kiss • Invisible Baby • Aunt Minnie's Second WeddingMurder Inc.A Real Italian DinnerSleeping with Nettie SachsDuke Snider Breaks Our HeartsCherries in the SnowMy Thirteenth SpringNo Room of My OwnDeeply in LoveHangin' Out and Makin' OutResolutions Made and Broken