|Downtown: My Manhattan
by Pete Hamill
This a A book about my home city. I was born in the immense and beautiful segment of it called Brooklyn, but I’ve lived and worked for much of my life in its center, the long skinny island called Manhattan. I live here still. With any luck at all, I will die here. I have the native son’s irrational love of the place and often think of William Faulkner’s remark about his native Mississippi, and how he loved it “in spite of, not because.” New York is a city of daily irritations, occasional horrors, hourly tests of will and even courage, and huge dollops of pure beauty.
|For any native the home place is infused with a mixture of memory, myth, lore, and history, bound together in an erratic, subjective way. That’s as true of the natives of New York as of the natives of Oxford, Mississippi. That mysterious mixture is why so much of this portrait is personal. Past and present are merged in its pages, as they are in my consciousness. But something else is in the mix too. Something magical. And certain moments of magic are always present tense.
In my earliest memory, I am five years old, coming home from the Sanders Theater in Brooklyn. I am with my mother and we have just seen The Wizard of Oz. The year is 1940. In the safe darkness of the movie house I’ve seen emerald castles and a lion that talked and a road made of glistening yellow bricks. But in memory all of that is a blur. In memory, my mother takes my hand and the two of us are skipping all the way home singing “because because because because because!”
On this wonderful evening, my mother still has brown hair. She is laughing and exuberant, clearly made happy by going to a movie with her eldest son. I remember nothing else, except the word because. Later, I will learn that the woman I call Mom is actually Anne Devlin Hamill, an immigrant from the hard, dark city of Belfast, in Northern Ireland. She arrived in New York, with perfect Irish timing, on the day the stock market crashed in 1929. She was then nineteen. The calamity of the Great Depression did not dismay her. She went immediately to work for a rich Manhattan family as a domestic servant, glad of the work, joyous about being again in the city of New York. In all the years that followed in the life of Anne Devlin, that city would always be a wonderland. Why? Because.
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