Brooklyn in the 30’s

Life Story Club Contributor

I grew up in the ’30s which was not a very good time economically for most people. And my aunt lived in a part… I grew up in Brownsville, Brooklyn which was a Jewish neighborhood. And families tended to stay together. So you know, one aunt was two blocks away, another three, whatever. And my Aunt Sarah lived in a cold-water apartment. The bathroom was literally a very, very small closet that you could just about fit into for the toilet.

And the bathtub was in the kitchen. And in order to use the bathtub she had to heat water on her coal stove to get the water. So it was not very convenient to take a bath. And in general, most people just bathed once a week. You know, we would bathe on Friday to prepare for the Sabbath. It was sort of a shock to me when I learned that people bathed every day. But we did have… we lived a few blocks away, and we did have hot water. 

But we also had a coal stove. And my cousins… my cousins would come on Friday to bathe in our house and get ready. And my cousin Remi was taking a bath at our house. And my mother was cooking. And again, I was very little. I was about 5. So I don’t really know the details, but a fire started. The memory I have is of Remi having to jump out of the bathtub, grab a towel, and get out of the house with it. And then the fire engines came and put the fire out.

I really don’t remember what season it was when I was standing outside with a wet towel. But I don’t think it was a harsh winter. But everyone was okay from the fire. It was really a small kitchen fire. They managed to… and again as I said, I was about 5 or so. So I really don’t know all the details. But I still have that picture of Remi running out.

Back then there was such a thing as a cold-water apartment. There was no water heater in the basement and both faucets gave you cold water. And then as I said, there was a coal stove that was used for heating as well as for cooking. And the bedrooms were not heated. The rent was something like $11 a month for the apartment. I forgot. Unfortunately, so much of Brooklyn has gentrified. But Brownsville still remains Brownsville. A very poor neighborhood.

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