Last Sunday, while I tended to the sheep and dogs at the farm, my family gathered in Brooklyn to celebrate our youngest’s 25th. birthday. After brunch and a visit to the nearest bookstore (no Smith gathering ever takes place without one of these), they made their way to my old apartment in Carroll Gardens where the above picture was taken: 475 Sackett Street.
I was 25 when I lived in this brownstone, starting out in a career in publishing. The handsome gentleman in the green baseball cap was finishing up his last year of law school in Boston at the time, and we had vague plans for him to join me in New York City when it was time for him to begin his own career. In fact, vague plans marked everything at that point in my life, from career goals to marriage to Scott. I was thrilled to have found an editorial job at a big publishing house in Manhattan, thrilled to be living in two floors of an old brownstone with a patch of garden in the back, and thrilled to be independent at last.
Every morning, one of my room mates and I would march over the Brooklyn Bridge in our trench coats and white Reebox sneakers (work shoes were in the big bag slung across our shoulders, along with manuscripts to be read or copyedited, and lunch), and catch our separate subways to work. And every evening I would meet friends, new and old, somewhere in the Village or Chinatown or Little Italy for a cheap meal, since there were so few restaurants in Carroll Gardens at the time.
At night, we would often sit on the front stoop, drinking more cheap wine, listening to the old fashioned Italian music playing from the apartment next door, and watching the street life of Brooklyn, circa the early eighties. This was a time before “gentrification” and “hipsterization” – the trendy Brooklyn of today where all three of our children live. Little old Italian ladies in black cloth coats and sensible lace up shoes trundled up and down the streets with their metal shopping trolleys, picking up coffee and meats and pastries in shops that hadn’t changed their decor since they first opened their doors in the thirties and forties. Newcomers like us were just starting our working lives or finishing up graduate school, those who were on their way to better things or already there, lived across Atlantic Avenue in Brooklyn Heights.
I can’t remember much about being 25, and my memories of life in that brownstone are a series of gauzy memories seen through the filter of many decades: the early morning view of Manhattan as I walked towards my work day, the way sunlight would stream through our oversized brownstone windows and cast shadows on our postered walls, the exhilaration of turning the lock in the front door and hurrying off to start a brand new day.
Perhaps that’s what I remember most about being 25, in that particular space and time: everything was possible. As we went our separate ways, my room mate and I would turn to each other and say, only partly in jest: “Let’s carpe our diem!” And that’s as good a philosophy even today…