The following essay appears in our Autumn/Winter 2020 issue. Purchase it in digital format to read the rest of Esther’s story and the entire issue.
“How did you know where to find me?”
This is the first thing my father says when he picks up his landline and hears my voice.
“I dialed your number, Dad,” I say.
“But I’m not at home.”
“Yes. You are.”
“No, I’m somewhere else. Where am I?”
I hear him shifting, looking around.
Finally, he says, “I don’t know where I am.”
My father lives on East 8th Street and Avenue T in Brooklyn, in a compact two-story house that is squeezed between two others. He spends his waking hours in his living room with his caregiver, Yvette, nearby. The neighborhood surrounding him is predominantly made up of Syrian Jews or SYs, as they call themselves, and the area is filled with SY synagogues, schools, and grocers who stock their shelves with bags of fragrant cumin and turmeric; tubs of dried white beans; jars of grape leaves and tahini paste; and huge barrels of olives. Numerous restaurants on nearby Kings Highway serve the food my father has always eaten—the food I was raised on—freshly fried kibbeh stuffed with beef; skewers of sizzling kababs; baskets of warm pita; mounds of hummus and babaganush; plates of pink pickled turnips; and squares of baklava smothered in rose-scented syrup. But, these days my father rarely leaves his white overstuffed chair.
“Look around, Dad. What pictures do you see on the walls?” I ask.
A few seconds pass and then my father notices a small faded reproduction of a painting of his father—my grandfather—Haim Mizrachi. For the moment, the image convinces him that he must be at home even if he cannot recognize his surroundings.
The original painting of my grandfather was larger-than-life and took up an entire living room wall in my childhood home on 66th Street—the house my father might be searching for when he becomes disoriented. Haim—who was born in Syria in 1875, purchased the house on 66th Street shortly before his death in 1925, eight months after my father was born. Haim himself never lived in the house, but my father lived there for over five decades—first with his mother and then with his wife and two daughters.
ESTHER MIZRACHI is a native New Yorker who lives and writes in Austin, Texas. “The House on 66th Street” is adapted from her memoir-in-progress about leaving Brooklyn’s SY community. Esther’s personal essays have appeared in Lilith Magazine and Ducts.org. She is the author of hundreds of books, stories, and articles for the K-12 classroom market.
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