Step on a Crack Break your Mother’s Back
All Mothers in our neighborhood smoked
cigarettes and wore red Indian kerchiefs on
their forehead to keep sweat from falling
onto their face –
Mothers all wear tube
tops – stuff toilet paper inside to make them
look big – sent their children to the grocery
store, and the drugstore where Mr. Ferro gives
tiny brown bags filled with little bottles of pills.
So I grab two one dollar bills – from our
window ledge and dash down Avenue A –
what about cracks or breaking mother’s back –
Run – as I clench my fist so hard my nails dig
into my palm – all I had to do was drop two dollars.
Up the steps I climbed reaching the door to the
pharmacy – I see Mr. Ferro – he smiles – takes
two dollars and hands me this little brown bag
folded perfectly at the top, with two staples.
My steps are quick as I leave the drugstore.
Running down four cement steps, across Mason
Street to Avenue A. I run – all the way home
expecting to see mother flat across our kitchen
floor – dead. But, she isn’t. She is staring out the
window looking toward Seneca Street – we live
on a corner.
Perhaps mother was nervous back
then because she worked so hard and counted
pennies from the window ledge for a loaf of
American Bread – pennies, and if we were lucky
a dime or nickel was mixed into the clutter of
We took walks together too – mother
kept saying, “Step on a crack break your mother’s
back.” I never stopped staring at the blocks of
cement with the name “Visco and Sons,” printed
on each slab of stone.
Another place Mother sent me alone was to Central
Market – maybe a loaf of American Bread – or a can
of spam – or white tuna fish in a special can –
never purchase anything but “Tuna of the Sea.”
When it was time to go, mother handed me money
and stared from the window facing Seneca Street –
kitty corner from the house – directly
across from the alley way, as I scuffed the cinders
covering the parking lot, counting pennies, wondering
if she gave me too much? She always gave me the
I grabbed ten cents in pennies each morning to
follow the rest of the kids to the penny
store down Mason Street, across Van Vranken Avenue,
where a lady in a cop’s uniform, who wore white gloves,
told us when to cross. That’s why mother didn’t care
if I went to the penny store with ten pennies to get
twenty Malted Milk Balls – knowing I had enough
Finally I reached the house, climbed the stairs with
a larger brown paper bag, holding the railing like daddy
told me when I left the house – no one worried about
people stealing children, but mother did – she watched
from her kitchen window – puffing on her cigarette –
until I opened the side door.
Central Market, a bigger grocery store – giant compared
to Charlie’s three doors down Avenue A – where slabs
of cement lifted up higher in spots, and lower in others.
Where I had to worry about mother’s back.
Nancy Duci Denofio – (c)2011 all rights reserved