The Day My Sister Got Lost After School in North Bergen

1 Apr

The year I started fourth grade was extremely stressful.  We moved from our home on 85th Street and Third Avenue and away from my friends at Horace Mann Elementary School in North Bergen. We now lived on the other side of Hudson County Park, living on 78 Street and Boulevard East. I had to make new friends at Robert Fulton Elementary School.

Besides these two major changes, we also changed synagogues from Beth Abraham to Beth El. The only good thing about Beth El is that it was right across the street from the elementary school.  Added to all these changes, my Mom went back to work teaching full time in a West New York elementary school. She was no longer waiting for us at home after school!

All these stresses, but I am not done yet.  I was given a special responsibility.  My sister was only in first grade and could not be home alone till my mom arrived home from school.   My brother and I had religious school that started about 30 minutes after school let out. So I had a job. I was to walk my sister to a friend of my Mom’s, Dora, who watched my sister till my Mom came to get her.

I did this everyday Monday through Thursday before religious school started.  Every day, while my new friends played and snacked and had fun, I had to walk three blocks with my sister and return in time for class.

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Our journey was easy. We walked out of school on 74th Street and went across Hudson Street, then Broadway and finally got to Park Avenue.  I would cross the street with my sister. Then we would walk to 73rd Street. My sister would go down the hill to where Dora was waiting in front of her house. (An apartment building on the corner of 73rd and Boulevard East.) Then I would return to Beth El for my Hebrew School classes.

One day, in early autumn, my new friends said, “Come on…play with us just this one time. “  And I thought, why not?  I walked my sister just two blocks, all the way to 74th and Park Avenue.  And I said, “You just go one more block …just walk straight… then turn…and Dora will be there. “  I pointed out the way to go. And I left her and walked back to school, thinking everything would be just fine.

HA!

My sister and I remember things a bit differently about what happened.  But really, it does not matter, who remembers what. What does matter is that she did not make it to Dora. Instead, she started walking toward Guttenberg. She walked and walked and walked.  I am not sure if she made it to West New York.  But she finally sat on a street corner curb and cried.  A woman came up to her to find out what was going on.

“What is the matter little girl,” she said.  My sister said it was like a Shirley Temple movie, as she replied, crying,   “I’m lost.”  Then my sister told the kind lady the entire story. The woman wanted her to come home with her. But my sister had rules to follow.  You could not get into a car with a stranger, you could not walk to a stranger’s home and you cannot take food from a stranger. (You really shouldn’t talk to a stranger either, but my sister was scared.)

The kind woman called over a police car.  My sister would not get into the police car.  That was a stranger.

“I remember the policeman putting his hands over his eyes, when I told him I could not get into the police car with a stranger,” she told me.  “And then he just said, “Okay Sweetie.”

She could not tell them where we lived, because we had only moved there a few weeks before and she did not know the address.  She did not know Dora’s last name.  She did not know our phone number (but for days after we practice till she knew it perfectly).

However, she did know that I was at Beth El Synagogue and she knew that it was next to Robert Fulton.  So the kind woman walked my sister back to the synagogue, while the police car drove alongside.  When they got to the synagogue, they all entered.

In the meantime, my Mom and her friend, Dora, were frantic.  Where was she?  What had happened? They came up to the synagogue to find me.

And that is where they all came together.  The policeman, the kind woman, my Mom, Dora, my sister, Rabbi Nissenbaum and, of course, me. I remember walking into the Rabbi’s office with all these people in there!  My sister was crying.  My mother was between crying and yelling.

I knew I was in big trouble.

But it was not my fault!  My sister should have done exactly what I told her to do. She only had one block to go.  But was she in trouble.  NO!

I was.

Before you condemn me, you must know that I was just 9.  I was doing my best. I just wanted to play with some new friends. And I really could never understand how she got lost!

She always said she got confused.  I told her she just wanted to get me in trouble.   She told me that I wanted her to get lost.   My sister and I have argued over who was at fault for 50 years.  I still say it was her.  She still says it was me.  It really does not matter anymore.  The point is that we were both traumatized by the experience.

Looking back as an adult I am sure my Mom and Dora were traumatized as well, because I never had to walk her to Dora’s again. Thus the outcome was, in a way, good for me. But neither of us remember what happened, who walked her after this incident.

The one thing both of us will always remember is the day my sister got lost after school in North Bergen.

 

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