Community Greens

People of all colors discussing evergreen ideas.

Growing Up Morrisania: An Extra Plate

My granddaughter reluctantly put down her iphone as we began dinner by saying Grace. She had been intently watching YouTube videos and, since her phone use is carefully monitored and limited, she wanted to wring out every minute she could. Try as I might, there is always something she doesn’t want to eat or will only take a tablespoon of just to appease me. I try not to beat her with old sticks so I didn’t say, “when I was a child, you had to eat everything on your plate,” but I certainly thought it. When I was her age eating everything on my plate wasn’t an option. Later in life I realized some nights it was good just to have something to eat. I’ve learned why, and to value and cook vegetable tops, bottoms and tough meat parts no one else wants or has to eat and not to turn my nose up to anything having learned hunger many years before it was coined Food Insecure. And then I remembered Mr. Dobson.

We always had a TV as kids. Of course, it was black and white. Of course it was second-hand, but It was part of a beautiful console that had a record player on one side, a TV on the other and doors that closed to make the whole thing look like a sideboard rather than what it was. It didn’t matter that it didn’t match any of the furniture in the living room since none of the it matched anyway. It had tubes that lit up when you turned it on and a channel selector that physically clicked into the next detent when changed stations. Periodically, a tube would burn out or the selector would fail and you would call Mr. Dobson.

He ran a TV & Radio repair shop from his first-floor apartment on 169th St. between the library and the supermarket. The dirty bay window facing the street with the neon sign, “D BS N,” was always full of TV carcasses and old radios. When a tube burnt out, you would take it to Mr. Dobson and he would give you a replacement. If you couldn’t find the source of the trouble, Mr. D would make a house call. He’d show up with the most wonderful black leather bag chocked full of tubes in red and white cardboard boxes carefully packed in the top portion of the case that folded flat to reveal them like magic. The bottom was filled with tools no carpenter or plumber would use, but they were tools none the less.

Mr. D worked like a doctor and it was heart surgery when he pulled out a chassis and, with a puff of blue smoke, soldered in a new channel selector. One year, color TVs and transistors became popular and affordable. That year, Mr. D’s wife died. His business and life crumbled. He drank a bit and one rung at a time, he descended into a life not worth living. He knocked on our basement apartment door about a week before Thanksgiving. As she went to the door, Mom fussed about who would call at dinner time. Though clearly much older, Mr. D called my mom Ms. Ruth and offered to help take out the ash cans, put the trash cans on the street, mop the building and do any other odd jobs that might come up.

My mom glanced over her shoulder at us before she closed the door. We could hear her offer him a meal and a place to sleep near the furnace. She returned, told us to clean our plates, and get ready for bed. It was one of the very few nights we didn’t have to eat everything on our plates. There was an insurrection about no TV after dinner since we hadn’t done anything to deserve such a punishment which was quickly put down with a furrowed scowl. We had to go through the kitchen to use the bathroom before going to bed and I noticed there was a plate at the table where grandmother used to sit.

A few days before Thanksgiving, Mr. D didn’t come for dinner. I never saw him again.

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