‘Toward the End of the Walk, a Bird Somewhere Ahead Burst Into Song’


Dear Diary:

On Presidents’ Day, about three dozen people of various ages gathered at the Brooklyn Botanic Garden’s entrance for a family bird walk. You couldn’t have asked for better winter weather: sunny, not too cold, light breezes.

Our guide, a woman wearing a bucket hat decorated with colorful bird prints, made some preliminary remarks, and we were on our way.

“Yellow-bellied sapsucker,” she called out 10 minutes into the walk.

The group stopped in its tracks. Binoculars were raised, fingers pointed, sighting tips shared.

The other birds we encountered included a downy woodpecker, a Cooper’s hawk (a blue jay’s warning cries alerted us to its presence) and a white-throated sparrow camouflaged in a bush’s dense branches.

Toward the end of the walk, a bird somewhere ahead burst into song.

“Cardinal,” the guide announced, and the search began.

In the flurry of activity, I wondered whether anybody else was paying attention to the brilliant whistled tune.

“Isn’t the singing wonderful?” I asked, loud enough for everyone to hear.

At least one other member of the group, a man, heard me.

“Sounds like a car alarm to me,” he said.

— Roth Wilkofsky

‘Free Chocolates!’

Dear Diary:

It was around 1952. I was 10, and I liked it that my family had to change from the downtown D to the local AA at West Fourth Street.

The vertical I-beams on the platform there had vending machines that dispensed miniature Suchard chocolate bars for a penny a pop.

I always pulled on the little plungers to see if chocolate bars would appear magically without the requisite pennies.

One day, ta-da!: The plungers on all four machines were not working, and I was filling my pockets with free chocolates just as the local pulled into the station.

As I got on the train with my family, I saw another boy approaching.

“Free chocolates!” I yelled, pointing to one of the machines. “It’s jammed!”

As we pulled away in the direction of Spring Street, I was happy to see the other boy busily “milking” the machine at a furious pace.

— Giulio Maestro

A Little Late

Dear Diary:

I boarded the M104 and took a seat behind a gray-haired woman dressed all in black. The white tag on her sweater was sticking straight up from her neckline.

I tapped her on the shoulder.

“Excuse me,” I said. “Would you like me to put your tag inside your sweater?”

“Yes,” she replied. “Where were you three hours ago?”

“You should have called,” I said.

We both laughed.

— Jane Seskin


Dear Diary:

Early one sunny Saturday in 1975, my friend Beth and I climbed the stairs to the elevated tracks in Far Rockaway and caught the A.

The train bumped and rumbled along the beach roads, into Brooklyn and then through the tunnel into Manhattan. The lights in the car flickered as the train screeched into each stop along the way.

At Washington Square, we jumped off, climbed the stairs to the street and emerged into the bright daylight of a beautiful fall day.

We wandered through Greenwich Village, stopping at shops where teenagers just a few years older and far hipper than us oversaw abundant inventories of art posters, handcrafted jewelry, T-shirts and a broad assortment of other, beautifully random items.

The profusion of goods was beyond exciting to us. We drank in the sights and sounds, flapped enthusiastically over a few small purchases and tried our best to tune into the culture surrounding us.

To save money, each of us had brought a sandwich along. At one point, we found a side street. We sat on a curb between two parked cars and had our picnic.

Beth’s sandwich had coleslaw on it, something I had never thought to add. It created a seismic shift in how I thought about food.

Later, we caught the A at Union Square, making sure we got home before dark.

— June Holder

Class Gift

Dear Diary:

I was working as a fourth-grade teacher at a private school on the East Side. As a year-end gift, the parents had their daughters scratch their names into a silverish picture frame, which was given to me wrapped in yards of tissue paper inside a Tiffany box.

I put a gracious look on my face as I unwrapped it. I held up the frame and smiled at each of the 15 girls who had “signed” it.

After school, I sneaked into a pawnshop on Lexington Avenue. The man at the counter looked approvingly at the Tiffany box.

I removed the distinctive blue lid, took the frame out of the tissue paper and handed it to him.

He stared at it for a couple of seconds.

“Tell you what,” he said. “I don’t want this, but I’ll buy the box.”

— Mary Jo Robertiello

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Illustrations by Agnes Lee

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