I could barely sleep when I went to bed Sunday night. I was so excited thinking that my sister, Isabella, was going to take me to the Columbus Day Parade on Monday. I was up early the next morning, got dressed, and I sat in the kitchen waiting for my sister. It’s early, very early, like 6AM. My father already left for work around 5AM. My mother and sister were still asleep. So, I just sat there at the kitchen table with my hands folded just like I would in my classroom at PS 27. I must have dozed off for awhile because I jumped out of the kitchen chair when my sister walked in the room. I heard her say, “Hey, Pepino, are you ready? It looks like it’s going to be a perfect day for a parade.” I was still dazed, so I didn’t say anything. I just rubbed my eyes trying to wake up. My sister put together some apples, bread, jelly and cookies for lunch. This way we will have something to eat while watching the parade.
She put our food into a shopping bag and we left our apartment to meet my sister’s girlfriend Frances. We met Frances and her little sister Mary Jane on the corner of Luquer and Hicks Street, all of us continued walking to the subway station. While we were walking to the subway station, I was looking at Mary Jane and thinking to myself, wow, with her bright red hair and blue eyes she looks more Irish than Italian. Maybe her grandmother had some Irish blood in her. It doesn’t matter because she Italian now. The Smith and 9th Street subway station is about five blocks away, it’s a cool day so the long walk to the subway station wasn’t so bad. We got too the station in about fifteen minutes and we took the escalator way up, about eight stories, to the outside subway platform to catch the D train to Manhattan.
When the train pulled into the station and the doors opened, it was packed with people. They all looked Italian and you could see that they are so excited looking forward to celebrate their Italian heritage in the name of Christopher Columbus. We pushed our way into the subway car; we couldn’t find a seat because the car was so crowded so we had to stand holding a pole all the way to Manhattan. I didn’t think that it was that bad standing on the train; at least we had a pole to hold on to. When the train left the station heading to Manhattan, I could not help thinking about our subway ride to Coney Island last summer. That hot, 90 degree summer day, we squeezed our way into the subway car with a bunch of towels, two blankets, food and whatever, heading for the beach. When we barely pushed our way into the subway car we didn’t need a pole to hold on to because there was no way we were going to fall down.
We were like Sardines in a can. We even smelled like rotten Sardines, I kept thinking about the heat, sweat, weird smells with my face smashed against somebody’s butt for almost an hour. It gave me a sick feeling and I almost threw up just before we got to Coney Island. All of a sudden the D train pulled into the forty second street subway station, wow that was a quick ride. The doors opened and we pushed our way out of the subway car along with a bunch of Italian families with screaming kids. We all ran up the steps to the street. Everybody rushed to find a good spot on the sidewalk to see the parade.
We managed to find our spot on Fifth Avenue near forty Seventh Street. It was like being in the crowded subway car all over again. It was great, I loved seeing the people marching with flags, dancing, loud music playing, seeing the floats with pretty Italian girls dressed up in costumes and to top it off I got a glimpse of our governor, Thomas E, Dewey walking with the New York City Mayor, William O’Dwyer. Even though they are both Irish they seem to fit in with all the Italians marching with them. It wasn’t easy for me to see them, I’m short and skinny and there are two or three people standing in front of me on the sidewalk. To get a view of all the marchers and festivities on the street I kept pushing myself in between the people in front of me and I jumped up and down. It wasn’t a perfect view but I did get to see most of what was going on. I don’t know how we did it but we did manage to eat lunch while being squished in the middle of the crowd on the sidewalk. When the parade was over we took the D train back to Brooklyn. It was not as crowded when we got on the subway train and we even found a couple of empty seats. I was very happy being part of the Columbus Day Parade. It didn’t take long after I sat down in the subway car that I fell asleep. It seemed like it took two minutes for us to get back to the Smith and Ninth Street train station. My sister was calling out to me saying, “Pepino, Pepino, wake up we’re home.”
It was about 3PM when we got to Columbia Street and said our goodbyes to Frances and Mary Jane. I thanked my sister for taking me to the parade. She looked so tired as she walked up to our apartment to take a nap. I was sat down on the stoop of our building and closed my eyes. I think that I dozed off for a couple of minutes when I heard a bunch of girls singing “Ring around the Rosie, A pocket full of posies. Ashes! Ashes! We all fall down.” I opened my eyes and see Joanie and six of her girl friends singing this song over and over again. They are holding hands making a circle with one girl in the middle of that circle with her two hands covering her eyes. The girls making the circle danced around the girl in the middle of the circle and kept singing. “Ring around the Rosie, A pocket full of posies. Ashes! Ashes! We all fall Down.”
I got up from the stoop and walked across the street to watch this Rosie game the girls are playing. I just stood there with my arms folded; watching them as they sometimes changed which girl was standing in the middle of the circle with both hands covering her eyes. This went on for almost a half hour when they all started laughing like crazy and the all sat down on the sidewalk as they looked at the girl in the middle who was still standing in the circle with her hands on her face. At that point Joanie turned to me and said. “Hey Pepino, do you want to play this game with us?” I turned my head and looked over my right then left shoulder and said. “Well the way I see it, I’m the only guy standing here and there’s no way I’m going to play this stupid game with a bunch of girls.” As I told Joanie that I didn’t want to play this game with them they all stood up and surrounded me, laughing and pulling my arms. I started yelling, “Get off me! Get off me! What’s the matter with you? Have you all gone crazy? What is it with this Rosie game you’re playing?” At that point they all calmed down and we sat down on the sidewalk together. Joanie turned to me and said. “Yeah, Pepino, this is a crazy game.
One of the girls heard about this game last week. She went to the Red Hook Public Library on Clinton Street near the community center to look it up in the Encyclopedia Britannica. Well, what she found was that this game is hundreds of years old. Kids made it up and started playing this game in England a long, long, time ago. There was a plague killing thousands of people in London, England and no one knew how to stop this disease from spreading all over the place. Men, Women, Children were dying left and right. There were dead bodies everywhere. Every time someone died they put the bodies in the street, you could imagine the smell of all those rotting dead bodies lying all over the place. So they picked up as many bodies they could, they put them on wagons and piled the dead bodies up in an open field to burn them. But burning the bodies did not stop the disease from spreading and killing more people. Many of the people who lived there started carrying flowers like posies to mask the smell of the rotting bodies in the streets.
No one really knows how or when the kids made up this game called “Ring Around The Rosie”. Death was everywhere, some mothers, fathers, sisters, brothers, aunts, uncles, grandparents and other where dying every day. You watched us play this game so you could see how it goes. The song we sing, the circle we make and the dead person standing in the middle of the circle with their eyes covered. The point of the game is that anyone could die. So if you’re the last one in the circle falling down, then you take the place of the dead person standing in the middle of the circle. We think that the kids made up this game because they were afraid of dying themselves and they did their best to make fun of all the death around them. The Children who came to America in Colonial times brought the game with them.“ As Joanie was telling me about how the kids in England made up this game I sat there listening, with my mouth open. Then I said.”Holy Shit! Why didn’t they all die?” Joanie laughed, because she knew I was scared out of my mind and said.
“Remember, this took place hundreds of years ago. No one knows the real story but people said they found out that the Rats were spreading the disease. So they killed as many Rats they could find but people started dying in France, Spain, Germany, just about everywhere in Europe. Then they found out why this disease, called the Black Plague, was spreading everywhere.
A sailor noticed that the Rats moved from place to place by climbing up the rope into the ship tied to the dock. When they got to a new seaport the Rats climbing down the rope when the ship docked again and brought the disease with them. That’s how the Rats moved from place to place. The sailors made special discs that were put on every rope to stop the rats from climbing on and off the ships. It took years for the people in England and Europe to stop this plague, which they did by killing all the rats they could find and keeping the rats from moving from place to place. Nobody knows the real number but the stories say that 25 million people or more died during this period of the Black Plague.” Joanie really freaked me out by telling me how these kids made up this freaking Rosie game hundreds of years ago. I know that thinking about this Rosie game is going to give me nightmares tonight. I can’t shake this creepy feeling I have while walking home. I kept on hearing the girls sing that stupid song in my head over and over again. “Ring around the Rosie, a pocket full of Posies, Ashes! Ashes! We all fall down.”