STEP ON A CRACK
Mothers in our neighborhood smoke
cigarettes and wear red Indian kerchiefs on
their forehead to keep sweat from falling
onto their faces - mothers all wear tube
tops - stuff toilet paper inside to make them
look big - send their children to the grocery
store, the drugstore where Mr. Ferro gives tiny
brown bags filled with little bottles of pills.
Mother looks worried when she runs out
of her little orange pills. She would say,
“run, I need my pills, it’s the only thing
that keeps me alive.”
So I grab two one dollar bills she has in
her hand- dash down Avenue A - never
thought about the cracks, or breaking
mother’s back – now I am running as fast
as little legs carry me, clenching two one
dollar bills, so tightly, my nails dig deep
into my palm – all I had to do was drop
two dollars, I knew the window sill was
On a day when I ran to Ferro’s Pharmacy
my mind wasn’t on cracks but on mother
dead on our kitchen floor – because I walked
too slow, or worried about cracks.
Up the steps I climb 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.
My steps are quick as I leave the drugstore.
Running down four cement steps, across Mason
Street straight down Avenue A. I run –
all the way home hoping mother would not
be stretched out on our kitchen floor.
She isn’t on the floor. She is staring out the
kitchen window looking out toward Seneca
Street - we live on a corner lot in a city called
Schenectady where the General Electric Company
not only made people happy with so many jobs, but
made the world happy when GE was known
as the company which Lights the World.
Perhaps mother was nervous - she kept
dragging on her chesterfield cigarette and
never did look at me, out of breath, trying
not to stumble on uneven sidewalks, sidewalks
where weeds would grow between each slab
Our family counted pennies on 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 change, enough
for a popsicle, or fudgical.
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.
Mother sent me across the street to Central
Market, for a can of spam, oh, how could she
eat spam? It was bad enough she did make me
like White Tuna from the Sea, in that special
can of “Tuna of the Sea.” Mother handed me
money then stared once more from our kitchen
window toward a Central Market, only kitty
corner from the side of our house – directly
across from the alley way. I knew when she
stared from the window she was thinking about
Mrs. Moon – her daughter was killed near the
market, by some driver – ran right over her. . .
So, I left the house, walked across a parking
lot, scuffing cinders as I dragged my feet, lifting
up dirt which would cling to white ankle socks
and twist and turn the coins in my clenched
fist. Spam was cheap.
Mother never made mistakes when it came to
how much money she handed me, and I never
did take that extra dime for a comic book.
Eventually, mother would hand me a dime to
bring to school, use during lunch time at the
penny candy store, where the crossing guard
made sure all the cars stopped on Van Vranken
It was the highlight of my day, carrying my
own brown paper bag filled with small round
Malted Milk Balls, two for one cent. “Cozy Corner”
was filled with kids buying candy. I can still
see the light wooden floors, and a different
smell inside the store – one I never smelled
anywhere else. The walls were bare, and this
little old man stood behind the glass counter
with the patients of a saint, that’s what mother
told me, as he took pennies and change from
a child’s hand.
Before crossing a busy road, a lady in a
mans cop clothing, white gloves, black boots -
told us when to cross. The only reason why
mother let me cross the street and collect
penny candy like all the kids in our neighborhood.
Before entering the big market I turned and
noticed Mother was still standing at the window,
smoking her cigarette - I wondered if she was
thinking about me crossing the street? Or about
people stealing children – enticing little girls into
their car with candy? I opened the door.
Central Market, a bigger grocery store – giant
compared to Charlie’s three doors down Avenue A
where slabs of cement lifted higher in spots,
and lower in others. I had to worry about
mother’s back crossing Charlie’s cement blocks.
Finally I reach the house, climb the stairs holding
a larger brown paper bag, and making sure I
held the railing as I climbed the old wooden
stairs – you see, Daddy told me most accidents
happened in the home, and Daddy was always
Nancy Duci Denofio
all rights reserved @2011