Dec. 21, 2014: Memories of Christmas Past in Dyker Heights

December 21, 2014
For me there is no place like Dyker Heights, Brooklyn.  I grew up in this neighborhood and when I have time I go back to visit St. Bernadette’s Shrine Church.  Afterwards I walk through the streets where so much happened and where many good times were had with my best friends during Junior High School and High School.  My maternal and paternal Grandparents lived here as well as many relatives on both sides of the family, too.

When I was growing up Dyker Heights was like a secret hidden away.  Very few people outside of the immediate area knew much about it unless they’d grown up there.  It was well known amongst the Italian-American community as a place with good bakeries and great Italian restaurants.  As a child my favorite bakeries were Your Baker and Mona Lisa.  The Italian restaurant my paternal Aunt favored was Romano’s on 13th Avenue near 70th Street.  While I loved their food there was nobody who could cook Italian the way my maternal Grandma Josie Muro Serrapede could.  Christmas Eve at her house was a feast filled with a dinner called “Frutta del Mar” which means fruit of the sea. An abundance of seafood like squid, octopus, clams, and shrimps was served.  This would be accompanied by pasta and a salad. Dessert consisted of demitasse and a confection called struffoli, which is a type of honeyball combined with sprinkles and candied cherries and orange peel.

This was followed by midnight mass at Regina Pacis Church.  After mass a small group might return to my Grandparents’ house for another hour of conversation accompanied by an Italian liqueur like Strega, Sambucca or Amaretto.

Sleep would come, deep and peaceful.  On Christmas morning all of Dyker Heights would be still, calm and oh-so-very-quiet.  If there was snow you could almost think there would be a Santa Claus and if you were more inclined you’d believe that the Christ child was at work in the world once more bringing hope and wonder back to our lives.

It is the memory of these events and people that keep me rooted very deeply in the borough where I was born.  The history of this borough and New York City are also my history.  In these streets and communities past and present I connect and take meaning in my life.

These are some of the thoughts that come to my mind as I walk the streets of Dyker Heights to experience the wonder of the Christmas lights on display.  I say experience because it is more than a passive intake to me.  And unlike a tourist seeking out a novelty or an amusement I find something very deep and moving in the efforts the residents make to share their joy so freely with others.