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Dreams of my old apartment make for special Mother’s Days

By John Toth

The Bulletin


I was watching our 25-inch color television in the living room, and my mother was making dinner in the kitchen.


It smelled delicious. I was in our 24th-floor apartment in a public-housing project. The view was fantastic. On a clear day, I could see the World Trade Center towers from the living room windows.


I was in a good place, safe and secure. I went to the dining room and looked into the small kitchen, where she was working. She wasn’t there. I looked in her room. She wasn’t there, either.


I was alone. Then I woke up. One of my kids was tugging on my shoulder. I woke up to the real world of children, pets, youth sports, school buses and getting the kids ready for school.


It hasn’t happened all that many times, but occasionally I drift away in my dreams to my earlier life when I lived with my mother in the big-city, high-rise apartment, where I grew up from age 11 to 22.


I visit with my mother in those dreams, always in that apartment, never in Hungary or Austria. It’s always in the 24th-floor, 2-bedroom, one-bath corner apartment. She is almost always in the kitchen, and I always smell the aroma of her cooking.


I can still describe every inch of that apartment. My room was on the side facing the river; her room was facing the street. The living room and dining room, small as they were, also had a city view.


I remember the very first time I stepped foot in that apartment in 1968. It was brand new, freshly painted, had new appliances and a full bathroom that we did not have in the brownstones we lived in before. And, it had a million-dollar view.


We were set. For the first time, my mother and I felt like we were on the top of the world. In a way, we were.


The first time I approached one of the windows, I didn’t dare to get too close or even look straight down. But it didn’t take long for that feeling to go away. The height became the norm. It quickly felt like I was on the ground floor.


Soon after we moved in, we stopped by a Singer electronics store on the way home to just look around.


I thought Singer only sold sewing machines, but I was wrong. They sold all kinds of electronic gadgets, including 25-inch color TVs.


We bought a small black and white TV a year earlier. That was most of my entertainment as I submerged myself in sitcoms, cartoons and Lucha Libre Internacional.


I think I learned more English watching those sitcoms and cartoons than any other way. I didn’t learn any English watching wrestling, but it was a lot of fun - until I found out that it was fake.


My mother wanted that 25-inch color-TV console. I know, because I translated for her the best I could. The store manager asked for credit history. She didn’t have any. She wanted to pay by the week or month, and she showed them that she was employed and where we lived.


That wasn’t going too far with the manager. Then she pulled out $100 cash from her purse as a down payment. That was 20% of the price of the TV. She wanted it. My big question was, how did she get the $100?


“I saved it up over the months,” she said. “I’ve been looking at that TV through the store window for a long time.”


The manager finally agreed to take the down payment and let her pay out the rest weekly every Friday. My mother got her way, and the next day, the big, beautiful color TV was delivered to our apartment. It was a very exciting day.


My dreams always include that TV. It was my mother’s pride and joy - something that she never thought she would ever have. She now had a nice apartment and a big color TV in the living room. We were getting Americanized quickly.


My mother loved the American way of life. She ate it up, every piece of it. We also went on our first true vacation that year - we got on a bus and went to a resort in the Catskills. It was wonderful. I wanted to stay there, but the apartment and the big TV were waiting for us.


She died way too young at 60 years old. It was the saddest period of my life. I only got through it with the help of my wife, Sharon.


I haven’t been back to that apartment in a while. It’s about time for another trip. My mother, young, slender and pretty, yells at me to come eat. I turn off the black and white TV in my room, close my calculus book, shut down my Texas Instrument calculator and head on out to the dining room.

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