It was comforting to open the door to the rear staircase of our three-decker home.
It was the main thoroughfare for its families — my aunt‘s on the first floor, my grandparents’ on the second, and ours on the third. The rear door opened to a small entry. I ran to its shelter when I feared the menacing, dimly lit, shadowed streets of the neighborhood… racing at top speed in Keds to the comfort of a large door which opened easily ahead of me and closed with a solid slam behind.
The staircase was swept and washed regularly. The smell and the gleam of cleanliness was prevalent. This opened my senses to the aromas emanating from the open doors of the tenements. The warmth of the kitchen stoves flowed like lava down the stairs. And oh those aromas; red sauces, soups, frying dough, garlic, basil, onions, browning meat, roasting chicken, apple pie, coffee, and the seductive scent of baking bread … its crust housing a soft white, warm prize ready to dunk in the gravy.
Four rubber-matted, mahogany steps led to the first floor apartment. A turn left and thirteen stairs took me to the second floor. A dim unshaded bulb lit each landing. Another turn left, thirteen more stairs and a final spin on a small landing put me at our tenement. On a usual day, I would bound out of my door, slamming it behind me, thunder down the stairs by my grandparents, dash by my aunt’s door and be out. On many days, there were plots to stop my sprint.
There was the garbage. Dad’s practice was to bind the garbage in newspaper and place it in the alcove to the right of the door. My chore was to take it out each morning, but I often “forgot.” One day, Dad placed the garbage in front of the door. I leaped over it, flying to the first landing and speeding down the stairs to his disapproving roar.
I hated to wear rubbers. On rain or snow days, I tried to get out without them. I could get by grandma’s door, but never by my aunt’s.
“Put on your rubbers,” she shouted from behind a closed door. Back up the stairs I went, head down, shuffling and grumbling, one step at a time, to put on ugly rubbers with tongues.
In the evening, our three families opened our doors to share the news of the day. We listened as grandfather sat at his kitchen table reading aloud his Italian newspaper. We heard him slurping from the saucer where he poured his hot coffee to cool. We shared a four party telephone line. We shared food, aromas, warmth, music, clothes, toys, stories, laughter, relatives, friends, and guests.
The rear staircase bonded the families who lived there. It was familiar, safe, and comforting.