Exit Ramp: A yearning glance back at Weequahic

Exit Ramp: A yearning glance back at Weequahic

It’s not just me. Whenever and wherever I meet any Weequahic grads and we discover the link, we can’t stop talking and reminiscing. 

The other day my husband and I were in a restaurant, and I told him the four men sitting at the table next to ours — all from my generation, none of whom I knew — were from Weequahic. My husband, clueless about all things Weequahic, asked me how I knew. I don’t know how I knew; I just knew. Their speech patterns, perhaps? Who can figure these things out?

And so I brazenly interrupted their conversation. These were apparently “guys who lunch” often and probably on a regular basis for the past 50 or more years. “Hey, are you from Weequahic?” Of course they were. And we got started. We began with the graduation years and then the “Did you knows?” Then we dashed to the “Where did you lives?” So much to talk about. The only demoralizing part was that these old guys were all several years younger than I. 

Not everyone has an old neighborhood like Newark’s Weequahic. Just about all of us, especially the crop from the ’40s and ’50s, those who are now retired, are imbued with nostalgia, remembering the old days with love and longing. We know we can’t go back. Our houses may still be standing, as are the school and the hospital — the two most prominent anchors of the section. But the heart of our hearths is missing. “We” are long since gone.

We have never replaced that special place. We searched, and we moved: to the suburbs, to New York, even to Israel. And vast numbers to Florida. Nice places all, but just not the same.

What is it we’re yearning for? Obviously, topping the list is our youth, with its vigor and dreams. I can remember riding my bicycle, as we all did, endlessly, never feeling tired. That young girl is no longer available. 

Of course we yearn for our families. Who among us wouldn’t thrill to walk into the kitchen and see our moms, decked out in their aprons, stirring the soup? Or see our dads coming in from a hard day at work. Or to re-share life with our siblings — despised or loved, depending on the day. Or to walk our childhood dogs, whose brilliance has not since been seen? We yearn for the love and security that were pretty much universal in neighborhoods like ours. When I occasionally drive over to 83 Aldine St., the house my zayda built, I often stop and think about ringing the doorbell. How I would love to go inside. But what would I see? The ghosts of my memories and a house of strangers. Tormented, I leave. Let the memories go and let the “newcomers” enjoy their home. 

It’s hard to pinpoint what made our neighborhood so special. Was it a chemical reaction? Mr. Martino, my chemistry teacher at Weequahic, was never impressed with my skills in his special subject, so maybe my compounds don’t compute. But I think if you add a community of similarly minded people, strivers all, and make them safe and comfortable enough so that their children (those of my generation) have plenty of nice clothes; enough money for bicycles, skates, and trips to the movies; a Jewish sensibility; and put them into a high school of similarly minded kids with a generation of incredibly talented teachers — teachers who serendipitously arrived at Weequahic because of historic events like the Great Depression and World War II — then you wind up with our beloved, cherished, and longed-for community. 

I have often told my children that my childhood was much better than theirs. I had so much more freedom. I didn’t have playdates or carpools. I had wings and I could fly. Alas, for me and all of my friends or would-be friends, we cannot go home again. Weequahic lives in our dreams and memories. Perhaps, one day, Weequahic shall rise like a phoenix and our descendants will move back into the house that zayda built. Not today. Not today. 

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