|Potts Family and Corvair|
I recently took a survey of friends and family, asking what they think about when drifting off to sleep. Few of them admitted to scenes playing out in their minds with heroes or heroines outsmarting some evil boss, or in-law, or other treacherous villain. So why do I? Freud would blame it on my parentsthe tales whispered to me at bedtime, the ominous shapes and sounds of my childhood, and the fear of a monster lurking just outside my window. Blame my parents, Sigmund? I have nothing but gratitude to them.
I was born Sharon Hecht on the lower eastside of Manhattan, long before the neighborhood became fashionable and Russ and Daughters started offering wasabi roe along with their deli platters. The Bowery still had bums in those days and for a dime, they would offer to smear your car's windshield with a dirty rag. My parents would instruct me to duck down low beside the backseat of our car so the bums wouldn't steal me and sell me to gypsies. Gypsies, I thought, shuddering with pleasure.
Before I was of school age, we moved to Jackson Heights, Queens, a haven of six-story apartment buildings, shoe stores, pizzerias, movie theaters, and no bums. There were six of usmy parents, two older brothers, Aunt Goldie and meall cozily coexisting in a two-bedroom, one-bath apartment. Sometimes, when my dad wasn't working late, he would tuck me into my little alcove of a bedroom and tell me about his childhood in Poland. How he and his friend Louie would escape from the terrifying ogre of Kazimierz that lived in a hilltop castle above their village. Ogres, I thought. How wonderful!
During the day, I looked down at the honking cars and strolling people from the window of our fifth-floor apartment, avoiding my lunch. My mother, who had grown up in Brooklyn during the Depression, warned me that a gorilla would climb up the fire escape and drink my milk if I didn't finish it first. I always left a little milk in my glass, and waited. And waited.
In the summer, we would leave behind the concrete jungle, gorillas, and honking horns, and journey two hours north of New York City to spend July and August in the Catskill Mountains. We stayed at Hochrat's Bungalow Colony, whose name actually sounds even worse than it reads. I went prepared with armfuls of books that I had taken out of the library. At least one armful was always of The Bobbsey Twins, and later, Nancy Drew. Every night, I would read in bed to a cacophony of chirping crickets and frogs. Our bungalow backed up to a wooded thicket, where escaped convicts from the local Woodbourne Prison lurked, waiting for the right opportunity to push through the screen of my bedroom window and kidnap me. Probably to sell me to gypsies.
In a twisted way, the horror was a stimulant. I wrote short plays, mainly variations of Hansel and Gretel, and performed them with my friends. As I got older, I began writing short stories for pleasure. But practical considerations intruded, and the gypsies, ogres and gorillas spent the next twenty-five or so years locked in the cellar while I pursued careers in accounting and as a business executive. But at night, I'd let the monsters out. I would read bedtime stories to my kids, Ben and Sarah, my preferences leaning toward the Brothers Grimm and Hans Christian Andersen. But the stories they loved best were the ones I made up. They always featured Ben and Sarah, and occasionally our dog Gizmo (and later Gidget) outsmarting an evil villain. Is it any wonder where Jeremy, Elise, Robbie, and Geezer came from?
Several years ago, I sold the recruiting firm I had helped build and left the business world. With my husband's encouragement, I filled my time writing the stories of my childhood. And then one day, I decided to write a novel. And everything I'd ever feared and loved came to find their resting place. My monsters finally had a home.
So thank you, Mom and Dad. For the nightmares. And the dreams.