Sunday, September 7, 2014

Inside the Windows

Chelsea neighborhood, Manhattan - 1958

Is it wrong to want everyone to be happy? My father and I used to walk around our Brooklyn neighborhood sometimes, just before dinner. I’d look in the windows of the houses we passed, trying to imagine the lives of the people inside. It might not have been the right thing to do but if their curtains were open, I thought they weren’t likely to mind.

Some people were eating dinner, some having wine and cocktails; sometimes there were children misbehaving, or running around the room, with their parents trying to herd them to the table. Whatever they were doing just fascinated me.

I dreamed of a more rural existence because of books like Rebecca of Sunnybrook Farm or Little House on the Prairie. I loved the idea of having cows and milking them or looking out over acres of land. Mostly I loved thinking about a place that was quiet, without horns honking and people jostling and all the things you find in a city.
But here I am, married and living in Chelsea with a furniture salesman who wants to own his own store one day. He’s ambitious and I think he will. But we’d need to live in the city or a suburb, so I don’t know as I’ll have my farm.

My mother taught me you can be happy anywhere, and of course that’s true. On the way home from work I still find myself looking in windows, looking for the perfect family. I suppose to find them I’d have to go further out in Brooklyn, or maybe uptown. The Park Avenue families are too high off the ground to see. Though of course, wealth is no guarantee of happiness.

My father was a fireman and my mother was a teacher, and they thought it was important to send me to college. My husband says my job is only going to work until we’re expecting a child, and I agree with him. I’m going to hand in my notice the first day I find out I’m pregnant. In a way, I can’t wait. I want to do everything right, from the very first moment. I want to be completely different than the families I see every day.

Then again, I wonder what will happen to the children I try to look out for. I’m guessing they’ll just find another social worker, but will she care as much as I do? Kids like Ruby don’t even know they need social workers. They don’t know how much happier they could be if their families were the right kind of families.

My husband laughs when I say this. He thinks I’m too idealistic, and there are other things in life besides farms and cows and white picket fences. Of course I know that, I tell him. But shouldn’t families want that same order, that same sense of calm and routine and respectful kindnesses that farm families have?
Then my husband says there are plenty of monsters out there, even in farm families. We just don’t hear about them because they’re too far away from the city and we don’t read about them in the papers.

Well, yes, I suppose.

But is it wrong for me to want everyone to be happy? I just… do.

--Gayle Levitt, MSW

Daniel W. Sheehan III c. 1955 (Restored)
Northeastern University graduation photo c. 1955