At first I couldn’t find the damn place because New York City doesn’t like to reveal the locations of anything in its parks. Just go in and relax! This attitude is guaranteed not to relax me, but I did accidentally run into a rock with a marker about the Revolutionary War, you know, cool.
And finally I saw the house. I came in via the backyard, which was full of kids playing with hoops and sticks like they didn’t know that isn’t fun anymore, and kids listening to a storyteller wrap up a story.
In the backyard, they had a “plank sidewalk,” which they used to have bunches of in Brooklyn. Toll sidewalks. They had lots of plants labeled: flax, berry bushes. I rounded the building to go in the front door. The side was peeling. The place looked like it had seen better days, but in a nice, kid-friendly Brooklyn shabbiness.
In the hall were plaques explaining the Lefferts family got their land from the Dutch, and they proceeded to run the biggest farm in Brooklyn. I’m sorry, Flatbush. Brooklyn began with a bunch of small towns that grew together, and Flatbush was one of them.
While slavery was legal in New York, there were some big farms on Long Island, and they grew wheat and other crops that required big parcels of land. Brooklyn went from forested to bare, as people cut down trees to create farms and to burn in their fireplaces.
When slavery became illegal in New York, the Lefferts and other owners of big farms started leasing their land in small parcels, to white people, who grew smaller crops (say, potatoes) to sell in the city.
Today, the neighborhood is called Prospect-Lefferts Gardens. I lived there for a month when I was looking for a job out here. It’s a nice, relatively affordable area, mostly African-American. Ta-Nahisi Coates bought a place there, but then he changed his mind. The neighborhood responded to this with understanding at his interest in privacy, and disdain that he thought people cared where he lived. Or so it seemed from my reading of the neighborhood Facebook group. (The neighborhood is close enough to where I live that I read it still.)
When I went back outside, the storyteller was warming back up for her closing story. She asked people to come up and take instruments from her stash, and it sounded like she meant kids, but anyway I took a shaker thing and she told me it was from Botswana.
Some kids went up to stand next to her while she told this last story about a gourd that didn’t want to become an instrument but got over it. One girl was dancing like a nut, and her mom looked both amused and embarrassed.
We shook our shakers during the story, a piano player was playing all behind this, like we were in church, and around the time I thought she couldn’t thank anyone else for being there, she was done, and someone else gave her an orchid for her twenty years of storytelling, which was real sweet.
We are currently at $210 in the scholarship fund, and with only $90 more, I’ll get to drink where Lincoln and Grant and Teddy Roosevelt drank, without even wearing a fake mustache. They let ladies in now. You can make this happen!