The other day a new acquaintance in my life asked me if I knew about social clubs. Did I? I sure did and was proud of it! This woman is a couple of years older than I am. I imagined looking up to her as the idealized “teenager” when I was still an achingly shy kid. She went on to reminisce and share how she missed going in for a beer or two and for the camaraderie only obtained with family and close friends. She said she can’t find any in Park Slope anymore. What had been easy to come by went out when high priced rents rolled in. A community, my community, was changed.
Social clubs, especially family owned, were popular in the fifties, sixties and seventies. Club membership could include athletics and games. In my family’s case the sport was softball played in Prospect Park and domino tournaments. Winning teams were sent on a trip to Puerto Rico by sponsoring beer companies such as Miller and they also received shiny trophies. We lined the mantel over the fireplace with proof of where my Pop was most evenings.
Julia Acevedo, the star of my novel, Covering the Sun with My Hand, goes to pick up her “Papi” at “the club.” She goes there to alert him that her mother is ill but sometimes she goes because he needs a reminder that he has “a home to go to.” Some of my earliest memories and pictures are of the family social clubs where I spent many of my childhood years. The club was usually a barren storefront filled with a billiard table, jukebox, and tables and chairs. A corner was usually emptied for the band that played on the weekends for dances, Valentine’s Day or a wedding. A bar took up the expanse of a wall and housed bottles of all types of liquor. There was refrigerator filled with beer. Budweiser, Miller High Life, Schafer and Rolling Rock.
Sounds of music blaring and Dominoes slammed against tables signaling ‘un chivo’ still ring in my ears. The smell of beer coagulated in dark walls of the establishment that promised anonymity. Occasionally the overhead lights would be turned on for a children’s celebration. A horde of neighborhood kids would storm the club with parents along for a Halloween party. The children’s cheeks were red as the apples they bobbed for in metal buckets. One year my uncle made a scarecrow for another children’s gathering. He also made stilts for me that were somehow ‘lost’ in the club because of my own Mami’s fear that I’d break my neck.
The inclusion of the ‘social club’ scene takes up about half a chapter in the beginning of my novel. But in actuality it takes up a lot more. This is where husbands, brothers, uncles and male cousins spent their evenings after long hours of work. Occasionally wives, mothers, and daughters were invited for dancing, partying and the like. I will never forget the importance the family social club took up in my family. And that’s me, the angel, in the upper left corner with my sister, the nurse, and my cousins and friends!