My St. Paul Street

Helen K. Liberman

June 21, 1991|By Helen K. Liberman

ST. PAUL ST. The large white letters are a proclamation. The huge green sign on which they are printed swings on a wire across the street. It looks as if it's announcing a circus.

There's a parking lot. Here are houses turned into commercial and medical offices. ST. PAUL ST.

But not my St. Paul Street. My St. Paul Street had its name imprinted beneath the soft light in the glass globe atop the corner lamppost. It was a street of dreams.

The houses were three stories high -- distinctive in that each was a duplicate of the other. Only close attention to the curtain at the window or the plant on the sill gave a clue to its character. White marble steps led to a dark wooden door which opened into a small square vestibule.

On the side wall was a row of recessed mailboxes gleaming with the patina of old brass. A button and a mouthpiece sat above each one. After one pushed the button and answered the metallic "Who's there?" a buzzing announced that the frosted glass door was unlocked. Always afraid that the door would lock before I could reach it, I would grab the door knob as if it would disappear.

On opening the door, I'd be enveloped by aromas of dark wood, furniture polish and cooking. Dinners cooking (fish and cabbage always seem to dominate) and cinnamon-scented doughs mingled with the lemon of the polish as I walked up the stairs from the first floor, passed the second landing and continued to the third landing. The highly polished banister was worn where ++ countless hands had caressed it. The dark wooden stairs were smoothed in the center by the footsteps of those of us who were going to meet our dreams.

The third landing extended to the front window, forming a small sitting alcove with a wooden settee against one wall. Sitting on that unyielding settee, I could see the approaching evening drop her veil of gray on the street below. The occasional automobile headlights would momentarily penetrate the early dusk as the gas lights would come on one by one.

In a short while the apartment door would open and the handsome young tenor whose voice I had been listening to would leave. Even though we passed each other every Thursday, we never spoke. But I knew he was conscious of me. While waiting to enter for my lesson, I sometimes heard him sing "Drink to Me Only With Thine Eyes," and I knew that he knew that I was listening to him. How many would-be singers sat on that hard settee imagining the world waiting for them?

Walking to the bus stop, especially after a rewarding lesson, I was kept company by dreams. No need to look behind. No need to be aware of who was walking on the street. No, St. Paul Street was a benevolent old lady dressed in winter gray decorated with flickering citrine buttons on her corners. As I walked along, I could hear a violin pleading a lover's need, a piano tinkling with a skater's waltz.

My St. Paul Street.

Helen K. Liberman writes from Baltimore.

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