Read an Excerpt
Safe at Home
The First Pitch
Let the beauty of what you love be what you do.
I long for the old days my father talks about. The days when kids stuck baseball cards in the spokes of their bicycles and rode the streets of Brooklyn until they came to a stickball game, at which point they jumped off, put their kickstands down, and jumped in. He actually got weepy about it a few years back when he told me of this time (and mind you, it wasn't the first time he told me of this time). He told me about how a city of immigrants welcomed a team of immigrants, and how no other place in the world, and no other team, could have done what his team did, which was to hire a black man named Jackie Robinson as its shortstop, and end segregation in baseball.
Was there ever such a Utopia? Were there really streets filled with kids playing games, free, apparently, from Wal-Mart's Corporate America, and all the other things that are part of modern society, as we now know it? My dad says such a world existed, and that its center was Ebbets Field, a magical place where heroes named Robinson and Reese and Campanella and Snider didn't just rule the neighborhood, they lived there, walking the streets and shopping at the corner stores with the rest of the locals. Kids snuck into games under the bleachers, and everyone hated the Yankees because they were cocky and affected and didn't reflect what that era was all about.
"Baseball came of age while our country came of age," he recalled ever so proudly.
Memory is a tricky thing, and the good old days always look good a few decadeslater. Revisionist history, especially when it comes from a father who never misses an opportunity to discuss what Brooklyn used to be like. But when my dad talked about those days, he gave me a glimpse into a world where men played like kids, and kids played hooky to cheer the men, bought Tootsie Rolls for a nickel, and drank things called egg creams on a big street called Flatbush. It's a far cry from where we find ourselves today. But those differences are all part of the fun.
I was born in Bensonhurst. If you look at a map of Brooklyn, Bensonhurst doesn't seem far away from Flatbush, but apparently, in the seventies, they were worlds apart. My parents were twenty-five years old when I was born, and like most new parents and young couples, they were struggling to make ends meet. In fact, when my parents found out that they were pregnant with me, they had both just lost their jobs.
I never knew of those hardships. The colossal amount of love that they shared for each other and life in general masked those financial struggles well. To this day, forty years after their wedding, their love is the kind that Rumi wrote of. I am, and everything that I've achieved is, a direct extension of that love. Every decision they made after I was born was selfless and in my best interest.
When I was four and crime started to rise in Brooklyn, they left the borough they grew up in and moved the family to Staten Island, where they could fulfill their American dreams of better schools and a safer neighborhood for their daughter. It was hard for both of them to leave the place where they had grown up, a place so inextricably linked to their memories of youth. My father in particular wanted nothing more than for me to enjoy the same egg creams that he had; but that Brooklyn, the Brooklyn of his past, had long since faded, passing into New York's history alongside Ebbets Field and the Polo Grounds.
We lived in a simple house in Staten Island. We didn't have a pool in the backyard or anything extravagant. Our only refuge from the hot humid summers was a fire hydrant on the corner that the locals would open so the kids in the neighborhood could run barefoot through the cascading water and look at the rainbows the water made. (Yes, that idyllic New York City summer image really did happen.) My family didn't have a dishwasher or a rose garden or any luxuries that defined "success." What we had was love and each other. My dad's mom, Nanny Connie, lived downstairs in the apartment that was attached to the humble house. She had plastic slipcovers on her furniture and those thick plastic runners over all the carpet that made funny noises when you dragged your feet on them in that specific way. Nanny Connie would stand me up on a chair and let me knead the dough of whatever Italian pastries she was cooking up from memory, and for dinner she would cook me pastina, which was my favorite food.
My earliest childhood memories are of my mother sketching in her sketchpad (she was a fashion designer at the time) and my father playing the Beatles on the piano or the guitar (he was a musician who gave up his rock-star dream to put food on the table). And there I was, in all of my innocence, donned in a black leotard with pink tights, legwarmers, and ballerina shoes, doing interpretive dance for my audience of Madame Alexander dolls and imaginary friends. I remember the smell of potatoes and eggs on the stove, and when they were ready we would eat them on Wonder bread with ketchup. I remember our brown velvet couch that itched my legs when I sat on it. And... I remember on those nights, when creativity and interpretive dance ensued, that off in the corner was our old TV with rabbit ears, and on that TV seemed always to be a Yankees game.Safe at Home. Copyright © by Alyssa Milano. Reprinted by permission of HarperCollins Publishers, Inc. All rights reserved. Available now wherever books are sold.