change in this street. Her presence givesnit a real history, a link to a time whennthere was optimism here.n”Grandma, are you ready to go on?”n”Yes.” She took down another painting.nI photographed it. This one had andistinct circular movement, like an overheadnview of a hurricane. Charactersnand places went swirling into the vortex.nGrandma Lottie pointed to the outermostnpart of the whirlwind, where thenstory began.n”Grandma, what do you call thisnpainting?”n”Steerage. It is about coming tonAmerica. . . . Steerage. Two weeks ofnlice and filthy peasants, crossing thenAtlantic, packed like cattie. The oldnwomen grumbled and grew sick sleepingnon the iron floor.” Lottie oncenagain spoke to herself as much as tonme. “But me, I loved it! I loved thenmillion stars over us. I loved the storiesnthat passed among the families, andnsmelling the lotkas cooking on the littlenopen stoves. I was sixteen. I ate up thenmisery just as easy as I ate the blacknbread I carried. Behind me for goodnwere the phony noblemen. Ahead,nstarting fresh in America. Being free.nGetting rich. Being somebody becausenthere were no rules against us Jews.nNothing to hold us down.”nHere the painting showed the boatndocked alongside crudely drawn skyscrapersnand the peasants clamberingnoff, hanging on to their only possessions,ntheir shabby luggage and tornnbedrolls.nGrandma Lottie looked at me fornthe first time since she began hernnarrative. A puzzled wrinkle cut hernforehead. “You know. Johnny-cakes, Insee sornething new from talking outnloud. Something I never saw when Inwas painting. There’s opposites in thenstory. We were all running away fromnbeing slaves. Running from the hardnrules that kept us bent double. None ofnus ever knew a day when we couldnstand up straight. But the weight sat onnus so long, it went into our souls. So nonmatter how fast we ran …” Hernvoice trailed off.n”What do you mean, Grandma?”n”We couldn’t escape. It was insidenus!”nShe turned back to the painting. Tona small scene of tightly packed tenementsnand a network of fire escapes.n”Look. We were in New York. Inmoved to the Lower East Side. There,neach block was like a different country.nAvenue A was Russkies. Avenue B fornPolacks. We Jews kept Avenue C fromnthe Irish the best we could. We builtnsynagogues and our Jewish theatersn… I met your grandpa, Izzy,nwhere we both found work. SeenJohnny, there he is! Grandpa! Wensewed hems for two cents a dress in thengarment center. I enjoyed life so much,nI didn’t think it was unfair to work longnhours, because I was making four timesnas much as in Vienna. I felt free andnrich. But the long hours hurt mynsensitive Izzy. Now Johnny-cakes, herenit is, what I’m talking about . . .nrunning from being a slave . . . but Inmet it here. In Izzy!”nLottie laughed at the magic of herninsight. Her wrinkles exploded intondeep fissures. Her gold teeth flashed.n”It’s so funny. I just see it now. Anlifetime too late! . . . My Izzy hadntalent. I liked that. He was a poet.nThat’s how he protested how the workersnwere treated. He was a Socialist,nalways talking about the worker’s para­nnndise he was making, where the lawsnwould bring down the greedy bosses. Inloved his fire to change the world. Sonwe got married. But I didn’t see howndifferent we were, how Izzy believed innwhat I was running from. I wanted tonbe rich. To have furs and a big house.nIzzy’s dream was killing off the rich.nCan you imagine that? I fought withnhim for nearly fifty years and nevernknew it was because he was what I wasnrunning from. It just hit me. Izzy’sndream was bringing Vienna here. Onlynhe didn’t know it. The apparatchik andnbusybodies who tell people how muchnthey can earn, by taxing all they maken— why then, we’d still be peasants.”nLottie put the painting back on thenwall. She would not let me help her.nShe took another down. At 89, she wasnstill independent and feisty. The roomnseemed very small from being fillednwith so many canvases. They wereneverywhere. Behind the frayed couch.nBehind the dusty television set.n”But Johnny, it wasn’t all strugglenand misery. Look here. We had goodntimes together. Some nights we’d gonAPRIL 1990/49n