I spent a lot of time in our little yellow kitchen, adorned with a cheerful three-inch wallpaper border of Mexican hats. I can still picture my four-year-old self, dressed in my mother’s clothes. I particularly remember wearing a soft crimson flowered dressing gown, undoing my long brown braids, and thinking I looked like Dorothy Lamour. When I dropped a nickel into the top of the little door under the window, I imagined a record would start to play, choosing Frank Sinatra, the Andrew Sisters, or whatever was currently my favorite, from the radio program The Hit Parade. I’d sing low, if my mother was sleeping, or the top of my lungs when I was alone. If the passing number four train tried to drown out my voice, I’d belt even louder.
One of the songs I enjoyed singing most was Don’t Fence Me In. Not only did I sing along, but I’d pretend I was in the West, riding a horse, in some location I had seen in a movie. Bing Crosby sang it with the Andrew Sisters. Actually I never liked Bing Crosby, but I liked that song. If it were a torch song, like one of Sinatra’s, I’d imagine I was the one left and abandoned. His Full Moon and Empty Arms comes to mind. Sometimes the song was so sad, I would actually cry. Other times, I’d act out falling in love, close my eyes and kiss myself in the little mirror that hung on the wall, but I had to get on a chair to reach it. I knew the words to most of the hits, because in addition to my mother always playing the big console radio in the parlor, as well as our Victrola, my father had the latest hit songs on his jukebox. I often spent hours in his bar, feeding the box lots of nickels.
Although my little jukebox was painted a solid yellow to match our kitchen, I made believe it had changing red, yellow, and green neon lights, like the one at my father’s bar. I played my little jukebox from the time I was three to six and a half years old. That is when my mother and father separated and we moved to Newark, New Jersey.
At age twenty-eight, I rented an apartment in a prewar building on the upper West Side of Manhattan. Under the kitchen window, I saw the same little door... my jukebox. I found myself once again belting out, “Oh, give me land, lots of land, under starry skies above, don’t fence me in.”