"I wouldn't change a thing"
My parents both came to New York from
St. Kitts. My mother's grandfather was a Scotsman who went to St. Kitts
around the 1860's. I don't know how or why he went there. Sometimes I
think the British got rid of him. In those days the English owned all
the land in the British Isles. Anyone who dared to claim a piece of land
was considered a squatter. They shipped the squatters off to the colonies
- along with the convicts - which makes my great-grandfather's appearance
in St. Kitts a little suspicious. Though the Scotsman gave my mother white
blood, there was never a problem for any of us in our neighborhood in
My parents first lived in Brooklyn,
but they moved to Harlem where I was born. I am one of 15 children, all
of us delivered at home by a midwife. Two of my brothers and sisters were
actually born in the same year. In those days they were called "Irish
Twins." My parents had a big cold-water flat with the toilet out
in the hall. At night my father would bring home a bag of coal that we'd
burn in the stove for heat. No hot water - it was a cold water flat. My
father drove a horse and wagon delivery truck. Sometimes he delivered
gin, sometimes he delivered ice.
Both my parents were strong people.
When I started kindergarten, I told the teacher, Miss McGivney, who I
was. "Oh, another one of the lovely Brown children," she said
and she grabbed me and kissed me. I didn't like that, so I took a swing
at her. When I got home I found that my brother had told my mother. She
reached for a strap and gave me a hit on the behind. When my father came
home, my mother told my father, and he did the same thing. They were tougher
in those days.
My mother did a lot of cooking. She
baked her own bread, biscuits, cake. We ate a lot of rice, potatoes, roasted
meats. If she cooked peas, they were fresh. She didn't have trouble shelling
them since she had fifteen kids ready to help. She fed more than fifteen
kids since we'd all bring someone home with us. You could look around
the table and you wouldn't know half the people sitting there.
I was just a boy in the depression
and it wasn't a sorry time for me. I sang with a group that entertained
at the professional hockey games. This was about '32 or '33. We were paid
50 cents a night and all the hot dogs we could eat. It was the depression,
but, I sang, I ate, I saw a hockey game every night, and I got 50 cents
on top of that. I was happy. I wouldn't change a thing.
ABOUT ATHERLING: Atherling is now retired. At the age of 84, he has many people
who want to feed him and care for him. When asked what he thinks about
helping a friend he says "I have to. They are my friends."
NOTE: What does a family
of fifteen look like? If they're happy, they look like the Browns: