Liz and Fred

By Regina Bartkoff

After I gave birth to Hannah at 7:35 pm on July 2, 1984 at St. Vincent’s Hospital in New York City, I called my Mom. She was the only person I called.  To make the call I remember that for some reason I got into a wheelchair and went out in the hallways to find a pay phone. Was there not a phone in the room? For the record, St. Vincent’s closed in 2010 and pay phones are also now a relic from the past. I reached up and dialed my parents’ old familiar number, MI1-5379. The phone rang and my Mom picked up. “Hello?”

I could picture her clearly, standing in her clean kitchen, talking on the big black phone that was attached to the kitchen wall with an extra-long black cord. Liz. At sixty-two her hair was still a wavy, natural jet black, with maybe a strand of grey. I could also picture her bright red lipstick, the only make-up she ever wore. And I remember the smell of Noxzema, the only cleanser she used on her face.

When my older sister Bobbie was a teenager she would stretch the cord as far as she could to get to the tiny alcove off the kitchen so she could have privacy talking to her girlfriends, and her boyfriends. “You’re gonna break it!” my mom would always be screaming.

I hadn’t told my Mom I was in labor. I only told my dear old friends Diane Goldner and John Gulager, who were living a few blocks away on East 4th street off Avenue B. The night before, Charlie and I were sitting in Tompkins Park late, after midnight. Before the curfew on the park it was nice to go out there and escape our tiny Lower East side apartment. Hannah was moving around a lot but my due date was a week away and I thought I had more time. Only a few hours later she was coming! We were a little unprepared, to put it mildly. We were two wild kids totally unprepared! We had to call John and Diane because we didn’t have the $5 for the taxi to the hospital. I remember looking down on the street waving to Diane on her bike waiting for Charlie to come down to get the cash. 

When I called my mom from St. Vincent’s, I answered her “Hello?” with, “Hi Grandma!”

She laughed her big laugh and said, “Oh! I’m afraid you have the wrong number!”

“No,” I said, “I have the right number, Grandma!”


I don’t remember what else she said, but less than a week later she and my Dad, Fred, came to visit and see their first grandchild. Clinton Street and the Lower East Side was pretty rough in the ‘80s and I really didn’t want them to get a clear picture of how things really were for us, although they had a good idea. They were from these tough NYC streets themselves. Something my dad said that I still laugh about: “We fought all our lives to get out of the ghettoes and you go right back in!” But they came, Liz and Fred, and they saw their granddaughter Hannah in her little crib. She was healthy and strong, and yes we were young wild kids, but they could see we were taking good care of our little cub. The way those two looked at Hannah I’ll not forget. They were overwhelmed. Later my mom told me they went home in a daze. 

There was no internet back then, no Facebook, no Instagram. People you knew eventually saw you in real life, hauling a baby around, and said, “Oh! There she is!”

My dad started coming every week, like clockwork for over a year, to see Hannah. He brought me ten dollars every time. “For diapers,” he’d say. Believe me, that helped us.

After some time he started making comments about the neighborhood. “Who and why are all these grown men out here on the sidewalk and not working?” My dad worked hard all his life for his family and this was not making sense to him.

I really didn’t feel like saying, “Well Dad, the older guys usually play dominos or dice and they are probably on welfare. The younger men are drug dealers. The young ones a little worse for wear are the junkies and the rest are crazy artists here for the cheap rent to paint or write or act or make movies, or music.” That would not have gone over big. But Hannah sure enough went over big with them.

When I was a teenager and falling hard for all the hippie stuff, he said to me once, kind of melancholy, shaking his head, “It’s a rough world out there Gina.”

My parents saw and lived through a lot. I miss them both, Liz and Fred.