On a hot late August night in 1953 when I was 6 years old, my mother got a phone call from one of her former gangster boyfriends. “Hey Roz, its Rio, listen a big jewelry heist went down tonight and some of the stuff got left in the alleyway next to your apartment.” During this time we were living in a small apartment on 12th avenue and 43rd street in the Brooklyn neighborhood of Boro Park. “Get out of here” I could hear my mother say to Rio who only had one eye and wore a patch over the missing one. “No it’s true doll just get yourself down to that alley in the morning and see what you can find. My mother ran upstairs to her best friend Anna’s apartment to let her in on the news, which was not such a good idea, because Anna had a big mouth and in the morning they were joined in the alley by many of the housewives of 12th avenue. There was grand mere, fat Ida, toothless Kitty, slim Sally and others. Before you could say Diamonds are a girl’s best friend, the housewives were down in the alley on their hands and knees searching for the lost and stolen gems. Years later when I would see Jean-Francois Millet’s great painting the “Gleaners” I would think back to that hot August morning when my mother and her friends were like the ladies in the painting on their hands and knees, not in a field searching for food, but in a dark and dank alleyway in Brooklyn searching for diamonds. Of course the sight of all those housewives in their housedresses on their hands and knees viewed from the street attracted attention and soon the police, reporters from the Daily News and a truck from the local TV news joined them. I was of course there also doing my best to find something that all I knew about was that it glittered in the summer sun and was worth a lot of money. Just the other week my older sister by 6 years had taken me (on the order of my mother) to the Boro Park theatre to see “Gentlemen Prefer Blondes” and there was Monroe singing about the very thing that we were now on our hands and knees searching for in that dirty alleyway. Jane Russell was also in the film and for a moment in time I thought it was my raven-haired mother up there singing and dancing her heart out. When I was a child my mother reminded me of Jane Russell, Ruth Roman & Patricia Medina mainly because they all had black black hair and usually wore a bright slash of red lipstick across their mouths “Is this a diamond Mommy” I asked as I held up a small piece of glass.” No honey, its a piece of glass and be careful not to cut yourself” she replied. “This is what you should be looking for Ira“, and she showed me this tiny little piece of shinning rock that she held in the palm of her hand. She was doing pretty well, for already she had found 6 of those tiny pieces of light. “I think I found one Mommy” I yelled and yes indeed I had. Inside it went into the side pocket of her housedress. The cops wanted all of us out of the alley and on our way, but the women would not hear of such a thing and stood their ground. My mother, the ring leader knew some of the cops from our Luncheonette where they would sometimes come to eat and buy cigarettes. “Oh come on Joey” my mother said to one cop. “We ain’t doing any harm, and besides maybe I’ll even give you one of these little gems, if you leave us alone. And besides you’d have to take us all in to get us to stop looking. Needless to say the cops left the housewives alone to do their work, and as the early morning turned into afternoon my mother had found about 15 or so of the gems. That night we were all on the local news, and since we were one of the few families in our building with a television the joint as they used to say was jumping. Everyone wanted to see the news and it seemed like the whole apartment building had crammed into our tiny living room to watch this still new and exciting invention that brought the world into our homes. Many years later my mother had baby rings made for her grandsons and had some of the diamonds set in them.
Pictures used-My mother is one of her film noir poses, The Gleaners, Monroe singing, Jane Russell, Patricia Medina, Ruth Roman