You will encounter Nat’s writing when you read Of Things that Used to Be, but in the mean time, below is a sample.
(You might also enjoy the mystery novel Nat wrote with his wife that was published by Harper in 1949 about which Rex Stout wrote: “A first-rate detective story. It’s a rare joy these days to read a tale by a team of writers who have manifestly heard of Freud, and use him for trim, but who, nevertheless keep your eyes glued to the page not to see the neuroses bebobpping, but to watch a good detective dig in and detect.” Look for a used copy on abebooks.com or Amazon.com of The Shadow and the Blot, by Nathan D. and Griselda G. Lobell.)
From the opening pages of Of Things that Used to Be:
FOX STREET IN MY DAY
Often, in my grown-up life, I have dreamed of going back to Fox Street in the Southeast Bronx, the street of tenements in which I lived as a child. In my dreams Fox Street is an elegant Venetian canal lined with stately granite palazzos or is part of a city on a distant hill, a golden sunlight dappling its white marble structures. Sometimes I dream that I dig into our letterbox at 744 Fox Street and pull out an accumulation of mail, sneakers and junk that had been stored in it during the years after I left.
In this book I have gone back to Fox Street and its people and my days living in it from the years 1916 to 1926. It is, in the shimmering space of these memories, neither the place of my dreams nor what it is now in fact in the 1970s: a facade of abandoned, burned-out, crumbling tenements, an old victim (like so many live ones) of the mindless destructiveness of the last ethnic waves to wash over the place.
I will be talking mostly about Jews. But these were doublesifted Jews. They, or their parents, had the energy and will not only to escape to America from the ghettos, the hunger and the pogroms—or conscription into the Armies of Tsars and Emperors—but also to migrate from the miseries of the East Side of Manhattan into the “country,” the Bronx, the Borough of the still empty lots and the clean air. They were the first wavelet of Jews who (or whose children) later moved further north into the Westchester suburbs or even exurban Connecticut, to Hollywood and to Miami. To them Yiddishkeit (the state of being a Jew) was all right in its place. But they were, in vision and in aspiration, Americans; far from the Rabbi-ridden tight little ghettos of central Europe. To them it was a mark of great passage to become “ah tzititzin” (a citizen) and “zich oistzugaylen” (to yellow out, a “greener” or a “greenhorn,” to integrate).
Thus, compact and relatively cohesive as the Fox Street ghetto was, it was in and part of America, porous at its borders, infusing and being infused by the larger world around it.
I dedicate this book to the people who made and shared my experiences in the little (but big enough for me) world of Fox and 156th Streets—to the older ones long since gone and to the contemporaries, even the Irish kids of the Springhurst gang, wherever they may be.