This week I’ll pass on my usual short story post. I’m sharing instead a tiny scrap of memoir, inspired by Edward Hopper’s 1939 painting Bridle Path. I’ve long been a fan of Hopper’s art, yet I know little of his life or the extent of his work. I came across Bridle Path by accident on social media. Commentators say the painting depicts the Park at 72nd Street. For me it elicits memories further uptown in the 90s.
This painting came to life shortly before I did. I spent my first seven years on West 95th Street on Manhattan’s Upper West Side. For those years my life was the color and texture of brownstones. We lived in a fourth-floor walkup. By the time I reached seven, we were mom and dad and four boys in that apartment. Johnny’s Liquor Store occupied the ground floor.
Out on the street we roamed the sidewalks, climbing stoops, hanging out in lobbies and stairwells. W. 95th Street was a contiguous row of brownstones on both sides, parked cars lining the curbs bumper to bumper. We lived a cramped life. On a cramped street. In a cramped city.
Ah, but then there was the gem that Edward Hopper captured in his painting. Central Park. My mom would wrangle the four of us plus strollers and snacks, and we’d walk up to the Park. Stepping in from Central Park West was like entering a portal to a wide open world. Winding paths, open green fields, benches – space. And horses!
The bridle path circled the Park. For a little city kid it was a thrilling sight to see horses galloping along the trail and under the stone bridges. My brothers and I played cowboys on the rocks lining the path. We shot at each other with our cap guns, leaped and jumped over the rocks. And we always paused when the horses came by. I didn’t see horses running freely like that again until one college summer I worked at Aqueduct Race Track.
Hopper’s style of social realism brought all of that back for me. My earliest years – a cramped lifestyle broken by bursts of sunshine, horses and green fields.