“It’s strange what a little boy remembers of his early life,” wrote Henry Miller in a 1971 New York Times essay, nine years before the death of the author of Tropic of Cancer and other great 20th century novels.
Until age nine, Miller lived with his family (at left) at 662 Driggs Avenue (below) in Williamsburg. His memories of what he deemed his “sojourn in paradise” offer fascinating glimpses of life through a kid’s eyes in 1890s Brooklyn.
“Diagonally opposite us was Fillmore Place, just one block long, which was my favorite street and which I can still see vividly if I close my eyes.”
“A few doors from our house were the shanties, two or three decrepit buildings right out of a Dickens novel. In one of them was a candy store owned by two spinsters called the Meinken Sisters.”
No street was as sensual as Grand Street, says Miller, thanks to Reynolds Bakery.
“The back of the bakery gave out on North First Street, where we often played cat, or shimmy as we called it then, and the aroma of fresh baked bread, crullers and donuts assailed our nostrils day in and day out.”
“Continuing south on Driggs Avenue one came to Broadway where the elevated ran. Beyond that lay the aristocratic Bedford section. Immediately beyond Broadway was the Fountain, where on Sunday the bicycle riders gathered to ride to Prospect Park and Coney Island.”
“Years later, when I took up quarters in Paris, in the poor districts especially, I often ran across streets which reminded me of that strange territory surrounding Metropolitan Avenue.”
This blog devoted to Henry Miller covers more ground in the Times article, which is behind a paywall.