TOO LONG AGO:
A Childhood Memory.
A Vanished World.
A Family. A City. A Rust Belt Tale.
An Amazon Best Seller:
At last . . . a memoir finally worthy of comparison to the uproariously funny fiction of the
- Kindle Edition - Top #100 Best Seller List - Ethnic and National Biographies
- Top #10 Best Seller in "New Releases in Ethnic & National Biographies"
- Best Seller in "New Releases in Memoirs"
great Jean Shepherd, author and narrator of the beloved A Christmas Story.
Only . . . it’s all true. Sometimes . . . sadly true.
Award-winning presidential historian and baseball scholar David Pietrusza’s witty and wise
tale of growing up in the 1950s and 60s, Too Long Ago is no Leave It to Beaver or Father
Knows Best episode.
It’s a unique glimpse into an unjustly ignored and forgotten immigrant experience—Eastern
European and devoutly pre-Vatican II Catholic. A tale of a tight-knit Polish community,
transplanted from tiny, impoverished Hapsburg-ruled villages to a hardscrabble,
hardworking, hard-drinking Upstate New York mill town. It’s how the first rust corroded the
Rust Belt, sidetracking dreams but not hope.
It’s a lively saga of secrets and hard times, of insanity, of manslaughter and murder, of war
and postwar, Depression and Recession, bar rooms and churches, unforgettable
personalities and vastly unpronounceable names, of characters and character, of popular
culture (sometimes surprisingly high by today’s standards), of homelessness, of
immigration—first to America and then from Rust Belt to Sun Belt—of vices and virtues,
and how a sickly, bookwormish boy who loved history and the presidents finally discovered
a national pastime and made it his own.
Alternately sharp-edged and warm-hearted—sometimes shocking and always surprising—
Too Long Ago is a poignant tour-de-force, a no-stopping-for-breath, coming-of-age
narrative, akin to cross-breeding Jean Shepherd’s boisterous A Christmas Story with
Pulitzer Prize-winner Richard Russo’s gritty semi-autobiographical novel Mohawk (set
mere miles from Too Long Ago) and presenting the genre-bending result in the
mesmerizing form of a decidedly non-WASPY rendition of an epic Spalding Gray monolog.
I was born.
Stuff happened before then . . . so they tell me.
Stuff happened afterward . . . which nobody can deny.
So, while my arrival would certainly have generated some darn swell reality TV, my
significantly less graphic plan is breathtakingly simple.
First, to tell you about the stuff that happened “before” my arrival—crimes and
misdemeanors to which I solemnly plead “‘not guilty.’ I have an alibi, officer.”
Secondly, to devote the remainder of these pages to nearly a couple of decades of various
stuff happening “afterwards.” Some of those latter misdeeds I might be guilty of.
So I take the Fifth.
Translation: let’s get this delivery room stuff out of the way.
To be precise (I’ll try to be as precise as bearable), I arrived at 6:35 p.m. on a cold and
windswept St. Cecilia’s Day, Tuesday, November 22, 1949.
The site: Amsterdam, New York—deep upstate—at its old City Hospital.
Why we didn’t travel a few additional blocks down the street to Amsterdam’s more-modern
Catholic hospital, St. Mary’s, I really can’t tell you. Perhaps, everyone (myself included)
just wanted to get it over with.
Amsterdam City Hospital is no more. Its site is now a park and playground. The site of its
maternity ward is, as far as I can fathom, a tennis court, a happier fate than what’s befallen
far too much of the city itself—a rags-and-patches legacy of abandonment and decay.
You’ve probably heard of 1949—but probably not Amsterdam, New York.
There’s a reason for that.
Amsterdam has survived. It has not prospered.
It’s endured decades of industrial decay—a once-thriving community that in a
quintessentially rust-belt way has now simply . . . rusted.
Many of my memories remain good. Good people. Good places. Good times. What I often
see now is not good.
Too many of even the city’s once “better” neighborhoods betray a gloomy, tired
shabbiness. The worst neighborhoods are far worse. Downtown is a largely business-free
wreck. Churches and civic organizations have, one upon another, shuttered their doors.
Jobs and people long ago fled by the thousands.
The block on which I spent my teenage and early adult years, once fastidiously
maintained, is now the stuff of dystopian films. Buildings torn down. Homes burnt and
abandoned. Windows broken and boarded up. Windows broken and not boarded up.
Porches filled with junk. Piles of garbage on the sidewalk. I expected to be saddened and
I was horrified.
As in vast swatches of upstate, the bloom has long since faded from Amsterdam’s rose.
But even if Amsterdam’s economic future had proven less desolate, my childhood world
would still be a vanished one. Richer or poorer, Amsterdam would have moved on. The
world itself would have traveled even further.
It certainly has.
So, I’m here to tell you about my vanished world—the old Amsterdam—a place of faith and
families and neighborhoods, of hustle and, yes, often, hustling, where ethnic traditions and
an extraordinary sense of belonging still lived.
Because, I fear if I don’t write it down, nobody else will