The history behind “Stoop Ladies”

Image: copyright 2019 Google

THE STORY IN BRIEF
A woman makes the acquaintance of a group of elderly neighbors who gather across the street, and finds there is more to them than meets the eye.

HOW IT WAS WRITTEN
When I lived in Park Slope, the neighborhood ladies used to hang out on their stoops or in the areas in front of their brownstones in fine weather. They’d sit on the steps or bring out old folding chairs, sip coffee, soda, or beer, and comment to each other on the neighborhood news. I was younger than they were and didn’t spend much time with them, but I occasionally said hello and passed a few minutes. We were from different generations and different cultures (they were mostly the children and grandchildren of Irish immigrants), but it was a pleasant relationship. One day, I imagined that beneath the ordinary exteriors they had hidden powers, and that’s where “Stoop Ladies” came from.

It was published in an anthology called Such a Pretty Face: Tales of Power and Abundance in May, 2000.

A high cackle bounces into the room from across the street. The pigeon flaps anxiously away while Julie peers outside. The ladies have gathered.

Stoop Ladies

NOTES ON THE PEOPLE
Julie is the daughter of Lydia, whom we met in “Rosemary, That’s For Remembrance.”

While the general characters of the ladies are pulled from my acquaintance with women of my neighborhood in the 1990s, no specific person is described.

NOTES ON THE HISTORY
I lived in what is called the South Slope — the southern end of Park Slope — for about 20 years, from the late 1970s to the late 1990s. When I moved into the neighborhood, it was an unfashionable, working class neighborhood (as was Windsor Terrace, the next neighborhood over). In fact, when leaflets went up announcing political or social events in Park Slope, the leafletting would stop at Ninth Street, which defined the southern edge of the Slope at the time.

That, of course, changed, and the boundaries of what is considered the fashionable (and expensive) neighborhood of Park Slope have expanded. When my landlady asked me to move out, I knew I couldn’t afford anything in that neighborhood, and had (reluctantly) to leave the area. I haven’t done much more than drive through since then, but I still get a newsletter put out by one of my former neighbors, and while I’m sure the income level of most of the current homeowners has jumped considerably, there still seems to be a feeling of neighborhood there.

Discrimination against women because they were thought to be too old or not attractive enough to fit the preferences of company management was not uncommon at the time this takes place. (Of course, other types of discrimination were also common.) Recently, it has become less acceptable, but I’m sure it still exists.

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