A windfall that saved her life.
It was a three-story house with a wide front porch and a small front yard. At one time the house had a large back yard. Then a small ground floor apartment, essentially one large room and a bathroom, had been added onto the back of the house for what was called in those days “a servant” who lived in and cared for anything and everything. The small ground floor apartment’s flat roof served as a back porch for the second floor apartment which ran the width of the house but only half the depth. A small hallway connected it to the stairs, which also led to the other second-floor apartment – the one facing the street. On the top floor, another, larger apartment ran the full length and width of the house. In total, the house numbered four individual living units, all of them created from what had been a single family dwelling many decades before.
“That room on the ground floor, when my aunt died suddenly from a stroke, that became my room,” Alva told Kitty.
“But who owned the house?” Kitty asked. “I mean, who were these people that they took you in?”
“Oh Lordie, girl, those people had they own troubles,” Alva said. “I think that’s why I felt safe with them. They was whatchoo call Holcost survivors. Had the tatoos on they arms. Lost their children and all their families. Lost everything they ever knew. But Child, they was good to me. Took me in and helped me with the school work and taught me how to get along in this world.”
“But how did you get the house, Alva?” asked Kitty.
“Well, that was a story that come to me only after they was both gone. It happened fast, too. They was old when I came to them. And then the man, Mr. Berg, he had a heart attack. I cared for him and helped Mrs. Berg. But he didn’t get better and after he was gone, Mrs. Berg went downhill fast. I turned twenty-one and one month later Mrs. Berg passed in her sleep. I went to bring her morning paper and tea and she was just gone.
“By then, my own Mama and Daddy was old, too, and ailing. So I thought I just better stay in Brooklyn and find me a job. I had saved some money out of what Mr. And Mrs. Berg had been paying me all them years. So I went looking for an apartment and then over to the house come this man in a suit. He tells me he’s the lawyer and executor of the estate. He had to explain to me what that meant. And then he shows me the will they left.”
“Well?” said Kitty. “What did it say?”
“Said they left the house to me. And another building they owned over on Seventh Avenue. That’s where Alva’s Café is now. And rental units above. I remember this one line in that will to my dyin’ day. Said, ‘Because Alva Patterson has taken such good care of us in our lives, and as we have no living kin in the world, we leave our home and our business to her, to do with as she sees fit and we hope she will show kindness to other souls who may be in need and all alone.’ Yes indeed, that’s what it said.”