Friday, January 22, 2010

What I did during WW2


Mr. Franklyn Kirk e-mail

Mr. Franklyn Kirk was employed by Ford Instrument Company from 1937 to 1945.

I had never heard of this Ford and had no knowledge of what they did but I did suspect they did not build automobiles. This Ford was Hannibal, not Henry. It wasn’t long after becoming a stock clerk that I learned Ford Instrument Co. made complex naval ordnance equipment. A Commander in the U.S.Navy had an office as did a Chief Warrant Officer who served as Ordnance Inspector. The stock room I was assigned to contained parts that had been inspected and accepted by the Navy and were therefore government property.

I had entered City College in January 1935, taking classes in mathematics and history but had not selected a major. I soon realized that studying engineering made more sense if I expected to advance at Ford Instrument Company. It wasn’t until 1938 that I was able to make the change. I applied for admission to The Cooper Union Night School of Engineering, passed the tests and became a freshman again. In 1939, after completing a year at Cooper Union, I appealed to the manager of the Test Department for a transfer. I was sick of being a poor stock clerk and wanted more of an intellectual challenge. It took two tries and a management change but it worked and I was granted a six-month trial. It was now late 1940 and I had become a married man. My first assignment was to the Spare Parts Section where the spare parts kits for the completed equipment were assembled, treated against corrosion, and packed into large metal boxes. It was not much of an intellectual challenge but it was part of the Test Department. Due to an incident involving the man who had rejected my first appeal, and was now General Manager, I gained notice and was reassigned to the Unit Test Section. Here I got hands-on testing experience. It was 1941.

Ford Instrument had received a contract to design and produce anti-aircraft gun drives for the 1.1” and 40mm. They included an electrical control section that operated an electro- magnetic clutch which, in turn controlled a large electric motor that would move the guns. There were two sizes of electric motors, a larger one for moving the gun mount horizontally and a smaller one for moving the guns vertically. The signal that served as the input to the gun drives was provided by a remote sighting director that was manufactured by others. We were told our gun drives were a temporary solution due to their limited operating cycle. The cork disk in the clutch had to be replaced after six hours of operation. We produced many of them; eventually the were replaced by electro-hydraulic drives made by The York Safe & Lock Co. and the single and double guns were frequently replaced by 40mm quads.

With the entry into the war, the expansion of the company was swift. In 1937 I was one of about 650 employees; at the busiest time of the war I was one of about 8500. It had become necessary to employ men and women with limited technical experience or aptitude and train them to perform unit testing. W e had our version of “Rosie the Riveter”. Her counterparts did very well. The work was tedious and the hours long but we heard few complaints. As these folks took over some of the work, others of us were able to move on to the more complex assemblies.
The most significant and important of the Ford developed products was the Mark I computer. This was an almost incredibly complicated electro-mechanical computer made up of assembled units for addition, subtraction, multiplication, vector formation, for derivative and integral development. There were about 26 input variations necessary to produce two continuous outputs to the 5” 38 caliber gun drives. The task of the test engineer was to interconnect the various units that were housed in a large cast aluminum enclosure about the size of an office desk. Static and dynamic tests were run to ensure that the computer was responsive and accurate. These tests were rerun with an attendant U.S.Navy officer serving as final approval inspector. This entire procedure might take weeks. .

In addition to the in-plant testing procedures, some of us were able to perform inspection and testing aboard ship at the many naval shipyards in the world. A few were stationed in combat areas and were transported from ship to ship by whatever means available. My own field service was limited to the Brooklyn Navy Yard when a squadron arrived for maintenance repair and service. This really made one feel as a participant in the war. I have a few special memories of these occasions. One time I worked 23 hours of one day without relief, grabbed a 4 hour nap in the Marine Barracks and then worked another 16 hours on the USS Taylor. Another time I was on the outermost ship docked downwind of the Brooklyn Bridge when it was c-o-l-d. They used to have the ships tied up three across and three in line. [Shore ? ? ? End of Dock]. A special memory is of a couple of visits aboard the USS Texas when it was docked at Pier 51 on the Hudson River (14th St. Manhattan). It was an old ship with a complement of mature CPOs including a good cook. I had one of the best corned beef and cabbage meals of my life during one of those visits. There was a Chief named McCormick in charge of the gun crews who was great to watch. He had his guys work like clockwork on his commands. We were checking a 40mm gun drive and it was very cold on deck. He used a gasoline blowtorch to warm up the cast bronze housing enough to get the drive to operate. He was a very nice guy and you could tell his men admired him. It was good to see.
There were quite a few installation and test engineers from many companies at the Navy Yard most of the time and they were generally pleasant and hard working and respectful of the crews of the ships. You could always tell when a ship had a tough engagement; the crew was subdued but friendly.

I remember being on the USS South Dakota when she returned to Brooklyn after action in the South Pacific. There were the remains of a twin 40 gun mount that had been destroyed by an unexploded enemy shell. The canvas cover was blood-stained; I felt close to the war.

There was a period late in the war when the Test Department work week was 87 hours. I remember asking for time to get a haircut.





During the Great Depression a great number of small businesses were operating in the homes of struggling families. I can recall buying shoes from a Mr. Osborne who lived in the house across from us on Putnam Avenue in Ridgewood.. His apartment was well stocked with shoes for men and boys. There was a Mrs. Graham who operated a ladies dress shop in her living room in a house in Glendale. I got my first glasses from a Mr. Schultheiss, the father of one of my brother's friends, who was operating an optometrist/optician business from his living room.
My mother joined this group when she started to make artificial flowers in our dining room. The flowers were made from Denison crepe paper following the instructions provided with the paper. She made Jonquils, Poppies, Tulips and Apple Blossoms.
The stems were made using wires wrapped with the crepe paper and the leaves were purchased parts; In the beginning of the enterprise the completed flower was dipped in hot wax but later on we abandoned that operation and offered only the paper version.
In addition to helping with making the flowers, I became the door –to- door salesman at the age of 12.. I would place the completed flowers carefully in a clothing store suit box and go to Forest Hills (the ritzy place) by streetcar and visit each house on a street asking the owner or maid to buy my flowers.
One episode that stands out in my mind occurred when the owner of a house came to the door, looked at me and the open box of flowers and said," I don't want any" and then tossed quarter into the box and closed the door. I rang the doorbell again and then when the man returned, I handed him the quarter saying" I'm not a beggar, I'm a salesman" .
He then invited me into his living room where he examined my flowers, selected a few and then gave me a dollar. I became a happy peddler . I visited that house again a month or so later and sold some

Thursday, January 21, 2010

Early enterprise

When I was a kid about 8 years old living across the street from the back of a Greek restaurant in Ridgewood- a neighborhood in Queens, New York, I learned how to earn a little money. One of the simplest ways was to stick some chewing gum on the end of a bamboo pole and then lower it into the ventilation chamber on the sidewalk in front of a store. The chamber had a metal grating at the top that allowed daylight to illuminate the basement a bit. The grating had openings big enough for the pole to be passed through it. The openings also allowed coins to fall into the chamber when they were dropped by someone standing on the grate while gazing at the merchandise in the store window. I had a friend named Willie working with me in this enterprise. We would walk along the avenue, stopping in front of each store that had a grating and then, on hands and knees, peer into the chamber looking for stray coins. If we saw any, we would lower the gum-tipped pole so that it would make contact with each one and slowly draw it up until we could separate the coin from the chewing gum. Sometimes the store owner would chase us away. We weren’t discouraged though, we would just move on to the next storefront. We must have been quite a sight, a couple of dirty little kids full of energy and enthusiasm. One afternoon we collected almost a dollar; one of the coins was a quarter. Willie and I would divide the loot.
A steadier, cleaner and more productive activity was newspaper delivery. This I did with my brother Bud who was four and a half years older than me. I was his helper. The newspaper was a weekly and we had a regular route in a section of Brooklyn adjacent to our street. Each Friday afternoon we would go to the newspaper building with a wagon to get the papers (about 200 of them) and then pull the loaded wagon about ten blocks to the first house on our route. Occasionally we would stop on the way at a bakery to buy crumb buns or a fruit store for apples or peaches that we would eat before beginning our deliveries. Bud was a great big brother and we enjoyed being together. On the last Friday of each month we were obliged to collect for the paper; most months we had to do this the next day too. The customer was charged eight cents per month but usually would give us a dime. We would turn in four cents per customer so for 200 customers we would net about six dollars a month. I did this for eight to ten years, first with Bud and later by myself. There were other opportunities to make some extra money by delivering papers to advertisers and sales outlets on Saturdays. We did this too. It became a family tradition; my younger brother, Calvin, did it too.
One day when I was about thirteen a man came into the neighborhood and offered us boys an opportunity to earn money selling magazines. As an added incentive he promised a baseball glove to any boy who would sell twenty-five of them. I took that many and went to the neighborhood where I delivered the papers and sold them all in a just a few hours. I gave the man his share of the money, pocketed the balance and then was given the baseball glove. When he asked me if I wanted to sell more magazines, I turned him down and went off to play ball.
Another short-term money-making opportunity that came to Bud and me involved the introduction of a new metal-cleaning fluid named NOXON. It came in a 12oz. can with a screw cap and was being offered for 50¢. We got 25¢ for each can we sold during the one week introductory campaign. At this time Bud was 15 and in high school; I was 10+. We were living near a rather new development of single family homes called Liberty Park; this became our territory. We would approach the front door of a house and, before ringing the doorbell, we would polish the doorknob with the NOXON. When a housewife showed up, one of us would say to her ,"look at that doorknob, we just cleaned it with the stuff in this can, would you like to buy a can for fifty cents" . More often than not, we made the sale. Unfortunately for us, the introductory program did not continue for long.

A Snappy Comeback

A Snappy Comeback

It is always very satisfying to get off a quick and well-timed response to a casual remark. I labeled these “Zingers” and am always ready to relate the occasions of their occurrence and savor the memory.
Here’s one.
I was traveling with the aggressive President (and Sales Manager) of an industrial filter manufacturer from New England (Lexington, Mass.) en route from Lakewood to Bryan, Ohio by way of the Ohio Turnpike. This man was responsible for the rapid growth of his company and singly dedicated to that activity, which means he was quite humorless. Our conversation dealt with current events, history, politics and religion, all weighty subjects. The time and miles passed smoothly and could have qualified as a mobile forum.
We had left Lakewood in mid-morning expecting to reach Bryan before noon. The distance is about 140 miles and the travel time more than two hours. My companion was getting “itchy” when we were getting close to Bryan and lunch time so to relieve his stress, I stopped at a rest area and called our prospect.
The conversation went like this, “This is Franklyn Kirk. I am with the Sales Manager of Balston and we are very close to your plant. It’s pretty near lunch time, so if you will wait a bit , we would like to take you to lunch”
“Thank you for calling and the invitation but I can’t accept it. I have some personal errands; I have to go the cleaners.”
“Just wait, we’ll take you to the cleaners after lunch”
That’s a “Zinger”.

A lazy manager

There was a company in Bedford, OH whose chief product was a dog food but when this episode took place they were canning a Russian stew called Torshunka? for shipment to that war torn country. I have included this information just to emphasize that this is a true event that happened right after WWII. With the help of my office, they had returned a process controller to the factory for repair. About a week after it had been returned to them, I received a phone call from their plant engineer telling me that the instrument had been returned and was not working . He asked me to visit the plant.
The next day I went to Bedford and stopped in to investigate their complaint. What I am about to report is absolutely true. The engineer accompanied me to the spot where the controller was installed and then left. I then opened the door of the controller revealing its internals. The inside of the case was stuffed with newspaper and some of the moveable inner parts were wrapped with string to prevent their damage during shipment. I untied the knots, removed the strings and the newspaper which I carefully unfolded and flattened. Needless to say, the controller worked fine. When the engineer returned for a report I announced,” I know what was wrong with the controller. I removed this newspaper; it's out of date, it’s from last week”.
He said,” You’re joking !”
I said,” Yes I am!” and I left.

A tough customer

There was a buyer at a steel company in Canton, Ohio who used his authority like a politician dispensing patronage to his friends. He said his company had an approved vendor list that was sufficient for all their needs. I had called on him several times but could not overcome his stubborn resistance. Finally I stopped trying. It was about fifteen or twenty years later when I called at his company again. He was still there and I managed to get to talk to him. After we had exchanged greetings I tried to interest him in a new product of a new technology. He quickly told me that he was familiar with the technology and had already found a suitable product. And then I said, “ Mr. Anon, these days things change so often and so quickly, it’s very difficult to keep up. It’s kind of a relief to find something that hasn’t. You’re still the same intractable ass you were 20 years ago.” He was stunned and speechless and I left without saying goodbye. I reject any responsibility for the heart attack he suffered a very short time after.
A few years later, after Mr. Anon had retired, my son began to call on his company and developed some new business there.

the pickets

I was carrying a new model differential pressure measuring instrument and was in front of the Illuminating building downtown. There were pickets pacing back and forth in front of the entrance. They were carrying placards bearing messages announcing that they were on strike. As I was about to enter the building, I was confronted by one of the men who asked, “Where do you think you’re going?”
“Up to the Engineering Department”, I replied.
“Haven’t you heard? We’re on strike.”
“I know that. Don’t you expect to settle?”, I asked.
“I guess so, but not today”, he responded.
“You won’t be able to start up again unless you install one of these”. I took the gauge off my shoulder and showed it to him.
“What’s it do?” he asked .
“It replaces (and I began pointing at each of the pickets as I spoke) seven men”, I answered.
He looked at the gauge and then at me and said,” Go ahead up. You’re nuts”.
Later, as I was leaving the building with the gauge in hand, one of the men said, “It looks like we’ll have to start without it”. They all laughed and so did I.

I tried a similar approach sometime later at a plant in Ashtabula. This time there were more pickets and I had no sample with me. When one of the men challenged me, I told him it was a service call and if I was unable to meet with my contact, they would not be able to restart production after the strike ended. He asked me to wait while he called someone on his walkie-talkie. Very soon after he had completed the phone conversation a car arrived and I was told that the man inside the car was a union steward representing the Strike Committee.
Without getting out of the car he asked me,” What do you want?”
“ I don’t want anything; one of your engineers called my office and asked me to come here.”
“We’re on strike! Didn’t he mention that?” he said rather loudly.
“If I don’t get in to see him and solve his problem, you’re not going to be able to get back into production”, I claimed.
He opened the car door and shouted, “Get in.”
Off we went to the plant entrance where I was met by the engineer whose name I had mentioned. He accompanied me to his office and we talked. His first question was, “How did you manage to get past the pickets? I haven’t been able to have a visitor for a week”. He enjoyed my explanation.
After we had completed our conversation, he used his phone to call the union man who came to transport me back to the parking lot and my car.

One other encounter with pickets was very different and quite brief. It happened at a plant in Fostoria. I parked my car, got out and began walking toward the plant gate. A shot rang out. I looked around and saw a man with a shotgun and a picket sign. He shouted,” We are on strike, go away”.
I walked back to my car and left without leaving a message.

Friday, January 15, 2010

Collecting on old invoices.

Our family company did not have many deadbeat companies but every once in a while a customer would put off paying one of our invoices and we would have to urge them to send the check. Once in a while we resorted to unique approaches.
One such occasion lingers in my memory because it was so much fun and was so effective. I called the Accounts Payable Manager of a delinquent debtor for the umpteenth time suggesting they should be embarrassed by their holding back paying an invoice for a few hundred dollars from a small company that had already paid the supplier for the equipment described on the invoice. My daughter had made a few earlier phone calls and had been promised early action but the bill remained unpaid. This time their Credit Manager came on the line and said “We will mail a check to you today”.
Because I did not have a good feeling about this company’s word, I responded by saying, “Don’t do that. I’ll come down to your office to get it. I’ll be easy to recognize. I’m six feet and eight inches tall and weigh about 400 pounds. When I walk, the tips of my fingers touch the floor.”
My response was completely spontaneous as was the physical description.
Along with my son, Philip I drove downtown, parked my car in their parking lot and proceeded into their impressive lobby on an upper floor of the office building. We were greeted by a pleasant young lady. I asked her if she had a sense of humor and after she said “Yes”, I invited her to participate in the ruse.
She seemed delighted by it. She picked up a phone and we heard her tell the answerer “ Marylyn, you won’t believe this but there is a guy here in the lobby who is as big as a garage and he’s walking around saying “ You owe us money” and his big hands are dragging on the floor”! Then she hung up. Almost immediately, a woman came into the lobby waving a check. When she looked at me, I said, “She lied, I’m really not that big.” And I took the check. I thanked her, winked at the young lady and then Philip and I left their office.
Reflecting on the episode, I have always been proud of my whimsy but a bit worried about the plight of the young lady who seemed happy to be part of the episode. I know we did not receive more orders from that company. I must admit that my spontaneous response was conditioned by my feeling that the owner of that company was an arrogant ass!
I must admit I have a problem with the Trinity as I know others have had in the early days of Christianity and many now do also. I recall saying to the minister after a worship service that our religion was more Paulist than Jesuit. Jesus attacked the superficiality of the Judaism of his day and applied pragmatic remedies. Paul extracted the nobler elements of Jesus’ mission and distilled them into a message of hope based upon love. Paul was not leaning on the gospels; they had not been written. He was pressed into service directly during an epiphany. His activities as described in Acts were not recorded until 5 to 10 years after his missions had begun. His earliest letter was written about 51 A.D or about 20 years after Jesus’ crucifixion. His sole sources were revelation and experience. He acknowledged the authority of Jesus but emphasized his spirituality. I can accept Jesus as a very special prophet, as was Elijah, who was able to apply divine power to human experience. Now as for love, it is the basic element of harmony. Just as without goodness there is evil, without love there is discord. Without both, there is chaos.
I also have some trouble with what I term the “trappings” of worship like the “host” and the wine, the incense, holy water, the costumes etc. I do not like the linkage between faith and success, devotion and wealth. I do not appreciate grandiose cathedrals. I like the unadorned evergreen as much as the tinsel- covered Christmas Tree.
I remember my father telling about the time he sold a man his own hat.
Dad was working at a high class clothing store for men located in Penn Station at 34th Street in Manhattan. A customer entered the store and when Dad approached him, he said, “I need a new hat”. He removed the one he had on and handed it to my father.
The location of the store had an effect on the kinds of customers it depended on. They were business men on the go. Many times they had just arrived from other cities by train; this was in the late 1920s. The local customers would have come by subway; both lines had a station there. It was busy morning, noon and night and everyone seemed to be in a hurry. This customer was typical and appeared impatient according to my father.
In those days men wore fedoras, felt hats with brims and ribbons around the crown. The majority of the hats were grey, although there were many brown ones. Both colors had many shades giving the customer a lot of choices. Hats were available in 13 sizes from 65/8 to 81/8 and there was a variation for head shape. So buying a hat meant making quite a few decisions.
My father recalled that the hat the man handed him was “71/4medium grey, long oval”. He offered what he believed to be one that would go well with the clothes the customer was wearing. The man tried it on and gave it back, asking for another. He did this quite a few times until my father was running out of choices and patience. Finally, in desperation, Dad took the customer’s hat to the back room where a tailor steamed it with a slightly changed shape, applied a new ribbon, and inserted a new lining and brought it to the customer. The man liked it and kept it on his head. Now came the moment of truth. My father had to decide whether or not to reveal what he had done. He asked the man,”Do you want me to put your old hat in a box for you to take home?” The customer replied,” No, I don’t want to be carrying a box around all day. Get rid of it!” So my father did a bad thing. He wrote out a sales slip which he gave to the man and directed him to the cashier. He had sold the man his own hat!
I bought this car in late 1945. Actually I traded for it.
I had a 1930 Model A that I had bought for $95 a few months earlier. It had been “stored” in a driveway for about 9 years before I got it. It was not in good condition. When I tried to clean one of the doors, my hand went halfway through it. I stopped trying to improve its appearance.
I had a Doberman Pincher, a big one. One day I left him alone in the car and when I returned, I found he had destroyed the cloth roof lining. One time when we got back from a baseball game at Ebbetts Field, I tried to turn off the engine with the key. It wouldn’t stop running. Finally I put it in gear and drove it up against a telephone pole; it stalled.
WWII was winding down; gasoline was rationed so sometimes I would buy naphtha and use that as fuel. This created a problem with carbon build-up but I was able to get about a bit.
One rainy night I happened to be at a gas station when a guy with the 1931 car was there. He noticed the new battery I had in my car and offered to trade his car for mine plus $35. Knowing that when the rain stopped, my car would look a lot worse, I agreed and we made the deal at once. He drove off with the old heap with the new battery and I got in my “new” car.
I found out right away why he wanted to get rid of it. The steering column was not secured to the frame which reduced considerably the maneuverability of the car. I managed to drive home where I was able to reattach the steering column.
The car was no beauty. Someone must have rolled it over because the roof was battered on both sides from front to back, but not broken. It had oversize wheels that must have been on a truck before. It was sturdier than my previous one and had a name “Town Car”.
Automobiles were in very short supply in the winter of 1946 and I didn’t have enough money to buy a better one, so I had this one checked for safety, and, as much as possible, for dependability. And then I drove it from New Hyde Park, Long Island to Cleveland, Ohio. Whatta ride! I traveled on the Pennsylvania Turnpike Carlisle to Irwin, Pennsylvania, the entire length of the turnpike at the time. I could do 60mph downhill but on a prolonged uphill stretch, I was lucky to do 40.
I stopped overnight at a place, near Wilkinsburg, where they rented cabins. Motels had not yet been born. In the morning the temperature had fallen to about –6F. The old thing started up without a problem. There was another man there with a much newer and better car that wouldn’t. He was p….d off. I waved to him as I drove off smiling.

Thursday, January 14, 2010

Wednesday, January 13, 2010

Come take a virtual walk with me.

Come take a virtual walk with me.
It will seem slow to you but will pass fast for me.
I will talk of the time before we met.
First we should go to Cornelia Street in Brooklyn.
I was born in the house at 319 in July 1918.
All the houses on that street were alike and attached to one another forming a single row.
At each end of each side of the street was a corner store.
One was a saloon, another was a fruit and vegetable market.
The street was between two avenues, Knickerbocker and Irving.
Knickerbocker was a busier thoroughfare lined mainly with retail shops.
There was Bruegel’s candy and ice cream store and Shuman’s shoe shop on one side, Tischbein’s meat market and a newspaper and magazine store on the other side.
Then there was Blasius the undertaker’s place; it wasn’t a store and the entrance wasn’t on the street level. You had to climb a stone stairs, with an iron railing on each side, to get to the entrance doors. There were big glass windows on both sides of the stairs with big gold lettering spelling out the word “UNDERTAKER”. To me, a small child, it was foreboding.
There were two stores on Knickerbocker Avenue that I liked for their aromas. One was Koster’s coffee, tea and spice store that also had a stock of cookies. There were rows of big cubic boxes with glass fronts displaying all kinds of cookies. The coffee was ground in a machine inside the store providing another memorable aroma..
Another was Sackelos’ candy shop where they made hand-dipped chocolates. One of my mother’s friends lived in a flat over the store. Mom would always stop at the candy store after a visit and buy some chocolate-covered crackers or caramels.
We lived on Cornelia Street until 1923. I remember the names of some of the kids on the street.
There was Charles Laub who gave me my first ice skates a few years later. He was a good kid. The McGraths lived in the house next door to us; there were three girls, Mary, Nippy and Angie. I never did know Nippie’s real name and I’m not sure that Mary is the correct name of the oldest girl.
Then there were the Geists down the street on the same side, a big family, about 8 kids. The boy my age was Gussy. Another boy was Bobby Burton who also lived on our side of the street. Bobby was a chubby one with blonde hair. He was an only child. He had a wooden train set that he kept in a Shredded Wheat box and I kept nagging my mother to buy shredded wheat because I thought the train came with the wheat. Caroline Bickel lived across the street, I liked her, she was fun. The Bickels moved to Hicksville on Long Island. Jack Loomis who lived next door to Caroline didn’t stay long. His family moved to Michigan. There are other names I recall, Wenzel, Mehrling, Lagatuta.
My memories of Cornelia Street are not many, after all, I left when I was only about 5 years old. I remember my dad trying to teach Buddy and me how to “bellywhop” with an old wooden sled. He ran, holding the sled with two hands, and then lowering the sled to the snow covered street and falling on it and expecting it to glide along on the snow. But the sled was old, with rusted runners, and failed to glide. My father went forward off the sled onto the snow. I believe he cut his nose a bit and did not appreciate it when we laughed. I remember when Buddy came home from school with a bloody finger. A door had closed on it and cut it badly enough that Mom took him to the doctor who applied three stitches to close the wound. I was impressed. I vaguely recall falling down the front steps when on my way to Bruegel’s candy store. My mother’s friend, Adelaide had just arrived and, after seeing me fall, suggested I go back into the house for treatment. I brushed myself off and continued on to the store. I had one of many childhood bruises when I did return to the house.
I went off to kindergarten at P.S. 151 with Buddy who was starting the 5th grade. My teacher was Miss Bossinger who would take the class to Irving Square Park that was across from the school. The Principal’s name was Miss O’Grady, a stern old lady. I hated that school; the toilets were outdoors and very unpleasant. That was the only time Buddy and I attended the same school. When we moved after the spring term, he went on to P.S. 106 in Brooklyn and I went to P.S.77 in Queens.
We didn’t move very far. Putnam Ave. runs parallel and next to Cornelia Street. 1662 Putnam Ave. was, and probably still is, between Wyckoff and Myrtle Avenues, two blocks from Irving Avenue. But it was literally on the other side of the railroad track, a single line that was used mainly by trains hauling rubbish to an incinerator nearby. When we arrived, there was an abandoned brewery property, that included a storage yard for the old horse drawn wagons, at one end and on the other side of the street. The brewery was demolished later and replaced by 5-story apartment houses. In the meantime, the 14th St./Canarsie subway line was being installed under Wyckoff Avenue. It was a busy time.
Needless to say, the construction projects provided lots of opportunities for fun and adventure. One day we got into the brewery and rode on the rollers that had been used to move cases of beer bottles. Someone found out about what we had done , so they disassembled the conveyers.
In the space between the apartment houses and the backs of the stores along Myrtle Avenue, there was a short row of 6-family houses. Our side of the street had two different types of buildings. There was a continuous row of 2-family houses occupying about half the length of the block. The other half had a continuous row of 6-family houses. Both of these rows were actually single buildings with no breaks between the individual dwellings. There must have been a space separating the two rows but I do not recall it. I do recall the space between our building and the next one. It was called an air shaft that was a space from basement level to roof to allow outside air and light into the middle room of the flat and the others above us. There was a window in that room facing the air shaft. Our window was across from the one in the flat next door. These airshafts were common to all of the buildings. When the window was open, we could converse with the kid in the other flat across the air shaft.
There was a public garage at the Wyckoff Avenue end of the street and a clothing store at Myrtle Avenue. Our address was across from the kitchen of the Little Garden Restaurant that fronted on Myrtle Avenue. Sometimes, in summer we would peek into the kitchen to watch the cook chop onions real fast. The outer wall of the kitchen provided us with an opportunity for playing a type of handball. The backs of two other Myrtle Ave stores also faced our building. One was occupied by an optician, Mr. Greenspoon and the other by Mr. Lamazov’s housewares store. Mr. Greenspoon did not like it when we played behind his store and sometimes he would throw a cup of water on us.
. From 1923 until 1930 we lived on this rather busy street; it was crowded but orderly
There were Germans, Irish, Italians, Greeks, Catholics, Protestants and Jews.
.The language of the street revealed some prejudices but produced no violence.
The street was our playground; we had a variety of games involving a rubber ball, they were mainly derivatives of baseball. Football hadn’t made it yet. We played with marbles in the dirt and with checkers on the sidewalk; both in kneeling positions. For the ball games requiring teams, we just selected the available boys according to their apparent ability with the selection being made by two self-designated leaders. There were no “Little Leagues” and parents were too busy to get involved. On rainy days, we would gather on a “stoop” with a protective awning to exchange picture cards or just talk.
In winter, when there was enough snow, we would construct forts or igloos, throw snowballs at one another or at the girls. We could also use our sleds in the street; usually the auto traffic was reduced by the weather. There were not nearly as many cars and trucks in those days. There were horse drawn ice-wagons, milk-wagons, fruit and vegetable wagons as well as handcarts.
1662 Putnam Avenue, like the rest of the houses in the row, was set back from the sidewalk to make room for the stoop. There was a wrought iron fence on each side of the stoop. On the right at street level was a stairway leading down to the entrance to the cellar. Each house was about 25 feet wide and three stories high. There was a vestibule between the outer and inner doors. The vestibule walls were decorated with mailboxes and doorbells for each family. You rang the doorbell and waited until someone inside responded using a pushbutton inside that allowed you to open the inside door. The now accessible hallway was divided by a stairway to the upper floors. We lived on the lower floor. There was a hall alongside the stairway leading to the doors to each flat. These doors opened to another short hallway to the kitchen. The bathroom containing a sink, bathtub and toilet was a small, narrow room on one side of this hallway. The kitchen contained another sink, a pair of laundry tubs, a 20 gallon water tank with a side-mounted gas-fired water heater and a cast iron stove in which we could burn wood or coal. It included an oven and had several lid-covered openings. The single kitchen window faced the backyard but the only entrance to the yard was in the basement. We rarely spent any time there.
The dining room was next to the kitchen, separated from it by a doorway. This room had two windows that also faced the backyard. We had a round oak table that could be expanded by inserting two matching panels. There was also a china closet and a sideboard that held some dishes and table linens. There was also a fireless cooker which was a rectangular chest with two square hinged lids each of which covered a cylindrical chamber. There were several pots that fit into these chambers and two ceramic disks which after being heated on the stove and inserted at the bottom of a chamber, would provide sufficient heat to a pot placed on top of the disk to cook a stew. Each lid had a hole in the center to allow vapor to escape. It was a unique device; I don’t remember anyone else saying they had one.
There were three other rooms in line from the dining room to the parlor in the front of the flat. The one next to the dining room was my parents’ bedroom. My brother Calvin’s bed must have been in that room. The one next to that was also a bedroom where Buddy and I slept together in a double bed. We had a dresser and there were clothes closets along the wall for coats and hats.
The parlor was next. It could be closed off from the rest of the flat using sliding pocket doors. It was a very cold room in winter with those doors closed. On occasions, we would put a portable kerosene heater in it to warm it up. There was an upright piano in the parlor that my mother played. Mom had a great voice; she took lessons for a few years. but did not take advantage of it.
I enjoyed going to school (PS 77Q); it is now an intermediate school with a new building and a new designation (IS077).
I respected my teachers, when I recall them, the memories are pleasant.
There was Miss Krug who thought I was having too much fun learning.
and Miss Forest who took me to a Broadway show as a reward for getting the only 100% on an English test. She also taught me to appreciate classical music
Then there was Mrs. Moulthrop whose love for her students lit up a classroom. She taught geography. I remember her telling the class about her son who adored the Taj Mahal and was able to actually visit it.
Mrs. Moulthrop helped me to improve my handwriting by providing a couple of pages of her own handwriting and a supply of thin paper to copy it on. Miss Powell, an English teacher presented me with a special new pen as a reward for the resulting improvement..
I think they knew I liked them, I must have let it show.
When my family moved from Putnam Ave to 79-28 Charlotte Place, I was allowed to attend PS77 because I had good grades and was entering the final eighth grade.
Charlotte Place was a big change. The house was a 2-family one made of wood. The roadway was unpaved, a condition that was changed shortly after we arrived. Although our address was not part of it, the development known as Liberty Park was an impressive array of single family houses. It occupied a large area bordered by a busy thoroughfare (Cooper Ave.) and a group of Jewish cemeteries. Our Uncle Henry, Aunt Rose and
cousins Edna and Anna had moved from our previous street to their own home in Liberty Park earlier. Strangely, another family, the Grosches, sometime later also moved from Putnam Avenue to an address very close to ours on Charlotte Place. They became next door neighbors.
A sad but valuable experience presented itself to us when we moved. The family in the lower floor apartment next door had two children ,Geraldine who was about five and Edward about two when we arrived. Geraldine had developed hydrocephalus when she was two and a half that enlarged her head and rendered her blind. When the weather permitted, she lay in a baby carriage on the porch. We kids spent lots of time with Geraldine. She was quite bright in spite of her condition and able to carry on a conversation. She was not in pain and did not complain. We discovered tragedy and learned compassion from that experience.

Tuesday, January 12, 2010


I am just starting this blogging business at 91. I hope I can make it worth reading