Growing Up In Brooklyn
It was about fifty-five years ago when I was growing up in that little
village called Brooklyn, New York....just me and another two million
people. Life seemed to be very simple then...I do not remember
worrying about companies going “belly up” or stock market crashes or
even about the United States going to war with this country or that
country. Now wait a
minute....I guess you are going to tell me about that big war...you know
that second world war and also about that stock market crash in the
thirties. That was
different! Yes, I
know there was food rationing, gasoline shortages and even air raids,
but I always had enough to eat and did not even own a car and there were
hardly ever airplanes flying up in the sky anyway. Very few people owned
stock and I was too young to go to war.
Now, maybe my parents were a little concerned, but for me life
was easy and simple.
That life, in that time was even more trouble-free and
undemanding. when I now think back to that period and never more than
when I talk to my
grandchildren about my life as a young boy growing up in Brooklyn.
I am sure that many of you have done the same thing...talked with
your grandchildren about the “olden days.”
Well, maybe they were the olden days or maybe they were the
golden days...but you will have to admit that life was just more simple
For me, reminiscing with my grandchildren occurs when they are
sleeping at our house, which is quite often, and I lay down with them as
we turn the lights off. In their longing to keep from having to actually go to
sleep, they will usually ask me questions about my childhood.
This has become a ritual and it is during those moments as we
talk about what life was like fifty-five years ago...about the same age
that I was as my grandchildren are today, I again look back on my
childhood in Brooklyn. By
the way, I have come to love that ritual probably as much as Greg and
Kevin have enjoyed our discussions...maybe because it gives me a chance
to reminisce and they are truly interested in my life back in the
This opportunity to revisit my childhood has been quite exciting and
article relates to the experiences that I have shared with my
grandchildren and their reactions.
My, how life has changed in these fifty-five years.
Technological advances have made the world become so very small
and how irrelevant or inconsequential, we, as individuals, appear to be
has certainly changed...now we can connect with each other via email,
for example....could you have even imagined what email would have been
like fifty-five years ago. Even
Dick Tracy didn’t have that capability!
Try to remember placing a call overseas ...we had to first call
the operator and give her all the information......I say her, because do
you remember any male operators (and they say we didn’t have women’s
rights back in those days) and the operator would then call you back
when the connection was made.
It was really extraordinary to talk with someone that far away
and you would want to yell so they could hear you....well, they were
very far away. Today a call
to the other side of the world is just like calling around the corner.
What I will do is to present a few little vignettes
about incidents that I have talked to Greg and Kevin about concerning my
life (and probably yours, as well) when I was a child, and that they
found quite fascinating. I
guess the common thread to their interest in these events about my life
is not only that I am getting older (...and I just don’t see it
happening), but just how much life has really changed.
So here we go.....................
About two months ago I was outside my
house with my grandson, Kevin and he asked if he could make a telephone
call...motioning toward the cell phone on my belt. I indicated that he should use the house phone and that I had
a phone extension in the garage. I
showed him where the phone was located and told him to go ahead and make
his call. A few moments
later I noticed him staring at this older dial type phone, so I walked
over and asked why he had not made the call and.what was he looking at.
He looked at me and said “How do you use this phone?”
The expression “dial the number” obviously evolves from this
old type dial telephone, because today we do not “dial” the number,
we “push” the number...”push the number” does not have the same
ring to it if you will forgive the pun.
I must admit that I was quite amused that Kevin would look at the
dial phone and not know how to use it, but in reality these phones went
out of general use well before Kevin was even born.
During our bedtime chats both Kevin and Greg could not appreciate
the fact that when I was their age, our house telephone was installed in
a little foyer with no chairs and the telephone was hardwired to the
wall with only about a six foot cord length. Well, they asked, what did you do when you were talking?
...stand up; how do you walk around the room or the house while you were
talking ...you don’t; how did the phone connect to the computer
...what computer; and so they began to see what today we take for the
norm was so very different just fifty-five years ago.
As a child, I do not remember talking on the phone for
extended periods of time...we said what we had to say and we would hang
up. If we wanted to call
our friends, all we had to do was just yell out the window...our friends
lived nearby and they were almost always within ear shot.
In fact, families generally lived close...my immediate family
lived downstairs and next-door so most “calls” were accomplished
through window conversations. In
the olden days telephones were a convenience, today telephones are an
entertainment and communication device.
My how times have changed!!!
Just yesterday at bedtime I was
describing the cars of my day to Greg and Kevin.
I told them that even in my days cars were “air
conditioned”....that’s right...the cars were air-conditioned, cool
in the winter and hot in the summer...it wasn’t until in later years
that the manufacturers actually improved the system.
All the standard creature comfort features found in cars today
that we all take for granted, well Greg and Kevin assumed that they were
always available in cars. Automatic
lights, windows and mirrors, cruise control, tape and CD players, seat
warmers, mirror warmers, window defogger/deicer, and so many more
features ...we never needed them in the olden days, because we were
tougher back then....right. In
fact, we did not even realize that we were even missing
something...well; we were not missing anything then.
For example, some years later, I did not realize how impossible
it was to drive a car that did not have air-conditioning, until of
course; I was the last person on my street without air-conditioning in
the automobile. .
I told Greg and Kevin about the cars with the rumble seats...a
front bench seat in the cab of the vehicle with a rear trunk that opens,
but reveals a seat without a roof, just like a convertible.
You know that design even sounds like a great idea for a car
today ...a combination sedan/convertible.
But what would you do in case of rain...you cannot put the top up
with the people in the seat and the hot weather...well, who worried
about the hot weather back then.
My how times have changed!!!
Markets back then... were just somewhat larger store (than most of the other stores) that generally sold canned goods, paper products and frozen foods....the latter being a rather new product back then and an exciting way to get “fresh” vegetables all year round. But these stores were extremely limited as compared to today’s supermarket standards.
In fact, my Mom generally did shop at many stores to get everything she needed for dinner. Fruits and vegetables were in a store unto itself...and every Friday, my mother would send me there after school with a dime to get 10¢ greens and “Don’t forget to get one carrot with the soup greens”, Mom would tell me so she could make chicken soup for dinner. What a special treat!
There was also the drug store, which served as the local clinic, if you will..., and in case of illness Rudy, who was our druggist, would advise as to what medication might serve as the remedy for the problem at hand and it usually did work.
And then, there was the local deli or delicatessen where we could buy
pickles right out of the barrel for 5¢...that
was a real deal (yea, I know there are pickle barrels out there today,
but they are not the same).
And, of course there was the candy store, where among all the
other goodies we could get a milkshake, an ice cream soda or even an egg
cream...the egg cream being a drink made not from eggs, but with milk,
chocolate syrup and seltzer (What you never heard of seltzer...it is
like club soda only better).
There was the bakery where not only could you buy all the
breads and cakes made fresh
that day, but also a charlotte rousse...a piece of cake with whipped
cream and a cherry on top all in a cardboard holder for only 10¢...a
delicacy for a kid and even an adult.
Greg and Kevin were not impressed by such a fresh dessert treat,
because they have so many more processed food treats to choose from
And, if my memory serves me well after fifty-five
years, my mother visited these stores most every day shopping for
something...it was a daily routine...our food was unquestionably fresh.
I can remember my Mom sometimes calling me from play and asking
that I run over to the store and buy a quarter pound of tub butter, that
she had forgotten to pick up that afternoon.
She didn’t need more, because she would be back there the next
day. The boys could not
believe that I would go to the store all by myself at their age.
My how times have changed!!!
This is not particularly related to my
grandchildren, but weather predictions have definitely changed.
Television was in its infancy fifty-five years ago and we learned
of the weather usually by listening to the radio....not radio in the
car. We actually listened
to the radio while we were in the house. And the weather prediction consisted of a forecast, for
example, that there was a 40% chance of rain today.
Then, I always believed that there must have been ten weather men
and if four thought it was going to rain than there was a forty percent
chance of rain.
Now today we get an extended lecture about the weather on the
evening news and especially on the Weather Channel including the weather
in all of the states and cities throughout the country.
Mathematical models and sophisticated graphics are used to give
us this comprehensive and detailed account ...and telling us what
weather we will be experiencing locally in three, four or more days.
And then in only the last moments of this far-reaching weather
seminar do we first learn about the weather in our local area...and with
temperatures at 5:00 am, 9:00 am, 12:00 am, etc. being provided.
Now, I am not going to get up at 4:30 in the morning just to
verify these predictions and who gives a damn anyway.
The weather forecast would be pretty well intentioned if in fact
the weather predictions were even accurate for the rest of today let
alone the days to follow, but do I even need to know what the weather is
going to be, for example, in Ames, Iowa or even the Gulf of Mexico. The weather people need a rationale to justify the use of all
these models and graphics capabilities so they must now provide
information that is basically useless to most of us most of the time.
My how times have changed!!!
Today, movies are a major international
industry what with surround sound, wide-angle screens, stadium seating
and a buffet candy center that probably makes more money than do the
movie ticket sales. But I
think we had it better back in my day, especially when you examine the
whole picture. First, there
was Movie Tone News which was updated every week (well... we didn’t
have television that would give us a motion picture presentation of the
news)...imagine that! Often
there would be a double feature...two movies and some cartoons as well. We didn’t worry about a picture schedule...we just headed
over to the movies (yes, we walked to the movie theater) with our
friends and watched until we had seen some or all of the scenes twice
...then we would head home.
Don’t remember eating much popcorn, but do remember the Ju Ju
Drops, gummy drops that you could eat for hours because you could not
get it out of your teeth or Goobers chocolate covered peanuts and
raisins. For 30¢
we could get a movie ticket and all the candy we would need for three
hours. And we would be in
an air conditioned space during the summer...what a relief!
My how times have changed!!!
When I recall travel...to me it meant
taking a bus or a subway train into the city...which would mean going
downtown to see movie, or to eat or shop.
Big trips were almost nonexistent and were very, very special.
Greg and Kevin wanted to know how many times my parents took me to
Disney World...I told them that the Disney cartoons at the movie was the
extent of my Disney experience. I
guess they thought Disney World was created on the sixth day...as if it
has been there forever.
At this point in their lives Greg and Kevin have traveled out
west to ski three times, on a cruise to the Caribbean, on cruises to
both Alaska and the east coast of Canada.
They have visited Disney World three times and have been to more
than a few states for various vacation travels.
So I admit that they are now a bit jaded when it comes to being
aware of travel today. I
hadn’t’ traveled out of the country other than a car trip to Canada
until I was an adult and already in the work force ....and so my first
big trip was a remarkable event for me.
When we traveled in those days, we were treated as someone
important whether traveling by airplane or by ship.... we were
customers. Not so today ...today we are just one of many and
the company seems to believe they are doing us a favor by giving us a
seat or a cabin, because they know that there will be someone else to
take our place. We even had
food on airplane trips and really nice tableware (I remember because I
still have some), but the trip did take forever on those propeller
driven aircraft. Didn’t the stewardesses... oops, excuse me the flight
attendants look younger back then?
My how times have changed!!!
Not the kinds of playing around you are
just thinking about! I am referring to what we kids did to amuse ourselves.
Playing ball in the street was a daily event, which included
“stick ball”, which was played with an old broom handle and we also
played punch ball. With
punch ball you hit the ball with a fist and ran the bases, while in
stick ball you hit the ball with ...the “stick”.
In stoop ball you would bounce the ball off the steps to get it
past the other team that was lined up in front of the steps; wall ball,
where you kept one foot in a box adjacent to the wall and with an open
hand you hit the ball to your opponent; box ball where with one foot in
each box we would try to hit the ball back and forth on one bounce and
so on. What was special was
that we could amuse ourselves all day with a little “pink” ball made
by Spaulding Company. Everybody
had one or more of these “Spaulding balls” and it kept us active and
this with Greg the other evening, he asked what else we did to amuse
ourselves and when I told him that we played ball much of the day, went
to the park quite a lot and to the movies once a week, he replied that
it must have been boring growing up when we did.
Quite the contrary I told him as our days were full and we were
playing with our friends almost all day long.
But in context with today’s games they may appear to be boring
to Greg and Kevin, but we were outside all day long because there were
no game machines, no television and most of all no air-conditioning.
So being outside was easier than being inside. Today,
the kids do not seem to play outside as they did years ago, except for
the organized sports programs.
And in addition, there were games like “Hide and Go Seek”,
“I Declare War” and “Three Steps off to Germany” or whoever was
the enemy at that moment. Greg
and Kevin are appalled at the descriptions of these games... because
they are really not very cool.
We would make a scooter out of a wooden box, a board and a skate.
We rode bikes, went skating and then over to the park for
baseball, handball and to ride the swings or to just hang out.
We didn’t have Playstation, X-Box or any of these other gaming
machines so we were outside most of the time.
If it rained well, then it was boring...nothing to do..
Today kids spend more time inside staring at a television or
computer screen and almost no time being outdoors.
Of course, today we have the additional worry concerning
children’s security, which was essentially nonexistent back then.
However, the absence of physical exercise and the total
dependence on “things” to provide what our individual imaginations
are no longer obliged to provide is definitely a shortfall in growing up
My how times have
And there was.....
fast food, just slow food.....the only fast food we had was delivered to
our car by servers on roller skates.
dinner with the family every night,
We always would eat together at the dining room or kitchen table.
chance that we would not eat the food that was served or we would not
eat at all.
credit cards, everything we bought was paid for by cash.
foods like pizza (can you imagine life) and other ethnic foods less
Chinese food, which I thought was Jewish food that wasn’t Kosher and
served on a third set of dishes should we even bring it into the home.
color television programs, because color television was not available
ice cream in our refrigerator freezer because there was no refrigerator
cassette tapes, CDs, DVDs, CD-ROMs, just big, black records (78’s)
that played on turntables that were usually scratchy so we did not
listen to music as extensively as we do today.
...governments that we really thought cared for us.
loafers, bobby socks, Howdy Doody, a nickel Coke, white bucks, saddle
shoes, “Uncle Miltie” and a host of other symbols that Greg and
Kevin would think are pretty corny.
time when we felt safe, maybe not rich, but comfortable, not trying to
compete with friends or neighbors or family, because we all had about
the same life, but we all wanted to do better so our children and their children would have a better
life.....did we realize that aspiration.
My how times have changed!!!