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 back then.

             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 “olden days”. 

             This opportunity to revisit my childhood has been quite exciting and revealing.   This 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 today.

 The world 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..................... 

Telephones

            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!!! 

Cars

            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!!! 

Shopping

            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!

 

Friday night dinner always included chicken soup with noodles and chicken, of course...boiled chicken...that was the main dish and was always served before the soup.   Mom, in later years explained she served the meal that way, because she knew we would not have eaten the chicken, (which was now devoid of any taste as it was all included in the soup), if we had eaten the soup first.

             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 today. 

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!!! 

Weather

            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!!! 

Movies

            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!!! 

Travel

            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!!! 

Playing Around

            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 engaged. 

Discussing 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 today. 

            My how times have changed!!! 

And there was.....

...no fast food, just slow food.....the only fast food we had was delivered to our car by servers on roller skates.  

...ate dinner with the family every night,  We always would eat together at the dining room or kitchen table. 

...no chance that we would not eat the food that was served or we would not eat at all. 

...no credit cards, everything we bought was paid for by cash. 

...no 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. 

...no color television programs, because color television was not available yet.  

...no ice cream in our refrigerator freezer because there was no refrigerator freezer. 

...no 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. 

...penny 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. 

...a 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!!!