My family moved to MacDonald Street, Hempstead, Long Island, from the Bronx, in 1939. We moved to a white frame house on a street shaded by huge, old maples. I remember, as a kid, playing tag or hide and go seek in the street and never being touched by the sun. We played under the canopy of maple leaves and we enjoyed the coolness of that friendly shade. There wasn't much property and the houses on the block varied in architectural styling and were situated close to one another. With few exceptions, it was a friendly neighborhood. There was one family across the street that didn't take kindly to Jews living so close. From time to time, when under the influence of liquor, the old man would stand in the middle of the street, late at night, and shout anti-semetic curses at us. We were the first Jews on the block and anti-semetism was not uncommon in those days. Otherwise, life on MacDonald Street was an idyllic situation for my sister and myself. There were a number of children the same ages as Carol and me so we didn't lack for playmates.
There was little traffic on those local streets and even less after World War II broke out in 1941 and gas was severely rationed. So, the streets were our playground. In addition to tag and hide and go seek, we would play ringalevio and Red Rover.
With no backboard, we developed uncanny abilities to sink a basketball without relying on a backboard.
Our house was a two story affair. In the front was an enclosed sun porch. In the winter there were big storm windows to keep out the weather.
Summer nights...the sound of crickets in the hot, humid air. Sitting on the porch watching the fireflies flickering across the lawn and in the low hedges that bordered the property. From the livingroom came the sounds of the radio as Mom and Pop listened to some drama or comedy in those pre-tv days. It was nice. Very nice.
You entered right into the squarish living room as soon as you came in from the porch. I recall that room being rather dim as the front porch kept a lot of light from coming through the front windows of the living room. Next to the living room, in the front, was a dining room and behind that was a kitchen which looked out into the backyard. There was a door behind which there were stairs leading to the basement where there was a large cement laundry sink, and eventually a washing machine. At the other end of the basement was a huge cast iron coal burning furnace which was coated with a thick layer of cement for insulation. There was, of course, the obligatory coal bin alongside. My father became adept at stoking that furnace with coal in the morning, before he went to work. My mother learned to add coal from time to time, during the day, to keep the house warm. At night, Pop would rock the huge iron shaker arm that would cause the dead ashes and cinders to fall through the fire grate into the ash pit at the bottom of the contraption. These would be gathered up into bushels and taken out to the curb to be picked up by the garbage men. Between the coal and the ashes and two kids, Mom had her hands full keeping that house clean. Eventually, the coal furnace was replaced by a smaller, cleaner gas furnace.
At the rear of the living room were stairs that took you to the second floor. The room at the head of the stairs was my bedroom, which was tiny and just held my bed and a small desk/dresser combination. One window looked out over the backyard and one looked out upon the rear portion of the gravel driveway that led to the rickety wood framed detached garage. Next to my room was my sister's bedroom, which was a little larger and had a view of the street and front yard. Occupying the rest of the front of the upstairs was my parent's master bedroom. Alongside of that was the bathroom. The one and only bathroom in the entire house.
My father had a client who owned a cattle ranch in Idaho. In the summer, he would turn it into a boys' ranch for eastern kids who had parents with deep pockets. Pop would arrange rail transportation for them.
The rancher, Jack Young, asked Pop to send me out for a summer when I was 13. That was my first real experience away from home, and except for occasional bouts of home sickness, I loved the experience.
I was seven when we moved to Hempstead in the summer of '37. That fall I started second grade at Ludlum Elementary School. There was no Middle or Junior High School back then. I attended classes until the eighth grade and then graduated to Hempstead High for four years.
My years in elementary school were uninspired and I was a mediocre student who was reluctant to do homework. The only real inspiration that I had while at Ludlum School was when the Principal, Edgar B. Woodard, started a camera club when I was in about the 6th grade.
Hempstead High School was a whole different matter. While my first two years followed the pattern set in Elementary School, I began to blossom a bit in my Junior year. By then I had given up any hope of ever going to college, having recognized my failings as an academic. My parents saw the wisdom in this and agreed that I might be better off attending a trade school in photography, since I had such an aptitude in that direction.
I was no longer in a school camera club because the faculty mentors knew less than I about photography. But, I was buying up 100 foot rolls of surplus Air Force 35mm film and hand winding it into discarded 35mm film cassettes and I shot a lot of film. And I mean a lot. By then my parents had bought me an Argus C-3 camera, which was a few steps above the box cameras of the day and had a focusing lens and adjustable f stops and shutter speeds. And, I had a darkroom and a cheap enlarger in my basement.
I graduated in 1950. Our Senior graduating class was too large for the auditorium so the ceremonies were held at the recently built Calderone Movie Theater in Hempstead. I remember standing, capped and gowned, on the sidewalk outside of the theater, waiting to march in. I looked up at the theater marquee and noticed that the theater management had added a line or two announcing the graduation. It was accompanied by a promo for the movie that was playing that week. The marquee read, "Hempstead High School Graduates here tonight In a Lonely Place with Humphry Bogart." Quaint.
At this point, let me add some photos from this period of time.
After graduation, my father took me on a trip, out west. He worked for the Union Pacific Railroad was was entitled to travel free on any American Railroad. The only thing that he was required to pay for was for a bedroom or roomette aboard the train. We went to Grand Canyon and Boulder Dam (now named Hoover Dam). Then to Salt Lake City, Utah and Los Angeles, California. On the way back, the train got stuck in a blizzard in the Texas Pan Handle and couldn't move for two days until railroad snow plows were able to get to our train and dig us out.
Here are some photos from that period of time.
When I returned from that trip, I went to the New York School of Portrait and Commercial Photography in Manhattan at the end of 1950. I took one course in Black and White Commercial Photography and then another in Color. I loved it. The Korean War was on and as I was 18 years old, I had to register with the Draft Board. I had no exemption and the idea of sitting in an icy fox hole in Pusan, Korea, somewhere, did not appeal to me. I didn't mind serving my country, but if I could, I would have preferred returning to a clean bed at night. So, I enlisted in the U.S. Navy. There would be a delay of several months before they would take me and I only hoped that the Navy got to me before the Army.
In the meantime, I was offered a one time position as assistant to the ship's photographer on the passenger liner S.S. Brazil of the Moore McCormack Steamship Company. They ran cruises from New York to South America. I got the job through the photo school. Before I could go, though, there were a few things that I had to do.
The ship's photographer met me and showed me to the photo shop and darkroom. Then he took me down passageways and down stairs and down more passageways and more stairs. I had no idea where we were but eventually we got to a large dormitory cabin that held about 70 double decked metal bunks. One of them was mine. This is where the non-seamen male members of the crew slept. The barbers, musicians, food staff, and the photographer and I were accommodated here. Not exactly First Class. More like Steerage. In fact, that's exactly what it was. I found out much later that night when I finished my duties and made my way back to my bunk. It was about 3 AM and I was exhausted. I threw myself into the top bunk and fell right to sleep. I was awakened later by terrible vibrations coming from under the deck and horrible banging noises. "Iceberg!!!" I thought. We must have hit an iceberg. It was winter and we were still in the North Atlantic. The tragedy of the Titanic filled my befuddled brain and I jumped out of bed, found the light switch and started looking for a life preserver.
"What the Hell do ya think you're doing?" grumbled my boss, upon whom I had stepped in my haste to climb down from the upper bunk.
As we sailed south, the days grew balmy and the seas were smooth. I fell into the routine of my shipboard duties and made friends with other crew members. I would share a drink in the Tourist Class Bar with the female singer who was with the band. She was a couple of years older than I and had gone to Freeport High School, an old football rival of Hempstead High. And there were some Cadets from the Merchant Marine Academy at Kings Point, Long Island, who were my age. They were doing their time at sea as part of their curriculum. Unfortunately, the passenger list was made up of senior citizens, except for one girl my age. She was the granddaughter of a Mr. Bayer of Bayer Aspirin, and she wasn't interested in an assistant ship's photographer.
The ship called in at Bermuda, for a day. Then on to Bahia, Brazil, where my pocket was picked and my passport taken. This created a lot of problems since one of my duties was to take shore excursions with the passengers and make photos of them with the local backgrounds in hopes of selling them prints. But, no passport, no going ashore in foreign lands. So, I was sworn in as a member of the regular ships's crew at a dollar a week and issued seaman's papers which enabled me to go ashore. When I returned home, I had a visit from the FBI and filled out voluminous reports about the loss of the passport.
After that, we spent a few days in Rio. What a colorful place that was. Then it was Montevideo, Uruguay and Buenos Aires, Argentina. Juan and Evita Peron were running the country, but I never heard her sing, "Don't Cry For Me, Argentina." The last port of call before coming back to NY City was Trinidad. What a heady trip for an 18 year old kid. And, suddenly, the adventure was over.