In 1947, after my brother’s death, we returned from the chicken farm in Richland, NJ to New York City, still one of my favorite places on Earth. The museums, theatre, concerts, dance recitals, a wide array sporting events including baseball: Brooklyn Dodgers, New York Giants, and the New York Yankees. Let it be said, I only attended double headers in the ball parks, and I got to see the greats of baseball playing ball. The City gifted me with incredible people watching opportunities, exotic shopping, relationships with other bright people of all ages, sightseeing, and historical places, amusement parks, ethnic neighborhoods, beaches, universities and their offerings. Just travelling around the five boroughs on the subways and buses was heaven to me.
I would live there today if I could afford it.
By the time I was 8th grade, I travelled constantly through the city’s five boroughs from Wall Street through Delancey Street through the five boroughs to the northern environs of Manhattan. I walked over bridges, visited the various rivers, lakes, and waterways, took ferry rides, got to know city parks, and just had fun. One of my favorite occupations was sitting in on court cases in downtown Manhattan.
By the time I turned eleven, my parents would send me on trips to pick up dry goods and other materials for their upholstery/quilt shop. Delancey Street merchants supplied us with goose down, and other mercantile districts from center city to the tip of Manhattan supplied us with appropriate material. By visiting specific merchants with whom my parents had accounts, I could come home with a ten pound bag pure goose down or forty heavy yards of material for their upholstery/quilt business. The down bag was larger than myself, and wasn’t easy to get through the turnstiles.
Pleasure, however, came before business! The trip downtown was always interrupted by a few hours of scouting out the various commercial and legal sections of New York City, looking for places to investigate when I wasn’t running errands.
During my personal investigations, when I wasn’t running errands, I spent the summer months visiting the nooks and crannies of the lower Manhattan districts and area parks before going on to my destinations. Thus, I became familiar with the various wholesale districts, ethnic neighborhoods, Hudson andEast River docks,Union Square, the financial district, the book district, land and river markets, as well as city, state, federal, or international courthouses. During the summer, my preliminary explorations afforded me an opportunity to sit in on actual trials, and I learned a great deal. Murder trials were boring, but nautical law and international law were fascinating. On occasion, I would stroll to Brooklyn on the Brooklyn and Williamsburg Bridges, and then take the subways back home.
Sometimes, I would wander on the west side of Manhattan, visiting cemeteries, tombs, and docks. It was an adventure to walk over the George Washington Bridgeand back over the Hudson River. A little lighthouse stands under the shadow of the bridge. Further downtown were the docks, where freighters and ocean liners docked. When I had money for the nickel fare,
I rode the ferry boats across the East and Hudson Rivers, as well as New York Bay. When I was in high school, there wasn’t a corner of New York City and many parts of the five boroughs with which I wasn’t familiar.
Travel was by bus, but most often by subway – but not during rush hour. As I grew older, I figured out a way to avoid the crush of commuter time. To avoid the packed cars, I used to ride between the subway cars on the connector platforms. It was a habit I carried into adulthood. That is no longer permitted in this day and age.
As an avid vaudeville and movie fan, I managed to see all first run movies, especially those featured in Radio City Music Hall, The Roxy, and the Astor. And of course, once I entered high school, I second-acted the ballet, opera, and famous plays. All of the first run movie theaters had vaudeville type live shows in addition to the movie. But the Music Hall was the best.
My mother made sure I dressed appropriately: a suit, stockings, gloves, raised heels, and a hat. She always made sure I had clean underwear, “Because if you end up in a hospital, I’ll die of embarrassment if you don’t have clean underwear!”
Right after my 14th birthday, I trundled off to Radio City Music Hall, just south of where the Today Show and Rockefeller Plaza are located, and as I was crossing the street to go to the box office, a taxi cab barreled around the corner, narrowly missing me. I leapt up on the sidewalk. Alas! My suit skirt was somewhat long and straight. My heels were not overly high, but I’m a very clumsy person. I fell and knocked myself unconscious on the sidewalk.
Within a few minutes I came to, surrounded by police and Radio City employees. There was a hospital right in the building, and I was put onto a stretcher and taken there.
The nurse stripped my clothes, covered me with a sheet, and got my vital information. She immediately called my mother to inform her of my accident. “She’s covered with blood and . . .
My mother interrupted her: “Does she have clean underwear on?”
“Of course she does!” snapped the nurse. “She obviously comes from a good family!”
“Well, I try.” muttered mom. Then she asked if I was hurt.
The nurse said my stockings were ruined and mom was horrified. “Oh no! She needs to get another pair before she goes in the street again! Is there a place she can go to buy some?”
As usual, I had been wearing a Playtex Girdle to hold me in and my stockings up. It was tight and affected my ability to move gracefully. The nurse told mom she had to cut it off with a scalpel.
“No, there is no problem,” said Mom. “I’ll get her another one. She complains it’s too tight, but she’ll get over that feeling when she’s older.” Actually, when knee high nylons were invented, I did finally get rid of the Playtex. Despite my mother’s and grandmothers’ horror, I never wore another corset or restraint again in my life.
The nurse told Mom, “I assure you there is a five and dime across the street. Your daughter can not only buy stockings, but garters to hold them up.”
Then they got around to my medical condition. Apparently I had a sore head, and some bruises, but was otherwise mobile.
As a courtesy, I was given a free ticket to the show to be used AFTER I had gone to the store to replace my stockings and my gloves. The latter had been lost during my adventure.
Life was simpler in those days.