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Halloweens Then and Later – Thanksgiving Followup

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Chapter One
Halloween begins in my life

When I was a child in the early 40’s, we lived in a lower-middle-class working neighborhood in a section of Queens – one of New York City’s five boroughs. This area is, still, to this day, named Astoria. Visiting Queens through the last six decades has been fascinating, I might add, because it is mostly unchanged. The seven rental homes in that borough where we lived in over the timeline of my existence are, with one exception, still standing; as are the various schools I attended. Visiting my high school has been eerie!
In August of 1940 we moved from the crowded multi-story living of Manhattan to the relatively open spaces of Astoria, and took up residence on the second floor of a two family home. I finally had a bedroom with a window and was delighted. Mom and Dad still continued to commute to work in one of the sweatshops of Manhattan, and, so, at the age of six and a half I became a Latchkey Kid.
Parenthetically, most of us were Latchkey Kids! When we came home from grammar school, we had to stay indoors, where we cleaned house, made beds, took care of younger siblings and pets, and folded laundry. We were required to read classics one hour a day … although most of us doubled the time.
For those whose families owned family businesses, there was no latchkey. Instead, those children would go there after school. When needed, they would work. Oh, how we envied them and their freedom! When time allowed, they would do their homework.
Homework did not begin until after supper, which we girls helped our mothers prepare. Before homework began, however, we assisted with the clearing up and preparing of the next day’s lunch for all of us.
Then, the homework was done under the eagle eye of our parents.
Halloween was not a major event for us. We did NOT get dressed up in today’s sense of that word. Rather, we attended a party in our individual classrooms, preceded by a half hour “parade” around the playground. No prizes were given out. Mostly we dressed in older siblings’ or grandparents’/parents’ clothing temporarily held together with safety pins.
For both boys and girls, our biggest thrill was being permitted to wear mom’s or grandmom’s costume jewelry and use their leftover lipsticks which had worn down to the edge of the tube. They were kept for Halloween, at which time it was used on lips, faces, and hands liberally coated with a thin coat of Pond’s face cream. Popsicle sticks saved from the warmer days were used as applicators.
If our parents happened to have the money to spare, we owned a black Lone Ranger style face mask held on by tied cords. It was a treasure used for several years each October 31st.
The religious faiths of neighborhood orthodox families whose children attended either the Catholic and Jewish schools did not allow participation in the Halloween dress ups.
For the rest of us, there were many restrictions. Demons were considered real, and were supposed to frighten people, be celebrated. No Jewish child in their right mind would dare to dress like The Golem – shades of Tolkien’s Lord of the Rings ! (Thank you for your insight, Zachary.) Nor did the Catholics allow children to dress like Satan and his minions! Angels and biblical figures were also out of bounds. Keep in mind, also, the two deeply celebratory faith days after Halloween – on November 1st, and the Mexican Day of the Dead on November 2nd.
As I began reminiscing with others about the Halloweens of my childhood and the years that followed, various friends, in turn, journeyed back to their own past. Some questions came up which sent me back into the byways of memory: each question deserves its own chapter!

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Chapter Two

Didn’t you feel deprived with this lack of Trick Or Treating?
Being a Ragamuffin and watching the Macy’s Thanksgiving Day Parade
      Many areas of the Northeastern United States adopted Saint Martin’s Day as a religious celebration day coinciding with Thanksgiving Day in the 1870’s. It was a holiday that addressed the poor and disenfranchised throughout the Christian world. However, few communities took care of the real poor. Rather, it was a time for children to dress up as dirty ragamuffins and go door to door on Thanksgiving morning begging for treats, coins, and other foodstuffs. Often, informal parades were formed and our treasures were waved over our heads.
     (FYI: Abraham Lincoln proclaimed the fourth Thursday of November as a national day of thankfulness. In 1963, Congress made it a legal holiday.)
     Off we traipsed, often covering ten square blocks. We rang doorbells. We knocked on doors. We showed up in stores. When the residents or store employees responded, we would chorus Anyt’ing for T’anksgivin’?
     By the by, in 1930, the New York City Superintendent of Schools succeeded in having a law passed against the Ragamuffin excursions and “parades”, but most New York City communities, especially on Long Island, merrily ignored the law.
I soon became the envy of the neighborhood children because neither of my parents had to work on Thanksgiving Day. So after I returned home around 11 am and changed my clothes, we traipsed via subway to downtown Manhattan to watch the Macy’s Thanksgiving Day Parade.
To this day, as I watch the parade on TV, and sink into a reverie of fond remembrances. Who NEEDED Halloween, anyway?

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Chapter Three
What was your most UNIQUE Halloween experience?
A Halloween Trip To the ER

By the time I had begun teaching in 1973, Halloween practices had begun to change dramatically. In the early 80’s, and the beginning of the electronics’ age, a revolution occurred. The moirés of the “old days” were gone. Living and working in middle class neighborhoods meant there was too much ready cash available. Parents began to outdo each other in providing costumes. The heroes of old became passé. New heroes killed, shot, burned, and karate-ed others to death. Women wore fewer clothing. Whoever would have thought that Wonder Woman looked drab and overdressed?
When I began teaching in Mount Laurel, NJ, Halloween in the United States had embarked on an exercise in greed and outdoing others.
Today, ironically enough, the practices which appalled me then seem relatively harmless.
Every year, the schoolrooms had huger and more elaborate parties for the students. The parents endeavored to outdo each other with refreshments and games. Teachers and principals dressed in costumes. An hour-long parade happened after lunch, and prizes were awarded to both teachers and students … and finally, to parents.          The children left school at the end of the school day determined to fill their shopping bags to the rim with loot. Alas! By 1982 (at which time I had applied for a position in another district school), I got caught up in the fever. Each year, I had developed more and more amusing but wacky costumes.
Finally, came my most glorious day: I would dress in a billowing gown decorated with bright rainbows, and puffed out with a half dozen petticoats, wear a gilded soldier helmet, and clump around in along in hiking boots with gilt laces. In addition I carried a toy gilded toy rifle to “shoot” birds flying overhead. I figured I would have the teacher prize “nailed down”. I now suspect God must have been appalled and decided to take action.
Since we had to have our regular morning classes before lunch, I settled my students into their groups, and began teaching. The first group of students sat at the reading table and began to read about an Olympic swimmer who persevered in winning the backstroke swimming gold medal. She was quite a heroine. One of the students asked me what a ‘backstroke’ was. The other five students in the group nodded their heads.
So I tried to explain with words. No one quite understood me. So, still sitting in my chair, I demonstrated. “Oh, now we understand,” chorused the students. Gleefully pushing with my feet, and enthusiastically back stroking, I slid myself and the chair around the group while they cheered me on to an imaginary finish line.         There was a sharp snap in my lower back, and I was unable to move. The pain was excruciating. Quickly I sent a student to the nurse’s office for two aspirin. Within minutes he returned, and I took them.
Twenty minutes later I couldn’t stand up. After another twenty minutes I sent him back to the nurse’s office for two more aspirin. Nurse Joan C. arrived with a dosage container and stood about five feet away from me, holding it up. The principal came in, too. I told them what had happened. Still standing in her position, Joan looked at me and said, “Come and get it.” Alas! I was unable to move. She nodded her head sagely.
The principal said, “I’m calling the first aid squad.” A temporary substitute teacher took the students to the lunchroom.
The first aid squad arrived, accompanied by the full fire department. I was lifted onto a stretcher in the sitting position and on my back. The students,with trepidation, watched me being loaded onto the ambulance.
On the ride to the hospital, I had to tell the medics about the situation. They called the ER and explained about their patient. The ER doctor said, “I didn’t know there was a swimming pool in Countryside School?” Tersely, the medic snapped, “There is NOT.”
All the employees in ER – of course – were dressed in full Halloween regalia. The head nurse – a friend of mine – was dressed like a witch with a green-painted face and fangs – rushed in, said “Oh! My heavens! It’s John’s mom!” When she saw my position, and heard the story, she said, “I didn’t know your school has a swimming pool?” The entire first aid squad chorused: “There isn’t any!” Explanations were rapidly made.
I was admitted to the hospital. Within 24 hours they had straightened out my body, and then was sent home.       By the way, my son John was, at that time, a nurse in the ER. It was his day off. When he heard what had happened, he rushed in, took a look at me, patted me on the head, and said just one accusatory word: “MOM!?!”      Recuperation time was awful. It was three weeks before I could return to school. Workman’s Compensation covered my expenses. “Only” said MaryAnn K, our secretary, “because I didn’t volunteer our school’s pool.”           Anyt’ing for Thanksgivin’.

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Which of costume of yours caused the biggest reaction?
The Anarchist and the Prostitute
       Several years after getting married, my husband I were invited to a friend’s house for a Halloween party. They lived a half hour subway ride away from us, and we were delighted to come. Another friend was driving back to the city from a work-related trip in New England, and told us he would gladly drive us home.
      I asked him about his own costume, and he said he would dress as a living spirit. After he arrived at the party, we discovered his gift of understatement. The “sheet” was a large white bedspread bespattered by rips and tears of all sizes, accentuated by red paint. He wore the spread over his head and had cut out eye holes so he could see. Once he got there, he could not partake of the refreshments, so I slit a mouth hole for him, and he wore his handkerchief loosely tied over his hidden mouth in bandit style.
     The late afternoon of the party, my husband said he wanted to surprise me; and in turn, I wanted to surprise him. We both had all we needed for our costumes. Then one of us holed up in the bedroom;, the other in the bathroom. A half hour later we called out “Ready!’ and came out.
     One shocked look, and we collapsed in helpless laughter.
     Hubby had cut a bristle hairbrush into tiny pieces, put glue on his cheeks and chin, and spread the bristles on his face. What an unshaven mess! Then, he spread hair gel in his hair and rumpled it into hills and valleys. His clothes were ragged. He wore only one sock. He had painted large concentric circles on the soles of his shoes that looked like holes. His shirt was missing buttons and was only partially tucked in.
      In his hand he carried a black rubber ball to which he had taped a half inch diameter, ten inch long cord. It looked like a bomb.
      There was an (empty) pistol in his other hand.
      Choking with laughter, I immediately identified him as an anarchist.
      He looked at me and laughed hysterically. I had taken a bright red, tightly fitting dress with the false leopard skin belt, and had cut the hemline to midway up the thighs. My hosiery was held up by extra long garters extending below the hemline. They were fastened to my black sheer stockings. My brown hair was streaked with blond and red highlights, and was almost as wild as his, thanks to my own tube of jell. I had enough makeup on my face and eyes so that I could barely smile. One front tooth was blacked out. My shoes had four inch high heels. Of course, I had the foresight to bring flat flip flops in a pocketbook bought for the occasion: silver sequins, folks. Silver sequins.
      Choking with laughter, he immediately identified me as a prostitute.
It happened to be a warm evening out, so we 
didn’t bother to wear coats.
      Merrily, we walked the five minutes to the subway station and soon boarded a train. Most of the people were on their way home from work and were not in costume. Everyone stopped talking and stared. No one said a word.
      At each station, people emptied out and people poured in. The newcomers stared at us in stunned silence.
      By the time we reached our third or fourth stop, most of the passengers had begun to laugh and started to banter with us. We played our roles to the hilt.
      Some invited us to ply our obvious “trades” in their neighborhoods.
     As soon as the doors opened and a new crowd came in, the same patterns of silence and laughter reoccurred.
     Our stop came up, and as we left, the whole car spontaneously sang, “For he’s a jolly good fellow”.
     Fortunately, our friends lived a half a minute away from the station. More fortunately, we had an auto ride home.
     Oh, yes. We won 1st prize.
     It was two days before we could get all the gunk off our bodies.

Happy Halloween.


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Live Christmas Tree ~ Some Trees Survive But Some Don’t.

            Early in 1961, when daughter Karen was about six months old, we moved to Oakland, New Jersey.  The remote, far northern, mountainous area of the state proved to be a considerable culture shock for Karl, my husband, and me. My husband had always lived in New York City, and had no knowledge of driving. I, on the other hand, had a license. Unlike Karl, except for a stint on a farm in southern New Jersey during childhood, I had also lived in that big city on and off for more than half my life.

Karl was able to get a job almost immediately, and I became a pregnant suburban housewife whose driving rights were taken away from me by my doctor. He forbade his pregnant ladies to drive automobiles after the fourth month. Such action was to protect the unborn child.

Within the next two years, we added two more children to our family. Three newborns in twenty six months was its own culture shock, but we felt more than delighted by the addition of Barbara and John. Some severe medical problems were overcome in each child’s first three months. Daughter Esther was not born until three years later.

To get to town without a car, I had to put all three babies in the carriage and walk uphill to purchase groceries. The trip down home was less strenuous than the road up. Fortunately, after my removal from our vehicle, our friendly neighbors and fellow church members would frequently  give me and the babies a ride to town, a mile away, during the daytime hours, so I could shop for food.

My husband, quickly tired of walking the two and a half miles to work up and down some steep hills, and was not happy with his on-foot experiences in heavy snow and bitter cold. Quickly, he learned to drive a car. For the rest of his life, he detested driving, and to this day still prefers to have someone else do the chauffeuring.

As ardent nature people, we explored the hills, waterways, and woods of the then sparsely settled region. Discovering several dozen abandoned farmlands, homes, and barns we found and picked berries, grapes, and wild herbs, which I put up in several hundred old fashioned Mason Jars we had discovered in an abandoned home. Picking apples, pears, and peaches from abandoned, decrepit home sites added to our store of food. The abandoned barns and outbuildings supplied us with furniture, garden tools, carpenter tools, and other comforts. The places’ flower gardens, gone to wrack and ruin, gifted us with surplus vegetables and perennials for our garden.

I discovered a recipe for apple butter, and put up enough for two years. Although it was delicious, we did grow tired of it by summer time, and I started gifting people with it. My favorite victims were door to door salesmen, who were not permitted in unless they accepted a pint jar. The apple butter also made delightful gifts for people at Christmas time.

Our extensive half acre garden gave us plenty of vegetables in season, including asparagus, rhubarb, and tomatoes. Every year, using the found Mason Jars, I put up the surplus. We had several hundred quarts of tomatoes and tomato sauce, fruits, and vegetables, which carried us through to the next summer.

I sewed all our clothing, and knitted winter gear for all of us. Money was short, as you may have guessed, but we were able to make do, as our needs were simple. There was no slack for extras, but we felt quite blessed in our life style. It was comforting to feel quite content and able to live in our chosen lifestyle.

The first three Christmases came and went without much excitement, but as our children grew older, we wanted to introduce them to the joy of the season. Happily, we painted the windows with Christmas designs. I sewed Christmas ornaments out of felt and we happily decorated the house with native evergreen branches from the nearby woods. Each year, we would cut down a small pine tree to stand in our living room. It was a delightful seasonal experience.

The fourth year, the children were old enough to have learned about Christmas presents, and they became increasingly excited by the thought of gifts. Money was still tight, so we bought each child a box of eight Crayola crayons as a gift. Laboriously, I wrapped each individual crayon with part of a page from the Sunday Comics. My girlfriend from next door happened to pay a visit a few days before Christmas, and she was a bit taken aback with my activities.

With great delight, I told her we had enough money for a Christmas feast, and we would even have enough money left over to buy a two foot high live Christmas tree. The look on her face was somewhat anxious, but she said nothing. It drew my attention, but I didn’t say anything.

That evening, she sadly told her husband and two young children about our Christmas plans. The two youngsters spontaneously decided they would buy a small present for each of our three. So, on Christmas Day, just after church, they rang our doorbell and presented small gifts to each one. Our children were thrilled with the unexpected gifts.

A bit later in the morning, we all admired the window decorations, and then, for the first time in their young lives, we introduced to them to presents under the tree. Filled with joy and excitement, they found winter mittens, hats, and scarves in bright colors. Other items of clothing were there to take them through the snow days until spring. Warm jackets from grandparents were welcomed with shouts. Then we went to the garage where we all welcomed four new snow tires on our car.

However, unwrapping the individual crayons was clearly the children’s biggest thrill. The crayons had a bonus gift. Karl had picked up odd sheets of typing paper he found at work which had been discarded at work for the past six months, and therefore, each youngster also had a thick pile of drawing paper, cut down to half size, to use for their art work. The following year, he would begin carving and building toys out of wood for his growing family.

If the excitement of the presents wasn’t enough, we introduced them to our little tree and told them it would be planted in our yard to grow and thrive. Before the deep freeze had set in, their father had dug a hole for it. The earth to cover it had been carefully put into paper shopping bags and was stored in our basement.

After Christmas, subzero temperatures and harsh weather lasted until spring. We wrapped the tree in burlap and stored it in our garage. With the first thaw, we transplanted the tree from its winter home. It thrived in the outdoors, and by the end of the summer, had added a few inches of height. We paid it daily visits and even talked to it. Autumn slipped into winter, and during the freeze, the tree was once again wrapped in burlap.

As spring descended on the area, the tree was unwrapped, planted, and it continued to thrive. The grass in our yard also thrived, and then our hand-pushed lawn mower died. It was unfixable. Luckily, we had found sickles and a scythe during the summer.. Talk about sharing! From my experience on the farm when I was a child, I was able to demonstrate how to use both tools. My husband sharpened the cutting tools, and was able to successfully cut the grass in our hilly back yard using the scythe.

We all watched him for awhile, then went about our business.

Suddenly, a scream … a real SCREAM! … resounded from the back, about a hundred feet up the hill. Overcome with mindless fear, I raced to find my husband. He was sitting on the ground, cursing and crying. There were no signs of blood.

Silently, he pointed to our Christmas Tree. The grass was so high, he hadn’t see it, and he had cut it down. “In one fell swoop,” he mourned.

I tried to comfort him. “Let’s buy another this Christmas, Karl. In fact, we can buy one every year and set up a fence row.”

He lifted his stricken face to me, took a deep breath, and said, ever so slowly and forcefully, “NO.” Then be picked up the scythe and went back to work.

At sunset, we had a funeral for the tree, and sadly buried the tangible evidence of my favorite Christmas.



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Bathing Suit-itis ~ Yes, they were made of wool. Yes.

       And this unused suit is for sale on the Internet for one hundred dollars! My goodness!

Vienna is, like so many of the world’s capital cities, unique. My immediate family was enamored with the song this enchanted part of Austria sang to them. It was a melody which never left their hearts or minds. To the very end, despite the discordant noises of fate visited upon these good people during the First and Second World Wars and the nightmarish aftermath, it existed in their consciousness and sub consciousness.

                After World War I ended, my grandparents overcame family tragedies and almost mythical hardships to develop an economic niche in the city of Johann Strauss. Through almost unbelievable focus and hard work, both sets of my parents’ families were able to achieve prosperity, and rose high in the ranks of the upper middle class. “Yes, we work hard,” they often said. “However, we unabashedly play hard in our leisure time.”

 Both my parents’ families were athletic and active, and after my parents’ marriage in 1933, the two sides coalesced for vacation trips which continuously took them within the borders of Austria, as well as to their homelands of Poland,Czechoslovakia, and Hungary. In addition,Italy, Switzerland, and France afforded them playgrounds for skiing, swimming, gymnastics, and tennis. Both sides of the family owned summer homes Klosterneuburg, a small farming community which becameVienna’s summer water vacation haven on the shores of the Danube. Albums of black and white photographs chronicled their journeys. Some albums still survive today.

                “Our family,” as Oma Mausi, my father’s mother, explained to a visitor, “plays hard. In Klosterneuburg we grow vegetables, plant orchards, and,” pausing dramatically, “become gourmet cooks with the berries and fruits we grow. In Vienna we go to the baths where on does not wear bathing wear. During winter skiing trips abroad, we soak in hot tubs. And, in Klosterneuburg we swim in the Danube.”

                “Work keeps us prosperous,” said my Oma Feld, smiling, “and play inspires us to work! Swimming nude in the Danube is the reward of our hard work. Rivers are not meant for bathing suits. Only the sea can sometimes claim that privilege.” She would pause a moment, smile, and then finish her sentence, “Of course, if there wasn’t so much mud on the banks …” Her voice trailed off, and she made motions of throwing buckets of water over her head. We all agreed.

                Little did we realize the repercussions of those remarks.

                When my parents and I first settled in on the banks of the Hudson River in New York City, in 1938, we were all delighted. There was no mud! Every half mile or so, small natural sandy beaches, not more than fifty feet long and fifteen or so feet wide, were formed by the mighty river’s currents. In the lower river, closer to the center of Manhattan, the water was somewhat salty when the ocean intruded during high tides. The beaches were littered and often next to huge storm drains. However, as one approached the streets above Grant’s Tomb, the tides no longer  were felt. Further north on the great river, stretching to the shores of the Tappan Zee, the beaches were there. In the city, however, on summer afternoons, my parents and I would find a beach within walking distance, and without other visitors. For sever hours, we would splash and swim … without, of course, bathing suits. When the two and three mile long freight trains went by, on tracks thirty feet higher than the beaches, we would enthusiastically wave to the engineers. The men would laugh uproariously, and, just as enthusiastically wave back.           

Eventually, during our second summer in New York City, I told my beloved TanteMaliabout the train engineers, and how jubilantly they would wave back at us. Tante Mali thus discovered where – and how – we were swimming. She and her grown children were shocked. “You cannot go swimming in the nude in the midst of New York City! You will get arrested!” She actually screamed. Please realize that Tante Mali never raised her voice, no matter how agitated she was.

My father grinned. “Apparently there is, indeed, an exception to my aunt’s rule.”

Tante Mali, Blanche, and Joe glared at him and emphasized their displeasure.  Imperiously, she took a deep breath. She intoned, in her normal regal tone of voice, “You will wear bathing suits. Nude swimming in the Hudson! This is not the old country.”

So, at a time of painful adjusting to the morés of the New World, we had one more adjustment to make: wearing bathing suits to swim in a river.

In those days, men wore one piece bathing suits of finely knit wool. The sleeveless upper part was skin tight and chastely covered only chest nipples and back ripples. The equally tight lower part, sometimes reaching to above the knees, showed the wearer’s treasures to the world. Cups in those days, were large and bulky. The cups were not modest, as they drew the attention to the onlooker.

Until the late thirties, most females in the United States still wore long-sleeved swimming dresses – with ruffles – which deluged the sands with gallons of water when the swimmer came ashore. Refugees from Europe quickly changed the fashion trends. My parents and grandparents, like so many other immigrants, were sophisticated, and refused to consider the American Option. Instead, the women of our family wore two piece Jantzen bathing suits, knit of wool. There was no built-in support system – whatever The Good Lord endowed us with was shown to the world, especially when the suit was wet and stretched out to double its size. Body parts regularly popped up or out or down. We were fatalistic, as were bystanders. General etiquette dictated those around us casually looking at clouds, waters, birds, or lunch baskets. And of course, we returned the favor.

To prevent this overflowing goodness from happening, the women would buy a suit one or two sizes too small and hope for the best. So, as the material dried, it shrank back into its original size and shape, causing pain, skin irritation, and the Jantzen Waddle, so called from where body parts rubbed together. Beaches and sand exacerbated the irritations. That photograph, by the way, is the very style worn by my mother, Oma Feld, and myself. Oma Mausi never swam in public.  I look at the mannequin’s upper thighs, and wince in pain.

Both men and women soon learned about the horrific pain which resulted around joints and contact points’ surrounding skin from sitting on the sand which stuck to and in a wet, wool bathing suit. Not even outdoor showers could rinse off the sand grains embedded in the skin! In the York City area, most people did not have automobiles, so beaches were reached by riding the subways for an hour or longer. Going there was not a problem, but coming home, especially when sunburned, was a torture invented by the Inquisition. Incidentally, the “cure” for sunburn was beaten egg white applied liberally to the affected areas. It preventing blistering. Six decades later, my “reward” for those sunburns is skin cancer!

Consequently, we wore skirts to the beach, and learned to remove our bathing suits whilst fully clothed in order to prevent anguish. Everyone in our group would hold a circle of towels about a foot away from the changeling to preserve modesty. To this day, I can still slip into a bra under regular clothing. I may look like a bear cub encased in a capture sack, but I can do it. The lifelong habit of hooking my bra in front and then sliding it around and hooking my arms through was learned during my youth.

Every once in a while, we would return from our bathing suit induced tortures, and my father would shake his head, and sadly say, “I cannot believe Americans and their bathing suit fetish.”      

Silk, cotton, and artificial fiber bathing suits were a welcome revolution.

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Radio City Music Hall and Clean Underwear ~ Hats and white gloves, too.

New York City - Photo by Internet

  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.

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Lawful Clashes ~ The first time the FBI took notice of me. There were other incidents later.

©Photos by Oma Liz

On a fine summer afternoon, my friend Eva and I were reminiscing about our younger days, and somehow wandered onto the subject of our past run-ins with Authority.

After hearing some of her adventures, I shared some of my own past personal experiences with the authorities from my somewhat colorful past. I did not share with her the recollections about humorous incidences and the related consequences which stretched from childhood to the present day. These innumerable harmless and minor adventures dealt with matters such as (too many) traffic violations or even escapades with my various weapons. Other events were touched on – misunderstandings with both media and law; disagreements with a Lutheran Bishop, the Catholic Church, Jewish Synagogues in my youth. In my early womanhood. I was involved in heated environmental protests, international police and spy networks, NASA, public heckling of soapbox speakers, union activism, the condom wars, and two serious threats of deportation.

 Even being a chronic runaway in my teens – who was always caught by the police – was not dangerous. Actually those events seem humorous to me now when viewed from the viewpoint of the decades.

What I did share with Eva were about a half dozen serious run-ins with various national and international law enforcement agencies, which, quite simply and consistently, put me in danger of physical harm, prosecution, possible imprisonment, and even deportation. Suffice it to say, I was always totally exonerated. Eva was somewhat taken aback by my graver adventures, and asked many questions. Suffice it to say, because of her incredible insight, she clearly and directly saw through the motives of friends and others who were indifferent to the mischief our relationships brought to me. Several times, these people deliberately put me in harm’s way to save their own skins.

She seriously cautioned me against writing about these happenings, saying such serious business was not entertaining.

Eva, you are so right, I mused.

Upon reflection, however, one serious episode I underwent had its own ironic humor, even though the ensuing confrontation with Authority remains in my records to this day with both the FBI and the US Postal Service.

During the Eisenhower Administration, some of his cabinet members were not renowned for their ability to keep unseemly comments from the attention of the media and the Congress. The star of the show, to speak, was Ezra Taft Benson, Eisenhower’s Secretary of Agriculture. Benson hated all minorities, independent women, unions, the underprivileged, the handicapped, the poor, or anyone who did not live up to his standards of what he thought of as true Americans. He ranted about anyone who was unemployed. Benson said that such a person was worse than lazy and deserved to be treated accordingly. After all these years, I forgot his exact words during one speech in 1956 or so in which he compared the unemployed to “lazy dogs” and explained the difference between “a good bird dog” and the lazy ones. The road to success, he said was with the working dogs, and was proud of being a member of the Bird Dog Society.

I was furious and wrote what I thought to the President, as well as my congressional representatives. Before my personal letters arrived, the media exploded about his remarks. So, Benson was mildly reprimanded by Eisenhower and both chambers of Congress. I believe the Senate vote of censure was 67-22. He wasn’t fired, mind you; however, he did curb his mouth a bit after the brouhaha.

After the censure vote, I gleefully sent out postcards to eight or so friends throughout the nation. At the time, my affectation was turquoise ink in my fountain pen. Very carefully, I addressed each postcard in neat, large letters and added the sarcastic title, Bird Dog Society under each recipient’s name. In large block letters, the back of the postcard read, quite simply: 67-22. Serves the dirty son of a bitch right! Then I signed my name. Of course, being well-educated, I had put my return address after the name.

One friend, then attending the University of Michigan, never received her card, so I sent her another in an envelope. We figured the house-mother in her dorm had simply destroyed it because of the language.

Well, not quite.

Soon afterwards, I got married and moved from Long Beach, NY to New York  City.

About six weeks after the postcards were sent, my mother answered the doorbell and stared at two stern gentlemen, standing there and flashing their badges. Without any introduction, they demanded to know if I lived there. You must realize that my mother’s courage and outspokenness had enabled her to survive arrest in Vienna, Austria, when she defied the Gestapo in 1938. It never occurred to her to fear Authority in the Land of the Free.

She screamed at them, “This is America,” then slammed and locked the door in their faces. Unfazed, they pounded on the door, as my mother screamed uncontrollably at them. They soon called the local police. Eventually, the chief of police, a friend of the family, arrived. He reasoned with her until she finally opened the door and let the officers enter.

The two men were US Postal Inspectors. They showed their identification cards and explained I had used son of a bitch; words the US Post Office considered to be pornography!  It was written on a postcard that was mailed out, and they were there to arrest me and take me to prison.

Mom, who had known nothing about the postcards, hysterically called me at work and put the inspectors on the phone. After listening to them, I agreed to come to my parents’ home and talk with them. I was told I faced certain jail time.

Two hours later, I arrived, but I was angry beyond reason. They were parked in a car in front of the house, and the chief of police was parked facing them. He waved cheerily to me. Then, seeing the look on my face, he jumped out, caught my elbow, and hissed quietly, “Just shut up and listen until they’re done. Your mother is agitated.”

Well, all right. I swallowed my anger, and we all walked in together. After the introductions, my mother and the chief were told to leave. They sat in the chief’s car.

The inspectors explained pornographic language on the back of an open postcard was a felony. I was told if a child or a person of faith had seen the postcard, the language would cause irreparable damage. “If  you send pornography, it must be in first class mail, but we still have right to open it and arrest you without a warrant. The house-mother at the college turned it in to us. She was concerned the morals of the students would be compromised.”

We began to talk, and, realizing the seriousness of this situation, I began crying as I explained I had no idea of the enormity of my crime. The men became less stern and decided to show me mercy. Mom and the police chief were called in to witness.

As they dictated the words I had to write a detailed statement of apology about writing pornography and putting the innocent at risk. Then I promised in writing I would never again commit such a heinous crime.

They took my picture as a mug shot, then fingerprinted me. As soon as they were finished, my mother slapped me. Hard.

As they were leaving, one agent asked me what sporting event score I was so angry about. He assumed I was referring to a basketball game with a final score of 67-22.

I told them about Benson’s remarks and my reaction.

They looked at each other and could barely control their amusement.

“Don’t ever run for office,” said one as they left. “This incident will be used against  you. People will prove you are an admitted pornographer.”

Son of a gun.

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