A ROAD HOME – Marilyn Armstrong

I grew up in a semi-rural nook in the middle of Queens, New York. The city had surrounded us leaving a tiny enclave walking distance from the subway.

The house was more than a hundred years old. It had been changed by each family who had lived there, so much that I doubt the original builder would have recognized it. From its birth as a 4-room bungalow in the 1800s, by 1951 it had become a warren of hallways, staircases and odd rooms that could be hard to find.

It sat at the top of a hill amidst the last remaining fully-grown white oaks in New York, the rest having fallen to make masts for tall ships. The shadows of the oaks were always over the house. Beautiful, huge and a bit ominous. Some of the branches were bigger than ordinary trees. I remember watching the oaks during storms, how the enormous trees swayed. I wondered if one would crash through the roof and crush me.

I was four when we moved into the house, five by summer. When the weather grew warm, I was told to go out and play. Like an unsocialized puppy, I had no experience with other children, except my baby sister and older brother and that didn’t count. Now, I discovered other little girls. What a shock! I had no idea what to do. It was like greeting aliens … except that I was the alien.

The first contact took place on the sidewalk. We stood, three little girls, staring at each other. First on one foot, then the other, until I broke the silence with a brilliant witticism. “I live up there,” I said. I pointed to my house. “We just moved here. Who are you?” I was sure they had a private club into which I would not be invited. They were pretty — I was lumpy and awkward.

“I’m Liz,” said a pretty girl with green eyes. She looked like a china doll, with long straight hair. I wanted that hair. I hated mine, which was wild, curly and full of knots. She gestured. “I live there,” she pointed. The house was a red Dutch colonial. It had dark shutters and a sharply pitched roof.

A dark-haired, freckle-faced girl with braids was watching solemnly. “I’m Karen,” she said. “That’s my house,” she said, pointing at a tidy brick colonial with bright red geraniums in ornate cement pots on both sides of a long brick staircase. I’d never seen geraniums or masonry flower pots.

“Hello,” I said again, wondering what else I could say to keep them around for a while. I’d never had friends, but something told me I wanted some. We stood in the sunlight for a while, warily eyeing each other. I, a stranger. I shuffled from foot to foot.

1952

Finally, I fired off my best shot. “I’ve got a big brother,” I announced. They were unimpressed. I was at a loss for additional repartee. More silence ensued.

“We’re going to Liz’s house for lemonade,” Karen said, finally. Liz nodded. They turned and went away. I wondered if we would meet again. I hadn’t the experience to know our future as friends were inevitable.

1953 – Three little girls

Summer lasted much longer back then than it does nowadays. By the time spring had metamorphosed into summer, I had become a probationary member of The Kids Who Lived On The Block. I did not know what went on in anyone else’s house. I imagined the lights were bright and cheerful in other houses. No dark shadows. No sadness or pain except in my scary world where the scream of a child in pain was background noise, the sound of life going on as usual. Behind it, you could hear my mother pleading: “Please, the neighbors will hear!” As if that was the issue.

Across the street, Karen’s mother was drinking herself into a stupor every night. The only thing that kept Karen from a nightly beating was her father. He was a kindly older man who seemed to be from another world. As it turned out, he would soon go to another world. Before summer was ended, Karen’s father died of a heart attack and after that, she fought her battles alone.

In the old clapboard house where I thought Liz led a perfect life, a battle raged. Liz’s father never earned enough money and their house was crumbling. It legally belonged to Liz’s grandmother. Nana was senile, incontinent and mean, but she owned the place. In lucid moments, she always reminded Liz’s dad the family lived there on her sufferance. Where I imagined a life full of peace and goodwill, there was neither.

About 6 or 7.

A lovely neighborhood. Fine old homes shaded by tall oaks. Green lawns rolling down to quiet streets where we could play day or night. I’m sure the few travelers who strayed onto our street, envied us.

“How lucky these folks are,” they must have thought, seeing our grand old houses. “These people must be so happy.”

I have a picture in my album. It’s black and white, a bit faded. It shows us sitting in Liz’s back yard. I’m the tiny one in the middle. A little sad. Not quite smiling.

We envied each other. It would be years before we learned each other’s secrets and by then, we’d be adults. Too late to give each other the comfort we’d needed while we grew up, lonely in our big old houses all those years ago.

WHEN IT WAS ALL SMALL BALL – Garry Armstrong

I loved what they now call “small ball.”

The leadoff guy gets on with a single. The second guy (PeeWee Reese), choking up on the bat, moves the leadoff guy to third with an opposite-field hit. The third guy (Duke Snider) takes a couple of pitches and PeeWee steals second on the third pitch.

1956 Brooklyn Dodgers before the game

Duke hits the next pitch off the right-field wall — the one with the Robert Hall sign — and scores leadoff hitter Junior Gilliam and PeeWee.

Ebbets Field

The pitcher sighs, looking at the rest of the lineup. It’s Campy, Gil Hodges, Carl Furillo, Jackie Robinson, and Sandy Amoros.

Now, the pitcher starts crying and in the dugout, the manager is sobbing.

Sandy Koufax is pitching for the Dodgers.

THE GREAT MOLASSES FLOOD – By ELLIN CURLEY

I’m a history buff and I particularly enjoy learning about the odd, unusual occurrences that often don’t make it into the history textbooks.

For example, On January 15, 1919, a freakish but deadly accident occurred in Boston. A massive, 50-foot tall tank storing molasses which were used in the production of industrial alcohol, ruptured. It created a giant wave of molasses that engulfed everything and everyone in its path.

The molasses swamped one of Boston’s busiest neighborhoods, killing 21 and injuring 150 people. (NOTE: Each newspaper originally claimed a different number of people died or were hospitalized. It apparently took a while to get the numbers correct and finalized.)

Globe headline – the great molasses flood

The statistics of the flood are gruesome. 2.3 million gallons of molasses created a black tidal wave 25 feet high and 160 feet wide that traveled at 35 miles per hour. This generated enough power to crumble small structures, knock the firehouse off its foundation and rip away a supporting beam for the elevated train tracks.

Two city blocks were quickly under the glue, so to speak. People outside drowned and suffocated as did people trapped as their homes and basements quickly filled up with the unforgiving goo. Others were swept away with the sticky tide. It was more deadly than a similar amount of water would have been because it was thick and sticky and trapped many people who might have escaped from a flood of water.

Boston, MA – 1/16/1919: Smashed vehicles and debris sit in a puddle of molasses on Commercial Street on Jan. 16, 1919, the day after a giant tank in the North End collapsed, sending a wave of an estimated 2.3 million gallons of molasses through the streets of Boston. Twenty-one people died and 150 were injured. (Boston Globe Archive)

During the summer of 1918, residents began noticing leaks in the giant tank. Being a typical corporation with little governmental regulation, the company responded by painting the tanks brown instead of grey. That way, you could no longer see the molasses seeping through the cracks in the tank. It was a literal cover up!

Local historical marker from the event

The litigation that followed the disaster lasted six years. The 1925 verdict held the company responsible. It was ordered to pay to the victims’ families the equivalent of 9.2 million dollars in today’s money — or then, about $7000 per family .

One of the company’s defenses was a claim that the tank rupture was caused by an anarchist’s bomb.  But there was no bomb nor any anarchists.

Damage from the great molasses flood – Boston 1915

In 2015, a Civil Engineering Magazine published an article that concluded that the walls of the tanks had been too thin and that the builders at the time should have known this.

This story is reminiscent of the tragedy of the Titanic, which sank in 1912 because of faulty design and inferior materials, including rivets. The iceberg caused the rivets to burst, flooding a fatal number of chambers in the Titanic’s hull. Just before the 1919 molasses flood, people heard popping sounds as the rivets on the tank popped and the contents of the tank exploded onto the street.

I love quirky historical stories like this one. I hope you enjoyed it too!

NOSTALGIA IN PHOTOGRAPHY – Marilyn Armstrong

A Photo a Week Challenge: Nostalgia

Nostalgia. I lost most of my early pictures to the “I love you” virus in the late 1990s. It destroyed every single picture I had stored since I started using a digital camera. I didn’t have a backup. The lesson was most painfully learned.

Now, I have backups. More than one. Multiples. So instead of nostalgic pictures, this is as good a selection of old or older pictures I could find. Some go back to the early-1940s. Most are more recent.

 

Really old friend.

DINNER TABLE CONVERSATION – BY ELLIN CURLEY

I was raised by well-educated, well-read, New York City intellectuals. My mother was a psychologist and my father was a psychoanalyst. In addition to seeing patients, my father wrote books and articles in the inter-disciplinary fields of psychology, sociology, and anthropology.

From the time I was old enough to sit at the dining room table, I remember lively intellectual discussions. Like most families, we’d talk about our day and share personal news. But we always eventually got around to current events or what my father was currently writing about.

Me, Larry, David, and Sarah. Sarah was eight. David was thirteen

My parents talked about the social trends of the day with my father’s unique inter-disciplinary approach and talked about the day’s news through a historical perspective. We’d talk about everything from science and history to the current trends in the arts, movies, and TV. Our conversations took on a life of their own.

A conversation about child rearing practices might morph into a discussion about parenting in other periods of history or in other cultures. A discussion about the growing Feminist movement might end up about the social and psychological effects of changes in gender roles on individuals and on the family.

Me and my parents when I was about eight years old

I was always included in these talks. If I had something to say, no matter my age, I was respectfully listened to and all of my questions were taken seriously and answered.

When I was in high school, I regularly had friends over for dinner. They always commented on the fact that a famous psychoanalyst and a published author like my father, always asked their opinions. They were included, as I was, in all conversations.

This made a huge impression on my friends. At my 40th High School reunion, an old friend told me she still remembered the conversations at my house and the respect she was shown by my parents, who were both genuinely interested in what she had to say.

Me and my dad when I was about eighteen

Dinner time was also when my parents shared stories and asked for advice about their patients of the day. My parents openly talked about their patients’ lives, relationships, and problems, though no names were ever used to conform to doctor-patient confidentiality. Because of this, I learned early what not to do in relationships. This knowledge served me well when I started dating and after I married.

When talking about patients, my parents didn’t shy away from talking about sex. When I was young, much of what they said went over my head. But I joke that I learned about sexual perversions before I knew how ‘normal’ sex was performed. I knew the man was not supposed to do ‘it’ in a shoe, but I wasn’t quite sure what ‘it’ was or how or where ‘it’ was supposed to be done.

My mother continued this openness about sex as a grandmother. I remember her talking about AIDS and anal sex at a Passover dinner, sitting next to my eight-year-old daughter and my thirteen-year-old son. I think it was highly inappropriate, but totally in character for my mother.

Grandmothers rule the Passover table. Really. They do.

My ex, Larry, and I were both lawyers. So our discussions about Larry’s work revolved around the law. We made a point of teaching our kids how to analyze problems and argue their positions clearly and persuasively.

My daughter, Sarah, remembers that if she wanted to do something or wanted not to do something and we objected, she could get us to change our minds if she presented a good enough argument.

Sarah was always asking questions, like most young children and Larry and I made a conscious decision to answer all of her questions. None of her questions were considered stupid or irrelevant. If she asked why we never just said ‘because.’ We always gave her the best answer we could.

Me, Larry and the kids when Sarah was eleven and David was sixteen

We also continued the open discussion policy with my kids when they were growing up. So Sarah too remembers being included in ‘grown-up’ conversations from an early age. Her contributions were heard and commented on. She and her brother grew up to have inquisitive and analytical minds. Sarah also has an immense curiosity about a wide range of topics and approaches them with a similar perspective to mine.

So the tradition of including children in sophisticated conversations has served me and my kids well. I hope if my kids have children, they will continue the family practice with their offspring.

REMEMBERING MY MENTOR – JEFF KRAUS – Garry Armstrong

If fate had been kinder, Jeff Kraus would be celebrating his 80th birthday with us. Many people who’ve achieved success in broadcast journalism would be partying.

Some of the names are familiar even if they’re not around to remember the man who opened career doors for them. Alan Colmes of the Hannity-Colmes tandem on Fox News, “Big Dan” Ingram – a hall of fame deejay during the heyday of classic rock and, still with us, Charlie Kaye – the successful CBS News executive who just recently retired.

We all cut our newbie teeth in radio at WVHC-FM, the original radio voice of Hofstra College/University – celebrating its 60th anniversary this year. In its infancy, Hofstra Radio was guided by Jeffrey Kraus. His spirit is still there in the studio walls of the latest class of college radio students.

WVHC Probably 1961 or maybe 1962

I met Jeff Kraus in late 1960. I was beginning evening college classes at Hofstra and peaked my nose inside the tiny radio operation. I was full of hope and dreams at age 18. Just out of a shortened stint in the Marine Corps, I wanted to be “somebody” but not sure who, what or where.

The tall, thin gent – in a blue suit that would become legend. Wearing cowboy boots and puffing a pipe. He looked like a young Leslie Howard or Ronald Coleman. He sounded a bit like Coleman as he addressed me in a voice like the Lord of the Manor.

Jeff Kraus WVHC 1966 or maybe 1967

I was immediately impressed. I sounded and looked maybe 5 or ten years younger than Jeff Kraus but he was just 21 for all his cosmopolitan manner. I don’t know how it happened but – in the blur of seconds – we formed an unlikely bond. Mentor and student, two non-similar guys who would become best friends.

I was a bit hesitant. I was one of a handful of minority students at Hofstra as the new decade began with JFK promising bold ventures for millions of young Americans.

I was intent on becoming an actor or an author. Maybe both. During the day, I sold children’s shoes at a big Department Store. The job paid for my college fees. Tuition back then was something like 16 or 17 dollars per credit. Hofstra was a relatively young commuting college without dorms. All that would change in decades to come.

WVHC 1963 or maybe 1964

The constant was Radio Hofstra. We had an odd collection of people on the WVHC-FM staff which had just grown from carrier current to 10 mighty watts at 88.7 on the FM dial.

I think we were perceived as weirdos by others on campus. We weren’t jocks, frat members or lab rats. Jeff Kraus steered the ship of wannabees with a calming influence. I wanted to be “on the air”, spinning records. However, my hearing impairment left me with flawed diction, not good enough even for a beginner. Jeff worked patiently with me, pointing out my diction problems and helping me find a “radio voice”. He encouraged me to write and gave me great latitude in producing music shows and writing radio drama.

Little Theater – WVHC

This was the door opening for me. I was rapidly promoted from record librarian to program director to, wonder of wonders, station manager as Jeff moved into an executive capacity. These were heady times for me as I found confidence and maybe a little swagger in my work. Jeff would always “school me” if I overstepped boundaries with the new confidence.

My favorite time was – after we signed off the station at midnight and headed over to our favorite bar. This was my introduction to Imbibing 101. I can still smell the pipe smoke (I shamelessly copied Jeff’s debonair style, adopting pipe smoking) and the sips of scotch, brandy, and vodka as my liquor taste quickly expanded. My shyness faded and, for the first time in my life, felt like I was one of the gang. Jeff led his wannabees in chat about post-college life. We were too good for conventional broadcast media. We dreamed about going to work for the BBC or CBC. We’d do “exceptional stuff” for an audience surely just waiting for us.

Studio B – WVHC

This was also a very special period for aspiring college radio folks who had easy access to the nation’s number ONE media market in New York City. I’ve told the story a zillion times about calling DIRECTLY through to CBS, ABC, NBC, and other media giants. The iconic (yes,  overused) figures like Johnny Carson, Merv Griffin, Arthur Godfrey, Howard Cosell and news legends who’d worked with Ed Murrow – made themselves accessible to us. They gave interviews, did promotional “ID’s” and generally encouraged our little group to pursue our dreams in the big leagues. Jeff Kraus was generally recognized and respected by the big time media moguls. Jeff was seen as the man who sent well-trained prospects out to mesh with established news people.

1965 in the WVHC office

The success I encountered in later years on radio and television is directly linked to those early years at Hofstra and the tutelage of Jeff Kraus. Despite repeated “Thank you’s”, I’m not sure Jeff appreciated how he molded the professional lives of so many people.

Jeff Kraus left us — too young at age 53 in ailing health. Rest assured he’s not forgotten. They’ll be many stories about JCK as he is still affectionately remembered when many of his radio kids gather later this month to celebrate Radio Hofstra’s 60th anniversary.

One final round.

Here’s looking at you, Jeff.

REMEMBERED OR FORGOTTEN? FANDANGO’S PROVOCATIVE QUESTION – Marilyn Armstrong

True or Lost? – Fandango’s Provocative Question #17

From Fandango:

This week’s provocative question came to mind when my son asked me a question. He wanted to know where we lived when I sold my motorcycle, and I couldn’t remember whether it was in New Jersey or Pennsylvania. I tried and tried, but came up empty. I couldn’t even recall the last time I rode it.

So, I decided to ask a question about human memory, which has been shown to be incredibly unreliable. With that in mind, here is this week’s provocative question:


“How do you know which of your memories are genuine and which have been altered over time or even made up?”

I have forgotten a lot of things. Not important things for the most part, but small things that (I assume) were not critical to life and survival. I don’t remember every day of my life in Israel, but I remember the important pieces. When I see movies or documentaries with pictures, often a lost memory comes bubbling to the surface.

Sometimes, I see pictures from New York and remember that at some point, I ate in that restaurant or took pictures under that bridge in Central Park. I have a very visual memory.

1948

I don’t think I have any “false” memories. I either remember or I’ve forgotten it. A forgotten memory can sometimes be brought back by a friend who was there, although it’s not unusual for me to look at them and say “Really? I don’t remember any of that.” And I don’t. There are organizations I belonged to I’ve completely forgotten and there are a couple of years of elementary school I don’t remember.

1952

I remember my friends — the real ones that mattered to me as opposed to acquaintances. I remember my entire family, some better than others, probably because I spent more memorable time with them.

What I’m missing is gone. My remembering isn’t altered, made up, or rose-covered. Just entirely missing.

Where I grew up

I do not know if this is typical or it’s just me.

When I forget something, I really forget it. I forget who was there with me, who I met, what I did. I forget I was ever there at all.

My childhood is very patchy, but that’s likely a form of dissociation. I was an abused kid. We lose the worst parts of that period and, as one shrink put it: “What you remember is bad enough. No need to stir up the stuff you don’t remember. It may come back to you over the years, but if not … I think you should not stir that pot.”

I haven’t stirred that pot. I don’t think I’d find anything I want to know in its mix.