The House I Grew up in

bernie's houseAbout a month ago Grace Camblos, a biographer, photographer, and author, invited me to participate in a four week memoir writing class.  One of the “prompts” she gave to us was to write about, “The house I grew up in.”

I remember it well. The address was 144-15 33rd Ave., Flushing, Long Island, NY. We moved there in about 1938. It was a two-story house with a finished attic and basement and was the third of three houses on the block. They were the first of many, built by Abraham Levitt, who went on to develop Levittown on Long Island and in Pennsylvania.

I was 14 in September of 1942 and I just got back from eight weeks at Camp Man, the Queens County summer Boy Scout camp, at Ten Mile River in upstate New York. It was a Monday morning and the High Holidays had just begun.  My grandmother’s room was just next to mine at the head of the stairs. I got dressed and was heading off to school — to Fieldston. As I passed my Mema’s room, her full-time nurse came out and said, “I can’t revive her.” We went into her room and turned her over so she was face down with her head to the side. I climbed on top of her and rhythmically pressed down on her rib cage administering artificial respiration 1940’s style, that I learned how to do as a Boy Scout.There was no resistance, no push back. Her body did not respond to the pressure. I could not revive her. Reality struck. I felt the difference between life and death. I felt it in my hands.

Continue reading “The House I Grew up in”

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The Cost of War

We all know that war and any other aggressive action, by its very intent, causes damages and destruction. It is likely to cause death, damage, destruction, injury and disability to the “enemy” — and to ourselves and our own forces as well. Moreover, each action always involves time, energy, resources and funds — all of which could have been used for something else. It is essential to understand and plan for the resources required before taking any action.

Moreover, any action will almost certainly provoke a “retaliatory response” requiring additional resources to react to it. There is an almost instinctive, virtually automatic, retaliatory reaction to any initial aggressive act — meet aggression with aggression. Frequently it leads to an escalation of the conflict. Robert McNamara was Secretary of Defense during the Vietnam War. His important post-Vietnam advice was — understand your enemy before engaging in hostilities and taking any action. Add to that the likely collateral damage and the potential for unforeseen and unintended consequences and the additional cost of providing compensation and restitution for any damages and injury caused, certainly to one’s own forces, and perhaps to others as well. All those factors contribute to “The Cost of War.” Be mindful of them. Continue reading “The Cost of War”

The Cabin

Photos by Grace Camblos

The Cabin
The Cabin

My first trip to the South was during spring break in 1942, at age 14. I took the Southern Crescent from Penn Station in New York to Spartanburg, SC. An employee of my father’s picked me up there, and we drove first to Hendersonville, NC, and then another 10 miles west toward Penrose along Kanuga Road. It turned into Crab Creek Road once you got to the top of Jump Off Mountain.

It was a bright and sunny spring day, with the Carolina blue sky above and mountains to the left and to the right. As we negotiated the dirt road along Crab Creek, we finally got to what eventually became Shoals Falls Farm. There was a broad expanse of bottomland to our left that rose into the hillside and the mountain. It was spotted with small houses and shacks. In the distance stood a small wooden barn.

Shoals Creek
Shoals Creek

Just past a largish house on the left — it turned out to be the Patterson’s house — we turned left onto an even narrower dirt road, crossed over one rickety bridge over Crab Creek, another bridge over Shoals Creek, and passed two houses on the left. I later learned that the first and smaller one was called the Little house, and the larger one the Jack Newton house. Along with my Dad, he had just purchased some property there. Just beyond the houses, past the wooden barn on the left, the road took a jog to the left and then the right, right on up the mountain.

A short distance up the road there was another one that cut back to the left. There were two stone pillars, with the gate between them swung open. Passing through the gate, the road dipped down toward Shoals Creek, then fanned out into a parking area that butted up against the creek, with an old-fashioned gasoline pump standing to one side.  The roads were so shrouded in trees that you couldn’t see the sky. Continue reading “The Cabin”

Four Generations of Changes

I lived through a period where:

  • The only way to get to Europe was on an ocean liner — like the SS Normandie — where SS stood for steamship which was coal fired. It took about five days to make the journey. The only other way passengers could get across the Atlantic was in a dirigible — a passenger zeppelin — until the Hindenberg blew up in Lakehurst, NJ in 1937. And by Pan Am’s flying boats, the Clipper Ships, that landed on water. They flew from 1939 until WWII.
  • Planes had props. There were no jets.
  • It took three days to go from New York to San Francisco — by train.
  • Sound had just come to the movies. They were in black and white, no color.
  • Speaking of black and white, there was Jim Crow.
  • Speaking of colored, the rest rooms in southern train stations were “colored” and “white”. The first time I came south it was on the Southern Crescent in 1942. When I raised the shade of my Pullman berth around Richmond, VA, and saw “White” on the side of the railroad car. I thought it was the name of the car, which at the time were named for famous people.
  • Automobiles had stick shifts. There were no automatics until the Olds Hydra-Matics in the 40s.
  • Gasoline was five gallons for a dollar.
  • There were no interstate superhighways — no I-95 just US 1 and no I-40 just Route 66. Continue reading “Four Generations of Changes”