Memoirs – Chapter 10
EARLY MARRIAGE YEARS 1949-1953
Planning a wedding, for most people, is a year-long project but we decided that we didn’t want to wait that long. If you’re going to do it, then do it. We figured that five weeks should be enough time.
Clare’s parents came North and made arrangements. First priority was finding a place for the reception. This was where Clare’s father, Ben, did his part of the project. He arranged, as a member, to get the Elks Club in Freeport for Sunday, May 15th, and they all made decisions on the menu.
Then Clare’s parents spoke to their minister, Reverend Frederick Meyer at the Congregational Church in Rockville Centre, and he agreed to the perform the ceremony.
Now came the lists… who to invite to the reception, who to send announcements to, who to be ushers. There was no question on Maid of Honor and Best Man, Pat Saul (who Clare had worked with) and my brother, Bob. Three of the photographers from the school where Clare volunteered said they would take pictures of the wedding day and we are still grateful for the beautiful job they did.
Fortunately my parents gave us a pretty book to record our marriage, guests, and gifts and looking through it refreshes the memory of that day more than sixty years ago.
Then there was a bridal shower. Although we can’t recall who sponsored it, I suspect it was Barbara Silverman and her parents Joe and Sylvia. On the wedding day the Silverman’s house was also the place where the bridal party and others prepared, including Clare and her parents, Pat Saul, and the Silvermans. Barbara and her first husband were in town from Ithaca (although she signed the book with her stage name, Barbara Randall, with husband Hank Selverstone). It was also the place where Barbara married Jim Biggs, a few years later.
I can still remember the night of the wedding rehearsal, with Clare’s mother, Estelle, holding the Emily Post book of Etiquette about weddings, making sure that everything was done in the proper way.
The wedding day arrived and I was still stressed out so I decided to never get married again. The ushers were Frank Merklein, Scott Schachter, and Bob Eastwood.
Then the wedding was over. Exhausted, we headed for an overnight at the Governor Clinton Hotel in Manhattan, and then to Virginia Beach for our honeymoon.
Clare continued working in New York, as a model for various clothing firms, and posing at the photography school.
I was working on Long Island at Servomechanisms, Inc. This meant that I would get home from work much earlier than she, so I generally would make dinner. Sometimes I would make a picnic dinner and, when I picked her up at the railroad station, we would go to the beach or to a movie with our dinner.
For the first few months after we got married Clare and I lived in the studio apartment at my folks’ house. Except for the 33 months I spent in the Army I lived with my parents in Merrick and North Merrick until Clare and I moved to Levittown.
We signed up for a Levitt rental house as soon as we were married and the house became available for us at 44 Cove Lane on October first. There was still so much demand for housing in 1949 that we had to wait more than four months until a house became available for us.
Meanwhile we ordered a double bed (which we still have in our guest room), and to be sure we would have a place to sleep, in case it didn’t get delivered, we also ordered a studio couch which we would use for several years in the living room. A bridge table and four bridge chairs made up our dining set. On October 1, 1949 we moved into our first home, paying Levitt’s rental company just $65 a month (including taxes and water). Clare’s mother came to visit and help us get settled. (That’s Clare’s mother, Estelle and our 1947 Olds).
About a year before Joan was born, we bought a female Collie puppy, Buff. We adjusted to Buff’s growing up and teething on Clare’s high school yearbook. She trained quickly and soon learned to stay nearby and not to cross the street.
By October 1950, a year after we were married, Clare was pregnant and we started looking for a house to buy. Of course we wanted to relocate to Merrick, where we had both grown up. But we also saw the Levitt & Sons sales flyer and then looked at the model houses, and found that there was much more for the money in Levittown. The houses were new, had a fireplace, had appliances (washing machine, stove, and refrigerator), and were well made. So in January 1951 we signed up for a house with our $100 deposit, and just after Joan was born, in March, we were asked to select the specific house we wanted.
We were told that the monthly cost of the house would be $64.00, of which $48.48 was for principal and interest and that charge would remain the same for 20 years. The remainder was for taxes, water, and insurance and we had to sign a “Memorandum of Monthly Payments” which stated: “I understand that the Bowery Savings Bank makes no representation that any of the separate items comprising the total of monthly carrying charges will remain constant for any period of time whatsoever, excepting only the total monthly payments for principal and interest…” School taxes in the first full year (1952) were $82.05 and the town and county taxes were $12.42. By the last full year of our mortgage (1970) they were $905.98 and $499.72 respectively.
At that time I was working at Servomechanisms, Inc, in Carle Place, and a fellow I knew from grammar school and high school, Tom (Lenny) Flanagan, was also working there. He also was renting a Levitt house, and we car-pooled to work, and both decided to buy Levitt houses at the same time. He had some connections at the Levitt headquarters, so we were able to see the topographic maps of the area where our houses were to be, and figured out just which plots we would like.
There was just one block of houses, near the Wantagh Parkway, that already had trees with them, and they were sure to go first. Trudy Flanagan, whose father worked for the phone company, had connections so that she and Tom got to select their house in the first group at 9:00 a.m. Matilda Feldman’s father-in-law had strong connections with the newspaper deliverers union in New York and she and Morty also were in the 9:00 a.m. group, and so the two families ended up right next to each other on Willowood Drive (where the trees were). The Flanagans only lived there for a few years before moving to Connecticut.
The Levitt houses were built in an assembly line fashion with workers who did just one job moving down the line, one house after the other. Levitt was finishing 35 houses a day! The insides of all the house were the same (with slight variations from year to year). The outsides of the houses differed only in roof lines and exterior colors. There four roof styles and 7 color combinations of shingles and trim, so every 28th house was the same. Clare decided she wanted a house with the roof line raised over the kitchen.
Clare and I went to the Levitt Headquarters at 2:00 p.m. on the same day as the Flanagans and Feldmans, and picked the “Number 2” house at 75 Weaving Lane. It had the southern exposure of the picture window for solar heating; I was already interested in saving energy in 1951 when oil cost 19 cents a gallon. The plot was on high ground to reduce the chance of flooding in case of heavy rains, and it had the raised roofline over the kitchen. We had no choice of colors, since they would appear in a certain order to be selected by the Levitt company. Our colors turned out to be grey shingles with yellow trim and we kept those colors for many years. You had to take the house just the way they made it, for example, they would not leave out the floor tiles if you wanted to have something different at your own expense. No, you would have to remove the black tiles after you moved in, and then replace them.
During all of this Joan was born and life was hectic, with a growing dog, planning for a new house, and then taking care of a newborn. And I was still working long hours at Servo.
Almost every night, as we drove from work to our rental home in Levittown, Tom and I would stop by our selected plots and I would take photos, starting with just a stick in the ground marking the spot. Sam Feinstein, who worked with us at Servo, also decided to buy a Levitt house (20 Wheelbarrow Lane). Since he lived in New York City, he would only occasionally come along with us to see progress on his house. About four years later, when Servo moved it’s plant to California, Sam sold his house and went with the company.
Step by step I took a full set of pictures of our house during construction, and years later I lent the negatives to the Levittown Library so that they could have pictures for the historical archives. These photos have been used in many of the TV and printed stories of Levittown.
Joan was getting bigger, and July 11th came, when she was exactly four months old, that our house was completed and we were allowed to move in. We loaded all our belongings into a small trailer that Flanagan had, and in two or three trips moved it all to Weaving Lane. We now had a home of our own, and we figured we would live here about five years, until we could afford to move into something bigger and better in Merrick.
The first few months in Levittown were rustic. The only telephones were in a few phone booths blocks away, although the Flanagans, with their phone company connections, had a phone. There were no lawns, and seed would not be put down until September, two months away. Tom and I still car-pooled, so Clare had a car half the time, but getting out with a six-month old was not easy. Gradually life became a bit less hectic, grass started to grow, and Levitt planted a bunch of shrubs and trees.
In her first year Joan had a parade of visitors wanting see the youngest generation. On Columbus Day Great Aunt Ruth Eastwood and Great Grandma Eastwood drove out to Levittown from Brooklyn. Great-Grandmother Kneisel came to visit and, of course, Mom and Dad came over often from North Merrick. We were fortunate that Joan’s two great-grandmothers were still around to see her. There were tons of other visitors too.
Not long after she was able to walk Joan became friends with our next-door neighbor, Jackie Levy. She enjoyed going next door with Buff for visits. On our block there were five tots with ages within months of each other. They went all the way to high school together.
An incident occurred, when Joan was a baby, where Buff was chastised and she ended up resenting babies, although she loved children.. So it was decided that Buff should be bred and she was mated with another high quality collie, and had 11 pups (9 survived). After the pups were born Buff seemed to wander away a lot, and eventually when she could be separated from the pups, we decided to sell her to someone who had a farm up-state. We also sold off the puppies. We later got a report that Buff was very happy there.
As all this was going on we spent the summer fixing up the inside of the house, and, of course, going to the beach. We were fortunate that my parents lived a few miles away, and were only too willing to come over once in a while to baby sit.
We kept on going to the Silvermans for dinner on Wednesday nights, often joined by Josephine and Gordon Breidenthal with their baby son Scott. Joe Silverman would leave the store early to fix one of his delicious meals, and Sylvia would stay to close up the store. We always brought Joan along for the Silvermans to enjoy since they were not yet grandparents.
Life moved on. In the winters we would take a vacation break and go to Florida to visit Clare’s folks, her brother, and her sister. It gave Joan a chance to know her cousins. I was very busy working at Servo with the Korean war still going on. One time, when I had to take a business trip to California, Clare came along and we had a chance to visit the Breidenthals, who had moved there, and Frank and Joan Schneider, who were stationed in San Diego.
The summer of 1953 was nice. The pressure was off at Servo with the Korean War over and we had a relaxing vacation at Montauk. While we were away Bob and Gay stayed at our house so they could enjoy Jones Beach, and their kids and our kids had a chance to really bond.
When Clare was pregnant with Cathie she had a number of gall bladder attacks which almost led to surgery at six-months, and could have ended the pregnancy. However, she made it through the attacks and Cathie was born in October 1953.
The next chapter tells what my work was like at Servomechanisms, Inc and how it led to the formation of our partnership at Trio Laboratories.
You can email us at
(please add us to your email address book to get return emails)
© Copyright 2021 Helfand Retreats, LLC.