Memoirs – Chapter 9
HOME AGAIN 1946-1949
Yippee! I’m home again, with all the benefits of the GI Bill, planning to go back to Brooklyn Poly, and having several months until the summer session. The GI Bill, in addition to all the college benefits also provided unemployment insurance. The “52-20 Club” would provide $20 a week for 52 weeks to any veteran without a job. That would be equivalent to working 50 hours a week at the current minimum wage of 40 cents an hour. I signed up right away, since I was living at home and figured I could live easily on the $20 a week.
When building restrictions had been lifted and materials started to become available Dad began an extension to the house. It was to be a nice, big, self-contained studio apartment with a private entrance, small bathroom with shower stall, and a small kitchen area with a refrigerator, hotplate, and portable countertop oven. And it would be all mine with a door joining the apartment to the main house through the kitchen. When I arrived back in March 1946 it was just barely started so Dad and I worked together building the addition.
At about the same time my brother had bought a strip of land where he was working in West Virginia. It was a 250 foot wide strip of a steep mountain where the previous owner had planned on building a house. The terrace for the house was already leveled, wood planks from local trees were there, and a narrow driveway with a hairpin turn had been made to the house.
Bob had bought an army surplus 1½ ton panel truck, exactly like the one I had driven in the Signal Corps, and I offered to drive Gay and Helene (not yet 2) from Long Island to West Virginia. On the way I took this picture of Helene drinking a bottle of soda.
When I got to West Virginia Bob had ordered a concrete mixer truck to deliver the concrete for the foundation and slab. When it arrived the driver said he could only deliver to the street level at the bottom of the hill since the truck couldn’t make it up the hill. We followed my suggestion and loaded some of the concrete into the back of Bob’s panel truck, shifted into 4-wheel drive, and I drove it up the hill. However, the hairpin turn was too sharp for the truck. Being a daredevil, I drove full speed up the hill made it halfway around the turn, and drove it right into the wall of the mountain. Then I turned the wheels in the opposite direction and backed it up so the rear of the truck was hanging over the edge of the mountain. Turning again in the upwards direction I was able to drive to the house terrace, unload the concrete, and go down for another load. That was the big adventure in West Virginia.
Coming home we finished my apartment. I looked at a sketch I had made of a possible apartment, while I was still at Ursinus College in 1941, and what we had created matched the sketch quite neatly. While I had been at Ursinus Bob’s friend, Joe Chapline, had given me some good ideas for a hifi radio so even before I went into the army I had designed and built a radio that was made from scratch, mainly out of old salvaged parts. After the apartment was finished I made a radio cabinet with bookshelves from some oak planks that Bob had left over from the house he built in West Virginia.
All I needed now was a car. During the war Bob’s brother-in-law Charlie needed a car, and I had my Dad sell him my 1930 Model A Ford for what I would get from a junkie… $6. Now I had to search for anything I could get. It turned out to be a 1929 Chevy. All I could say for it was that it ran, and not too many months later I bought a 1939 Chrysler New Yorker. That kept me in pretty good shape for a couple of years.
Frank Merklein got home from the Army about the same time as I did, and he was dating Joan Jackson, an actress from Savannah, Georgia. I believe he had met her when she was touring with the USO in Junior Miss, and he was in Scott Field, near St. Louis. Now she was living in New York at the Footlight Club, a residence for young actresses and she introduced me to another resident, Pam Gillespie, who was at that time playing the ingenue in Life With Father. For a couple months Joan would come out and stay at Frank’s and Pam would come out to our place on days when there was no performance and the four of us would be double-dating. (Photo: Frank, Joan, me, and Pam)
Frank went to RCA’s radio school under the GI Bill, and when he finished there he got a job at NBC, just as television was starting. Frank and Joan married that July, and I would continue to see them quite often. They continued living with Frank’s parents after their son Erik arrived. Frank’s father, Jim, was in love with Hawaii and had all sorts of Hawaiian artifacts in the house, so his parents had to “child-proof” the place. A short while after Eric’s arrival Frank’s folks got tired of having the baby around and told Frank and Joan to leave. The young couple was desperate, with only the meager GI Bill stipend, so for a short period my folks took them in to our small house on Grand Avenue. It was quite crowded. Whenever I spoke to Joan after that she reminded me of how grateful she was for the kind and warm treatment she received from my parents. My father then arranged for them to get housing at a veterans’ housing development in old military barracks at Mitchell Field (the Santini housing) where they stayed until they bought a house in Valley Stream.
In my high school years Jones Beach was a major center of social activity, and I had missed it for three summers while I was in the Army, so I was anxious to get back to the water. I had grown up with the beach and the first thing I did when I came home that March, for a short leave before being discharged, was to go swimming in the Atlantic. It was mighty cold at that time but gradually got warmer, and I continued swimming in the ocean all the way into October. The beach sold a book of 100 tickets for toll and parking, and going back and forth that summer of 1946, I used up those 100 tickets and then used another 20 in the next book.
When I returned from the Army it was time to get back to dating, and I hardly knew anyone in Merrick any more. The fellows who were in my high school class were pretty well spread around the globe, but fortunately Frank Schneider’s girl friend Joan Miller was still around so we would go to the movies once in a while. Sometimes we would go with Audrey Schmidt, who was going to Adelphi College with Joan, or Audrey and I would go over and visit the Merkleins at Santini. Sometimes I would be double-dating with Don Weller. In the summer we would, of course, spend lots of time at Jones Beach. That’s my 1939 Chrysler behind Audrey and Don.
One time Joan Miller knew of a party that was happening, so she introduced me to the Randalls. The Randall family lived in a big house in what, at that time, was the south side of Merrick. Since then the wetlands have been filled in and there are a couple miles of Merrick added to the south. Russ Randall was a general in the Army Air Force and was rarely around, but his wife Mart was a wonderful hostess, after many years as an army wife. Their son, Rusty was a very social fellow, in the Mepham class of 1945 and so, just one year out of high school, he knew lots of younger girls who were still in town. After that I spent many hours chatting with Mart, and meeting the girls who were in a class 5 years after mine. Occasionally I would take Rusty’s older sister, Jean, to the movies. (That’s Jean in front of their house).
One of the many people that I met at the Randall’s in the spring of 1946 was Barbara Silverman, who at that time was still 14 years old; her birthday is in August. We dated at various times during the next 2 years until she went away to Ithaca College in 1948, and she remained a close friend of Clare and me until she died in 2011.
Barbara’s parents Joe and Sylvia owned a fruit and vegetable store on Merrick Avenue and every Wednesday Joe would leave the shop early to go home and prepare dinner. He loved to have young friends of Barbara visit and so Wednesday night got to be a regular event. There I met Colette and Inge, Barbara’s best friends. Barbara was in an amateur theater group run by Gordon Breidenthal so he was sometimes there, and he would sometimes bring Josephine Mathiesen, whom he later married.
American Veterans Committee
By fall I was ready to get to work as a full time student at Poly and enjoyed the classes immensely. Many of my classmates were in the same classes, and one of them, from Hempstead, was Danny Distler. Danny introduced me to the American Veterans Committee chapter in Hempstead, a liberal group of veterans that was concerned with issues outside those of veterans. It’s motto “Citizens first, Veterans second” defined its philosophy well. I served in various positions with the local group, from membership chairman to president over the next three years.
In 1948 Danny and I went to the AVC national convention in Milwaukee, bringing along a mimeograph machine so we could put out campaign literature for our candidate for AVC President, Michael Straight. We were active with a group that was trying to be the middle ground between AVC’s political left and right. The left wing of AVC was run by a group who were known to be communist labor union people, and the right wing of AVC was the Americans for Democratic Action which, as America became more conservative, was later labeled as leftists.
Our AVC chapter was active in community affairs and grew nicely with productive fund raising efforts, until we detected a sudden spurt in membership. There appeared to be an effort to take over the organization by a far-left group, while we all wanted to remain centrist. When it became obvious that they would be able to assume leadership at the next election of officers, we decided to have a big party for the current officers and old-time members. We met at a nice night club and spent all the money in the AVC chapter’s treasury, and walked away from the organization. At about that time AVC started to collapse nationally, too.
On our way home from Milwaukee, driving in my 1939 Chrysler, we decided to go through Canada in order to visit another Poly friend Scott Schacter, who was spending the summer in Chatauqua, NY (near Buffalo.) We were detained at the Canadian border, for possession of a mimeograph machine which was considered to be subversive equipment, and then let go after assuring the customs agents that we were merely passing through.
Scotty remained as a friend, although we didn’t see each other for years at a time. He married Judy (Justine) in 1949 and later moved to Levittown. Scott was an usher at our wedding. We would exchange holiday greetings every year, but rarely saw each other, despite our both living in Levittown. Many years later I would see Scotty in computer club meetings, and even got him a bargain in a computer when he wanted to switch from the orphan Atari computer to an IBM clone. Scotty died in 2000, but we continued to see Judy occasionally.
Danny Distler went on to law school after getting his BEE at Poly and then later Trio used him as it’s attorney. He married in the 1950’s, moved to Buffalo, and died shortly thereafter.
Back at Broolyn Poly
Since The GI Bill would pay for all my expenses and an allowance greater than the $20 a week of unemployment benefits, I went to school that summer of 1946. It also gave me a chance to take courses that would make it easier during the school year. It was an easy load, leaving lots of time for leisure.
College was easy for me, with the technical background I had from high school and the army. I had little trouble with the courses, but clashed a bit with some of the teachers who insisted on homework being done.
One professor said I would fail the course if I didn’t hand in homework, so I did it all in one night and got a good grade. In general my grades were good, perhaps a B average, but they were good enough that I was elected to Eta Kappa Nu, the Electrical Engineering honorary society.
When I was in high school the guidance teacher, Dwane Collins, gave me a test for mechanical aptitude and he said I was in the 99th percentile. That sounded pretty good to me. I feel it is that aptitude that makes it easy for me to visualize maps in my head and drive around the winding roads of Levittown without getting lost.
At Poly one of the courses in mechanisms was easy for me, since I could visualize all of the gears, and cams and levers, but it was difficult for all the others in the class. The final exam was so difficult that the professor made the passing grade 45, and even so, two thirds of the class failed the test. I got a 95 on the final but only got a C for the course, because I hadn’t handed in any of the homework.
I had little feeling of “belonging” at Poly. It was a commuters’ school so there was really no social life. In June of 1948 I didn’t even feel like going to the graduation, but they told me that I could not get my diploma without going. Although it was included in the tuition, I never bothered to go and get my yearbook. What a contrast this was with my high school years and my activity in its alumni association later.
In April of 1947 Frank Schneider was home on leave, and while he and Joan Miller were visiting in my little studio apartment, Frank proposed to Joan. She accepted and then they had to argue with the Church to get special permission to get a quick marriage while he was still on leave.
The summer of 1947 was the most important time of my life. I met Clare! After I returned home from the army the summers were spent at Jones Beach, and 1947 started out no different from the year before. Then, one day, Bert Wessman came over to me and said that someone needed a ride home, and he introduced Clare. She was the most beautiful woman I had ever met, and she had the sexiest voice.
After taking her home I suggested a date, and we went to a movie. After that we dated alone or with other couples, in various combinations of Jimmy Biggs, and Scotty with Barbara or her friends Colette or Inge. There were times when we would switch and I would date Barbara, and Jim would date Clare but gradually I was dating Clare more steadily. Of course, eventually I married Clare and Jim married Barbara.
The summer of 1947, like 1946, was relaxing, since I was carrying a light load at Poly, and then spending most of my time at the beach. We would gather with our friends, usually Jimmy and Kal, at the Jones Beach West bathhouse and soak in all that sunshine that we would years later learn could be detrimental to our health. Photo: left to right: Clare, me, Kal, and Jimmy
Clare and I continued to date, more and more steadily through the fall and winter and in the spring of 1948 Clare’s parents moved to Florida. Wanting to stay here, rather than going to Florida, Clare lived in rented rooms, sometimes with the family of her friend Ginny Brem, and sometimes simply in rooms she was able to find. She was just scraping by with sporadic jobs modeling for clothing manufacturers in New York and, to get photos for her portfolio, Clare would model in a photography school and studio, receiving pictures in payment for the posing.
I graduated from Poly in June of 1948, and after a short bit of applying for jobs on Long Island, Frank Merklein suggested I go to work at the American Broadcasting Company as an engineer in their television studios. I didn’t like the work and quit, and immediately got a job in Carle Place with Servomechanisms, Inc.
With all the years of electronics experience I had before graduating from Poly, as a hobby, with ham radio, and in the Army, I did well at my job. By the fall of 1948 I was making a decent living, for a single fellow, and within a few months I was able to get a loan to buy an almost-new car. For several years after the war the auto industry was not able to meet the demand for new cars… a demand that had developed from manufacturing diversion during the war, as well as returning veterans. You really had to know someone to get a new car, and Scotty’s father had some good connections, so in 1947 he was able to buy a new Oldsmobile. When he got another new car in 1948 I was able to buy his 1947. It was great to be driving an almost-new car, and it had automatic shift and an automatic headlight dimmer.
By then Clare and I were going steady, enough so that I guess I got scared of the possibility of marriage and I decided to break it off in the fall of 1948… but I couldn’t stay away from her, and we started dating again. One night in early April of 1949 we were in a bar in Farmingdale called the Acorn, and I was feeling sentimental because Scott and Judy were getting married that weekend, which prompted me to ask Clare if she would like to get married. After thinking it over a few days she said yes, and Clare’s parents quickly arranged for the May 15th wedding we had in her parents’ church in Rockville Centre, with the reception in the Elks Club in Freeport.
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