stories 70 - 74
As noted at the outset, I only intended to write a number of amusing anecdotes to entertain a few members of my family or friends. Now it has turned out to be more like the autobiography I wanted to avoid. Since I have been carried away by my own words, I think I might as well finish the story before I am carried away by other means. I have said nothing about my family and my life at home, and that omission is about to be corrected.
Story 70: A Packet of Kids
As a teenage camp counselor, I sometimes had as many as a dozen kids in my group, I thought it was such fun that I would have paid for the entertainment—if I had any money, which I didn’t. Anyone who has had children knows that they can be a joy. They can also be a source of pain. I wanted twelve kids. I figured it was cheaper by the dozen. Our first four children were all born in Nuremberg between I949 and 1953. We started with a bang, if I may use the term. To protect the health of the mother, the doctor advised that we should stop there. My dream of a dozen was gone.
Our oldest daughter, who was very young when she was born, we named Carol, which she later changed to Keri. She came to us in the U.S. Army Hospital, and she was free. (There were no delivery charges.) I believe our next daughter, Robin Eve, also came without cost. The third, my son Donald, carried a slight charge. Our fourth, and last, child is named Nina Dale, and we had to pay the normal medical bills to the U.S. army hospital. I felt I was entitled to an en gros wholesale discount, but perhaps the army was trying to discourage the drain on their facilities.
Despite the usual childhood transgressions, life with the kids at home was also fun. We romped and wrestled in front of the fireplace, we subscribed to the opera and the ballet, and bought tickets to Broadway shows to which the children were taken one at a time. When I returned from a trip abroad it was like Santa Claus paying a visit. First choice of gifts was given to the child who earned the most points for chores well done. I doubt if they noticed that some of the gifts had been pre-selected by Mama and were hidden in the trunk of our car before I produced the “foreign imports.”
All of our children were encouraged to take music lessons. Being a democratic household, they could choose their own instruments of entertainment or torture. The older girls were beginning to play the upright piano we bought for a song and which Mama repaired. Keri was also quite good on the flute. Don played the clarinet I bought him directly from the manufacturer, M. Boufet, outside of Paris. Don also tootled on a bevy of wind instruments I periodically picked up in a music shop in Berlin. In later years he became a bagpipe enthusiast. Nina practiced the violin. She had no difficulty carrying the case or the fiddle but there was some question whether she could carry a tune. She loved that instrument and practiced faithfully, forcing the family to flee the house! When I was not traveling, I tucked each child into bed after telling them a story that ended with a moral. In short, by any normal standard, it was a very happy home.
Story 71: Coping with Adolescence
This is not to suggest that we had no problems with our offspring. Inner pain can be very painful. Our children reflected the concerns and frustrations of bright young people throughout the land during the 1960’s. I had difficulty coming to grips with my inability to protect them from dangers that I perceived but which they seemed to embrace. My wife handled such situations much better than I. Perhaps it was because, as the head of the family, I felt a special obligation to try to help them avoid the hazards.
In desperation, my wife and I sought guidance from a leading psychiatrist in Westchester. We were the patients. He heard our tale of woe, and a description of our daughters. “Adolescence,” said the wiseman, “is a time of temporary insanity. Your children will undoubtedly outgrow it. Just be there for them when they want you.” My wife said “I wish I were ten years older.” I consoled her: “Just wait a few months and you will be.” The doctor was right. The girls eventually recovered. I am not sure that I ever did.
In order to expose them to a different culture, I decided to send our two oldest girls to an English boarding school. I sought expert advice and drove all around southern England, jeopardizing my life on the wrong side of the road, until I found the right school for my “little girls.” It was about 20 miles outside of London in a town called Letchworth. The school was named “Saint Christophers.” I advised our kids to use plain stationary when writing to their grandma lest she conclude that I had banished them to a nunnery.
The St. Chris kitchen was strictly vegetarian. I hate vegetables. It was not sadism but consideration that prompted me to accept that healthy diet for my daughters. I figured that eating food that was both British and vegetarian would teach them never again to grumble about Mom’s home cooking. The Headmaster assured me that every meal was followed by savories. I nodded my approval, but I still don’t know what a “savory” is. I do know that during my frequent trips to visit Keri and Robin, they immediately greeted me with, “Did you bring the corned beef sandwiches?”
A little incident will illustrate my point about the joys of having children. After our two eldest daughters had spent a full term in England, their dear mother, who was never enthusiastic about the idea, insisted that they be returned to their mother’s heart and hearth. Shortly thereafter, our daughters, still bristling about the interruption of their perceived holiday abroad, announced that they were going to run away from home. My good wife, their dear mother, bought them each a knapsack, gave them some money, insisted that they tell our family doctor where they were going, and warned them never to hitch-hike. The next night, my wife woke me to announce that our girls were running away. Keri had rigged a rope from the chimney down to the ground and was sliding down the rope. Robin just walked out the front door. Our two daughters, age 15 and 16, had declared their independence.
About a day later, a phone call from Maryland informed us that our girls had been hitchhiking toward Washington seeking “Walden Two,” a hippy-type paradise based on a book by Ralph Waldo Emerson. On the way, our little Goldilockses met not the proverbial wicked wolf in sheep’s clothing, but two watchful policemen in plain clothes. The runaways were promptly escorted to a children’s shelter in Maryland. We were much relieved.
When I was requested to retrieve our lost progeny, I immediately contacted the Judge in charge of the case. I explained that I was a lawyer, and the father of the two young girls, and I wanted to ask him for a favor. He was initially puzzled by whether I was their father or their lawyer but when I explained that I was both, he answered sadly, “What can I do for you?” I asked him how long he could hold our offspring. “We are not running a hotel,” he said. I apologized and said I would gladly reimburse the State for any expenses, but I feared that if our wayward girls were released promptly, they would again run away promptly. The poor man must have had children of his own. ”I understand,” he said, “I can hold them for ten days.” My dear wife, their loving mother, could not wait that long. After a few days, she scooted down to Maryland, but could do nothing until I arrived there ten days later. One of the guards gave her a lecture about the need to discipline children. When she asked if he had any children, he emphatically said, “No way!” The kindly Judge waived any charges against the girls or for their extended maintenance. They never ran away again.
Story 72: Mama Goes to School
Ever since she arrived in the States in 1936, Gertrude worked by day and studied by night. She finally managed to gain admittance to Hunter College, but had to interrupt her education again when we left in 1946 for our brief honeymoon abroad that lasted another ten years. Gertie was quite a determined and persistent lady. Once back in the States in 1956, she was eager to go back to night school. As soon as the children were old enough to be left in the care of a babysitter or their Papa, Mama took to the books. It was a slow grind and it wasn’t easy to cope with all the responsibilities of being a mother, wife, and college student. On June 6, 1964, when our oldest child was 15 and the youngest was 10, I assembled our brood to take them to witness a happy event. We were all proud to see their shy 45-year old mother being initiated to the Phi Beta Kappa fraternity for her excellence as a student. Her report cards were always better than those of her children. Bravo, Mama!
In 1964, Gertrude received a Bachelors degree from Hunter College, although she certainly was not a bachelor and was not likely to become one. Her goal was to become a social worker. Her first composition in college was on the need for universalism. She had majored in human psychology and was also very interested in human health. These interests could best be realized if she became a teacher. She needed a Master’s Degree to qualify for an appointment. She went back to taking advanced education courses at night. On January 31, 1972, Herbert Lehman College awarded her the degree of Master of Science in Health Education. In September of that year, the University of the State of New York certified that she was qualified to teach. It didn’t take her long to acquire a new job in academia. She had come a long way from her days as a persecuted Jewish girl in Satu-Mara, Romania. God bless America!
There is no rose without a thorn. Gertrude’s first teaching job would be her last. She was employed by the City of Yonkers to teach “Health and Human Sexuality,” a new course mandated by the State of New York. Of course, many parents objected to the course that so many students were eager to attend. Anything related to sex will bring out a crowd. The illegitimate birth rate among the graduating classes of girls between 16 and 18 years of age was noticeable. Even those in the lower grades could have benefited from the knowledge that babies don’t get delivered by storks. The new teacher of the new subject was required to teach about 300 students about things misguided parents were relieved to let someone else handle. Gertrude loved the students and they loved her, but the circumstances were such that it would soon become unbearable.
Yonkers is an old and run-down city about 15 miles from New York. Its High School had a mixed racial population at a time when racial tensions ran high. Graffiti on the walls urged students to “Kill Whitey!” Classroom doors occasionally had to be kept locked. It was quite impossible for one teacher to handle unruly students. Gertrude’s requests, that class sizes be cut in half, were rejected by bureaucrats more concerned with budget than people. It was only after she resigned in protest that the Principal changed the rules and cut the classes. It was too little and too late. I didn’t want my wife to go back to the grueling and frightening assignment. She often stayed late in school to help kids with special problems. I was concerned about her safety when she drove home at night. We agreed that she should find some less demanding and less hazardous occupation. “There’s no place like home.”
Household chores were not enough to occupy Gertrude’s active mind and social impulses. She volunteered to work for Planned Parenthood, a non-profit organization that had offices in Yonkers and in White Plains, that could make good use of her training and interests. Young girls, some of them rape victims, would come for needed counseling regarding pregnancy and related social problems. It was often heart-wrenching when a teenager would plead for help because she was afraid to talk to her own parents, doctor, or minister. During the several years that my highly qualified spouse worked as an unpaid volunteer for Planned Parenthood, she never tried to dictate what any person should do. She merely explained the problems and options, carefully and honestly, and explored the consequences. There is no doubt that she affected, and probably saved lives. There is more to sex than just doing it. The world is slowly moving toward a more rational approach to human sexuality but a great deal of teaching and learning is still required for a more comprehensive appreciation of this very complex subject.
Story 73: The Children Grow Up
Our four children are now adults. All of them have been well educated and hold college degrees. Keri, our oldest child, worked in computers at the University of California, Berkeley, until she decided to teach herself Spanish and qualify as a legal interpreter in immigration cases. Our daughter Robin received a Masters degree from Stanford University and became a government employee before retiring to do social work in Ronkonkoma, New York. Our son Donald acquired degrees is law and business administration before serving as an international tax attorney for several multinational firms. He resigned to work on world peace problems and lives a few miles from our home. Our daughter Nina is a lawyer employed by the Environmental Protection Agency in New York. All of them seem happily married and we now qualify as grandparents. They are all in good health and gainfully employed in socially significant activities. Who could ask for anything more?
Story 74: The Happy Ending
Last, but far from least, my partnership with Gertrude has lasted more than sixty years thus far and is still flourishing. She has been a constant companion in all of my work, sharing its problems and aspirations. Her patience, understanding, and tolerance have been vital supports for all of my efforts to create a more peaceful world. She has been a power behind the man, with suggestions, criticisms, and sound ideas. The fact that we have both come from similar backgrounds, faced similar hardships, shared similar goals, and were equally determined to make this a better world for everyone, has been a vital binding force. It has been my good fortune to have such a good wife and to have been raised in the United States, to have served in a terrible war without being bodily injured, and to have faced other hazards from which I have escaped unscathed. For all this, and more, I remain eternally grateful.
On that happy note, I come to the end of my stories. I hope the saga has provided some amusement, possible enlightenment, and perhaps inspiration. I intend to continue trying to make this a more humane world for as long as I live. But that’s another story.