Saturday, February 26, 2011

52 Weeks - Cook Forest Sounds

My husband Wally, today's guest blogger, remembers the sounds of Cook Forest in PA from his teen years:

Friends and I drove from Cleveland (where we lived) to Cook Forest in Pennsylvania three times. In retrospect, it surprises me that we were allowed, as 17-18 year old high school students, to do this on our own, but we were.

Three or four of us would go to rent a cabin in the state park. It would usually be my friends John and Ernie, but my friend Don came once, another guy came once, and one time Ernie's girlfriend Hazel was there (she remembers coming with her parents, but she hung out with us most of the time).

The appeal was that we were totally on our own, no adults. We explored the forest, stayed up late, played cards. Interestingly, we didn't drink or smoke or do drugs. And the area was forest primeval, barely developed at that time, another big appeal. Today Cook Forest has been developed for recreation but then (in the early 1950s) it was primitive and untouched.

Sounds: Going down to the Clarion River, which was (and may still be) the last untouched river in Pennsylvania--never dammed--we'd listen to the river sounds. At night, it was as though there were voices in the water, the sound was actually voices and if you could just listen closely enough, you'd understand what they were saying.

The other forest sound came from Ernie's hi-fi, which we brought to blast classical music (symphonic, not opera) in our cabin in the middle of the woods. One of our friends slept very late one morning, so we pushed one of the hi-fi speakers under his bunk and put on a record of the Quoddy Head lighthouse horn. We turned the volume WAY up and woke him with a blast of sound that rattled the windows. He didn't sleep late again.

Several times we climbed the metal fire tower in the dark so we could see the sunrise and overlook the river and the valley filled with mist. The 80-ft tower was built on the highest point in the park. As we climbed the tower's metal steps, our feet made a kind of ringing sound that reverberated throughout the forest, it seemed.

I remember walking through those woods, we were noisy as hell--the loudest sounds in the forest!

One more sound I remember: One night, I was walking with John and Ernie toward the fire tower and as we approached, we heard a voice. Getting closer, we realized it was a girl's voice, "No, Billy, don't, no please don't!" I turned on my flashlight, shined it up to the top of the tower, and called, "Are you all right, ma'am?" (Of course I was probably the same age as the couple on the tower, but I used "ma'am" anyway.)

She immediately came clattering down the steps of the tower, followed by her boyfriend Billy. To show her I meant no harm, I flashed the light on my face, which was unshaven and dirty after a week in the woods. I probably looked much more dangerous than Billy! I asked if she needed a ride home. She said, "No, Billy will take me," and the two went off in search of their car. I felt very chivalrous, having defended a girl's modesty.

Tuesday, February 22, 2011

52 Weeks - Entering the Jet Age

If I had all the commemorative airplane models that my father (Harold
Burk) received during his career as a travel agent, I'd be sitting on a gold mine.

Whenever a new plane (such as the Super Constellation) entered service, the airlines and/or manufacturers would hype the new technology by sending travel agents a model of that new model.

My father had this very plane (not the DIY model) on his desk for years and years. It was painted with the now-defunct Eastern Airlines colors, as this model is. He had others, too, but this one is most vivid in my mind.

My father was born just one year after the Wright Brothers successfully made their first flight and became, for a time, the most famous inventors in the world. I doubt Dad was in many planes before his service in WWII, but afterward, as a travel agent, he flew more than the average person--but not as often as he'd like.

One of Dad's perks was getting freebie tickets to tourist flights over what was then Idlewild Airport in Queens, NY (now JFK Airport). When I was in elementary school, our whole family would go over to Idlewild, flash those freebie tickets, and we'd all get on a prop plane for a 25-minute spin over the airport and NY harbor, including the Statue of Liberty. Can you imagine tourists getting that kind of quickie tour today? Well, technology really has changed--we can just sit at our keyboards and use Google Earth :) But the memories wouldn't be the same.

Wednesday, February 16, 2011

52 Weeks - The Saga of the Sock Monkey

Toys--sock monkeys! In the late 1950s, my mother (Daisy Schwartz Burk) acquired two pair of red heel socks and the instructions to make sock monkeys for my sister and me. My memory is that the "kits" came home from summer day camp, but however they arrived, my mother was excited about making least the first one.

Mom had no sewing machine and didn't want one. Her mother, my grandmother Hermina Farkas Schwartz, was an expert with a treadle sewing machine and could have whipped up these monkeys in half an hour each (no exaggeration). But the directions looked simple enough for hand sewing and we girls thought the monkeys looked adorable, so Mom enthusiastically set to work.

That first monkey was probably fun to sew, but when it came to the second monkey, Mom's enthusiasm started to drain away. And now that I'm making a sock monkey for my sister's birthday (shh! don't tell her), I understand just how she felt. (BELOW is a photo of my completed gift sock monkey--yes, the one in the middle!)

The head, torso, and legs are made from a single sock. Getting the body to look just right isn't the hard part, especially if you have a sewing machine and you've got plenty of red yarn to cinch in body parts at the right places. It's the arms and ears and tail, made from the second sock, that are more challenging because little pieces of sock can unravel very quickly if you're not careful. It's not rocket science but it's a bit tricky.

Mom stuffed my sock monkey with old nylons (sis's monkey will be stuffed with odd bits of quilt batting). The original sock monkeys lasted for a long time but alas, all those beloved old stuffed animals eventually got loved to death.

A decade ago I found myself a ready-made sock monkey and it's been enjoying the hospitality of my guest room ever since. I found a second one for my sis around the same time, but her kitties have been enjoying it and the stuffing is leaking out. Now she'll have a brand-new, home-made sock monkey to bring back so many good memories of the original toys of our childhood!

Thursday, February 10, 2011

52 Weeks - WINS, WMCA, WABC & Orchard Beach in the 1960s

Nostalgia today: New York City was (and probably is) a cut-throat radio town, and in the 1960s, rock 'n roll loving teens had their pick of some great stations and DJs. With our pocket-sized transistor radios, we could "spin the dial" and listen to:
  • WMCA 570 AM, the home of the Good Guys. If I had a penny for every time my sister and I dialed in to answer a rock trivia question for a shot at winning a bright yellow Good Guy sweatshirt or 45 rpm record, I'd be a gazillionaire right now. Believe it or not, we did win a few times and until it fell apart, we had one of the sweatshirts (alas, long gone in the pre-eBay era). Of course our parents weren't thrilled about our monopolizing the phone with our dialing antics for an hour or too, but it was pretty tame fun. DJs I remember vividly include Harry Harrison and Jack Spector.

  • WABC 770 AM, producer of the Silver Dollar Survey (countdown of top 40 songs) and the radio home of some of the most legendary rock 'n' roll DJs ever: Cousin Brucie; Dan Ingram; Scott Muni; Ron Lundy; the list goes on and on, too long to include here. The wattage of this AM station was so high that it could be heard quite a distance from New York, and was always clear and static-free when we tuned in at Orchard Beach. More below on the beach scene. No matter what top 40 song you wanted to hear, chances are you'd hear it more often on WABC, especially during "teen time" on weekends.

  • WINS 1010 AM, which featured, among other DJs, Murray the K (and his famous submarine race-watching music--that's "make out" music for the uninitiated). Murray the K appointed himself "the Fifth Beatle" and rode the Fab Four's coattails during the early-to-mid 1960s. WINS, like its competitors, vied to be first to air the new single from some hot group like Dion & the Belmonts (from the Bronx, natch) or the Tokens (The Lion Sleeps Tonight, remember?).
Orchard Beach, in the Bronx, is a man-made beach only 30 minutes or so away from where my family lived at the time. (The beautiful and expansive Jones Beach on Long Island was a lot further away from our apartment and required the use of a car, which we didn't own. My aunt would drive us there once or twice every summer as a treat.)

On a hot summer day, my sister and I would hop two buses and walk down the hot sand of Orchard Beach until we got to THE section where teens hung out, Section 10. Nearly every transistor radio in the place was tuned to WABC by design: As you walked the length and breadth of Section 10, you'd never miss a note of your favorite Paul Revere & the Raiders song or the Rolling Stones ordering people off their cloud. The aroma of Coppertone was everywhere and summer seemed to fly by too quickly.

Monday, February 7, 2011

Matrilineal Monday - the Steiner sisters

My husband's maternal grandmother, Floyda Mabel Steiner McClure (1878-1948), was the baby of nine in her family. Here's a photo of Floyda with three of her sisters. From left, Carrie E. Steiner Traxler (1870-1963), Blanche (Etta) Steiner Rhuark (1864-1956), Floyda, and Minnie Estella Steiner Halbedel (1867-1947). Carrie and Blanche lived around the corner from each other in Upper Sandusky, OH. Floyda lived in Cleveland.

The above photo must have been taken about 1938 or so. How do I know? The photo below, with Minnie at right and her husband Edward N. Halbedel (1865-1946) at left, includes my husband Wally, age about 3 or 4, and his younger sister. 
Recently I was in touch (via Ancestry) with a Traxler descendant and we plan to share info. I can hardly wait! More cousins to connect with. She and my husband both remember Aunt Blanche's parrot, who would say "Brice McClure" and "Polly want a cracker" over and over (and over and over). Why would the parrot be talking about Floyda's husband Brice? No clue, but it's a vivid memory for both.

Sunday, February 6, 2011

Sentimental Sunday: 3 Generations of Ladies

After I married and moved away from NYC, mom (Daisy Burk, 1919-1981) didn't often see all of her girls all at once. It was a treat to be together on vacations and holidays!

Once Daisy's first grandchild was born, we made get-togethers a priority. Three generations of ladies in the family!

Wednesday, February 2, 2011

Wordless Wednesday - Paula and Ibolyka Schwartz

This is a Wordless Wednesday because alas, I knew far too little about my great-aunt Paula Schwartz and her daughter, Ibolyka (Violet), shown in a photo they sent  to my maternal grandfather Theodore (Teddy) Schwartz (original name "Tivador," as in the inscription) in 1930.

Paula and her sister, Etel Schwartz, never came to the US even though their older brothers (Teddy and Samuel) arrived in the early 1900s and subsequently pooled their money to bring their baby sister Marushka (Mary) Schwartz to New York, as well.

Paula and Etel died in the Holocaust in World War II, along with other siblings. Their father, Herman Schwartz, died some time before the war.

2022 update: I've learned a lot about the family by searching Yad Vashem's testimony and connecting with Ibolyka's daughter, who is my 2d cousin on the Schwartz side.