Our Story Continues by Dick Weinman
What Happened Before And After
1955 had just begun. Mine and Ginny’s time at Indiana University was over. We were out-in-the-world. On our own. On our way – somewhere. . . .
First stop – New York: my home, and where, by the following month’s end, we would be married.
My mother had harbored, deep in her Jewish heart, the image of me, her first born, standing in marriage in front of the Holy Arc of the Torah. That’s why, when the University’s Christmas (that’s what they called it back then) break ended and we returned to Indiana for our final semester, Ginny began the lessons of conversion, and became a Jewess. We could have the marriage my mother had always dreamed of.
The train (that’s how we traveled back then) left Indianapolis, and edged eastward. Ginny and I sat close to each other, clutching hands, as if to pass one’s strength to other, assuring confidence. The train journey lasted fifteen hours; the odyssey of our lives together, although hobbled near the end, would last fifty-nine years.
We both needed jobs. I could get along with a temporary position to hold us until I began graduate school in September at Columbia University. Ginny’s job had to last until the following June, when I received my M.F.A. Our plans were perfect, if nothing intervened.
In front of the Holy Ark, with its fully open drapes revealing the bejeweled wine-colored scrolls of the Torah, we stand, under the chuppa, the canopy of braided branches of leaves of gold, red, and brown. We face one another. Our arms entwine, connecting us like the clinging vines forming the chuppa, our shelter from the world. Our fingers delicately embrace each crystal glass, half filled with deep red liquid, the sweet smelling fruit of the grape, as ancient as the race itself.
We bend toward each other; put our lips to one another’s glass, peer intensely into the depths of our eyes, searching hard, silently asking, are you sure?
Together, we sip from our glasses. I unlink my arm, bend my knees and place the glass gently at the side of my foot. I raise my right leg - and stomp. The fragile glass, shatters and scatters. We come toward each other – it is as if the separate pieces of glass were drawn together – and kiss.
I see back to that bright, winter day at the end of January; two nervous and uncertain youngsters – me twenty-one; Ginny, eighteen. What lay ahead? It would be a journey of opposites, as is life itself – happy, sometimes sorrowful; peaceful, sometimes frenetic; sweet, sometime painful; beautiful, fearful.
The August sun shone on the long, sleek, black 1947 Fleetwood Cadillac, double parked in front of the apartment building. My father’s car. Shiny. Blinding spots careened this way and that off the newly polished body. The car looked showcase new even in 1956. It had been stored year-round in a service garage, and only driven on Sundays either to Jones Beach, to my father’s friends on Long Island, or to my aunt’s farm in the country in upstate New York.
After nine barely-used years, the big, expensive car was leaving its New York garage to begin a journey which would carry me and Ginny, first to Pennsylvania, which we were packing for today, and metamorphose into other makes of car over the next five decades, as we traveled west and south across the country, from the East coast to the Pacific North West.
Following our wedding at the end of January, 1955, Ginny and I had been living with my aunt Jean, in her two bedroom apartment, next door to my parent’s apartment. We sorely needed our own place to begin our married lives. My mother managed to find us a two room apartment in a walk-up not far from her building complex.
The Weinmans lived in Kew Gardens; that’s where our little cubby hole was located. That was the town in which I was born and grew up. Throughout the 1940s, Kew Gardens was a peaceful, friendly community – like other small towns in America - but it only was some twenty miles removed from the hustle and bustle of New York City. The “Kew” was a village of apartment buildings and a few private homes – in today’s rhetoric, a “bedroom community.” No super markets in this era: Kew Gardens was home to every conceivable store, owned and run by neighbors everyone knew: Sol, the kosher butcher; Frank’s produce market; Sylvester the shoe maker, Arnie’s delicatessen, Mr. Rosen’s candy store. There was the luncheonette, the Chinese laundry, the bakery, two banks, a movie theater, a bowling alley, and, since it was a Jewish neighborhood – a Chinese restaurant for Sunday night take-out.
All this vibrancy and salad bowl living was connected by the Metropolitan Avenue trolleys. In fact, Ginny’s and my apartment looked down on the once-used trolley tracks. They remained ingrained in the streets’ surface, after the trolley cars of my youth had been replaced by busses.
Our brownish-red brick walk-up was at the socio-economic low end of Kew Gardens’ many apartment buildings. It had four floors; thus, the NYC Housing Code didn’t require an elevator. So, each trip in and out was a hike up and down. But it was ours!
Our second floor two room apartment, 2D, was tucked away in a corner of the dark hallway, which contained three other residences. A single incandescent bulb teetered on a string from the high ceiling of the morose hallway. The shadowy floor was mottled in a speckled faux marble. Not beautiful to look at, but it was a place to return to after a tiring day and night of school for me and work for Ginny.
We rode the subway, to and from the “city.” After heading down the subterranean steps leading to the D or E train line platforms at the Union Turnpike station, we took the long, hot, crowded subway rides to mid-town Manhattan. Then we split - uptown for me to “Spanish Harlem” and Columbia University at the 116 th Street subway stop on the IRS, the third subway line I had to take following the previous trains, the D from Times Square station, where I left Ginny, and the E or F from Kew Gardens.
I had plenty of study time, while standing, hanging onto ceiling stirrups, shaking back and forth with the bumpy rhythms of the ride, dodging the elbows of the page-turning readers of the New York Times or Daily News, standing and sweating while bouncing along, squeezed into the pack of commuters – to be repeated-in-reverse on the return. I longed to climb the stairs of our tiny, crumby walk-up, turn the door knob, and ease into 2D – and see Ginny again.
As I was caroming uptown, Ginny was heading downtown to the lower Eastside. Her station was at 8 th Avenue and 23 rd Street, in the Hispanic section of New York. Ginny, only a teenager from a tiny town in Michigan, was thrust into the multi-million-people world of concrete streets and sky-high buildings, where she tousled with fast walking, fast talking New Yorkers, above ground, and stood holding an overhead strap, cramped against the multitude on a subway in a tunnel below ground. We were an Uptown/Downtown couple.
Our apartment was a place to be students. It was cooperative work, a joint task to get my degree.
I wrote at our chrome- legged, red laminate-topped kitchenette table. It squeezed into both parts of the front room. Two legs splayed over the yellowed linoleum floor of the so-called Pullman kitchen. The six by twelve, railroad-berth size strip held our stove, refrigerator, and sink. The hardwood floor living room was home to the sofa, floor lamp, and upholstered chair – and the other two legs of the kitchenette table.
The living room also contained the unique feature of our walk-up – the dumb waiter, the hand-pulled garbage dump. Open the door on the wall, pull up the rope, which hung on the shaft inside, and a shelf would lift from the garbage storeroom in the basement. To get rid of the garbage I would place the full paper bag on the shelf, and push up on the rope letting it pass through my hands. One frightening day, my wedding ring slipped onto the shelf as I was pushing the dumbwaiter down to the pile of trash in the basement. Fearing that it would be incinerated with the trash, I bolted out the door, leaped two steps at a time down the three flights to the basement, dug through the gathered garbage, and found the ring in the pile of refuse that had been simmering - and stinking - for its daily burning. The lesson was to use the dumb waiter with care.
Our apartment also was where my Master’s thesis was typed. As the culture of the day expected, this was a task for the wife. Assiduously, each night after work and dinner, Ginny would lift the heavy, bulky, silver Royal portable, typewriter from the corner it rested in onto the red laminate table, take off the clumsy lid, push it out-of-the-way across the table, and face the typewriter. She inserted the first of several pieces of 8x10” typing paper. This master sheet of typing paper – heavy white bond - topped the bundle. Behind it, Ginny placed the smudgy black sheet of carbon paper for copies. She did this behind every sheet of paper that followed. The second sheet of paper was also heavy bond quality. It was the first copy. The second copy was placed behind another sheet of carbon paper; it was a sheet of ultra-thin “onion skin” paper. The bundling continued until the required six copies were typed. It was important not to smudge one’s fingers and put black stains on the papers. God forbid Ginny made an error. Out would come the grey circular typing eraser. She would hold a piece of cardboard behind the typed mistake on each page of the manuscript so there’d be no smudges when she erased it - on each separate page; Ginny – with my hot breath on her shoulders and curses in her ear - made sure the erasure went through each copy. (As you can tell copying machines didn’t live in our day.) Typing one page nineteen-fifties-style was a time consuming, arduous, tension generating affair. Typing my thesis was an act of devotion by Ginny -the manuscript was over three hundred pages. We worked together: Ginny typed. I stood nervously over her, breathing hard and swearing into the air. The perfect college couple!
The reliable Royal played another important role at the start of my career. I – actually, we - announced to the hundreds of colleges and universities around the country that I was available for their job – if there was one.
It wasn’t just my thesis that we collaborated on in our tiny walk-up apartment.