11-25-2018, 01:46 PM
#1
  • Barrylu
  • Senior Member
  • Portland OR
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Since Christmas is coming I thought I might share this short essay I wrote for my Grandchildren. The essay is copyrighted so please ask me for permission if you want to publish it elsewhere. Thank you. I hope you enjoy it.

Celebrating Christmas in A Jewish Neighborhood in the 1940s


Growing up in Brooklyn a trip into the city was a major trip. Forget about leaving the state. We believed that if you had to go to New Jersey you would need shots, a passport, and probably Jersey money. If one were daring enough to attempt a trip to the Bronx then one risked sailing off the edge of the earth.

Trips to the city (Manhattan) were like a trip to a foreign country. On our few excursions into the city, I was always awed by the sophisticated women, they wore hats, white gloves, were perfectly coiffed, corseted, wore hose and makeup.
I thought I was transported to Paris instead of a five-cent subway ride from Brooklyn.

Trips to the city always included a visit to the Automat. The Automat was a waiterless automated restaurant. The food was displayed on the other side of a locked glass window. Once the correct number of nickels were placed in the slot the glass door sprung open and you could remove your food. The Automat was known for their coffee, pie, and baked macaroni. As I remember coffee was a nickel a cup. You put your cup under a spigot shaped like a lion's head, put the requisite nickel in the slot, pulled the handle all the way to the right and watched the coffee flow from the lion's mouth into your cup. Inevitably someone would forget to put his cup under the spigot and stand there watching the coffee flow down the drain. As I remember, a slice of pie was 10 cents, most sandwiches were ten or fifteen cents.
One trip to the city that I remember was near Christmas. We went to Rockefeller center. We watched the ice skaters and the huge Christmas tree. I think it was the first Christmas tree I ever saw. I assumed it was THE Christmas tree. I thought everyone came to Rockefeller Center to see this gigantic beautifully lit tree. I had no idea that people kept them in their homes. I thought everyone had to go to NY to see a Christmas tree.
From Rockefeller Center, we went on to Macy's at Herald Square. We awed at the Christmas window and all the toys. I remember going into the store and wandering through the toy department with my mother. As we turned a corner I saw a man dressed all in red with a white beard sitting on a throne. I stood there in awe. I had never seen anything like that before. I asked my mother who that man was. She just pulled me away and said: " It's a Goyisha (Gentile) store." My reply was; "Oh! is that Jesus? She pulled me away and said shush. The tone she used was the same tone she used when I asked about things concerning sex. Intuitively, I knew not to question her further. For many years after that incident, I thought The Holy Trinity was Jesus, Santa, and Sex.

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 11-25-2018, 02:43 PM
#2
  • pbrmhl
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  • Seattle
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Great story--what a hoot!

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 11-25-2018, 02:47 PM
#3
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Horn and Hardart automats and retail stores were treasures.

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 11-25-2018, 02:54 PM
#4
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Great story. Smile

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 11-25-2018, 06:47 PM
#5
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Thanks for the great story. I grew up in Brooklyn as well. I lived there until I was 17 (70s-90s). I also came from a Jewish household and can relate to some of the things you mentioned. Traveling to "the city" was always a big event, especially seeing the giant Rockefeller center Christmas tree. But I did see trees and Christmas ornaments in my neighborhood which was mixed Jewish/non-Jewish. 
No Automats but hipsters did bring something like this back recently on St. Marks Place in the East Village, although i don't think it lasted long - https://www.yelp.com/biz/bamn-new-york . I never got around to trying it.

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 11-26-2018, 03:42 AM
#6
  • chazt
  • Senior Member
  • Queens, NY
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Nicely written essay, Barry. I hope your grandchildren appreciate this little slice of your childhood.

Even today I relish my outer borough NYer status. I can relate to the trips into the City as a child, including visits to the Automat. Possibly my earliest memory of a trip to Manhattan is that of an autumn visit to MSG prior to its rebuild at the present location. My aunt and her uncle took me and my cousins by bus and subway to see the RB-B&B circus. It was a blustery, chilly day in late November, early December. We had cotton candy, and Uncle Bill bought all the kids mini flashlights (tan with a red flip-top) attached to a red lanyard that we swung wildly in circles when the lights in the arena dimmed. Great memories!

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 11-26-2018, 03:58 AM
#7
  • Steelman
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  • Delaware
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Barry....

I grew up on Ocean Parkway and Avenue N.

Great story. Brought back a lot of memories

My mom still lives in Brooklyn and to this day considers NJ "the country".

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 11-26-2018, 06:49 AM
#8
  • evnpar
  • Emeritus
  • Portland, Oregon
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Lovely story, Barry.

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 11-26-2018, 06:54 AM
#9
  • Johnny
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  • Wausau, Wisconsin, USA
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Great story, Barry.  Your grandkids should enjoy that.

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 11-26-2018, 07:01 AM
#10
  • Garb
  • Active Member
  • Oregon
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I've reread this story and shared it with my lady. It's awesome and reminded me of my days in the city growing up in Cleveland, Ohio. The big stores were all a hoot on Christmas. 
Thanks for sharing your memories with us.

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 11-26-2018, 08:49 AM
#11
  • Barrylu
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  • Portland OR
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 11-27-2018, 07:34 AM
#12
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My dad only took me to an Automat once (a trip to NYC was a very special happening for this NJ boy) and I remember it to this day. The food was inexpensive from what I remember, and it was good! Remove an item from behind the door and it was refilled. The hot food was piping hot because behind the door was basically an oven (not hot enough to burn ones hands), and the cold food was cold.

Country mice/vs city mice... not a competition, just a contrast. I forget the way this happened, but I think we met these folks camping. They were totally out of their element (NYC natives) and thought animals were hiding in the puckerbrush just waiting to jump out and eat them. Anyway, in talking I learned, and was amazed that, not only did they not know how to drive but didn't own cars. They were amazed that I didn't know how to get around NYC except by cab. Of course they didn't drive since they took the subway. Once I thought about it it made total sense.

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 11-28-2018, 03:54 PM
#13
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I was 18 b/4 I ever rode a city bus but had my driver's license since 16. Still haven't ridden a subway. You can't do things that don't exist in your world.   Cheers
Oh, I've ridden Japanese trains, they go underground in some areas....I don't know if that counts.

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