Growing Up

Herb tells stories of his earliest childhood memories living above the bakery; the time spent with friends at Howard Avenue and Hutchinson Court; and his experiences at Lincoln High School.

Early Childhood Memories

  • I was really raised by my grandmother and Chickie. Those were the two people. My grandmother ran the house –made sure there was food, whenever I’d come in, she’d stuff food into me; she’d spoon feed me if I wouldn’t eat. Chickie would go to school whenever they said, “No he’s not a problem but he sleeps in class. What are you going to do about that.”

  • Mostly what I remember about that (Howard Avenue) is being in junior high school. That’s where I first went to junior high and that was a wild sort of thing. I could walk down to St. Marks Street. The main street around there was Pitkin Avenue which you had to walk 2 or 3 blocks to get to. The junior high school (it might have been John Marshall Junior High School). I went to 2 junior high schools because in the middle of that, we moved from Howard Ave to Hutchinson Court. And then I came to the junior high school that I went to when we moved to Hutchinson Court. That was a much nicer junior high school. You had all nice middle class kids a lot of whom were going to go to college. Hutchinson Court had about 8 buildings in it. It was a closed court. It’s between Avenue S and Avenue U, off of Coney Island Avenue because we used to take the bus to get down to it. It was quite far from Neptune Avenue which is the street that ran cross to it and where Lincoln High School was. Lincoln was right near Brighton Beach – that area which at the time was largely Jewish. It hadn’t been invaded by the Russians yet.

  • My sister Chickie - she was seven years older than I was. She was the one who mothered me because Grandma Susie and Grandpa Mitch and the other two uncles were working in the bakery, and it was very hard. They were a small business during the depression. They were much better off than a lot of other people like the people who worked for them, but they worked fifteen hours a day. You had to get up at two in the morning to start baking the rolls and the bread. Then, the cake baker would come in, and you would bake the cake. My mother would be behind the counter with a couple of other salespeople. A lot of our family lived from that thing.

  • I remember Chickie’s wedding because it was at our house. I was about 12 years old and they got me drunk. That was nice. That was about it. I would go to my uncle’s houses sometimes but not necessarily for weddings. Louis lived fairly close to us. Bernie was a car ride away. They were all sort of close in Brooklyn at the time.

  • When I was going to be bar mitzvahed, they hire a rabbi to come and teach you how to say the bar mitzvah prayer in Yiddish or Hebrew. I was a terrible student – I would kick him under the table. He was an old guy, bearded. We didn’t get along. I never was able to learn more than the first four or five words. So, my grandfather went to a hole-in-the-wall shul - it wasn’t even a shul – it was store that a bunch of old Jews and a rabbi were at - and took me in to be bar mitzvahed. He gave the rabbi a bottle of booze, and they said, “All right, you’re bar mitzvahed”. I never could learn Hebrew. I am very bad at languages anyway – all languages. That is not the way my brain is put together.

  • Back in the day, they didn’t take actual photographs. They took black and white pictures, and then they sent them out to be colorized. You were supposed to tell them what color your hair is, your eyes and all of that. I thought my eyes were brown, because my mother and father had brown eyes. I never really looked at myself in the mirror. I was never a vain person. I just knew I was beautiful.

  • One summer, they wanted to send me to a camp and, at the time, there were a lot of very liberal if not communist camps that they would send me too. First of all, I hated it but that’s ok, when you first go to a camp you hate it anyway. But my father found out that it was, let me use the word, communist-oriented, and he hated the communists because they are the ones that drove him out of Russia. He yanked me out, and I came home. I was very grateful for that.


A colorized photo, giving Herb brown eyes

Time With Friends

  • It only cost a quarter to go to the movies. When we lived on Howard Avenue, I would go to the movies practically every week and you would get 2 movies, serial, cartoon all of that. I used to go to the movies a lot when I was young. Not so much when we moved to Hutchinson Court because there, you would have to walk to Pitkin Ave and they had one or two nice movies that you could go to but it was getting expensive at that point.

  • I remember when we lived in Hutchinson Court, my father finally got a TV. A little round thing in black and white, and you could watch Milton Berle. There were two or three shows you would watch. The four or five of us would gather in the basement, and we could watch TV. My friends and I could watch TV for a while. You know, it wasn’t that compelling the way it is now. Mostly, we played in the streets.

  • We were very provincial. Kenny and I occasionally would take the subway to lower Manhattan where they had all the bookstores. Barnes and Noble then, they had one store there which sold school stuff. That’s where they began, and they would sell things that schools wanted you to have. There were a ton of second-hand bookstores down there so we would go down there. We did it a few times, but I didn’t go into Manhattan very often. When I was younger, my sister, Chickie, took me into Manhattan once or twice so, I went to Radio City Music Hall. I remember they always had a band - it was Harry James and a young guy name named Frank Sinatra was singing with them. That’s when they were just beginning.

  • Before I got into high school, my friend, Kenny, and I would catch a trolley or bus down to Coney Island. There was a beach club there. This was not a fancy beach club but, they had handball courts. Kenny and I would play handball almost every day. Then you could go to the beach and all of that. I was a decent handball player. And for two or three summers, we would go down there and do that and walk along the boardwalk whatever. I didn’t have a lot of friends. Just Kenny and Larry Levy at that time and there was one other. There were 4 of us that hung out together. That broke up when we went to high school. One of them went to Midwood. Coney Island Avenue was the dividing line. On one side of it, you went to Lincoln; on the other side, you went to Midwood, I think. One of them went to Midwood. Kenny managed – by lying about where he lived – got to go to Lincoln with me, but he wasn’t that interested in the math club or stuff like that. Larry Levy was. He was very good in math also.

  • I don’t think we were poor. I never had any toys per se. I would get tin cans and those would be my blocks. We had a monopoly set, I remember, because Chickie, and I, and my Uncle Howard who lived with us would play monopoly a lot.

Herb’s neighborhoods growing up

Getting Through School

  • I know I walked to school so it couldn’t have been too far. I don’t have a lot of memories about it. I remember reading the comics when I was about 4 years old or something like that. So I was able to read early, I think. And apparently, I was falling asleep in class because they wanted to talk to my mother. Chickie went instead because she was my representative. If I was 5 she would have been 11 or 12 but my mother was busy working in the bakery. They decided that I was bored and, apparently, I skipped a grade or 2.

  • I went there (Lincoln High School) in 1950. I was almost 17 (when I finished). The junior high school I went to when we lived on Howard Ave was kind of a wild one. That is, it was a very rough neighborhood and I remember we had a teacher who had to keep discipline within the school because there were a bunch of kids there that were very wild. They would jump up on their desks and throw things and he would physically restrain them. He would call the kid up and he had this habit – he had a finger and he would poke you in the chest and drive them across the room that way. Saying “You better behave or I’ll kill you.” There was no question about teachers shouldn’t touch the children. You had to do what you had to do to keep discipline.

  • I did well in high school. I was on the math team and the physics team. The school was very good. It had excellent teachers because a lot of them were PhDs who couldn’t find jobs in the recession. In the 1930s you got a PhD, there was no job for you unless you went to the WPA. So my math teacher, my physics teacher and one of my very good humanities teachers there all had PhDs. There was a physics club, a math team and I was on those sorts of things. The clique of guys that I hung out with there were primarily kids who were on the math team. I was far from the best of them but I was ok at math. It was pretty easy to get a 98, 99 or 100 on the tests that they gave. Hanging out with those guys was very good. That’s how I learned to like opera. One of the guys there I went to his house once and he played the opera Carmen and I loved it and so from that my love of opera grew as I learned other operas.

  • They were all motivated to go to college. Then there were a bunch of kids who took shop and they were not going to go to college. They were probably learning trades. When I was made a marshal, you had to do stuff like that - to check school passes as kids were walking in the halls. There were some tough Italian kids and I always used to sign them in and it was ok because I would help them with their homework so they liked me. On the other hand, when it was 5 or 6 and we were going home because we’d stay late to do practice stuff for the math team, a bunch of them would be out there shouting at us. We were apprehensive that they might beat us up but that never happened. The classes were very segregated. Those who were going to go to college knew it and those who were not knew it also.

Herb was an early reader

Additional Gallery