|After the war, my dad lost his job at the Navy Yard and then worked
at several odd jobs before ending up working for the Reading Railroad as
a stores keeper for many years.
My parents once took over the lease on a small candy shop/grocery store at the corner of our street and Front Street, 85 Roslyn St. Their ice cream cones were the biggest attractions; people came from all around to get the 1 1/2 dip (single dip) cones of Abbotts Ice Cream. They were just as generous with their double dip cones and hand dipped pints and quarts. Of course, my sister and I loved having the store. We both worked there, her officially, me unofficially, in our spare time. Typical things were sold there beside ice cream were sodas, canned goods, chewing gum, soft pretzels, Tastykakes, tobacco items and penny candies.
How well I remember those penny candies... Grade A Bars, Snowcaps, Maltballs, Licorice Babies, Coconut Potatoes, Mary Janes, etc. Yum! Soda brands that we sold were Blue Anchor, Coke, Pepsi, Frank's and Seven-Up, but not Canada Dry. Dad had some kind of feud going with them for some unknown reason so he refused to sell their products in the store. Dad once got a little annoyed at kids putting what he thought was too much mustard on their soft pretzels, so he mixed some red pepper juice in the mustard jar. It served its purpose; mustard use immediately declined. We had a nickel pin ball machine there too, which was free for me. Tough life! They were much too generous for their own good and eventually had to give it up. Too bad it didn't last longer, but it was doomed by my parents' niceness.
|After the store, Mom got a part time job as cashier at the Lane
Theater near 66th Avenue and Broad Street. I was able to see a few free
flicks with her working there but it was too far away from home for her
to continue with it.
After we got our own TV set, my lunches were usually spent watching ‘Lunch With Uncle Pete’ on WPTZ. This was a cartoon oriented show hosted by ‘Uncle’ Pete Boyle, father of the famous film actor Peter Boyle, and co-hosted by a puppet squirrel whose name I cannot remember. This daily show was on for many years and, along with ‘Howdy Doody’ in the afternoon, was rarely missed. Weekly shows I watched regularly were ‘Horn & Hardart's Children's Hour’, ‘The Big Top’ (Ed McMahon was the clown on this show), ‘Mr. Wizard’ and ‘Mr. I. Magination’. I also regularly watched anything having to do with cowboys. When it was time to watch the cowboy shows, I used to dress up in my hat, boots, six-shooter and natural leather holster that Dad made for me and watch the TV sitting on the arm of our living room chair, pretending it was a horse.
|Benjamin Franklin was another hero I discovered very early in my
life while visiting the Franklin Institute in Philadelphia. What a great
mind this statesman/ politician/ inventor/ printer/ journalist had, his
inventions, innovations and institutions have withstood the test of time
very well. Going there with my school class or with friends was something
I loved to do, due to my scientific curiosity. Many an afternoon I spent
roaming those halls in fascination.
My favorite place to ‘eat out’ was Williams Restaurant, located between Bridge and Pratt Streets on Frankford Avenue, across from the Frankford/ Bridge trolley terminal. We didn't eat out very often, but when we did, I always ordered breaded veal cutlet (the real thing), cole slaw and French fries. This is still one of my favorite meals but the restaurant is now gone, as are the trolleys.
Pocket change was acquired by offering my packaging and carrying services to shoppers at the new Acme Market at Mascher and Nedro Streets for tips. Since grocery markets did not employ packers in those days and most shoppers lived within a short walking distance of the store, business was pretty good.
In the vacant area north of Godfrey Avenue near the Sheepys, there were many leftover Victory Gardens from the World War II era that were still being worked in the 1950's.
I kept one of them going for a couple of summers, having most luck growing tomatoes, watermelons and cucumbers. That area is now occupied by Cardinal Dougherty High School and the Melrose Park housing development, and was then part of the extensive Fisher estate.
We occasionally held memberships at the Somerton Springs Swim Club at County Line Road and Bustleton Pike just north of the Philadelphia city line, where Mom used to perform in the water shows as a diver in the 1930's. Suntan lotion and sun screen products were not very popular in those days so Mom used to grease me down with olive oil to prevent sunburn. She always said that was how I got my dark complexion. It eventually got too expensive to continue the memberships so we switched to the cheaper Boulevard Pools in Northeast Philadelphia. It was there that Dad finally managed to teach me to swim at age 10, on July 27, 1951.
|To supplement his low income, my dad got did some contract maintenance
work for the city of Philadelphia. One of the jobs involved putting replacement
washers on stand pipes in city owned buildings, which are fire hydrant
outlets within the buildings proper. I usually accompanied him on these
jobs on the weekends and one was in a city-run teaching hospital, I forget
which one it was. Several of the medical students started talking to me
and thought they would do me a ‘favor’ and show me what they were doing,
so, natural curiosity and all, I went with them to their classroom. What
they were doing was dissecting cadavers! I fooled them though, and didn't
flinch. In fact, I found it very interesting because I never realized that
this kind of work was done.
Once he had to paint street lights along Delaware Avenue in a wind of about 20-25 miles per hour. He looked like the tin man from ‘The Wizard of Oz’ when he was finished because he was using silver paint and he got as much on him as on the light poles.
It was while he was working on these jobs that he discovered Greene's Cafeteria at 3rd and Market Streets. They made great turkey sandwiches and Dad used to bring some home for us whenever he could. They also had the world's greatest strawberry shortcake which was made with real whipped cream and strawberries so big that it took three bites to eat one. Another one of their specialties was their kosher tomatoes and I remember riding home on the El (which is Philadelphia-ese for elevated railroad, a subway on stilts) one day with a package full of them that filled the whole car with their wonderful aroma.
|Having been blessed with a fairly decent singing voice, I was chosen
to be part of a boy's quartet that performed on a radio show on February
17, 1953 called Radioland Express on WFIL in Philadelphia. While there,
I met a young radio announcer named Dick Clark, doing his pre-Bandstand
announcing duties at the station. My mom chaperoned us on the trip and
the song that we sang, ‘When You Wish Upon A Star’, from the Disney classic
‘Pinocchio’, was to become her all-time favorite song; I'm sure it was
due to this experience. Whenever I hear it, I think of her. After the performance,
Mom took us all into a magic store that was located near the station on
Market Street and treated us all to a small magic trick. After having them
explained to us, we performed them for the people riding the El all the
After Finletter, I attended Jules E. Mastbaum Vocational-Technical High School, located at 3116 Frankford Avenue, just south of Allegheny Avenue in the Kensington/Fishtown area of Philadelphia, much to the chagrin of my parents and elementary school teachers.
Acquaintances were made rapidly, and I got into the swing of things without too much trouble. Getting to ride the Route 5 trolley on Frankford Avenue twice a day wasn't too bad either. However, this route was converted to buses (ugh!) on December 25, 1955, so my euphoria was short-lived.
|On April 30, 1956, my parents purchased their first house and moved
us to 5417 N. Howland Street, just down the street from where they lived
from late 1941 to late 1943. We got our first cradle type telephone there
and our number was JEfferson 3-6890.
We had a huge back yard so Dad started and maintained a vegetable garden in the front half of it. He sure loved a vegetable called a kohlrabi; I think it's in the turnip family. He tried to get me to eat them, bless his heart, but they were awful. Sorry, Dad!
My dog Murphy had a great time with the garden also. I recall her learning which rows had her desire du jour, and she would stare at that row until she got what she wanted. She loved radishes, God bless her; she ate them until her eyes were watering.
The first year he planted too many cucumber seeds and we had cucumbers coming out of our ears. We gave lots away and ate a lot, but how many can you eat in the time frame of a couple of weeks? So, Dad decided to pickle the remaining cucumbers. He set up some one gallon jars in the basement and put brine and the required spices in them along with the cucumbers. Well, he didn't allow enough room for expansion and the jars exploded all over our basement. It took quite a while to get the ‘deli’ smell out of our house.
With Mom working, Dad had to do some of the cooking and, as a result of this, I think of him every time I have boiled potatoes; that's the only way he ever fixed them. I always cooked Sunday breakfast, the only day that I ate breakfast. I guess that's how I got started on my culinary avocation.
|Mom worked part time for Supplee-Sealtest Dairies at the end of
our street at Harrison Street.
Dad and I got into the habit of spending Friday or Saturday nights going out together to see either the stock car races at Municipal Stadium in South Philadelphia or the Philadelphia Ramblers play other Eastern Semi-professional Ice Hockey League teams at the Arena.
|It was demolished in the 1990s and a new indoor sports facility
was built on the site called the Core States Spectrum, a sister facility
of the older Spectrum located just north of it.
I still remember the names of three of my favorite players on the Ramblers: Rocky Rukavina, Ray Crew and Ivan Walmsley. I wonder where they are now. ‘Red’ Lesher was our favorite driver at the races.
One fringe benefit of my transfer collecting hobby was that I used my duplicate transfers to ride around the city free in the summers when I didn't have anything else to do, and I did this a lot. This was unlawful of course, but what's a little risk when you're having so much fun?
My parents never knew of this or they surely wouldn't have permitted it; they thought I was paying my way. Being allowed to travel around the city like this helped me to develop the independence that has served me so well throughout my life.
|After graduation from high school in 1958 I got my first job. At
Somerton Springs Swim Club I worked as a counterman-cook at the snack-bar
during the weeks, and as a soda jerk at the dance hall/ bowling alley on
Saturday evenings, both for 75 cents an hour. Not much pay but the benefits
were great. After work each day, into the pool. On days off, into the pool.
On days when I only worked evenings, into the pool. I was in the pool more
often than the members were.
There was a law in Pennsylvania at that time, and it may well still exist, that anyone under 18 years of age needed to get permission to work from either the state, city or school district, I forget which, in the form of documents called working papers. So, prior to starting work, Mom had to take me to Powers School at Frankford Avenue and Somerset Street to get these papers. I remember being a little embarrassed having to have my mother escort me, a 17 year old, there to get them.
I usually worked the early shift four days a week, which meant that I opened the snack bar about 10:00 a.m. each day. I enjoyed this arrangement for several reasons. One, business was light for the first two hours so I didn't have to work too hard, second, there was no clean up involved, third, there was a lady who only worked in the mornings who made the most delicious homemade donuts ('nuff said), and lastly, I got off work early enough to enjoy the pool and its associated activities. As with most places of business, a special jargon usually develops between the employees, and Somerton was no exception. For example, if the cook called out, "One Regular Larryburger" it meant that the hamburger with raw onions and cocktail sauce (a Plain Larryburger would not have the condiments) that I ordered from my window was ready to be picked up. "The Cow's Dead" meant that the milk canister was empty, and a ‘Ginzer’ was a lemon-lime icee. Whenever anyone asked how that name came about, we were told to tell them that it was ‘Reznig’ spelled backward.
I worked on my culinary skills each day, making the most original hoagies and steak sandwiches, always staying within the 80 cent meal allowance.
My employers were Elwood Platt, his wife ‘Boss Lady’, and their son Bobby in the snack bar, and Elwood's brother Vernon ‘Bud’ Platt in the dance hall and bowling alley. Mom sometimes worked with me on Saturday nights as the cashier/disc jockey for the dances.
|Dad was working second shift that summer, and he never drove his
car when he didn't have to, so when the pool closed each day, or at about
9:30 p.m. on the evenings when I wasn't at the pool, I drove to the Wayne
Junction yards of the Reading to pick him up, so that he wouldn't have
to ride the bus home. Whenever he had some paperwork to finish up before
leaving, I would help him with it and I usually got the rubber stamping
I had already registered for the fall semester at Temple Technical Institute when I received a telephone call from a former classmate at Mastbaum. He mentioned that he had just gotten a job at Philco Corporation and that they were interested in talking to some of his classmates about employment. I interviewed at their plant on Wissahickon Avenue in September and was hired on the spot as a Junior Lab Technician at that plant, known as Plant 50, at a pay rate of $68.00 per week. This would be the start of an electronics career that would be followed the rest of my life.
Since I was still only 17, I once again had to have my mother escort me to get working papers. What a way to start a career.
Lunch times at work (after eating) were usually spent in Fernhill Park, located across Wissahickon Avenue from the plant, throwing a ball around, watching the new Boulevard Extension of the Schuylkill Expressway being built, or playing Pinochle with my co-workers.
Shortly after my 18th birthday, Dad took me to the Selective Service Office at Kensington and Allegheny Avenues to register for the military draft, a requirement for all young men reaching this age.
One day in 1959, there was an article in the newspaper reporting that Philco was going to build a new plant at 3900 Welsh Road (at the corner of Township Line Road, now known as Blair Mill Road) in Willow Grove, Pennsylvania, and dedicate it solely to the Computer Division. Howard Ambron, (one of my co-workers) was quick to realize that WE were the Computer Division and purchased a new home (to be built) in Warminster, Bucks County, about five miles from the planned Willow Grove plant site. He told me about this home, a modern split level, non-row home in the suburbs, and I, in turn, mentioned it to my parents. To make a long story short, we purchased the vacant corner lot next door to Marge and Howard at 439 Sunnemead Avenue (at the corner of Lemon Street) for $11,700 and built our own dream home there. Warminster was pretty much a wilderness at that time, but it saw rapid growth in the years to follow.
During our years at Warminster I lost my dad, got married, had a son and lost my mother. My family and I moved to Arizona in 1976, the result of a job transfer, but my memories and love for ‘Hometown Philly’ will last forever.