EDWARD YANOWITZ (1918-2003)
Mae was always the breadwinner in the family. When I was laid off, or perhaps even when not, I'd do the cooking–I could always fry steak and onions and my mother had taught me how to make a stew. I also knew how to get down on my hands and knees and scrub the linoleum. I've always modified the lessons I've been taught so early in our marriage I soaped the floor by balancing on floor brushes and skating merrily about on my bare feet, sliding and slipping and occasionally falling, but joyfully content that I was contributing something.
I decided to sign up for unemployment insurance. I sat in an office being questioned by a clerk. Suddenly I became extremely uncomfortable with the idea that I had to strip myself of a last shred of what? of dignity? pride? Whatever it was too much. I stood up and left.
* * * * *
Though I was 3A it looked like I was due to be drafted so I decided to beat them to the draw. I enlisted in the USMS, The United States Maritime Service. I was called for the physical and I guess I was kind of excited because the doctor said my blood pressure was too high. He suggested I take a walk and then come back.
I walked and worried, because I much preferred being on the sea than the land even though the sailor's life was extremely unsafe. Merchant mariners were making good money, but were dying faster than the regular soldiers and sailors. Convoys were top targets for the U-boats. Whenever I wanted something badly, I'd get uptight. This time when I got back to the doctor, he okayed my blood pressure and I was practically in.
In fact, in a few days my orders came and I was sworn into the United States Maritime Service. I was not a government employee exactly, so I got paid fifty dollars a month with no allotment for my wife.
We moved from Sherman Avenue down to Bleeker Street in Greenwich Village. When I reported to Sheepshead Bay, Mink moved in with Mae and after a while Virginia did also. Rationing was in and Mae remonstrated with Virginia mildly about her butter consumption. This led to some uncomfortable feelings, which became too evident on one of my leaves and I lost my temper and smacked my sister-in-law in the face. From this beginning, I was forced to flee my mother-in-law's wrath. If she'd had a horsewhip, I would have felt its effects. I don't think she ever forgave me, but I had the feeling Virginia did.
The USMS was a lot like the CCC. The fellows were about the same age and generally the same character. The rough, the tough, the bigots moiled and roiled this unmelting pot. I met another Jewish fellow there who hid his origins for fear of being beaten up by ever-present sadists. Courage doesn't really mean standing up and being knocked down. We slept in three-tiered metal bunks, got up early, proved our patriotism by saluting the flag, were given a barrage of tests to discover what talents might be hidden by our rough exteriors, drilled and went to classes.
I scored well enough to be chosen to enter the radio-operator's class. At first we studied the mathematics of ships' stores and about supplies in general. We all took the regular sailors' courses: knot-tying, rowing, climbing rope nets, standing watch through the sleep-inducing hours, fitness exercises, boxing the compass and so forth; etcetera, etcetera etcetera
Despite the fact that The War was supposed to be against fascism and nazism and for human rights, we had our rat supply of American fascists, nazis, and bigots galore. I almost got into a fight with one in the mess hall who was expounding on the Jews who got the cushy jobs. I think what stopped me was my fear of authority. It wasn't my Superego; it was the punishment I might have to undergo. I cooled, and cooled the rotten whatever-he-was, who at least, for the nonce, stopped his diatribe. Our seats weren't assigned, so I never saw him again.
Minki helped Mae at home and Mae went to work as a receptionist Girl Friday. We discovered that somehow unwittingly our union was going to bear another fruit. Mae would have to quit work and there was no other income. We pondered the possibility of my finishing my training, which might take six months or so, when a fortuitous (not fortunate) event occurred.
My instructor in the radio-operator's class deviated from him proper teaching duty to confide in us that too many of THOSE people were getting away with murder, were shirking their patriotic duties, were sucking up to gullible authorities and making scads of money while we truly patriotic citizens were getting screwed. I found myself on my feet sputtering to the effect that what he was saying was false and I was a Jew and knew many Jews here and in the Merchant Marine and as I spoke I felt lame. He shrugged and said he didn't mean me and he apologized if he'd hurt my feelings and some other nonsense. My friends consoled me with phrases that poured gasoline on my feelings. I found I was alone in a walled prison.
Mae's need and my disgust prompted me to apply for discharge. I was sent to the chaplain. He was a Catholic, I believe, who tried to talk me out of leaving. I guess that was his job. He thought my reasons were insufficient. I quit.
Judy was born at about 11:00 p.m. on October 23rd, 1944. Another hour and I would have been twenty-five years older than her to the day. While Mae was in labor, I was in Murray Cohen's house, the rich husband of my cousin, Dorothy, nee Waldman, watching my rich Uncle Irving and my father play pinochle with him. I wasn't very good at the game. I couldn't have afforded it anyway.
Babies aren't beautiful. Pregnant women are. Babies cry and I never really found out how to handle them. They're a prey to changing fashions in psychology. Don't cater to them; cater to them. Pick them up; let them cry. All the old-wive experts warned against spoiling them while the baby would turn red, white and blue and blare more irritatingly than my inhuman, impatient, tortured ears could stand. Judi was a champ. I was floored. She chose special times for her torture spells. That moment when I'd drop off to sleep after congratulating myself that I'd succeeded in appeasing her monstrous needs. There's a special quality in an infant's cry that grates upon the sturdiest nerves and mine were not the sturdiest. Mae had to bear the brunt of the baby's onslaughts.
* * * * *
I was drafted into the U.S. Army on February 22, 1945. I was sitting next to a black fellow before the briefing and separation into allotted destinations took place. As we conversed I commented on how tough it was to be a Jew in among anti-semites. He said, "You think that's bad. How about me. I'm a black Jew from Harlem."
I was sent to Fort Dix. My companions were all white. The army was a lot like the C's and the USMS. We saw some indoctrination films; we were to recognize that The Soviet Union had been, was, and would be our friend, since it was now a staunch ally against the Japs and the Germans. I palled around with a guy who was night blind. I don't know if they kept him in the Service.
In a short while I found myself in Camp Gordon, Georgia. We learned quickly to police the area or else–. Punishment was the withholding of recreational opportunities and doing some menial labor. This type of intimidation meant little to me until Mae came down to Augusta with the kids. I think a rating brings out the sadism in some characters. My corporal must have noticed how hard I tried not to capture his attention, because he proceeded to try to trip me up. I don't remember missing out on seeing Mae and the kids, but I paid in worry.
Get caught doing something suspiciously like mopping up barracks, quivering at attention as an officer inspected our handiwork (always expecting to repeat our efforts before our freedom to pursue whatever recreation we enjoyed), wriggling under machine gun bullets, artillery shells, BAR's, Maggie's drawers, twenty mile hikes with 60 pound field packs, Roosevelt's death, trip to POE, Anti-semitism's effect on Jewish friend, paratroopers, Germany or Japan, Liberty ship, steel deck's effect on hip-bone, gambling on ship, going down to mess, lights on, Hiroshima and Nagasaki, Mindoro, young pimps, Luzon, rating, officers and Nco's at Gordon, rats in ditch and in sleeping bag, bowling badly, home because of hardship, picked up at Fort Dix by Uncle Irving, my father, Mae and Ricky, "Into the long tunnel I go in my GI car." 1946, chicken farming. termites, lice, mites.
Snatches: There was a protest meeting in Manila. It was like being at the rim of a large (200 foot) crater with a wooden platform in its center where soldiers were complaining about not being sent home. There was a kind of yellowish glow over the entire proceedings. A crowd of soldiers rimmed the crater and applauded as speakers expressed their sentiments.
Mindoro: Our first stop across the Pacific. We landed in the late afternoon and were informally marched in the early evening through lanes of jerrybuilt display stalls lighted by candles and electric torches. The cries of young boys selling their sisters' sexual wares in a pidgin English, small bananas, strange fruit, medium sized people.
We slept in large tents. There was a large ditch running along the rear of the tents. We lazed about for a while. When we went to mess, children would be standing near the garbage cans where we dumped our scraps. They'd beg for whatever we had left.
We did nothing for a while but laze about. I read and nibbled on crackers in my sack and dozed to find that something was in the sack with me. I ejected a rat violently.
On to Luzon. Tents again, but assignments. I was in the 86th Signal Corps. I could type. They promoted me to a T/5 and occasionally gave me some work. Usually I wrote what I pleased.
One of the fellows was looking for bowlers and I had averaged about one fifty at home so I told I'd join up. I was terrible. I couldn't break a hundred. I guess I can blame it on the rough alleys, but I was terribly chagrined.
Mae was trying to get me home on a hardship excuse. It came through and I was filled with the fear that I'd never live to get home. I'd be impossibly careful crossing roads, examine each eruption on my body for plague, and generally died a thousand deaths.
Samuel Royall lived in Virginia and raved about Colonial Village. I taught him how to play gin and he'd nag me to play with him. I think I came home on the -------- Wilson, a Liberty Boat. It was sometimes touch-and-go as to whether I'd become seasick on the climb back from the mess deck which was deep in the bowels of the ship.
In basic there were tanks that rolled over our foxholes. We put atabrine in our canteens to combat malaria. I developed crotch itch and was treated with Salycylic Acid. We were tested at night with compasses in order to find out how well we could orientate ourselves. I failed miserably.
My score on the Army IQ test was high enough for me to be eligible for OCS. I acted the perfect fool in front of the Colonel and his aides. I answered the questions hoping I was giving the wrong types of answers. I couldn't see staying in the army any longer than I had to.
We were given the opportunity to go to Germany and, I think, being paratroopers, or going to Japan. I kind of wanted to be a paratrooper and I felt my real enemy was Germany, but I equivocated and gave up heroic thoughts.
I was discharged in April, 1946.
I may be wrong about this: In June we had bought a chicken farm in Estelle Manor, N.J. with five thousand dollars borrowed from Mae's father.
The first night on the farm I was alone. It was a chilly night and my lack of fundamental household knowledge had me freezing on a cot all night because I was ignorant about turning on the heat in the house. We bought the farm from a couple named Gor. The man was a forbidding figure who never smiled throughout the proceedings.
Our neighbors across the road were pleasant people who raised gladiolus.
The old man loved land and trees and brought us gifts of mushrooms he collected. He was full of woodland knowledge: "Only eat mushrooms that grow on wood." His name was Tcherino and his outrage at Abe Plattis's remark that "I'd just as well cover all my land with asphalt so that nothing grew on it." threw him into a fit.
That first night I was visited by garrulous Abe. My eyes were closing, I wasn't able to follow what he was talking about and he stayed and stayed and stayed.
We were supposed to help each other and somehow I didn't come through with what he expected and he became sullen and wouldn't speak to me. It was his way of punishing me. He was creative. He built economical coops, worked hard, but always had time to shmooz (when he wasn't put out about something).
We ordered our feed from the Farmer's Union Cooperative. We were invaded by Perry and Esther Kaiser when we were totally unprepared for company. Perry made some crack which embarrassed my wife, but was easily excused. They were about twenty years older than we were and were communists which brought us closely together.
One of the first things I experienced in the army was the orientation program which propagandized us in an opposite direction from which anti-Soviet propaganda had been marching for over twenty years. Suddenly we were made to realize that the Soviet Union was our friend and the politics were practically commendable.
Perry and Esther had two children: Eddie and Freddy. Eddie joined ROTC in college and though a shadow lingered on his ambitions because of his parents' political bent, with the help of a rabbi he was accepted in the army OCS, became a captain, a major and eventually I don't know what. Freddy became a fireman (?)
Through the Kaisers we met the Persoffs–Abe and Gertie–whose house we eventually bought. It was a tree nursery.
(Much later) We'd gone to New York City with the three kids. It was probably December or later and after we'd enjoyed whatever it was that we enjoyed in those days we were at the subway station preparing to go to the Port Authority when a bum stopped us to warn us that those tiny flakes of snow were going to be "This high" indicating about four feet. We didn't sneer; we were too polite. About three hours later we were stuck in a long line of cars on Route 54 with the snowplows laboring to relieve us of our predicament. We moved on and when I reached Hammonton and stopped in a gas station I found I couldn't shift gears. Eventually I discovered ice was blocking my attempt. We eventually reached our farm (the tree nursery) which had a four hundred foot driveway and the snow said no as I dove the nose of my car into the two to three foot snowbank at our entrance. We all got out and plowed our way to the house. I carried David on my back. He was probably about six, but it was cumbersome; it was cold; and we hurried to our sanctuary. We staggered inside and I collapsed on the bed gasping for breath. I have never before or since been so exhausted.
At the age of thirty-nine I had had a heart attack. This snow occurrence happened after that.
We all recovered. I'm not sure if we lit a fire in our fireplace then.
Hy and Mathy visited us and decided to buy a farm near us. Hy became very active in the Progressive Party and was well-loved be many of the blacks in a community (?) near us. He was a very gutsy guy who was willing to stand up and fight for the freedom of all people.
Unfortunately chicken farming was not Hy's bag. Mathy seemed to be able to handle all the vicissitudes of life, but Hy became moody. He decided to buy a car and it was a lemon. I'm not sure if I encouraged him to buy it, but I was never a bright buyer myself.
Hy would write some parodies and we would act things out for Progressive Party and Farmer's Union affairs. He was a good speaker and always an activist. I never saw him on a soapbox speaking on the issues of the day, but I know he did. I admired and envied him this ability. He'd been writing things for as long as I knew he could write. He wrote a parody of "Red Sails in the Sunset" called "Red Nails On My Girl Friend"
Red nails on my girl friend
so awful to see
whenever I spy them
chill runs through me
I forget the rest. There was a political parody on Gallagher and Sheehan. He had some pleasure in doing some skits, but the luck of chicken farming was turning bad and he was caught in a squeeze that other farmers suffered from. Our political platform called for price supports for eggs and lower feed prices. With eggs dropping and feed skying the poultry farmer's profit margin became negative.
Hy went back to France and dubbed some movies, acted in some, and became actively engaged in radical-progressive politics.
He came back to the U.S. with Henri when his son was seventeen. Hy was better known than I was in my own town, Highland Park.