Monday, June 18, 2012

Crates, roaches, a sewing machine ... and a stoop

     Back to Shreveport, 1956 and '57. The memories of our family's first year and a half in the United States are many; the details are sketchy.     Wish my folks were still here to answer the questions; I should have asked more, knowing this blog might one day materialize. Neither my mother or dad forgot the details, not ever.
      Elsa, who was only 4 when we came over from Holland, remembers some of this, maybe more than I might realize. After she reads this, I might be making corrections.
       Here then are some of the things I remember:
Sketch of Amsterdam done by
 my mother's uncle, Philip Kopuit.
 It now hangs in our living room.
       -- The crates. We traveled to the U.S. on the boat and then to Shreveport by train only with the possessions we could carry -- a few suitcases of clothes and necessities. The rest of what my parents decided to bring was crated up, two crates' worth -- and the crates didn't seem all that big.
      But what a happy day it was when those crates arrived at our first little apartment on Jordan Street. It was almost a month after we had arrived.
      I remember them being placed in the driveway and my dad getting help to pry them open. And there was the familiar stuff -- clothes, blankets, a couple of chairs, several charcoal drawings done by my mother's uncle, photo albums, books, some of my toys and my beloved marbles.
       It wasn't all that much. But it was ours.
       Perhaps the most important item that was shipped: A Singer sewing machine. Read on.
      -- The roaches. Beatrice will tell you my mother was obsessive about keeping her house clean, and Bea (and Rachel) feel as strongly about how a house should look as she did. But my mother was a neat freak. It was always that way in Holland, so you can imagine her reaction to the roaches that made themselves at home in our new place in the U.S.
       And it was a platoon of roaches; they just kept coming. They went up and down the walls, and everywhere else; my mother, figuratively, went up the wall.
        -- The move. We spent about six months in that first (unfurnished) apartment. We got help from the Shreveport Jewish Federation with some furniture and bedding, and our stuff helped fill it. While I adjusted to school (third grade) and my dad adjusted to working in a completely new field (second-hand oilfield pipe) -- and we all learned a new language -- life in the U.S. became more routine. And my mother fought those roaches, until ... we moved.
         Our second apartment was several blocks away -- on Mildred Street, a corner apartment right at Southern Avenue. It is now where I-49 runs north-south in Shreveport. It was a little bigger place -- again unfurnished -- and much cleaner, which my mother liked. And the roaches stayed on Jordan Street.
        -- My "room." This was a two-bedroom place (my parents' room and the kids' room), but it had a screened-in porch. So Elsa got the kids' room; the porch became my room. And that was fine, even in winter because it had a space heater. To get into the house, all I had to do was climb in through a window; it was quicker than going out the screen door and through the front door. So it was fun to have my own room.
        -- Three-cornered ruler. Can't tell you much about my fourth-grade year at Line Avenue Elementary. The walk to school was several blocks longer than it had been, but no problem. My teacher was Mrs. Anding (or Miss Anding, can't remember for sure), and she was stern.  I was still just learning to read English, still ahead of the other kids in math. I didn't give Mrs. Anding too much trouble because she had a three-cornered ruler and she didn't hesitate to rap kids' knuckles with it ... often. She wouldn't get away with that now.
         -- The sewing machine. My mother was a seamstress, and a darned good one. She could sew anything, alter anything; she loved to knit -- she made wonderful afghans for just about everyone in the family; she made a lot of clothes for Elsa and Bea. So that Singer was a very important item for years and years.
       Mom never worked outside the home. But in those early years, she made a business of sewing; she sewed for customers in Shreveport-Bossier. Word got around, and some prominent people -- particularly in the Jewish community -- came to her for custom sewing and alterations.
       -- The sewing signs. With help from the pipeyard, my dad brought home about a half dozen signs advertising my mother's sewing business. They were handpainted on plywood, maybe no bigger than my laptop computer screen -- and my dad placed them around the neighborhood, including one in the front yard.
        It wasn't much, but whatever my mother brought in helped us live more comfortably, and we were proud of those signs.
        -- The uniform. The greatest thing my mother ever sewed was my first baseball uniform. I was just learning about the game, not ready to join a team, but I liked the uniforms the kids wore. So my mother made me a flannel uniform -- white, with blue trim -- and I remember wearing it to school a few times. Maybe the kids made fun of me; I didn't care.
        -- The radio. While we lived on Mildred Street, my dad brought home a radio -- a unique radio. It looked like a microphone, and it was a one-station radio -- KENT. Just happened that KENT was the station that carried Shreveport Sports' games. Perfect. How many times did I listed to Irv Zeidman announce those games?               
       -- The stoop. The house on Mildred was on a small hill, with a three-step stoop in front. That stoop was perfect for my first baseball "games," throwing a tennis ball at it, and creating ground balls and fly balls. All the while "announcing" the game as I heard IZ do the Sports' games.
       -- The bright lights. A couple of months into the 1956 baseball season, my dad and I walked from Jordan Street into the Allendale neighborhood, to Texas League Park, home of the Sports. We had never seen a baseball game -- we were soccer fans -- but the people at dad's work had given him tickets to a Sports' game. I remember walking up street toward the right-field fence and seeing those bright lights of the stadium.
       We sat in the upper grandstand that first night, trying to figure out what was going on. But I was fascinated by the white and gray uniforms, by how fast the pitchers were throwing and how fast the men could run.
       Soon, I would fall in love with the game and with the Shreveport team. Those lights are a beautiful memory.
      -- The second move. By early summer in 1957, my parents had enough money -- and backing from a few people in Shreveport -- to buy a house. On July 4, we made the move, all the way out to southwest Shreveport ... to the Sunset Acres neighborhood, to 2921 Amhurst Street.
       Again, it would be one of the most significant moves of our lives.      

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