Thursday, August 23, 2012

Me and Sue - Viva la Difference.

Sue and I have been married for a few decades now; and when you explore the differences in our respective childhoods, that’s pretty amazing, since we both could not have been brought up in places which were more different from one another. I’m a city kid, born and raised in Brooklyn; while Sue was born in Scotland, Pennsylvania; a small village outside of Chambersburg; which is just northeast of Gettysburg. That fact alone; having to explain; geographically where Sue is from, serves to underscore the differences; some good, some bad; in the ways in which we were raised.

Just look at Sue, in August of 1958; not yet 4 years old; swinging happily on the edge of the hayfield which bordered her Grandfather’s house. This was definitely a rural area, with an economy to match. Doors were unlocked and crime was relatively rare.

The nearest “town” was Chambersburg, located on Lincoln Highway, Route 30, and was where the residents of Scotland went, for the most part, to shop and run errands. It was an insular world; crossing the street was not something to really worry about; there weren’t all that many cars roaming the streets of Scotland during the day. Most of the residents with automobiles would have been at work until the evening. One set of her grandparents actually had a farm! It was, as they say, a simpler time and place.

Now, here I am, at the same age, in August 1958, mailing a letter. There were 4 different Post Offices within walking distance, but for the sake of efficiency we had mailboxes on each corner. The mail was picked up 3 times a day. Crossing the street was an art to be learned, and not taken for granted. Just look at the width of Kings Highway at Bedford Avenue. It’s got a service lane on each side; for deliveries and parking; bracketed by islands for the bus stops, and in between were two lanes in each direction.
In Scotland, Pennsylvania they got 3 TV stations. And even those were hard to tune in, as Scotland rests in between some mountains, necessitating an aerial “tower” for the TV in order to get a good signal. I remember going up on the roof of our building in Brooklyn with my Dad, this was about 1957, and watching him install our TV antennae by simply pointing it towards the Empire State Building; with its huge broadcast antennae; clearly visible about 10 miles away. And, at night, we even got channels from Philadelphia.

Food was very different in our lives growing up. Where I grew up the constant question was “What do you want to eat?”  Our choices ranged from Chinese to Italian, Jewish, Hungarian, Algerian, French and whatever other nationalities lived in the city. I once counted 30 different ethnic restaurants while walking with my Uncle in Manhattan. Sue shocked me when she revealed that she had not eaten Chinese Food; other than Chung King; until she moved to Baltimore in her late 20’s. I cannot even imagine that. And the first Chinese restaurant finally did arrive in Chambersburg about 1980.  

On the other hand, Sue has no recollection of the Teamster’s strike in 1960; nor should she. She grew up in an area in which they all grew their food locally, and simply trucked it by pickup to the local marketplace. During that same time in New York, we faced a severe shortage of eggs, butter, milk and meat. Sue’s Mom canned vegetables and fruits; mine went to the store and bought them frozen.

Transportation was also a big difference in our upbringings. The bus pulled up right behind where I am standing in this picture. It cost a dime and the driver issued you a “transfer” to connect with other lines which ran perpendicular to the one you were riding. You could literally; as with the subways; travel all day on one dime, connecting to each borough. You could even use your bus transfer to change over to the subway lines at certain points, making the trip even longer. The Boy Scouts used to do this annually, and I remember the record for the subway lines alone was 25 hours on a single 10 cent token. There may have been a bus line connecting York, Pennsylvania to Chambersburg, but I’m not really sure.

Culturally, our two worlds were galaxies away from one another. I grew up in an area where there were all kinds of languages and customs being observed by many different ethnic groups. We had Greek Orthodox, Roman Catholic Churches and Jewish synagogues, not to mention a couple of Pagodas. While the United Nations was merely a clip on the evening news in Pennsylvania, it was a center of cultural diversity in New York, spilling out into all 5 boroughs of the city, spawning the myriad of foods and languages to which I was privy.

All differences aside, we did manage to find one another. The big secret? In the photo above I’m actually mailing her a letter, introducing myself, but which never arrived until we were much older.

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