A typescript of about 30 pages written by my grandfather, Jacob Smith, in the summer of 1976, work towards a memoir. Just going to record some facts and details here.
He writes that he was “born more dead than alive,” the last of seven children, six years younger than the rest.
Professor Jellinghouse, a women’s specialist and sainted genius, directed the activities of several neighbors who acted as a committee of midwives. At one point, this committee decided my mother wasn’t going to make it. They prevailed on the famous professor to walk out on the society ladies in his Park Avenue office and hustle down to 452 Cherry Street, on the Lower East Side of New York. He breathed confidence and authority and no stork would dare cross him. He waved away an offered fee, left some free medicine, gave final instructions, and drove back to his Park Avenue patients. Ersht Gott — First God — then Professor Jellinghouse, is the way ma put it when she constantly retold the story.
This must have been C.F. Jellinghaus (obit here), whose office was at 440 Park Ave. I wonder what it was that brought him to do this housecall in the Lower East Side? My grandfather’s first home seems no longer to exist; Cherry Street is still there, just a couple of blocks long off FDR drive, but it doesn’t look like there are any buildings with an address there at all.
My stereotype is that New York Jews lived among other Jews, but my grandfather’s family moved to a part of the South Bronx near the 105th Field Artillery (now the Franklin Avenue Armory) that was mostly Catholic.
There was only one other Jewish boy in the neighborhood, but he was very quiet, dignified, and studious, and he never played with us. I never quite understood why this bookworm commanded so much respect — they [the kids in the neighborhood] even cleaned up their language in front him. Me they treated terrible, just as bad as if I was another old Catholic.
He went to James Monroe High School, which has a newer building, in preference to the run-down neighborhood school, Morris High, which is still there (now the Morris Academy for Collaborative Studies.) According to my grandfather, the condition of the building in the 1920s was recorded in a popular neighborhood song:
There’s an odor in the air
You can smell it everywhere
Morris High School!
Morris HIgh School!
After high school he worked as a bookkeeper, and went to accounting school at night at Pace. His graduation speaker was Harry Allan Overstreet, chair of philosophy at City College. (My mother says he would have much preferred to go to City College, and had the grades for it, but because he was working he could only go to a college he could attend at night.) Anyway, here’s what Overstreet told the graduates:
…this is 1935 and the Great Depression is still with us. I hope you all have good jobs to go to when you leave here today. If not, I surely don’t know where you can find any. With all your special skills and qualifications, the world just doesn’t want you.
My grandfather records the reaction:
Pace officialdom sat pale and frozen-faced as we quietly filed out. In our next communication as alumni, we were told to pay no attention to “Self-centered, egotistical introverts,” and that we would have no trouble finding good jobs.