This is 2020. We’re in the middle of a pandemic and it’s very lonely, and I’m going to give my life story.
When I was in grammar school and living at 363 North 12th Street in Newark, New Jersey, I was going to First Avenue School. And going to the First Avenue School at the age of 10, my mother had another child. The child was born with a broken arm and they brought him home, and we had a little brother.
I continued to go to school at First Avenue. When I was at school, the teacher switched me from lefty to righty and every time I’d try to switch back to lefty, the teacher’s name was Mrs. Redcosson, and she would hit me on the hand and say, “No, you have to use your right hand.” Consequently, it hurt me very much because I became very slow in reading. My parents sent me for remedial reading in Rectors, in Newark, and even until this day, I have a problem. I can read very well and comprehend what I’m reading, but when I try to read out loud, it sounds like a two-year-old child reading. But I do very well on my own reading and comprehending what I’m reading.
I went to grammar school and when I was in fourth or fifth grade, the guys started to abuse me because I lived in a Catholic neighborhood and I was a Jew. They used to beat me up all the time and my father said, “Well if they beat you up or take advantage of you go home and get a baseball bat and hit them.” So one winter we were sleigh riding and Joe Anjurio took my sled and he wouldn’t give it back to me and he said, “Jew tell your rich parents to buy you another one, this sled is mine.” So I went home, got a baseball bat, went back and hit him in the leg and broke his leg.
Consequently his father came to my house and wanted my father to pay for the hospitalization and my father said to me, “Tell his father the story.” So I began to tell him the story – that he took my sled, didn’t want to give it back, told me, “Jew you have a lot of money tell your parents to go buy you another one.” His father smacked him in the head, took him home and that was the end of that one.
I also had to learn to fight because when I used to go to the candy store they always wanted to get the Jewish boy and take his candy away. So I learned how to fight and I also earned money myself. I started to deliver newspapers and my mother used to get up early in the morning, help me fold the newspapers and then I’d go out and deliver them, come home and eat breakfast.
My bar mitzvah was made, and at bar mitzvahs at that time, they used to throw hard candy at you. And all my friends passed out candy, and they really whacked me on the beamer with the hard candy. We also had a party in a temple in Irvington on Stuyvesant Avenue, on the second floor. And my grandmothers were there. My great grandmothers were there, and we had a wonderful time. And we do have eight millimeter movies, that are in this cellar, in a box, of my bar mitzvah. And there’s a lot of other movies of families, pictures that are down there. And I wish my family would see them, maybe at some other time. And I’m still here. We could see the movies.
When I was in the seventh or eighth grade I liked this girl named Marie Cavallo. I asked her if we could go to the movies. She said she’d have to talk to her parents. Well she talked to her parents and her parents said that we could go to the movies. Only thing is that we had to have a chaperone and that time people would normally have their daughter chaperone if you went out on a date. So we went out on a date and we had her brother tag along to the movies. We had gone out a few more times and we always had a chaperone. I got a little tired of that and we broke it off and a little after that I liked another young lady and her name was Doreen and I asked her out and we were going out without a chaperone and we did very well until I graduated.
When I graduated grammar school my parents decided that this area was no good for me to grow up because they wanted me to meet girls in my own faith and there was no girls in my own faith in that area. So we moved to 147 Wainwright Street into my grandmother and grandfather’s house. My grandmother lived on the second floor and we lived on the first floor.
I started high school and then decided that I was going to go to vocational school. I liked working on cars and I was going to take up automotive. I consequently went to Irvington Tech and was studying automotive. In the meantime, living at Wainwright Street and my grandmother lived upstairs. My grandmother came from Russia. My grandfather came from Germany. My grandmother used to drink tea and I always was amazed that she put hot tea in a glass and she had a spoon in the glass and I say, “Grandma why do you have the spoon in the glass?” She said, “Son, why I put the spoon in the glass is so the glass don’t crack when I put the hot water in.” I learned a lesson. Also my grandmother from the old country used to put cubed sugar in her mouth and then sip the tea through the sugar and she got the sweetness.
My grandfather had cancer and they had him home and I can remember the day of his passing and me seeing him and I’ll never forget the sight of seeing my grandfather in his death bed. It was a lasting experience for me because I love my grandfather. When I was a young boy he used to put me on his shoulder and carry me around. I love him to this day.
Also going back in my memory I would like to stop here and regress back to when I was living at home at 363 North 12th Street and then moving to Wainwright Street my parents wanted me to go to Hebrew school. There wasn’t any Hebrew school that would take me. So my aunt Essie who lived in Pleasantdale had a Rabbi named Mosesen who said that he would teach me privately so I could make a bar mitzvah up in his synagogue in West Orange. He taught me and I made my bar mitzvah up in West Orange. Also my aunt Essie and uncle Harry had a home in West Orange and all through the years that I was going to Hebrew school and going to West Orange I would cut their grass for extra money. When I cut their grass my uncle Harry had a brother, George Sausen, who lived directly in back of him and their lawns were connected to one another. I would cut his lawn and George’s lawn and I would have money that I could spend on anything that I wanted.
Also, I’d like to add that when I was cutting grass for my Uncle Harry and George Sawson, I met a fellow there, that we became lifelong friends. Tali Lipton was an orphan, and his aunt was running an orphanage up in West Orange. And she took care of him and his sister, and we became lifelong friends until he passed in California, which was a very sad day for me.
I always had a job, always doing something when I was younger. Also, at that age, after I made my bar mitzvah and we were living at 147 Wainwright Street I got a job with Good Humor. I used to pedal a bike from Springfield Avenue to the Weequahic section up and down hills, pumping that bike and selling ice cream. I made a pretty good dollar doing that job. But it also raised havoc with my knees.
The other thing I’d like to partake is that when I was a young boy, I used to go across the street to the shoemaker, Joe. And Joe had a little pinball machine that you’d put a penny in and you’d play. And I loved that pinball machine. I used to spend a lot of time playing the pinball machine in Joe Shoemaker’s shop. I made very good friends with Joe. And when Joe was closing up his shop, he knew I loved that machine, and he gave me that pinball machine, which was mechanical. And I had that for a long time in my cellar. And I gave it to my daughter, Donna, who in turn re-furbished the machine. And it’s now hanging on a wall in her home in Riverdale.
When I was a young man and I was living on Wainwright Street in Newark, I got a job at the RKO Proctor’s on Market Street. I did everything from being an usher to being a footman outside, immediate seating, all parts of the theater. Also, when you came in, I would take your tickets and say, “Take the elevator to the right, immediate seating in the balcony.” And also, we had a second theater and that would show the same picture at a different time. If the movie got crowded, which it did on the weekends, we opened up the second theater and I would say, “Take the elevator to the right and go to the second theater, to see the same picture.”
I stayed at the RKO Proctor’s for a few years. And by the way, everybody might think that there was a lot of money those days. When I worked those days, I was working for 50 cents an hour. That was a great pay. From there, I went to the burlesque show on Market Street and worked in the burlesque show for a good many years. Even after I met Bonnie, I was still working in the burlesque show. And Bonnie always said, “Do not tell my mother that you’re working in a burlesque show, because if you tell her you’re working in a burlesque show, I won’t be able to go out with you.” So my wonderful mother-in-law never knew that I was working in a burlesque show in Newark.
I had many jobs in different things. And I also worked, as a young man, in a grocery store, across the street from 147 Wainwright Street for Joe Pfeffer. I worked for him for a long time while I was going to school. After I got out of school, I went to work in Newark in an Exxon gas station as a mechanic. I worked there for a while. And then Joe said that his son, I used to see him when I went home on Wainwright Street, had Bigelow Motors in Belleville. So I went to work for Joe in Bigelow Motors in Belleville.
One of my jobs also, when I was living on Wainwright Street with my mother and father, they had a friend that had a clothing business in Newark on Prince Street. Prince Street was a predominantly black area, 99% black area. And he had this store there. And I went to work for him in that area.
I worked there for six months to a year and I could not tolerate the way he treated people. He would take advantage of black people. He would sell them a hat at one price one week and then they would go out and lose it. And they’d come back after working a week and sell them another hat, and he’d get more money. Kids come in for mother’s day, I can remember vividly, and want to buy handkerchiefs for their mother. And if it was handkerchiefs that, if people bought, say $10, he’d give them a handkerchief. And he would overcharge them. I said, “Enough is enough. And I have to leave this job. I have to, even if I do without a job, I’m leaving this job.” So I left the job. And also when I was at that job, there was a place across the street that had a speaker outside and they’d put How High the Moon. They played that so much that I can’t stand to hear that song ever, ever again. But I left the job. I’ll sign off for today and I’ll come back with a few more memories.
I went all through Irvington Tech and I graduated from Irvington and my brother started to go to Irvington. Also when we were going there, there was a young boy named Irwin Brovski who was going there. But he was a little slow and the kids used to take advantage of him. So he rode the bus with myself and go to school and this fellow Jerry Snyderton and myself became very good friends at school and we would protect him. When we left high school he had to quit high school because the kids would never let him alone and it was a shame there was nothing I could do. My brother was also taken advantage at high school and Jerry and I had to make a trip over to Irvington High and corner all the hard guys and told them if they kept it up that we would beat them up. So they stopped bothering my brother and that was that for that part.
BIGELOW MOTORS AND THE NATIONAL GUARD
When I graduated from high school I got a job working for Bigelow Motors in Belleville as a mechanic. I went from Bigelow Motors in Belleville to County Auto Sales in Jersey City. I stayed there until I bought my own business. But I have to regress a little bit by what I was saying. During that period of time I joined the National Guard and I used to go away for two weeks and I had to go away for basic training. They put me in the medics after my basic training, but being a young fellow wanting to have fun, I went out with the boys. We got drunk, didn’t report back to duty and when we did get back to duty a couple days later the officers said, “No more for you in the medics. You’re going to be a cook.” So they sent me to be a cook. Now could you imagine a mechanic with dirty hands being a cook? Well one day I was cooking and a lieutenant came up for inspection. Mechanics get dirt implanted in their hands and you just don’t get them out by washing them. He said, “Let me see your hands.” He had a fit and said, “How could this man be cooking with hands like that?” But that didn’t go anywhere. He reprimanded me. He reprimanded the first sergeant who’s in charge of the cooks.
They decided that they were going to send me to cook and baker school. When I was in cook and baker school there was a cook and it was the first time I encountered a man with an earring in his ear and he said he was a first class chef, that he had cooked in the White House and all over the world. He was in the Army now and he was a teacher. I asked him, “Sergeant, how come every time we cook ham…” – and the way they cooked ham in those days, in the Army, was that they boiled the ham in vinegar and water to get the salt out. Well after boiling it we took it out and we put cloves, brown sugar. If we had pineapple we put pineapple, oranges on it and baked it. After baking it and then taking it out we had to slice it. When we’d go to slice it, it smelled and I didn’t like the smell from the ham. I said to the sergeant, “Why do we get the smell?” He said, “Do you de-bone it?” I said, “No.” He said, “Well you’re getting the smell from the marrow in the bone. Go back and tell your mess sergeant, to de-bone the ham and you won’t get the smell.”
I went back to the sergeant and he said, “I’m not de-boning the ham. You’ll slice it the way it is and you’ll put up with the smell.” The other thing I didn’t like in cooking was cleaning chickens. We used to pull the insides of the chicken out and I detested that and for a long time I didn’t eat chicken. For years I didn’t each chicken. Also, wherever I would carve a turkey because my father taught me how to carve a turkey, I wouldn’t eat turkey. Until this day, if I cut the turkey or carve a turkey whatever you want to call it, I do not eat the turkey. If I don’t cut the turkey, I will eat the turkey.
After being in the National Guard and working at Bigelow Motors, I met a fellow named Eddie Palansar. He also liked automotive and we talked about going into business. I said that would be a good idea. But I kept working at Bigelow Motors. Then one day a friend of mine said that they were going to go on a hayride and he knew this girl, a friend of his girlfriend Jerry, that would go on a hayride with me and I’d go on a blind date. I said that would be fine and I had bought a straw cowboy hat. Picked up this young lady named Bonnie Strouse and took her on a hayride. Well she made a lasting impression and after the hayride I asked her out. We start going together and she lives on Fabian Place in Newark and I lived on Wainwright Street. Then one day I said to my mother, “I really like this girl. I’d like to get engaged to her and ask her to marry me.” My mother said, “Okay I’ll take you to this jewelry store that we have friends in.” That friend had a store on Broadway in Bloomfield. And we went there and we bought a ring and I proposed to Bonnie. We consequently got married.
When Bonnie and I were married in the Clinton Manor in Newark, the rabbi that bar mitzvah’d me, I had called upon to marry us. Well, we were all gathered at the Clinton Manor, and we were waiting for the rabbi to arrive. And as time passed, no rabbi. We called, and we couldn’t make contact. So, a cousin of mine who was invited to the wedding, Rabbi Klein, was there. And I told him all of our predicament, and he graciously said that he had a license to marry us in New Jersey. So, he went ahead and married us, and our rabbi never showed up. He had gone to a party, and forgot all about coming to our wedding. And for years, I always kid my wife, and told my children that we weren’t really legally married, because Rabbi Klein wasn’t licensed to marry in New Jersey. But that was just a big joke that I used to play on Bonnie to get her goat.
GOING INTO BUSINESS
Eddie and I, we kept talking about going into business, and we went into business and bought a gas station on Frelinghuysen and Evergreen Avenue in Newark. We had to borrow money from Bonnie’s mother, and from my father. Bonnie worked and I worked, and we paid my mother and father and we paid her mother back for the amount of money that we borrowed. I stayed at that station for a good many years. And we were going to the national guard also, we were both in the guard, and we tried to get separated. One week, two weeks he would go, and two weeks I would go. But it didn’t work out and I had to leave the National Guard. So rather than me leave the National Guard I transferred into another unit up in West Mountain Reservation. I went there and I was in the National Guard for a long time.
Eddie and I were in business for quite a few years and then we saw different things in different ways and we couldn’t get along anymore as partners sometimes too. I said, “Either you buy me out or I’ll buy you out.” So Eddie said, “I’ll buy you out.” I said, “Fine.” So Eddie bought me out.
When I had the gas station in Newark, there was a drug store, Schuster’s, across the street from the gas station. And one day, I decided that I needed something. I can’t remember what I was going there for. But I walked across the street and this young guy comes running out the door, and they were hollering, “He just robbed me! He just robbed me!” So like an idiot, I chased him. And we went down Wainwright Street, and up Wainwright Street. And he tried to hop a fence, and I grabbed a hold of him. And we were wrestling, and a motorcycle policemen was coming down Wainwright Street. And he stopped. And I said, “This guy just robbed Schuster’s Drug Store.” Well, he arrested him. And he went to Schuster’s, and they identified them. Low and behold, I had to go to court.
And when I was up on a stand, they were cross examining me. And I got a little irate. And I said to his defense lawyer, and he had a public defender, “Who’s on trial here, myself, or him?” And the judge said, “Mr. Kaplan, if you don’t answer the questions, I’ll hold you in contempt of court.” I said, “Okay, Your Honor.” And I answered all the questions, and I was dismissed. But it wasn’t a very good experience for a person that didn’t do anything. But that’s the way our legal system, I guess, is structured. That, when you go and you testify, you could be cross examined in that manner. So be it. I guess that’s all I have for today. I will be back with some more tidbits as I remember. And that’s it for today.
SUPPORTING A FAMILY
After that I had no job, I was married. I had a little girl named Audrey and then I had a little girl named Donna. So I went to work for O’Mara Trucking. When I was in the gas station I learned how to drive a tractor-trailer and at that time you didn’t need to have a CDL. So, I went to work, but the thing was with O’Mara Trucking, who trucked for A&T, you had to shape up every day. I shaped up every day and I couldn’t earn enough money to support a family.
When Bonnie and I got married we lived in a house on the third floor on Maple Avenue in Newark. The place was so small it had a bedroom and a kitchen and a bathroom on the third floor. Bonnie had to sit on one side of the table and I had to sit on the other side of the table and the table folded down and we had to put the table up. So Bonnie sat on one side, I sat on the other and we had a two stove burner to cook on. Bonnie was pregnant with our first child, Audrey. The people downstairs who supply the heat and they sat in the house with coats on and they never had the heat up. I complained to the landlord to no avail. So I said, “With you being pregnant and a child coming we have to look for something else.” So we looked for something else and we moved to Hobson Street in Newark, right behind Weequahic High School. That’s where we had Audrey and then we had Donna and we lived there for many years.
I had the gas station on Frelinghuysen Avenue and then when I left Frelinghuysen Avenue and was working for O’Mara Trucking and it wasn’t enough, I heard about a gas station on Lyons Avenue and Schley Street. I approached my brother who’s ten years younger than I and asked him if he wanted to go into business with me on Lyons and Schley. Richie had been working for me on Frelinghuysen Avenue and he liked the business so Richie went into business. He borrowed money from my father, and like I and Bonnie, had paid my father back in full through the business as we earned money on Lyons and Schley. And we were doing very well.
Also, I used to like to ride motorcycles and I would go home from lunch because it was three blocks away from the gas station. So I’d jump on the motorcycle and ride, and if Bonnie was in the street with the girls she’d duck into a store because she never wanted anybody to know that her husband was riding a motorcycle. If I would holler, “Hi Bonnie” because Bonnie did not want anybody to see her husband riding a motorcycle that she was saying hello to. I’d go home, eat my lunch, then go back to work. I stayed in the National Guard for about 10 years and then I left the National Guard because it got too much with having two children, having a gas station, having to leave my brother and the gas station by himself.
EDISON AND THE FIRE COMPANY
Getting back to the gas station on Lyons and Schley, I bought a tow truck and we went into the towing repair business. We had a towing and repair business and was there for a good many years. Then came the riots in Newark. During the riots we went through heck in Newark. We had to pack up all our stuff and bring it down to Edison where we had moved because we moved from Hobson Street with the girls because my wife found a house in Edison, New Jersey on Marlin Avenue. When she took me to see this house on Marlin Avenue in Edison I said, “Where are you taking me?” I’m a city boy and this was country, it was all woods in back of us. But she liked the house and I said, “Okay if you like that house that much, we’ll buy the house.”
We bought the house in Edison and then the riots came like I said in Newark and I had to pack up all the stuff and bring it down to Edison. We stayed away from the place for about three or four days and then when we came back, things weren’t the same. People didn’t come back. The people that were moving into the area were very abusive. I had to walk around with a .38 show the holster because the people used to come in and say, “I’m not going to pay you.” So one of the fellows that worked for us, we’d go out in twos. One boy would park the gas and one stay in front of the car. They would say, “I ain’t going to pay you.” Then you whipped the gun out, stick it in their face and then they’d pay you and they would say, “Oh, that man’s got his stuff.” Never once would they call the police. We went through a lot of robberies. We went through people stealing all the copper out of the bathrooms. We put the copper back in, they’d steal it again. Then Sunoco decided well we’ll put all plastic. They put plastic in and we weren’t giving the keys to kids. We were giving the keys to adults. There was no rhyme or reason for these people doing what they’re doing. But that’s the nature of the beast.
They also defecated in the trailers that we had. There was no reason for that. There was no way of locking them, but they did that. We opened them up and there it was. So we had to get rid of the trailers. They pulled the fence, the boards off the fence. They took the signs off the pumps. They cut the air hose. At that time people would come in and say, “Where’s your air?” I would say, “The jitterbugs.” That means young people at that time. But the hose, They understood that. That was not saying, “Oh, you don’t have the hose.” Well the jitterbugs cut it and that’s that. I would have to take the signs off the top of the pumps because if we didn’t take the signs off the top of the pumps we’d come back in the next day and there’d be no signs.
Consequently after getting robbed so many times we decided that we had to get out of there and we found a place, well I found a place in Edison on Parsonage Road and Route 27. It was Atlantic Richfield.
Living down in Edison and still being in Newark I was always interested in fires. I joined the Edison Volunteer Fire Company and I joined the company with Billy Gelfound. We were the two youngest people in the fire company. They taught us about firefighting, taught me how to drive. I liked it very much. I became a lieutenant, I became second lieutenant. I became assistant chief, then chief of the department and I was chief of the department for five years while I was in Edison and I had the gas station on Route 27 and Parsonage Road. The only reason that I obtained the gas station on Route 27 and Parsonage Road was that Don Yackel, who was in the fire company, said he knew that the fellows on Route 27 and Parsonage road wanted to sell the gas station.
So I said to Richie, “Let’s get out of Newark. We’ll go down to Edison.” We bought the station in Edison borrowing money from my father again because we had the station in Newark. We had to fulfill our contract in the station in Newark for the simple reason that they wanted a deposit back then. Instead of giving a cash deposit, I said “I’ll buy stock in Sunoco and you use stock.” They said, “Fine.” So I purchased stock in Sunoco which did very well and they held the stock. So if I forfeited the lease and didn’t serve out my time in the lease I would of forfeited my stock. So we had to leave after we fulfilled our lease. Richie stayed in Newark and I ran the station in Edison. Even after us leaving, I leaving for Edison, Richie was getting robbed in Newark.
However, we stayed there, fulfilled our obligation and when we were ready to leave we had all the equipment that we had in Edison. As it was people said, “Oh, we’ll come and help you move.” Well it comes the day to move and we rented a truck and it snowed a lot and nobody showed up. So we had to leave one of the fellows that worked for us on Parsonage road and 27 in the Atlantic Station, go up to Edison and clean out the station all by ourselves. We put all the stuff in the truck and we brought it down to Edison, which was a hard job in Newark by ourself. Taking overhead grease equipment down by ourselves, tying ropes, lowering it down. Then loading it into the truck. When we got to Edison I had stopped by the fire house and a lot of guys used to hang out there, and I said, ” Fellas would you give us a hand? It snowed, we have to go up my driveway. We have to unload this truck.”
The fellas jumped in their cars and followed us up in the truck. We got to my garage at 41 Marlin Avenue East and we unloaded all the stuff in my garage. After that, Richie and I were both in Edison. We still had our tow truck and we had to pedal the equipment that I had in the garage. But fortunately enough I was able to sell stuff to distributors, advertising it and we got rid of everything. The grease equipment, all the extra jacks and horses and tools that we had we sold off. Then I was able to park the car back in the garage and I still belonged to the fire department. Right now I have 53 years in the fire department. They don’t let me stay active going into fires, but I belong to the department. I can stop traffic, keep people from going into the fire if it’s a major fire and I go to the fire. That’s basically what I do now.
Going back to the days in Parsonage and 27, when I got here I met this woman Eleanor Jarris coming into the station and I said to her that I’d like to get the police towing for Edison. She said, “I know Tony Elencis, and my mother and I are very good friends with Tony and we’ll go down there and we’ll see him and see what he says.” So she made an appointment, and Eleanor and myself went down to see Tony Elencis, and low and behold we got the towing for the Edison Police and we got on the list. Whenever there was an accident, whether it was four o’clock in the morning, three o’clock in the morning we got the job with other fellows. It was a rotating list.
FIRE DEPARTMENT STORIES
During the course of being on Route 27 and Parsonage, and it was right down the street from the fire house, consequently I was making 90% of the fires. I was there all the time. Day, night, holidays, weekends, major fires I was there.
It was a major fire at the Pines Manor that we were second or third due. It’s the other side of town and we went over to the fire and we started fighting the fire and we try to make inside attack and we were crawling around inside. Robert Campbell who I put on and who became pay chief at Edison Fire Department, not the volunteers and we were crawling around and the fire was roaring inside and it started to make a noise and the noise was like a freight train. Then you’re getting in the back draft. So we backed out and sure enough they got a back draft and we lost the building. I fought many fires, big brush fires. It was one great big fire that where a pipeline burst in Durham Woods Apartments. The fire was going through, we were there all night. There was a major fire that burned down all the apartment buildings and I was there. I have film of that fire, it was tremendous. The only loss of life was a person that had a heart attack. But we had no other loss of life.
I just remembered…fire department memories and stories. We had a fire reported at a dwelling. When we went to the firehouse, got on the engine and found out that it was one of our member’s house that was on fire, Mack McGrath. We rolled up to the house and the house was fully enveloped. One of the neighbors said Mrs. McGrath went back in the house to get her pocketbook and never came out. Myself and Charlie Colebush went inside and I had a hose and Charlie and I were searching. We found Mrs. McGrath in the bedroom, alongside the bed, passed out.
We picked her up, dragged her out of the house and put her out on the lawn. The first aid squad picked her up. And I passed out from smoke inhalation, and they took me to the hospital. They wanted to keep me overnight at the hospital, but I knew if I stayed at a hospital and if Bonnie found out that I took in a lot of smoke and I was in a house fire and I was at the hospital that would be the end of my career at a fire department. I said, “Let me out of here.” And I left and I went back to work and never brought the subject up to my wife.
The second incident was, we had a house fire on Wood Avenue in Edison. We were in the house working our way around and I made almost a fatal mistake, which all firemen should not do, is walk towards the middle of the room because the fire was in the cellar and burnt the floor. If you stay to the wall, you’re much safer. But luckily Billy Gelfaum, he’s six two, six three, was with me. And I started to go through the floor and Billy grabbed me by the back of the neck and pulled me back up. That was a save.
The other incident where I was driving the fire truck. I was going down route 27, and it was an old Oren, and it held 650 gallons of water. And when you were going down a hill, even if you were going moderate speed, you had a downshift to second gear from third gear to help brake. I tried to downshift and missed, and I couldn’t double clutch or get it into second gear. And I was standing on the brake and I couldn’t come to a stop and we were coming to the intersection. Laid on the siren and luckily nobody was coming through. I went through the gas station, the other side of the gas station and out on to Wood Avenue. And then finally was able to get it into second gear and continue up Oak Tree Road to the fire. That will be the end of my fire experiences that I can remember.
SECURITY AND SUPPORT
We stayed at Parsonage at 27 for 38 years that we’re there. It got to be a point in time where Shell took over from ARCO. We went from Atlantic Richfield to ARCO and ARCO got bought out by Shell. Shell steadily increased our rent to where the rent was $8,000 a month. We worked like dogs and we earned money to make the rent. Once they pulled the rent because they took the money out automatically from the checking account, it went all the way down to zero. We worked like dogs the whole month and then it went up. I made a conscious decision that after 38 years we have to close up the station. At that point Richie and I closed up the station. We sold off all the stuff. We sold the tow trucks and a substantial loss. We sold the tools, the equipment at a substantial loss. Then we had to go out and get jobs. Richie got a job delivering tires for BC Tire and I got a job in security working for Middlesex Tobacco in Perth Amboy for the Katz family. I stayed there for three or four years.
I really enjoyed working for the Katz family. After that the Katz family went belly up and one day came out and said that, “Morris this is the last day you’ll be working because we’re closing up.” I was very saddened at that happening to them because they were a very, very nice family and I enjoyed working there. I left and was out of work for awhile. I decided I would stay in security and I looked in the paper for jobs and I went to work for security outlet that had a contract in Perth Amboy for food company. I worked for them for about three years until the woman that I worked for in security got very abusive. But as it turned out, the company wanted to make a change in personnel because at the post that I worked at, the people would come in and I’d have to look even in the women’s bags when they left the premises that they weren’t taking anything out or any food out.
So they wanted to make a change. Instead of saying, “Morris we want to make a change and we’re going to have to put you some place else.” She just got very abusive to me and I said, “Okay, I’m leaving.” I went to leave the position and they noticed that my big mistake was that I gave her a written notice and she used that against me when I tried to collect unemployment.
She offered me another job later on, the day before I was ready to leave and she said she had another post that she could give me in Sayreville. So, I went to Sayreville and I looked and it was a Middlesex authority, which was a storage authority. It smelled there and I would have to be handling papers and there would maybe be bacteria on that. I couldn’t bring that home because during the course of the time that I had the station and then left, Bonnie had a transplant and we thought that we were going to lose her. I loved her very much. She was in the hospital and she didn’t want to get the heart transplant. I said, “Oh please” and I started to cry. Bonnie said, “I’ll do it for you.”
I really wanted to say, “Do it for yourself” but as long as she was going to do it, I let her do it. We went to the hospital the day of the transplant, well let me regress. I was going to the hospital while she was there and she was in ICU and she used to call me up at night and I used to run back to the hospital and keep her company and then come home and wasn’t getting much sleep. Then one night I came home and the phone rang and the nurse practitioner said, “We have a heart for your wife, come over.” I called Audrey, Donna, Gerald and Barbara and we all headed over for the hospital. We got to the hospital and Bonnie was in the ICU and they were preparing Bonnie to get the heart transplant. When Bonnie got the heart transplant we were there all night and we saw her before she went in and Dr. Anderson did the transplant and we were all very emotional, her going in. She went in and they made the transplant and she did very well. We were all very happy. Kevin and Glen and Donna and Audrey and myself were all at the hospital and then we were very much relieved, and we couldn’t see her until the next day.
Then going in to see her the next day she was in ICU and I went in to see her and when I took a look at her I cried. I said to myself, “What did I put this woman through?” I don’t know to this day whether I made a mistake or I did good by her getting a transplant and going through all that time. I want all my children, grandchildren, great grandchildren to know that woman never, ever complained about her hurting or anything else, even up to the time that she was passing she never, ever said, “I am hurting. I don’t feel well.” She did well. She was a rock. It was unbelievable that she was a rock. Anyway, I couldn’t take the job in Sayreville because of the bacteria. I told the woman that I couldn’t take the job and I couldn’t bring home that bacteria. I tried to collect unemployment and I went on unemployment and I think I was collecting for six months and she put a stop to it and sued me and I lost and I had to pay back unemployment $6,000. No matter what I tried, we got a lawyer and I couldn’t win.
WORK AND FAMILY
When I had the gas station in Edison, and Danny was a young boy, I used to take him on a tow job. And I don’t think my daughters or my wife was too happy about me taking Danny with me. And one particular night, we were coming up 27th with a car on top of the flatbed and the truck stopped. And I was right on 27th, in the middle of the road. And there’s Danny in the truck with me. And a man that worked for me, Bob Valiant, lived one block up. I picked Danny up and carried him up to Bob’s house. And I said, “Bob, take Danny to my house, please. Then go to the station, get the other tow truck and come and tow me in.” So he took my grandson, Danny, to the house and then came back and towed me in.
Thereafter I never took another one of my grandchildren in any one of my tow trucks or had them at the service station because it was too dangerous. And also, I didn’t want my grandchildren to get interested in automotive because it was a hard life. Had I been smarter when I was a young man and not a boulder-head… My aunt, Estee, wanted to send me to college. And all I wanted to do was work on cars and run around with all the boys.
Sad state of affairs, because you have to work very hard if you want to give your family a good life. The only regret that I have is that I worked too many hours, too long hours, and didn’t spend enough time with my children and my grandchildren. Going back, when I first got married, I worked a lot of hours to make a good living so my family would have a good life.
I worked in Bigelow Motors. I would come home and I would go to work in the movies, five days a week. On the weekend, I used to go to a gas station in South Mountain Reservation and work there for two days. And then start back and work at my regular job in Bigelow Motors. And I did that for quite a while. Also when I had the gas station, I worked many, many hours to do for my family and I sort of regret it. I love my children. I love my grandchildren. They are the world to me. And the only regret is that I worked too long and too many hours. I did the best I could to give them a good life.
And here’s also a story, that my wife worked very hard to send my daughters to school. We decided that neither one of us went to college and we regretted that. We decided if our daughters had the ability, they were going to college, period. There was no excuse, that they were going. We took out loans for our daughters to go to school and we were paying off the loans.
And a funny story is, that Bonnie came to me one day. And at that time, the bank gave you a book. And the book would have tear-outs and you’d mail that in with your payment. And Bonnie came to me and said, “We don’t have any more coupons in the book. And I don’t want any late charges.” So I said, “Listen, call the bank. Go to the horse’s head, not the horse’s tail. I’m the horse’s tail. Don’t tell me, call the bank.” So she called the bank and said to the lady, “Listen, I don’t want any late charges. I don’t have any more coupons to send in for payments.” She said, “Mrs Kaplan, your loan is paid off. That’s why you don’t have any more coupons.” Bonnie came to me and said, “Guess what? We don’t have any more coupons because the loan is paid off. Do you think that I could spend my first paycheck on me?” I said, “Absolutely, dear. You spend that first paycheck on you because you deserve it.”
But we did all that we possibly can for our children. And we want our children to do the same for their children, and their children do the same for their children. Word to wisdom, is when you earn good money, always put a little money away on the side so that you have a backup. If anything goes wrong and times get hard that you have a backup. We were lucky that, when Shell made us close down, that we had a little backup and we were able to survive. And Bonnie had an annuity that I made her take out. When she was working, I suggested to her that, “You take out this annuity. I’m working and I’m making good money. You take the annuity out. And then when you retire, you can start to see it.”
CARING FOR BONNIE
Then I stayed home with Bonnie and kept Bonnie company. I didn’t work after that. I retired and stayed home and watched my grandchildren grow into wonderful, beautiful men. I get very emotional when I say that. But Bonnie and I loved them very deeply. We had a great time when they were younger. We watched them when they came over to the house when the girls would go away. I watched Glen go into his father’s business. I watched Kevin go into business and do very well. I saw Kevin buy his first house in Metuchen. I saw Donna and Glen buy their first house and I used to go up to Donna and Glen’s and we were painting the house for them to move in. That was their first house. We were having a good time and Bonnie was doing well.
Bonnie started to get worse and we had a woman working for us. And she stayed for a little while and then she left. And when I was working for US Food, we had a woman working for us. She was the sister of my daughter, Donna, a woman that worked for her.
And one day, when my grandson came to the house and he was here to visit his grandmother, she decided that she was going to leave. And that was that. So my grandson called me at work and said to me that the woman had left. And I said, “Ryan, can you stay there with her? I can’t leave this post. I’m doing security. And I can’t leave.”
I talked to one of the girls that was working there, a Spanish girl, and she did all the cleaning there. And I said, “I need somebody to watch my wife.” She said, “I have somebody for you.” And she put me in touch with a woman. I called the woman. She met me after work and I hired her. She started the very next day. She came before I went to work. She met my wife and she continued working for us for about two or three months.
And then she left and I had to interview another woman. Her name was Natasha. And Natasha was hired and worked for us for about five years until she went back to Russia. And then I didn’t have anybody after Natasha left. And I was trying to take care of my wife by myself, which I succeeded to do, but it was getting more difficult every day. And I went through a year of taking care of her by myself. And then one night I got a phone call and Natasha said she was back.
Natasha came back and stayed here for another year. And then she decided that she was going to get nasty to my wife. And I told her she would have to leave if she was going to be nasty. So she went upstairs, packed up her stuff and left. Then I was without anybody and a friend of mine, recommended a woman that took care of his wife, and I interviewed her and hired her. Her name was Bea. And Bea stayed with us for about four months until Bonnie’s passing, April 30th, 2019. It was a very sad day for my daughters and myself, my son-in-laws and my grandchildren.
Bonnie was a wonderful woman, never complained all the days that she was sick. And the only bright spot was that she knew that she had a granddaughter. And when I showed her a picture of her granddaughter, Kendall, the biggest smile would come on her face. No matter how sick she was, she gave a big smile. And till this day, I can see the smile on her face when I showed her a picture. She also knew that my grandson, Gregory, was having a little girl. I only wish that my wife was still alive to see all my granddaughters. Because Drew had a little girl and my wife wanted nothing else in her lifetime, but to have little girls. And we had six wonderful boys and she loved each and every one of them. But she always wanted that little girl so she could buy dresses and Mary Jane shoes. But I know she’s looking down and seeing her grandchildren and there’s a big smile on her face.
FOR MY WIFE
Another regret that I have is for my wife… And I get very emotional. She compiled all her sick days, and when she left, they paid her for that. And she saved the money. And she said that she was going to… I’m getting this all mixed up. When she left, they paid her in cash for her sick days. She put it away in the safe. And she said that she was going to buy something for herself with that money. And then Bonnie got sick.
And I looked at her… And I remember looking at her in the hospital the first time, and I cried and said, “Wow…” She didn’t hear me, I don’t think, “That you have this money and you never spent it. And you worked hard for.” But she came out of it. She was a survivor. She came home and still, she didn’t spend the money. And then she got sick again and she passed and she still didn’t spend the money. Now I’m spending her money and I feel like a thief. I spend her money. It’s very funny.
And when I go to the woman and talk to her about my problems, I always bring it up. And she said, “Bonnie would want you to enjoy that money and do what you have to do.” But you don’t want to regret anything in life. Do what you want to do, enjoy your life and don’t hold back. Because one day, it’s just going to be too late.
I don’t know if there’s any other stories that I can think of that pertain to my life. But I think I’ll come back another time because I am very emotional, especially about the money that Bonnie didn’t get to spend. And we’ll come back another day and talk some more. And hopefully, that my children, my grandchildren, will get some fun or some insight on what my life was like. And I’ll get back to you another day.
PASSING ON THE COLLECTION
I had a young childhood with my grandfather, my father, who used to save… My grandfather saved stamps and coins, and he had my father interested in it. And my father got me interested in it. And they passed on the stamp collection and the coin collection from my grandfather to my father. And then I saved coins and added to the collection. I gave the stamps to my daughter, Audrey, and I really don’t know what they ever did with it. The coins, when Bonnie was sick, I sat down in the cellar. And I got six notebooks and I broke the coin collection from my grandfather, my father and myself into six notebooks. And the notebooks, I gave to each one of my grandsons with the notation on the front of the book that it was from Michael Kaplan, ________ Kaplan, Morris Kaplan to, let’s say Danny Ferraro. And each one got a book and a copy.
AUNTS, UNCLES AND REMEMBRANCE
Also, I’d like to add that when we were, when I was, when I was young, I used to go with my Uncle Gilbert on a pie truck that he had. It was already cooked. Coby toasted pies. And we used to ride on the truck, and my Uncle Gilbert and Aunt Tommy used to take me every place they went. And I’ve had a very, very happy childhood with my aunt and uncle.
My Aunt Muriel and my Aunt Eileen, who was my mother’s sisters by another father. They took me all over also. One time, my Aunt Eileen and Muriel took me to the shore. And I went out with Muriel, and she started to flirt with some soldiers who were playing horseshoes. And I walked in back along the soldiers as he was swinging back. And he hit me above the eye with a horseshoe, and I got a big cut. And I started to bleed. My Aunt Muriel had a fit. She said, “Oh, your mother’s going to kill me!” And my mother who was my grandma. Oh, she’s going to kill me. So we went home after I was bandaged up, and they saw me, and they had a fit. But I calmed them down, said it was an accident, that I walked in back of a soldier who was playing horseshoes. And it wasn’t my Aunt Muriel’s fault.
My Aunt Eileen passed away at a very young age. And I was a very young person. And I took it very hard because I loved her. And for years, when I lived in Edison, she was buried about Lebanon Cemetery, And I went to visit every Tuesday that I was off. I would go to visit. And I just hope that some of my relatives will go and visit my grandmother, my father, and my mother, and my Aunt Muriel. Also, Jack and my stepfather George, who was buried over at Mount Lebanon Cemetery, after I pass. Also, my aunt and uncle, Eileen’s father and mother, Doris and Al, are also buried over there. And I would like to get in touch with their grandchildren, to see if they would like to see where their grandparents are buried, so they could visit maybe once a year. And somebody will go to see them. They have two sons that have never come to visit their mother and father’s grave, ever since they’ve been buried. It saddens me that that has happened.
I’d like to add that when I had the gas station and we’re doing very well, and my parents had moved from Wainwright street to Elizabeth, and they were living in Elizabeth and my father retired and they had friends that were in Florida in Century Village. And they used to go down to Century Village and they liked it very much. And my mother said to me she would like to buy a place down in Century Village, but they couldn’t afford to buy one. I said, “Mom, pick out a place in Century Village and I’ll buy it for you with Richie.” And we were at Route 27 at Parsons Road in business, and we were doing fairly well. And it was okay with Bonnie that we did this.
And my mother bought a place in Century Village, 68 C Sussex, Century Village, West Palm Beach. My father wasn’t that keen on moving to Florida, but he went to Florida and my mother and my father, they had a great time living there. They enjoyed themselves and Richie and I got a mortgage on the property and we paid it off, and we paid it off in full. And my father, one New Year’s Eve went to a New Year’s party, and he said to my mother that he would like to have a drink. And my father hadn’t had a drink in years. And my mother said to his friend, “Give him a drink.” And he had a drink and he said, “Let’s have a dance.” And he went out on a dance floor with my mother and he passed away right on the dance floor. And that was New Year’s Eve. And I was at a party at Eleanor and Artie Cole’s house, when I got the phone call that my father passed away.
I flew down to Florida the very next day, arranged for my father to be flown up to Edison, took my mother on a plane and brought her up to our house, and we had a funeral. My mother stayed up here a few days after the funeral, and then went back to Florida.
After some period of time, my mother met a man named George Elser and they started going together, then living together. Then they decided at the ripe old age of 94, 95, that they were going to get married. And my mother said to me that she wanted to get married to George. I said to her, “You’re the mother, I’m the son. If you want to get married, you get married. That’s fine with me as long as he takes care of you, that’s fine.” And George and my mother got married and they lived in my apartment at Century Village for many years. Then my mother got sick and my brother and I flew down to Florida and we left one of our fellows to watch the station, and we stayed there for a few days and came back. Before we went down, my daughters Audrey and Donna went to visit my mother in a hospital.
She was a very sad and emotional thing for us to go down there and see my mother in that state. My mother was a very wonderful woman. I wouldn’t do anything for anybody and always had a prayer for me and a prayer for the family, had a prayer for friends. And as a child, she did everything for her sons. She went beyond and above doing things for their children. George Elser lived in the apartment for about a year, and then he got sick. He went into a nursing home, Bonnie and I went down to Florida. We visited him and said we were going to close up the apartment. And he said he took all the stuff that he wanted out of there. And Bonnie and I had to get a dumpster and we paid for a company to bring a dumpster. We brought a dumpster and filled the dumpster.
My grandson Ryan and his girlfriend came and helped us on a second or third day that we were there, empty out the house, and a lifetime of my mother and George’s belongings went out into the dumpster. It was a very sad time. We also put the house up for sale and Bonnie and I worked very hard on cleaning out that house. And then we hired a cleaning girl and the cleaning girl came and cleaned the house. And my mother used to use that cleaning girl. And she said to me, “Did you look upstairs above the drop ceiling?” There was tiles that came down or would pop up. And they used to put stuff upstairs, jars and stuff. Maybe they hid some money up there. And we had a flight in a couple hours after that and I wasn’t going to clean up more anymore jars. So I said, whoever buys the apartment and whoever looks up there is going to be in for a windfall if they find any money that was left up there. We left the furniture in there, we did not junk it. The place was going to be sold as is.
We put it with an agent, Bonnie and I flew back to Edison and I was thinking, it was about three months, we sold the property and we only got $21,500 for a property. You can’t even buy a car for that. But it was a drain and we weren’t going to use it, and there were so many memories there for us to go there. And the apartment needed a lot of work and we just let it go. And we just have a lot of fond memories and not going back to the apartment anymore.
A WORD OF ADVICE
When we sold my mother’s apartment, and I had to get Richie to sign at that time, I wasn’t talking to him again only because his, he doesn’t talk to his children. He has three wonderful children, he’s got grandchildren, and great grandchildren. And he doesn’t talk to them. I talked to him now only because Bonnie was very sick and sitting next to me in our den. And I happened to say out loud, “You know time’s getting short and maybe I should call my brother and tell him that things, time is getting short, that we should talk.” But I was the one that wasn’t talking to him because he wasn’t talking to his children. So Bonnie was not very verbal at that time. She said, “I think you should.” Well, I almost cried.
I called my brother and said to him, “I left a message, because you didn’t answer.” And he had a habit to let calls go to the answering machine. And I said, “Richie, it’s about time that we talk again. That time is getting short, we’re getting older. And I think we should talk.” And Richie called me up and we’ve been talking ever since. I still get very upset, when I talk with him that he doesn’t talk to his children. And I want to say to him, “Your beautiful children, beautiful grandchildren, you have great grandchildren. You don’t know what you’re missing,” but he is a very stubborn man. And he’s the one that’ll leave this world not knowing wonderful people, his children. And it is so, so sad that he doesn’t do that.
I know, that, my children, my grandchildren, and maybe great grandchildren, will hear this, but never ever not talk to family. Don’t leave this world not talking to your children. The saddest thing was, that my nephew came to do a favor for me in the house. We had to take a bed in order to room out and put it to cellar so we could put a hospital bed from the hospice in that room. And we moved the bed to the cellar, and he said to me in the cellar that his daughter was going to get married next year in the winery. And he said that he asked his daughter, “Do you want to invite your grandpa Whiskers to your wedding?” And she said, “No, I don’t know.” That was so sad to me. And I’m a very emotional person. It made me cry to think that that stupid man did want to miss the wedding of his granddaughter.
It is a very, very sad thing. But it also a lesson to my children, grandchildren, great grandchildren. Don’t ever not talk to your family, love them.