CAMDEN, NEW JERSEY
David Reich's Stories
jjjjj TABLE OF CONTENTS jjjjj
TABLE OF CONTENTS
I CALLED HIM MISTER
We have all met someone along the way who made a lasting impression on us Mr. Jake Levy was such a person.
Mr. Levy was the proprietor of a small corner grocery and candy store in Brooklawn, New Jersey. Brooklawn was a small borough in southern New Jersey near the shores of the Delaware River. The borough was a home for proud hard working people where almost everyone knew each other.
Mr. Levy's candy store stood directly across the street from the Brooklawn Elementary school and so Mr. Levy came in contact with most children who passed through that school during the nineteen thirties and forties.
There was during the thirties the Great Depression and Brooklawn had not been spared from its effects. Large numbers of borough residents had been employed at the New York Ship Building Corporation in Camden and in other heavy industries along the shores of the Delaware. These hard working people were now without employment or were on reduced working hours.
Most people in Brooklawn found themselves in situations where only the most important essentials could cause them to spend what little money was available.
Children wore shoes repaired over and over by their parents, hand knitted sweaters, socks and other clothing was the order of the day. Neighbors helped neighbors and people came together in an attempt to ease the discomfort of their dear friends.
People who had never resorted to accepting relief found themselves with no other course than to accept the aid. Most homes were heated by coal or coke and many people found themselves walking the railroad tracks as I did picking up coal which passing trains had dropped.
Mothers found themselves working long hot days in the kitchen canning home grown vegetables, sauces and at times meats. Nothing was thrown away in the trash without first determining if just maybe there might be some other use for the item.
Those were tough times but then there were people like Mr. Levy and his wife who stepped forward to lend a hand and spread some good cheer in a situation that was so dark for so many.
Some grownups and some children addressed Mr. Levy as Jake and Mr. Levy didn't
As a boy going to school entering Mr. Levy's store was a most happy experience there was something special about that corner store and that something was Mr. Levy. As you entered the store a warm good smell entered your nostrils which set your stomach juices churning and for some reason the store appeared to offer welcome, warmth and a general good at home feeling.
Mr. Levy was a short round man as I remember and he and Mrs. Levy both welcomed
The Levy candy cases were always full of penny candy and Mr. Levy never complained, not once, as a child stood for several minutes deciding which piece of candy to buy. Sometimes five, ten or more children were lined up to spend one cent for a piece of candy what patience Mr. Levy showed while helping us to buy our candy.
Many a child entering that store with friends had no money but not one ever left that candy case without a piece of his or her's favorite candy.
I don't believe 1 ever saw Mr. Levy show anger toward any of us. He greeted each child by name and always asked about your Dad and Mom. Mr. Levy seemed to receive news which was not good about his little friends families and would offer a pat on the head and a smile with a word of assurance that everything would be alright in an attempt to ease the pain of his little friends.
Mr. and Mrs. Levy had one son of their own and he was included in waiting on the customers at times. Melvin was very intelligent and in the sixties I learned he was a VIP with a large food chain. When going to school with us he was just one of the boys interested in the things young children do for fun.
The corner location of the store provided a good site for us to hang out at on some summer evenings as we listened to the night baseball games on radio. Mr. Levy never complained as long as we left a path for his customers. If he thought it to late he would dispatch us on our way home.
During the hot summer months Mr. Levy always had two large cams of a frozen dessert called Yum Yum. He sold a one dipper for three cents and a double for five. Many of us never had spending money but if you were with someone who did you too walked out of the store with a Yum Yum.
No story about Mr. Levy would be complete without mentioning the book. I remember the book well, old, well worn with the pages full of numbers and names. The book was the credit b0ok that Mr. Levy kept for his customers and believe me the book was full of filled pages. Many a time someone would come into the store and pickup a couple of items and say Jake put these things in the book. Many times I myself saw him open the book to a page and simply look at the page while closing the book without making a entry. This I saw many many times. Mr. Levy was simply carrying a lot of people through hard times.
In 1947 when discharged from the Army I returned to Mr. Levy's corner store just to say hello and when I entered it was as I remembered it as a child. The same sweet smell and Mr. Levy's smiling face. What lucky kids we were to have known that kind and gentle man.
Those were hard times for all but somehow good people stepped into the darkness with a little bit of light, men and women like Mr. and Mrs. Levy.
I'm sure Mr Levy never became a wealthy man in material things but I suspect the memories he held of his hundreds of little friends was as rich as any treasure. I know I treasure my memory of him and his corner store.
BILLY, ART, BOB, HARRY, & DAVE
This story is about childhood friends who went to grade school, high school and grew up together in small South Jersey towns during the nineteen-thirties and nineteen-forties.
Billy and Dave came to know each other because Bill's dad was the local Municipal Judge and Dave's dad was the Public Safety Director. Each Friday evening before the Monday night court session the Judge and Safety Director met to discuss cases coming before the court. The meetings were held each Friday at Dave's home.
The two boys spent many Friday evenings in the dinning room playing a game or just talking boy talk of which there was plenty. These meetings covered a span of about three years so the boys did become very close and enjoyed each others company.
In 1942, Dave moved away to live in Merchantville and the boys drifted apart. 1943 had hardly begun when Dave entered the U.S. Army during the senior year in high-school. Billy also entered the Army sometime later. Bill was quiet and big for his age but gentle as a lamb and never displayed any violence in any way.
Bill was killed during the invasion of Fortress Europe on the beach at Omaha.
Art was also a school chum but not as close to Dave as the others. He was a fine looking fair, blond of Finnish extraction and was well liked by all who knew him. Art was fond of sports and got a lot of enjoyment from playing baseball at which he was very good.
Art like Bill, would lose his life in the service of his country. Art served in the Army Air Corp. and was shot down over Czechoslovakia during the ill fated raid on the oil fields in Romania.
The body of Art was never recovered until the 1970's at which time he was buried in New Jersey. A couple in Czechoslovakia had found his body at the time his plane crashed and buried him on their land. For over twenty some years the couple tended to his resting place but out of fear kept their deed a secret. When the political climate changed in their country they came forward and reported the location of the body.
Then there was Bob. Bob and Dave had known each other for many years having went to grade school and high school together. Bob and Dave played baseball for the same team and on some days walked for miles to play in another town.
When the boys entered high school they began spending more time together and in the evenings took long walks or just hung out together. There was a certain sadness about Bob at times which I believe was due to his home-life.
Some of our evenings were spent by going to the local bakery where Mr. Glaus would sell us a huge bag of day olds for a nickel or dime and if we had no money he often treated us. With our bag of goodies we would walk the railroad tracks to Gloucester sit on the railroad loading dock at the station and eat goodies and talk.
Many were those
evenings spent together just walking, talking and enjoying being together.
Bob was also killed in the war losing his life on an escort carrier in the Navy in the Pacific.
Then the story turns to Harry. Harry and Dave met while attending a Sunday school class in Merchantville. Harry was a tall handsome boy who was very mild mannered, quiet and gentle. Harry was one of those people that it was fun to be with.
There was a class at the church made up of teenagers in their late teens. The class leader was the owner of the Camden Copper Works, Mr. Walter Ahlberg. The class was well attended and once each month the class gathered at the Ahlberg's for a game night.
After a fun night of pocl, darts and pingpong Mr. Ahlberg ailed the gang into his station wagon and off to the burger joint we would go. That was a happy time for all and Harry became a friend. Harry and Dave were soon separated from the group when they left to go into the service.
Harry too died in the Pacific as a member of the U.S. Marines on an island far from home.
Dave is the lone survivor of the five and he misses each and everyone. We we separated by war and others will experience the same story many times over. Man has not learned how to put away this game we play called war.
War is ugly, dirty, dehumanizing and an obscenity but we seem to love every foul moment of its evil.
Many have forgotten these characters in this story but there are times when I can see their faces very clearly.
A FOUR YEAR JOURNEY
In December 1942 after recovering from spinal surgery I presented myself to the local draft board in
Merchantville, New Jersey for voluntary early induction in the armed forces of the United States. The order to report for induction was finally received on or about March 1, 1943
My first day at Dix was spent getting an entire Army wardrobe, haircut, shots and what seemed like a hundred other items. When taps sounded that first night-a loud sound of relief arose from the tent cities.
On the third night at Dix I drew food distribution duty at a huge warehouse. The Tech Sgt. in charge and I were the only ones on duty and most of the night was spent shooting the bull. Some time was spent eating some of the foods we liked and drinking plenty of hot coffee. The Sgt. and I got along just great and he asked to have me back the following night but that was not possible for some reason.
After a few days of tests and films orders were received for a move to the southland. When boarding the train at Dix for the move we were informed that we would be going to an Army post in South Carolina. The troop train left Dix early in the morning making its way toward the main rail ink in Pennsauken, New Jersey just blocks from my home.
When the train began to enter the mainline it started then stopped and that continued for some minutes. A crowd had gathered at the rail connection and I could see many of my school chums in the crowd. Many were passing books, candy and other items to the troops. My brother Robert who at the time was twelve years old after my leaving home spent many hours at the rail connection doing the same good deeds. I had been away from home only days but already I missed my brother.
After crossing the Delaware River the train turned south and began its nineteen hour trip to Fort Jackson, near Columbia South Carolina.
Camp Jackson was approved by the congress June 2, 1917. In 1918 some 45,000 men were training at the post. In July 1940 for the second world war the camp came alive once more and became a permanent Army Post, Fort Jackson, in August of that year.
The 106th Infantry Division had just been activated at the post and we would be receiving our training for many months with that unit. Our training began on arrival, no long speeches or greetings just plain rough infantry training.
I was assigned to Company G of the 424th Infantry Regt. and the platoon sergeant, Staff Sgt. Morris Griffin, would be responsible for turning me into a soldier. Our day began at 5:30 AM with roll call in formation followed by policing the area. After that we ran some and marched some followed by one hour of calisthenics. Then it was time for breakfast such as it was then into the field for training until lunch.
A word about Staff Sgt. Morris Griffin, he was without a doubt one of the finest men I served with in the Army of the United States. The
sergeant came from the state of Mississippi.
In July 1943 we prepared for and went to the firing range after many hours of dry firing. By this time we had received our Ml rifles to replace the old bolt action Enfields.
The day for the eighteen mile march to the rifle range dawned hot and humid. After little more than an hour into the march men began dropping due to heat exhaustion and an hour later the road was littered with fallen troops. Some men were revived and quickly returned to the march but others were removed to the Fort's hospital.
Before the march began everyone was to place salt tablets in there canteens but I decided to forego the tablets and used my water every fifty minutes to freshen my mouth. I never took more than a couple of small sips and wiped my neck down at each ten minute break. At one break, our last one, my First Sergeant sat down near me and said he could no longer continue the march. He said that he never had felt so bad and that the heat was just to much for him. With that I offered him a drink of my pure water and wiped his head and neck which seemed to make a lot of difference in his condition.
The last hill before reaching the range that day was hardest part of the march but the First Sergeant and I were among the few who were able to complete the march in really good condition.
While at the range we lived in our pup tents and the days were filled with firing not only the rifle but pistols and the Browning Automatic Rifle. I was able to shoot sharpshooter with the rifle and when I shot expert with the Browning I was really happy.
After our days at the range we also fired at the combat range which was really great the platoon fired the highest score until that time on that range. We also walked off with the highest scores at the rifle range.
Our advanced infantry training continued through the fall and early winter and in January of 44 moved to Tennessee for Army maneuvers. That winter in Tennessee was very wet and cold. If not raining we had snow and sleet there were very few dry days. The area we were in was farm country and the farm people of Tennessee. were just great to us soldiers.
The maneuvers prepared the soldier for life in the field under combat conditions and the maneuvers were not without danger. Many troops from a unit in the 106th drowned in the Cumberland River during a river crossing. Many a farmer when going into his barn early in the morning would find sleeping wet and cold soldiers asleep in their hay lofts. Many times I was one of those guys and man times I was fed a fine hot southern breakfast by some kind farmer's family.
Only days after the end of maneuvers I came down ill and was taken to the hospital at Camp Forrest, Tennessee. where I spent a week. The division moved to Attabury, Indiana during my stay in the hospital and when I rejoined them I was still on limited duty as I had been exposed to spinal meningitis while in the hospital. Each morning I was examined for any sign of the bug.
During April advanced training continued at Camp Attabury and I was placed in a special infantry unit for some weeks where we took ranger training. The unit was used as a demonstration unit for visiting VIPs and it was really great training all members of the unit were given a special three day pass at training's end. At that time I also received a weekend pass which gave me time to reach home for a very short visit.
From April 44 through August troops from the 106th were being taken as replacements for the invasion force in Europe. August came and I too was moved from the 106th to Fort George G. Meade, Maryland, for processing to be sent to Europe. When I left the Company in Attabury many of my friends were left behind, however with the group which left with me were several friends.
The cannibalism of the 106th stopped later in August but it had a terrible effect on the division's future when it entered combat in the Ardennes in December 1944. In the first three days of the Battle of The Bulge the 106th lost over 8,000 men. The men who had replaced us replacements were under-trained and not properly prepared for combat.
After a five day pass home from Fort Meade I was moved to Camp Kilmer, New Jersey, and a few days later boarded the English liner Mauritania for the trip to Liverpool England. The sea trip was just great but the English mess was just that, a mess. Breakfast the first morning out was a boiled potato and a stinking piece of fish... included with that crap was an apple. My first breakfast at sea went into the garbage can and I almost had to crawl over other troops trying to throw their meal into the can.
Before 1 could get to the exit door the English mess officer had all the doors locked to prevent our leaving the mess but he quickly found himself tied to a chair as the mess emptied. The rest of the trip I lived on Pepsi and Tasty Cakes purchased at a stand opened on one of the decks for two hours each day.
After landing in Liverpool I traveled to a camp somewhere north of the port. The name of the camp escapes me at the moment. We were at the camp a very short while and had plenty of time for letter writing. I had written a cousin in Manchester on arrival and a few days later she showed up at the camp and took me to her home in Manchester where we were able to catch up on family news.
After a short stay at the camp I moved to Portsmouth from where I sailed to France landing at Omaha Beach. We needed to climb a high bluff behind the beach in order to reach our replacement depot and as I reached the top looking to my left was a very sobering sight. Row upon row of white crosses for as far as the eye could see ran for miles along the bluff overlooking Omaha Beach.
The training and war games had ended and the introduction to hell had begun. When I saw those crosses the reality of war was looking me in the face. My friend, Bill Keilman was buried there when I looked out over those crosses having died on that piece of beach June 6,1944 but I had yet to learn of that sad news.
In the next few months I would receive letters from home telling me of the deaths in action of four good friends. Those good young boys were; Robert Hanley, Bill Keilman, and Art Siano, of Brooklawn, New Jersey; and Harry Strunk from Merchantville, New Jersey. All of the Armed Forces of the United States were represented in that group.
After a few days at Omaha Beach I and my friend Kaplan from the 106th Infantry moved by truck to join our unit now on the line southwest of Metz. It was now early October of 44 as I joined the Sixth Armored Division just east of Nancy France. Kaplan and I both were assigned to the 44th Armored Infantry Battalion. Kaplan joined "B" Company and I the Headquarters Company Recon platoon.
After seven months of constant combat the war came to a close at which time I moved on to the Third Armored Division near Offenbach in the farm village of Sattledorf where that unit was part of the occupation force.
A few months later on my second enlistment I went home for ninety days after which I joined the 2nd Armored Division at then Camp Hood Texas. After some months in Camp Hood I was asked to join the cadre moving to Fort Knox, Kentucky which would be involved in forming a Universal Military Experimental unit. I remained with that unit until my discharge in May 1947.
A Magnificent Lady
Bhe stood on the banks of the beautiful busy Delaware River, clean, neat and full of vitality. She was indeed a great aid wonderful city, the city of Camden, New Jersey.
Time had been good to the old girl and she had been good to the people within and outside its borders.
The period during the Second World War was probably its greatest era. The city at that time was heavy into building the ships for our growing Merchant Marine and our naval forces. Thousands worked in the heavy industries scattered along the banks of the river. In Camden recovery from the great depression was making a strong comeback.
This grand old lady had everything needed for its peoples comfort. There were many beautiful parks, good schools, hospitals, and all kinds of movie houses where one could see his favorite star on a local stage.
Camden was readily available to Philadelphia by Ferry and later by the Ben Franklin Bridge. In the summer months the people escaped the heat of Philadelphia by flocking to the New Jersey beaches. It was very easy to hop the ferry for the short ride to the Pennsylvania-Reading Seashore trains to the seashore communities of Atlantic City, Wildwood, Long Beach Island, and many more of the resorts.
Camden was a community of the melting pot of America. There was the German neighborhood, the Jewish, the Irish, the black, and many others. The neighborhoods were clean and neat full of beautiful yards and full of flowers with neat trimmed grass. But we were nearing the the nineteen fifties and the bubble was about to burst.
The northern migration of blacks from the Bible belt was beginning as they came north looking for the better life. Industry was also bringing in people, mostly latinos who were willing to work for a lower wage. Thousands poured into Camden and other large cities all looking for that better life.
These events presented a great chance to the Real Estate brokers to make a killing and all he had to do was get the whites to move. New words crept into our vocabulary words like Block Buster. The term Block Buster became an everyday word as the Brokers sent their scare letters to people in the targeted neighborhoods. The letters would tell the homeowner that because of the blacks now moving into the city that their property values would fall and that they might lose their homes unless they sold at once. It was not long before the first sale signs started to appear and whole neighborhoods began their change.
The sellers of the home would of course sell their home for a lot less than the fair market value. Then Mr. Nice Guy Broker slapped up a few wall boards and moved in three or four families charging exorbitant rents at which time he he began his laughing trips to the bank. The buildings were allowed to fall into terrible shape while the broker continued his daily trips to the bank.
The block busting worked very well all over the city and soon the city's tax base was beginning to shrink and the city itself was becoming the largest landlord. Many people lost their homes to the city in the south of Camden at Kaighns Point and in Centerville in the fifties and the sixties as City Hall would declare neighborhoods blighted and raze entire blocks for "redevelopment".
In a few short years the neighborhoods which had stood for years disappeared while industry began to look for other places to do business. Industries such as The Esterbrook Pen Company, Hunt Pen Company, Siegel Cigar, Giant Tiger, and many small industrial plants moved where they could find cheap labor. With those plants gone the city's tax base continued to shrink. City services began to fail but the greedy brokers and the politicians were still able to make a buck.
I never knew a time that the old girl was free of corruption everyone knew about it but there was little anyone could do about the conditions. Corruption reached into the highest level of city and county government. In the 1960's a friend of mine had a brother-in-law who was arrested for drunken driving and he asked me for help. I called a friend who said for three hundred to the Judge your friend won't spend time in jail and for four hundred more he won't lose his drivers license the money was paid and every thing went as stated.
The politcians controlled the workers for the city and promotions were sold for so many bucks. Every body worked for his boss on election day even if dead.
The police department was racist to the core black officers were called Nigger to their face. Pictures of Baboons and Apes were pasted in their lockers along with racist written papers. Nothing was ever done about this open racist action by white officers. When members of the Mayors Advisory Council which he appointed tried to see him on these matters they never got inside his office;
One day at a local car wash I overheard a conversation between a long-time politician and at this time the Juvenile Judge and four detectives. The Judge asked how they liked their new Public Safety Director just arrived from the New Jersey State Police. They replied not much. The Judge said not to worry since like everyone else he had to kiss ass to get anything changed and he'll soon come around." He talked about the black and Hispanic offices as being kept in there place no matter who the director was. This Judge had been part of the city's political system forever.
Jobs were bought and paid for in cash the same way when getting a promotion, you paid. A neighbor of mine once asked over our private police line for seven hundred dollars so that he would be able to buy a promotion. If you sought a job in any department in government you paid half cash and supplied hundreds of voters you could control. This was a fact you had to accept if you were to get a job.
In 1971 the city had a full blown war between the police and the Latino community. A driver had been stopped on an inner city street for being drunk and he resisted to an extent. Before the arrest was completed the man was near death and lingered for days in a hospital. Most of his vital organs had been destroyed and he died a horrible death. Of course the attackers walked free. A full scale riot began after day s of the Mayor refusing to meet with community leaders on the matter.
For days as the man lay in Cooper Hospital the leaders of the Spanish Community attempted to meet with the Mayor but he turned down every attempt to meet. One Holiday afternoon in the boiling sun people by the thousands stood outside city hall waiting to meet. Late in the day a storm came across the Delaware River sending the crowd for drier places. The crowd as they left turned their anger against the local business district and within an hour a full blown riot was in progress.
Before order was restored the business district was ruined and the community was never to recover. The police were tried and found not guilty of the man's murder.
[He apparently had died of natural causes, the two officers should never have been charged, let alone tried. A great deal of damage, destruction, and despair could have and should have been avoided had City Government at the time been more courageous and forthright about sticking to the facts and less concerned about pandering to public opinion and the press- PMC]
The city was now truly a basket case with no tax base and no suitable housing but most important no jobs. After the riot the city was nothing but a warehouse for the poor. The city was now the chief property holder. People were walking away from their homes or paying a few buc4cs to have them burned down for the insurance. Insurance companyies were not now writing homeowners insurance which added to the problem. Houses were sold over and over to people on welfare with the brokers still running to the bank.
Life in the city was very hard for the children and the elderly who had no control over the awful events. They were the ones who suffered most from the festering sore they lived in at this time.
During the winter of 7<, two elderly ladies were found frozen to death in different sections of the city. They had been warming themselves in front of their range ovens. Unknown t • them as they warmed themselves their gas was turned off for none payment for service. Since they fell asleeo before the oven they quickly died before awakening. Four children in an other neighborhood burned to death when a candle fell over from the toilet, their roower was off also for non-payment. Children ran the streets in clothing suitable for Southern California weather with snow ut» to their waist and wore nothing but sneakers for foot ware. There w&cS no bad weather clothing for most of the poor children and f r most their homes were unheated.
One cold day I stopped at a corner grocery store in South Camden, in the center of the store near the entrance the owner had erected a huge display of dog food. Thirty-nine cents a can and almost everyone who entered the store purchased a onion and a can of dog food for their dinner. I asked Pete the owner how much dog food he sold and he said all I can get my hands on.
At times through my church I was able to pick up food from the Campbell Soup Company. I could give away a car trunkful in a few minutes to children.
There were no social agencies to help with things the poor needed most of the work was taken on by a few individuals. For those trapped in the city every day was one of fighting for survival. If it meant shoplifting at the market for a piece of meat then that's what would happen. One Mother told me she had to shoplift at the end of the month but she also said she thanked God for having supplied the meal.
It was an is a constant battle for survival that faimiles in the inner city engage in every day 6f their life. The only way one can look at the situation objectively is to experience life as it really is in the city.
The old girl in the eighty's is now the dumping ground for the county's sewage millions having been spent to turn the county's sewers into the city. The city does not realize any benefit except the stench. This was ordered by the Department of Environmental Protection in Washington, DC.
When two new prisons were built and no one else wanted them of course Camden was selected as the best place to build.
I never, anywhere, saw so many abused, angry children as I did in my thirty years in Camden. The children I met with in Aachen, Germany directly after the war were far better off than those in Camden.
We forgive billions of dollars in loans owed our nation by foreign governments and fail to provide for the prefer care of our own children. We have one of the highest infant mortality rates in the world and millions go without any medical treatment when ill. Children here everyday go to school hungry. If you really want to see life as it is through a child's eyes in America visit your nearest inner city neighborhood.
People thought that surely we would care for our own now that we can cut military spending but that is not to be. How easy it is for us to place the blame for the people plight in the city on their backs.
Their lazy, and yet over three hundred turned out to try for one job opening at the local OEO office. The three thousand who turned out for 200 jobs to open up at the old Sears, Roebuck Store. Watch the bus stops at five in the morning as the mothers wait for the bus ride to their maids job in the other America, or those waiting for the ride to the truck farms to work a twelve hour day picking.
One day while talking to my neighbor Jose I mentioned the trouble I was having trying to stop my limestone foundation wall from crumbling.
The following Saturday morning at 7AM we heard a pounding on our house I ran downstairs to find Jose preparing to work on my foundation. After many hours the job was finished properly but Jose refused to be paid he told me that's what a neighbor should do when he is needed.
That's how people in the city treat each other.... they bury the dead, clothe the naked and they feed the hungry.
The supermarkets are gone now along with the business districts. The city at night is a ghost town. No more crowds of shoppers, the streets are now the property of the mugger, addict and the drunk.
So many destructive acts were committed against the old girl that it didn't have a chance at survival.
Maybe someday the Grand Old Girl will rise again from its rubble but that cannot happen without a major commitment from all to restore the nations cities.
For now A Magnificent Lady stands as a memorial to greed, corruption, and indifference.
Frankie was a babe of three when 1 met him in the East Camden neighborhood of Camden, New Jersey. Camden, the warehouse for the poor and destitute a city of total decay.
The city of Camden had become the dumping ground for those in society with little hope of escaping their miserable lot. Life was especially cruel and brutal for the children and elderly.
The city's administration and the police department was for the most part unresponsive to the communities needs. The citizens of the city had been written off by the political system the votes were now in the suburbs. The city was without places of employment and the poor unable to reach the suburbs in order to find work. This then was the environment Frankie was to be raised in he was but one of thousands or millions of children born into utter despair.
When Frankie was five I remember well his first day of school. Frankie was on the corner of our street with his Mom and Grandmother all shined up and pleased with himself.
That day I also met Frankie Sr., Frankie's dad, for the first time. He was not around very much so Frankie saw very little of him. Frankie Sr. was well known to the police for his criminal record was long.
Jr. lived with his mother and grandmother with his mom being on AFDC as the sole support for the family. There were times when other family members also lived in the home.
One day while stacking firewood Frankie came to me and asked if I had heard the news about his dad. I told him I had not and took him to our porch where we could talk. He then told me his dad had been murdered in Philadelphia. He not only told me that news but the gory details. Frankie Sr. had been shot and set on fire on a garbage dump in southwest Philadelphia.
For the first time ever since I had known him Frankie cried. I attempted to console him but what can one say to a seven year old who just lost his dad.
Most of the neighbors said it was very fitting that he had died on a heap of garbage. Frankie Jr., you could see was devastated by the event.
Frankie, became a very angry little boy who now
spoke of getting even for what had happened to his dad. I could see the sadness in his eyes and he increased his
pestering of the neighbors. Frankie threw rocks at windows, set fire to peoples trash on the curb on trash night.
July came on hot and humid that year and life in the city was awful. Arson fires were common and on weekends the streets were full of angry noisy people and crime took no holiday.
Christus Lutheran Church in the neighborhood was about to start its summer camp for children which would last for a six week period. Evelyn and I were members and active in the congregation so I decided to try and get Frankie into the program. First I needed to have Frankie's mother agree.
I explained the program to his Mon and that it might be good for Frankie to have some structure in his life for the long hot summer. His mom appeared to be very positive about the prospect and said she would think it over for a day or so. If Frankie would enter the program there would be trips to museums, the state parks for picnics and swimming, a trip to the planetarium, and lots of arts and crafts.
The following day his mom said she wanted Frankie to take part but that it would cause friction in the home. Her mother was Pentacostal and had violently objected to the idea. Her mother would not change her disposition to the idea and Frankie remained running the streets that hot summer. Frankie and I remained friends until we moved away in eighty-one and I have had no news about Frankie since that time.
The city is no better in the ninety's in fact it is much worse. Little children like Frankie are growing up in the midst of crime and violence and at times dying in the violence. Their plight is shut off from our view which seems to remove our responsibility to offer a helping hand. We can go on with business as usual secure in the foolish notion that everything is fine in America.
We sit in judgment and claim the fault for their lot lays with them. We make no effort to understand and few of us has ever experienced life in the cities ghettos as it really is every single day.
If one really cares and if he listens closely he will hear the Frankie's in our cities crying out to us for love and compassion. They really do deserve to be able to be as children should be, Happy and carefree.
Roy was a man of near thirty five years of age
when we first met during the sixty's. I had often seen Roy walking on crutches through the neighborhoods of Camden, New Jersey.
With all his ailments Roy was very happy at most times with very few complaints. His child like manner could only lift ones spirits.
Once Roy adopted you as a friend, for some reason he became more like a regular member of the family. Since Roy could neither read or write you were often asked to give him a little help in those areas.
Roy had a list of people he considered to be his friends if you appeared on the list you could expect Roy for dinner once or twice a week. During good weather you often found Roy sitting on your doorstep listening to his little radio awaiting the call to dinner. Many of Roy's friends found themselves setting an extra place at the table as if he were a family member.
Many times Roy would ask you to count his money or ask you to call his boarding house to ask for his twenty dollars from his landlord. Roy received $158 from the state each month. The landlord was able to keep all but twenty dollars which had to be given to Roy. Roy's landlord never ceased in attempting to grab that twenty. There were about twenty other people like Roy living in the home and the lady who ran the place did a fairly decent job at providing for there care.
Roy was really no trouble at all except that at times his visits were not convenient but then nothing was convenient for Roy. Many people gave Roy rides, meals, and clothing while also helping him with daily problems.
Children, Roy loved, and for the most part they liked him. Often Roy would scold a child for what he considered to be bad he really got into that with vigor.
Roy was often the victim of crime after all he was not able to defend himself very well. Some business people knew Roy had twenty dollars a month spending money and they soon were able to part the money from Roy. Many times Roy would receive a late notice from a local merchant for goods sold to him on time. I would take the note or letter and tell the merchant that he had received his last payment. My little notes or phone calls to the merchants did not endear me to them.
Roy was an ever present target for those that prey on the weak. What made it worse was that Roy considered those people to be his friends.
One case I remember very well, a pharmacist in South Camden was in the habit of selling Roy pens which Roy would resale for a fraction of their worth. The man knew when he did that that Roy was unable to handle any money since he could not count. When I realized what was going on I called the jackass and warned him to cease the practice or I would have him in great trouble with his company.
Walking the streets of the city as Roy did placed him in danger of muggings and attacks by strong arm robbers and at times he was attacked and robbed.
One evening while Roy was having dinner with us I noticed his epilepsy was acting up. He was very excited and his words were running into each other making it difficult to understand him. I asked Roy what was bothering him and he handed me an unopened letter he had received that morning. I had Roy pass the letter to me so that I could read it to him.
After reading a few lines aloud I then read the letter to myself as I did not want to upset Roy with its contents. The letter was from a fundamentalist pastor of a church in a community on the edge of the city. It was the practice of this church to bus children of the inner city to their services each Sunday and Roy was one of the regular pickups. I guess these people salved their conscience by doing this each Sunday as they ignored these people for the rest of the week.
I held the letter for a few days and each time I read it the madder I became. Finally I called the pastor and told him his letter to Roy was completely uncalled for. I told him Roy was a child like human being who could neither read or write and that I was positive Roy was very generous with his thank you kind sirs. The pastor told me Roy's condition did not relieve him of the responsibility to write a letter of thanks. I told the ass that it would be a cold day in hell before the letter would be written.
Then I got mad, and told him to stop messing with peoples lives and that he was a pompous, pious ass and that his view of the Gospel was to me perverted. I don't believe Roy ever found out what had been in the letter and I assured him everything had been taken care of by me.
One week in the seventies we missed seeing Roy anywhere and I became worried about him. On calling his home we learned Roy had been struck by a hit and run driver and was hospitalized. Rushing down to the hospital there was Roy in a room by himself with all the nurses entertaining him. I was so glad to learn that he was doing fine and would be his old self very soon.
Many people continued to look after Roy's welfare and with help from the state he was placed in an apartment of hie own in one of the local housing projects. Roy was extremely happy to be able to live alone and so were the local business people as they saw a chance to sell him household goods.
Shortly after his move his old place of residence burned down and some of his roommates died in the flames. Roy was very sad for sometime and his friends helped him through those troubled times.
The project Roy now lived in had been built on reclaimed marshland. There were rats as big as cats but Roy's apartment was rodent free and it had been freshly cleaned and painted for his move in. I had never seen Roy happier than he was at this time.
With Roy situated in his own place it was necessary for him to prepare some of his own meals and shopping was a problem for him. The people at the A&P Supermarket near his apartment all lent him a helping hand and soon Roy was able to handle the problem very well.
A friend wrote that Roy was near death from injuries received when struck by another hit and run driver. We continued to receive news about his condition and it seemed Roy would survive this latest accident.
The medics did everything possible for Roy but it was not enough to keep him out of a wheelchair. His legs had been so badly damaged that braces and crutches would no longer be of any help to him. The doctors stated that there was no bone or cartilage left and that they could not repair any of the damage. I really felt terrible for Roy since being able to walk the city was his greatest joy. Roy was no longer able to live by himself and a state agency placed Roy in a boarding home approved by the state.
Then just a couple of years after his accident a letter with a picture from the front page of a newspaper came to us in California. The photo was dated just a few days before Christmas and showed Roy with all his possessions sitting in his wheelchair in the yard behind a boarding home in Merchantville, New Jersey. Roy had been evicted because of nonpayment of rent. This news really stunned us as we thought Roy was still supported by the state.
Through letters and telephone calls we were able to piece together a most distressing story. Roy had received a cash settlement from the accident of $75,000 and he had relocated himself in Merchantville. For Roy that amount of money was like all the money in the world and I'm sure he thought it would last forever.
Roy's generosity made him an easy target of his so called friends to relieve him of his money. Roy gave thousands away and others helped in stripping him of his funds. He was unable to remember where the money had gone nor any of the circumstances under which the money disappeared.
The landlord of course looked like the villain but that was not the case at all. He had called the Department of Adult Services months in advance that Roy was in trouble. No action was taken by the agency and the landlord continued to prod them into action. It took but five months for Roy's so-called friends to relieve him of $75,000 and here was Roy with no shelter or any funds to care for himself.
The one thing that Roy received from the courts award was a color TV and that was the sole possession Roy was left with. The newspaper photo brought a storm of protest which finally brought the state agency out of its deep sleep. The landlord by his action was really the needed action which benefited Roy.
Roy's real friends stood by him in this time of trouble but most mat were of modest means and could not do a whole lot in this situation. The poor of course for the most part took care of the poor. Within the city it was always the poor who helped in the feeding of the hungry, the clothing of the naked, and the burying of the dead.
Those who had helped Roy in the past very seldom complained about Roy's visits or his asking for a favor most said that Roy had been sent to us as a gift. Roy did have a way in bringing out the best in people but it was very sad to know that once more he had been the victim of greed.
Roy was not alone as he had a brother living nearby but he very rarely ever was in contact with him. Each year at Christmas and Easter Roy would plan for a few days to spend with them. There were lots of disappointments for Roy as often the visits were called off.
Today in December 1991 Roy sits in a wheelchair looking forward to another Christmas as do most children, I hope this will not be another Christmas of broken promises for him. Roy is a gift sent by God I am sure. I hope that we have been able to accept that gift as we should have.
John, was a youngster of eleven when we had our first meeting in the mid-seventies. We were neighbors in the neighborhood called East Camden, in the City of Camden, New Jersey.
Camden was still a rather large industrial city along the banks of the Delaware River. During the nineteen-fifties Camden had a population near one hundred thousand and by the seventies that count had dropped to near eighty thousand due to the white flight.
The nineteen-eighties found Camden in utter decline, decent housing was unavailable, and most of the industries had fled to other areas. Unemployment and crime was rising with most neighborhoods in total disrepair.
During the nineteen-fifties real estate brokers made a fortune by buying ups properties dirt cheaps and then dividing the neat small row homes into four and five apartment units. The rents were exorbitant and the rental units beyond discription. One realtor bragged that he had never paid over fifteen hundred dollars for a property.
The city of Camden, by the eighties had become a huge filthy warehouse for the very poor and the elderly who were now trapped in the cesspool of despair.
We lived in a comfortable old home of over one hundred years and John lived nearby also in a very old large home. John, was one of six or seven children and his mother was the sole support for the family plus the family did receive some aid from the welfare system.
John's mother, worked long hot hours in a dry cleaning plant on the edge of the city and his dad spent most of his time drinking. John's father had given up years before on ever finding steady employment.
The boys brothers and sister were already well known to the local police. The sister, a teenager, had been involved in a murder and two brothers had been caught stealing chickens from a railroad car in the freight yard near-by. A brother of nine was already taking "reds" and a brother of fourteen who was deaf was stoned most of the time. John, told me, that he was snatching pocketbooks at the local mall and that he was expected to do that by his older brothers. The boy never wore clothing that fit and so I gave him clothing at times I picked up from our church.
John, was not just another typical young Bunk as some people called him but a boy with an active brain and a fine sense of humor. One afternoon I watched, John as he met groups of girls returning home from the neighborhood^ He would reach into his pocket and show them something at which they would scream and run away. After this had gone on for about thirty minutes John joined me on the front porch. I said, "John what in the hell did you do to those girls?." John reached into his pocket and showed me a jewelry box with a hole in the bottom which was lined with red stained cotton. He had been placing his red stained finger into the box and say to the girls, "look what I just found girls". Looking at the box one would really think at first that they were looking at a finger which had been cut off.
John and I talked many times about school and what he wished he would be able to do later in life. He was very much interested in my Army tales and thought maybe he would try military service some day. I told John he would have to give up pocketbook grabbing at the mall in order to serve in the military.
One day John came to me with his first marking period report card when he was in the fifth grade. I could see that John was bursting with pride and pleased he should have been. He had not missed one day of school and didn't have a mark lower than a "B".
I praised his fine work and we walked around the corner to the local Woolworth fountain for a burger, fries and a shake. He told me no one had made any fuss over his acheivment and that his friends were teasing him for being a teachers pet.
When the next marking period ended 1 asked John if I could see his report and this time there was not one passing grade. Looking over the report I noticed he had been absent twenty eight days. I told John that no one could pass if they were not in class. John said that he was bored silly with school and that no one ever tried to have him attend.
During the next marking period we noticed John being on the street on school days and so we called the City's Chief Truant Officer who said that he would do something about the condition. The official when informed that John was still missing school informed us that it would be better to just forget the whole thing. A neighbor set up a meeting with the officer which he failed to attend. We were being stonewalled by an uncaring jackass who didn't give a damn about the kids or his job.
We never were able to get any satisfaction from the school board or anyone in the administration. That's the way it was in Camden, run them through the system and don't worry if the children don't learn. John was promoted at the end of the year although he had missed fifty eight days of school.
We continued to encourage John in attending school but John would always say what's the use schools a joke. John said his teacher had even given up because of the fights that always broke out in class.
One Sunday morn answering a knock on the door there stood John ready to go to church with us he never went again because his dad had beat him up for going. A few nights later with a loud boom and a bright orange flash the neighborhood was in darkness. When I asked John if his power had been off he said not only that Dave my dad caused the whole mess. The family's power was off because of an unpaid bill and his drunken father in attending to run a line to the house from the overhead lines blew out a transformer almost killing him.
It was very apparent to me that John didn't have anyone who really cared about him but his mother and she was so overwhelmed with life in the city that she had little time for him.
One day while Evelyn and I visited the Woolworth store for forty minutes our home was entered and nothing much of value taken. When I told John he asked me if I suspected anyone and I said yes I think Dave and his gang who were not in school were the ones. Later that afternoon the boy Dave came by to plead with me to get John off his back. He said John was going to cut him for messing with his friends house. I told Dave not to worry John would not harm him. I told John that I only suspected Dave and had no proof he was involved and that to commit another crime was not the way to handle the situation.
Another time someone had taken our new trash can garbage and all. When I told John he said, "I'll go around on High Street and pick you up two new ones". That's the way things were handled in the neighborhood, it was the Golden Rule in reverse, do unto others as they do unto you.
John and I enjoyed a very good friendship for a few good years and 1 think we both enjoyed the times spent together. John, was my teacher, he helped me see more clearly what life in the city was really like.
Seeing the abuse heaped upon the children of the inner city was very depressing, it also caused great anger. The children were victims of the crime of indifference and neglect.
During the winter of 1979 four children we knew died being burned to death when a candle which had been placed on the toilet fell to the floor. The family's electric had been turned off because there was no money to pay the bill. The children's mother and father were both burned in an attempt to save them.
That same winter two very old women froze to death in their un-heated homes. Both had been sitting before an open range oven for heat at the time their gas had been turned off. Being unable to pay for a few gallons of oil and a small gas bill had caused them to lose their lives.
That is the way our children and elderly are being abused in the cities across the richest nation in the world. It's a crime and a national disgrace. 1 find very few people who really care.
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