My fathers mother had died when he was sixteen with the wish on
her lips that he get an education. Hed quit school at age eleven to go to work as a
runner in Wall Street. His lone sister, Minnie, had to leave school at the tender age of
thirteen and take care of the house, cooking and cleaning for a father and four brothers.
In 1901, when he was sixteen years old, Dad started evening school.
While he worked days, he took night courses in bookkeeping and Spencerian penmanship. His
hand-written letters were things of beauty, but the way he could write a line of numbers
across an unlined page was truly amazing for its evenness. By the time hed reached
twenty-five, he was head bookkeeper at a top Wall Street brokerage house, Bache & Co.,
where fourteen years before hed started as a messenger boy.
Shortly after the first World War, he went into the brokerage business
with a man named Gilligan. They, along with brokers from other firms, traded stocks
outdoors year round, stamping their feet on the sidewalk in the coldest weather to keep
some feeling in them. This stock exchange was naturally called "The Curb." Some
years later, after WWII, the Curb bought a building, moved indoors, and, changed its name
to the American Stock Exchange (AMEX), but by then Dad had been out of Wall Street for
In 1928, he began to get an uneasy feeling about the stock market and
decided to get out. His youngest brother, Walter, had opened a hat factory that made red
buckram firemen hats for kids. These sold in Woolworths Five & Ten Cent stores
for a nickel. My father joined Walter and ran the office with the help of a
bookkeeper/secretary. Walter managed the factory, a four-story building at 2 Bond Street,
of which they rented the bottom two floors.
The hats were sort of cute.
My Dad, Harry Jacobson, eating breakfast on terrace in apartment on West
One afternoon, the doorbell of our apartment rang and, when Nellie
answered it, two men wearing white brought my father in on a stretcher. As they passed me,
standing in the living room, my father gave me a smile. He was forty-three and hed
had a mild stroke. In those days they didnt take you to a hospital unless you were
really injured and dying, or having a baby.
My mother, God bless her, had an inborn equanimity in a crisis. When
she arrived home and was told the news, she telephoned our family doctor (who had already
been to see my Dad), got the report, and went to work nursing him back to health.
Fortunately, he seemed to suffer no lasting mental or physical impairment. But several
months later, he started to go blind in his left eye. Hed be fine one minute, and
then the next, whammo, no sight in that eye. The condition would last for upwards of a
week. Then, the sight would return.
Our family physician, Dr. Friedman, a kindly, gray-haired man, who had
brought me into the world, sent my father from one eye specialist to the other. No one
could find an answer. Finally, it was decided that he take six months off from work and
travel to a dry climate. In those days, doctors decreed "a dry climate" if they
couldnt find any other answers.
We couldnt afford to keep Nellie. I was not yet six years old at
the time, and I remember that our parting was tearful on both sides, for her as well as
for me. I felt I was losing a second mother. Most of us are lucky to have one mother who
cares for us, kisses our scrapes, and picks us up when we fall. I had two, and it was
heart wrenching for me as Nellie kneeled to give me a last big hug.
I spent my sixth birthday in Phoenix, Arizona where two important
events occurred: 1) I got my first job, and 2) my father got an answer for his recurring
We rented an apartment on the second floor of a duplex, just a few
streets away from downtown and its biggest and grandest hotel. A young man stood near the
hotel entrance hawking the Evening Gazette. (I guess I considered him a man, though on
reflection he was just a teenager.) Before long, I was standing there with him, helping
with his brisk business. A few days later, an older man (I could tell, because this one
had a mustache) who delivered bundles of the paper to my confrere, asked if Id like
to have a paper route of my own.
Twenty minutes later, my parents, who were taking some air on the front
porch, saw me approaching, barefooted, in a one-piece bathing suit (after all, it gets to
116° in the shade during summer), with a bundle of newspapers under one arm. In my
childs alto voice I cried out, as Id picked up from my former partner,
"Evening Gazette, payyyyyy-pur. One cent!" I made my first sale to a nice
looking, grinning, couple (my parents) who gave me a penny and told me not to be late for
Mom and Dad played bridge many evenings with a nice couple who were
permanent residents and had an apartment near ours. One evening during the game,
Dads left eye went blind. He put his hand up to it, and this led to the long story
about the stroke. When hed finished, the couple insisted he see their doctor, a
family physician, but my father remonstrated, saying that a general practitioner could
hardly do what a whole series of eye specialists had failed to. But, at two dollars for an
office visit, he was talked into it.
This doctor asked my father a lot of questions and examined him
thoroughly. "Mr. Jacobson," he said "have your tonsils out, theyre
extremely enlarged." When we returned home to New York, thats just what he did,
and he never had an eyesight problem again.