On the way home from Los Angeles, my parents and I stopped off in
Chicago to visit with Aunt Bert, who had now been married for almost two years to Scott
Cunningham. He was a charming man, and, at 24 years of age, ten years her junior. Highly
intellectual, Scott owned an advertising business and collected first editions. The walls
of their apartment living room soared to almost thirteen feet and were lined throughout
with built-in book cases, just about every one crammed with editions that today would
bring enough to settle a fair part of the national debt.
I had, for birthdays and holidays, always received a book and/or a
classical record from Bert before she was married, afterwards, from both of them. Scott,
who appeared to have no particular love of children, took to me because we talked about
the books theyd sent and my mother had read to me. He showed me how to open a new
volume by "cracking" the spine ever so gently in the center first, then about
every thirty or forty pages in each direction, then each of the covers. It was from them
that I picked up book collecting (though on no such massive scale), good reading habits,
and a love of classical music.
Bert had given up teaching and I dont believe she ever missed it,
though years later shed reminisce with me. Her proudest moments were when a student
only a year away from graduation would approach her desk and announce, "Miss
Wohlfeld, I think Im gonna quit school and go to work where I can make some
Shed answer, "Fine, Robert (or whomever) I think thats
a delightful idea! With you out of the classroom Ill have more time to spend with
each of my students who are left. Since class is still in session, and your ditch
diggers job will still be there tomorrow, you may take your seat for the remainder
of the day." She never lost a student.
When we finally got back to New York, in early fall of 1929, my parents decided to move
to Sunnyside, Long Island, a developing part of Queens just across the East River from
Manhattan. Sunnyside, and all of Queens, was then no more than open fields. We took an
apartment on the sixth floor of a seven-story building. It was the first building on Long
Island (and one of the few in all of New York) to have a self-service elevator. All around
us were empty lots. Here and there, in the distance, was a private home. There were just
enough residents in the area for the A&P to open a grocery store, and for a butcher
and a dry cleaner to make a decent living.