Attitude and Gratitude: Chapter Sixteen

During our stay at the hotel, we went apartment hunting and found a lovely place at 390 Parkside Avenue in Brooklyn, one block from Prospect Park. The features that attracted us were the presence of a doorman and an elevator, both not being very common in the rental price range that we could afford. It was axiomatic that one should allocate a week’s wage for a monthly rental of an abode. Since I was earning $20 and Hilda was earning the same amount, we were able to pay $40 for our apartment.

We had a fairly large bedroom, nice size living room ‑ which was used as an eating area as well – and a full kitchen “in the wall”. It contained an oven, refrigerator, sink and cabinets; the entire area was covered by a drape when not in use. Although the culinary part of our apartment was very limited in space, Hilda, being a great hostess, constantly invited our parents and siblings to Sunday lunches and dinners. Also, our friends and my fellow accountants at Clarence Rainess were at our home for parties and get-togethers quite often. We also made a “sweet‑sixteen party” for Chippy and, believe it or not, no boys were invited, slightly different than today.

Hilda’s first try at cooking occurred when she invited our parents and all our siblings for a late lunch on a Sunday afternoon. She was preparing for eleven persons. On the previous evening, we went shopping on Flatbush Ave. for the food to be dispensed on the following day. My poor wife was very apprehensive lest she screw up her first attempt at being a “bale busta” (competent housewife). She decided on serving as a main dish, potatoes with sour cream and cake and coffee for dessert. We bought a 25 lb. bag of Idaho potatoes and my contribution to the lunch was peeling the contents of the entire bag. I can still see myself sitting on a small ladder, which was ½ in the kitchen and ½ in the living room, peeling away. Unfortunately, not ever doing this type of work, most of the potatoes ended up looking like small pebbles. You can just imagine the laughter that ensued when Hilda examined my handiwork.

About 2 hours prior to the expected arrival of our guests, my wife filled four large pots with potatoes and placed them on the stove and started her extremely “difficult” debut in the culinary art. Before the cooking finished, lo and behold, all the guests arrived at once. My mother seeing four large pots on the stove and steam emanating from them could not hold back her immediate respect and admiration for her daughter-in-law, remarking in Yiddish: “Ilda, I didn’t know that you are such a bale busta.” Her inquisitiveness getting the better part of her, she began lifting the covers of each pot consecutively. After lifting the first cover, she exclaimed: “potatoes,” she lifted the second cover and again cried out “potatoes?” She repeated this twice more and burst into loud laughter, as did all the other guests.

After two years of working for Clarence Rainess & Co., and receiving two raises to $20 per week and laboring during the tax season ‑ January through April 15 ‑ till 10 p.m. Monday‑Thursday and normal hours on Saturdays and Sundays, I felt that I was very much underpaid. Mr. Schwartz kept telling me that I had a bright future with the firm and should be patient as he was very pleased with my work. Be as it may, when Papa Friedfeld suggested that I join the accounting firm who he engaged, I immediately concurred with his proposal when he informed me that George Muhlstock & Co. offered me a starting salary of $35.00 per week. In May of 1941, I changed employers.

My new firm was located at 1441 Broadway, also in the garment center one block from my previous office. It was smaller than my previous firm and consisted of George, senior partner; David Medoff, junior partner and three semi‑senior accountants, including myself; there were no junior accountants. Consequently, everyone on the staff was capable of handling audits alone; although there were audits that one of the partners accompanied one of the others. Most of our clients were lingerie and negligee manufacturers located on the East side of Manhattan on and around Madison Avenue between East 28 Street and East 34 Street.

When I joined the firm in 1941, we were one of the leading accountants in this trade despite our small staff. We grew very rapidly by gaining many new clients and, as a consequence, the number of employees grew substantially; forcing a move to larger quarters to 21 East 40th Street off Madison Avenue. My forte of being a fast auditor again was recognized and I was the one selected to handle out‑of-town clients.

By coincidence, Philadelphia was again the city that I visited. Twice monthly I made the trip; the clients being blouse and dress mfrs. I enjoyed working for Muhlstock as George and I got along famously. One of our lingerie clients was Bernard Bregstein & Co. where Hilda’s aunt Buddy was the head bookkeeper. After several months of auditing her company, George regretfully informed me that I was taken off this audit because Bregstein feared collusion between Buddy and me.

Other clients whose audits I conducted were: Pearl Dress Co., whose bookkeeper was my sleeping companion; lingerie mfrs; namely, Diamond-Walter Corp., Siren Silk Undergarment Corp., Miss Emily Lingerie, Inc., Max Gussow Lingerie Co., Benbasset Lingerie, Inc. Others included a lace manufacturer and a textile dyeing and finishing establishment; there were several others that I cannot recall at this time.

One other, in particular, comes to my mind. This was Wellwood Cemetery located in Farmingdale, L.I. whose business office was on Seventh Ave. at 41st Street. Since I handled this audit, I was offered a great deal in the purchase of cemetery plots. I was able to buy 8 graves in the private section very near to the entrance and administration building for $400 payable over a period of 4 years with no interest. When I informed Mama about this, she thought that I was mad to be concerned about death at such a young age; but I always took advantage of a bargain.

In September 1941, our lease expired and we felt that we required a larger apartment; so, emulating my father’s love for apartment hunting, I started to read the newspaper realty ads. As both of us were busy working, we were limited to ads, rather than scouring the neighborhoods in securing an abode. Our choice was an apartment at 189 East 34th Street, off Church Avenue, slightly less than a mile from our previous residence. It was a 3 story walk‑up building with a large courtyard with entrances to the lobbies on both sides of the yard. Our apartment was on the third floor and consisted of a fairly large bedroom, living room and a full kitchen. The attractions of our new residence was having a full kitchen, 4 short blocks to the subway station at Nostrand and Church Avenues and a reduction of the monthly rental to $38.

At about this time, a serious issue arose in our marital life. Animated discussions between us emanated from things that my mother or her father said or did. Never were there disagreements resulting from our statements nor actions concerning either one of us. After speaking to our friends, years later, we discovered that our dilemma was not unique but was quite common; during the first or second year of marriage, arguments arose primarily about family matters. What irked me more than anything was my wife’s refusal to speak to me after each and every argument.

I remember leaving for work with her every morning, stopping at a diner for breakfast, sitting next to her on the subway, arriving at our respective stations and not a word passed between us. When I returned home after a day’s work, I was served my dinner in complete silence.

We would retire to our respective beds at night-Orthodox couples slept in separate beds because of nidah (the menstrual period); again no communication, verbally or otherwise. Many times I would attempt to begin a conversation and was always rebuffed. Two or three weeks would elapse before we recommenced conversing.

After suffering for about one year and being completely at a loss of a solution to this very grave problem, I turned to her father for advice. I expected him to recognize the severity of our marital discord and tell me that he would speak to her and have her change her ways. He floored me when he laughed and said: “She is the image of her mother; I’ve been living with this problem all my life.” I was in a less jocular mood and replied that if she did not change, his daughter would be returning to his household very shortly; since we were still childless I would not hesitate for one moment in seeking a divorce. In very emphatic terms I repeated this ultimatum to my wife.

Evidently, Hilda realized that Mac was very much in earnest and would not hesitate to enforce his threat. She immediately ceased her childish behavior and became the loving companion that she was prior to the marriage and has never repeated her silent treatment of me regardless of any disagreement or dispute that followed throughout our marriage. In fact, whenever we had an argument, which is quite common in any marriage, each of us would nip it in the bud by saying: “Mac, I heard you, that’s enough” or “Hil, don’t belabor the point, I understand fully what you’re saying.” To allow the quarrel to continue or fester only leads to statements being made by both parties which are regretted when cooler heads prevail.

Fortunately, the episodes of our strong disagreements were very rare and our sons were spared a home filled with discord. In fact, they told us when they were teen‑agers that they hoped to emulate their parents’ relationship when they married.

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