My first memories from childhood are about World War II; we had air-raid drills at school and blackouts at night. We knew about the concentration camps where people were tortured and every week there seemed to be a new movie to scare us half to death. Despite this, we still played kid's games like stoop ball, stick ball, hand ball, and dodge ball.
We lived in New York City in Greenwich Village in a very tall and narrow house that had a victory garden for vegetables. So much food was going overseas for our soldiers that we had rationing at home. Everybody had to do their share, so we grew our vegetables and saved our cooking fats. If we didn't eat everything on our plates, our mother would always say "Eat your food - think of all those starving children in Czechoslovakia."
|Our family was in the meat business so it was normal dinner conversation to talk about the food shortages and coupon books needed to buy meat. My grandpa Sam (who started Hygrade) talked about the hungry in the world and always said that when the war was over, it would be America's job (and Hygrade's) to feed them. At the same time, the radio was the focal part of our family's social life. In the evening, no one was allowed to talk until Walter Winchell finished his news broadcast. During the day we heard Red Barber's play by play of the Brooklyn Dodger games, and on Saturday nights we listened to the weekly Hit Parade and tried to guess the number one song of the week.
For me, music seemed to be everywhere; Andre, our tailor, played opera, and Nick, our barber, played Dixieland. There was Benny Goodman and
Glenn Miller. Everyone knew the songs from the Broadway musicals "This is the Army" and "Oklahoma" and sang them all the time. We also knew all the songs about the Air Force, the Navy, and the Marines. And then there were the movie musicals like "Meet Me in St. Louis" with Judy Garland, and "Give My Regards To Broadway" with Dan Dailey.
So when I look back, my earliest memories are about meat and music.
Samuel Slotkin, my grandfather.