A Personal Memoir

1932 - 1947

Baby Henry

In the beginning - a prologue.

I was born on February 5, 1930 in a "lying in" facility (instead of the more expensive Ellis Hospital) on the corner of Rugby Road and Glenwood Boulevard. My mother, Frieda Jennings Maltz, was born in Hamburg, Germany on August 29, 1899. My dad, Alexander Samuel Maltz, was born in Kisvarda, Hungary on February 26, 1900. They were both tailors. Dad, after an aborted shoe store apprenticeship, became a tailoring apprentice in Hungary. Upon graduation, as was the custom, he became a journeyman tailor. He was a member of the tailoring union and worked for employers in Budapest, Hungary; Berlin and Hamburg, Germany. He met mother at a dance at the Hungarian Club in Hamburg in 1923.

Mom and Dad in 1929

She had been apprenticed to learn her trade in a clothing factory in Hamburg. In 1923, at the height of the disastrous German inflation, she related how on payday Grandma Jennings would wait outside the factory windows with the other worker relatives for the money. It had to be spent before the currency's value dropped below the price of a loaf of bread. When she met Dad she had risen to the position of forelady in production. He left for the United States in that year and promised to return for her. Working in the New York City "sweat shops" of the needle trades, he saved every cent he could to have the independence of not fearing loss of his job. He rented a room on an upper floor of a building, not realizing the elevated trains ran just outside the window. Finding it impossible to sleep, Dad left after one night. After a period in the city, he went to Flint, Michigan and worked for his uncle who owned a clothing store.

In 1929 he returned to Germany and they were married before a judge in Hamburg, honeymooning in a cabin on the beautiful lake called Bodensee before setting sail for America. Since his Hungarian friend from Hamburg, Alexander Hay – a toolmaker working for General Electric, had moved to a city called Schenectady Dad decided to settle here.

We lived in a flat on Hulett Street near Albany Street where Dad had a shop two blocks up, near Fire Station #5. His shops actually had three locations, all within a block of each other. One was opposite McClyman Street (with Henry's Cycle Shop on the corner) in the rear of a barber shop. We lived in the flat over the shop. The house had a nice yard in the back for me. We then moved to the building on the corner of Martin Street which housed Juno’s brake repair business and our shop. I grew up on Albany Street in Schenectady behind the family tailor shop. Our next door neighbors were the Zamjohn's. Mr. Zamjohn was the owner of a shoe store and they had a daughter Doris who, with the two Jaffe brothers, were my constant play partners. I dimly remember her twin brother who bled to death after a tonsillectomy. We played marbles on the dirt strip between the curbs and sidewalk on the other side of the street.

Shirley and Kitty

Sister Shirley was born on April 15, 1935 in the midst of the Great Depression. I still remember Dad railing over the unfairness of his having to pay the staggering Ellis Hospital bill in cash payments while a fireman in Station #5 right next door was covered by insurance from the city for his child’s birth. I went to grade school at Halsey School, on the next corner (Steuben Street) across the street. It was brick with a stone foundation and stone front steps. I could occasionally hear the sounds of a boy being spanked by the principal for naughty behavior. We had a pretty usual kindergarten with the alphabet around the walls and soft cotton carpets to lie on for our naps. The school had, it seemed to me, very old school books with a lot of references to “stiles” (referring to steps to go over stone farm fences). After learning to write with fat pencils and yellow paper with lines for letter heights, we learned to use pen and ink – a steel quill pen and ink wells on the desk top to dip the pen into.

In 1939 the family decided to move West to California. Dad had bought a 1930 Buick 6 and a small two-wheel trailer for our possessions, including their Singer sewing machines. There were, of course, no interstate highways. Our trip was on State highways and through all the cities; very slow going. The route was on Route 5 through Buffalo, then Cleveland, South of Chicago through Joliet, Des Moines, Iowa with their beautiful electric street buses. Stopping in Denver, Colorado Dad and I climbed all the way to the top of the Capitol building for a breathtaking view of the Rockies. He saw an ad in the Denver Post offering to sell a business in Durango, Colorado and decided to check out the location for a tailor shop. After a frightening trip over steep mountain passes, going miles in second gear, we arrived in the small mining and railroad town. Disheartened by the buildings appearance and it’s drunken owner, we returned to the highway to Pueblo. There was highway construction near Gallup New Mexico which was a nightmare of detours in soft sand where, naturally, we got stuck occasionally. Just outside Flagstaff, Arizona the trailer frame broke and we had to stay for a time in the nearby State Park while the hitch repaired by welding. At the State line of California the highway patrol was stopping all cars. One item was a search for plants not allowed to be brought in. The second was more ominous: we were asked if we were “Okies” from Oklahoma fleeing the drought (memorialized in the book “The Grapes of Wrath” by John Steinbeck). Convinced that we were indeed from New York and could support ourselves (not looking for jobs), we proceeded through Needles, Barstow, and Cajon Pass into San Bernardino.

We lived in San Bernardino for about seven months, over the Winter of 1940. Dad opened a tailor shop on Baseline Avenue and I went to Riley School where they advanced me a grade since the New York schools were a bit more advanced academically. The curriculum was quite Hispanic: We learned the history of California, about the chain of missions established by Father Junipero Serra and several songs in Spanish. Though the nights were cool, daytime temperatures were steadily in the 90’s and our parents feared the summer temperatures because Mom didn’t do well in the heat. In the Spring of 1941 we returned to Schenectady. Dad rented the small store adjoining Mr. Zamjohn’s shoe store – right next to Fire Station #5 and we lived temporarily in a cabin on the Hay’s property. The store next door opened up and we returned where we had left so recently. Our residence was on the boundary (Martin Street) of the Central Park Junior High, a considerable distance to walk so Dad talked the City Schools into letting me enroll in Washington Irving School. My friend, Seymour Dall, lived on Emmett Street so we walked to school together.

The venerable John Bigsbee crossing guard, Mr. Henry Sager in 1952.

Mr. Sager in 1952.

Meanwhile, Mom and Dad were looking for a house to purchase. After checking out the houses for sale Dad made the acquaintance of Mr. Grabo, insurance man and real estate salesman, who showed us the house that I live in to this day. We moved into the house on Amsterdam Avenue in November, 1941. Of course, this meant going to a new school, John Bigsbee Union Free School, at the intersection of Curry Road and Altamont Avenue for the remainder of the seventh grade and eighth grade. The principal, Mr. Craw, was an austere man who taught Civics classes. My most vivid memory of my time at Bigsbee was that I was selected to ring the bell for school in the morning (a real bell with a pull rope) and to ring the bells for class change. It was really hard to remember the period bell when I became immersed in the class and I remember missing quite a few. When I was chosen salutatorian for the eighth grade class my teacher, Mrs. Amazon, invited me to her apartment on Chrisler Avenue to work on my address. The ceremony was held in the gymnasium in the rear of the school and I managed to skip a few paragraphs of my speech due to faulty memory.

In the Fall of 1944 classes started in Draper High School on Draper Avenue. The school was 2.2 miles away and we had no school bus (outlying districts such as Guilderland and the Town of Princetown did) I rode my bicycle to school every day, Winter and Summer. Most of the students either walked or used the regular Schenectady Transportation buses (a six block walk for me to the corner of Curry Road and Altamont Avenue –in front of John Bigsbee School – for me). We were eligible for special tokens at 5 cents but you had to go to the office on State Street near Lafayette to purchase them. Graduation took place in June, 1947 in the Draper High auditorium. I had been a member of the orchestra for my first three years under Arthur Bennington and had been chosen as literary editor of the yearbook. I had worked part-time at Gershon’s Market next door to Bigsbee school.

The Draperian 1947-Honor Students

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Memoir 1:1932-1947 Birth to Draper HS Memoir 2:1947-1957 Apprentice to Bldg.46 Memoir 3:1957-1966 LSTG to LAC
Memoir 4:1966-1972 LAC to Foundry Memoir 5:1975-1977 Layout to Toolroom Memoir 6:1977-1990 Bldg.285 Toolroom

Original: November 18, 2003;January 16,2005; Updated July 17, 2008.