Monday, June 28, 2010

Amanuensis Monday: Interview with Melvin Lester Newmark - Part 6

Amanuensis: A person employed to write what another dictates or to copy what has been written by another.

I continue my project to transcribe family letters, journals, audiotapes, and other historical artifacts. Not only do the documents contain genealogical information, the words breathe life into kin - some I never met - others I see a time in their life before I knew them. If you choose to join me in Amanuensis Monday and post your transcriptions, feel free to add a link to your post in the comments.

This week I continue transcribing an interview of my paternal grandfather, Melvin Lester Newmark, conducted in 1987.  He is discussing his high school years.


Interviewer: Well, so, you kids. Did you have summer jobs, too?
Melvin: Yes.
Interviewer: Different jobs in summer?
Melvin: Yes. I worked in so many jobs I couldn’t remember where I worked. I know I never failed to be working in the summer time.
Interviewer: And that was something expected of you?
Melvin: Of course. That was where my spending money came from.
Interviewer: So you took a full-time summer job, so to speak.
Melvin: Always. I think I worked every summer.
Interviewer: Did you work in any stores? Like department stores?
Melvin: You name it, I worked there.
Interviewer: Famous? Stix?
Melvin: Sure.
Interviewer: Doing something?
Melvin: Always.
Interviewer: Anytime a salesman?
Melvin: Salesman in the men’s department. This, or that. All kinds of work. But usually selling ties, or underwear
Interviewer: Whatever they needed?
Melvin: Yeah. Xmas time I always worked the department stores.
Interviewer: So you were industrious?
Melvin: Had to. And I liked it anyway.
Interviewer: All right. So what year did you graduate from Beaumont?
Melvin: 1931, January.
Interviewer: And what did you do when it was January? Were you going to Washington University?
Melvin: I couldn’t go to school until the following September ’31. And then I entered college.
Interviewer: What did you do that semester?
Melvin: I probably worked somewhere, but I’d be hard pressed to tell you where.
Interviewer: All right, tell me your first memories of Washington U.
Melvin: I was impressed, and awed. I think they were very very tough with us, but I wanted to join a fraternity, but my family couldn’t afford to let me join a fraternity, so I did not belong to a fraternity, though my cousin, Cruvant Altman belonged to A-E-Pi. And I sort of became a non-dues paying member of A-E-Pi. So my whole life revolved around - I am now officially a member of A-E-Pi – But in those days I couldn’t afford the initiation fee.
Interviewer: Even though you had saved money?
Melvin: It wasn’t enough.
Interviewer: Interesting isn’t it?
Melvin: I had to live.
Interviewer: You contributed your work money to the family?
Melvin: To pay for my own…in other words, they didn’t have to give me an allowance, or give me any money.
Interviewer: You might have bought your own clothes.
Melvin: Right, right. They would also buy some. But I’d augment what they could do.
Interviewer: That was good.
Melvin: Yeah. But I didn’t have to pay, I didn’t have to turnover my salary to my father.
Interviewer: What about books? Did you have to buy books?
Melvin: I had to buy all of my books, and I would usually end up at the end of the school year without any books. I would sell the books for spending money.
Interviewer: At the end of each year?
Melvin: Before the year ended. Much before the year ended.
Interviewer: Oh really?
Melvin: Oh yes. I rarely held on to a book all through the year. I needed the money.
Interviewer: So how did you study?
Melvin: It worked out.
Interviewer: What courses were your loves?
Melvin: I only had two years of college, that’s all I needed in those days to get into law school.
Interviewer: And you knew you wanted to be a lawyer?
Melvin: There was never any question.
Interviewer: Really?
Melvin: I don’t know. For some reason my parents may have thought maybe I would become a doctor. That was the dream of all Jewish parents, but I had an uncle, my mother’s sister, Flora, was married to a lawyer, Abe Altman, and he was the only professional man in our families, so that’s what appealed to me. Because I knew everyone looked up to Abe Altman.
Interviewer: So you thought, “good idea?”
Melvin: Yeah, “I’ll go to law school.” and I ended up doing that.
Interviewer: So, two years as an undergraduate, and then
Melvin: Three years of law school.
Interviewer: You just applied for it, and they accept you?
Melvin: Yeah. I don’t think we had to take entrance exams.
Interviewer: Did you have to take an exam to get into Washington U?
Melvin: Yes. Yeah, because my grades in school weren’t good enough at high school.
Interviewer: So you took an entrance exam? And you took it up at the school?
Melvin: At the school.
Interviewer: At the end of your high school?
Melvin: Yes. That’s right, I’d forgotten about that. Just the other day – I’m going to have dinner with that fellow tonight. We both took it. We often talk about it. Al Gerber. He’s become tremendously successful.
Interviewer: All right, so he was in law school with you?
Melvin: Yeah, no, he didn’t go to law school. I was very close to my cousin Cruvant Altman. Cruvant’s an unusual first name.
Interviewer: Flora’s son?


Melvin: Flora’s son. Flora was a Cruvant, as my mother was a Cruvant, and she gave him that name. [..]
Interviewer: Tell me about your memories of your law school years.
Melvin: I loved law school.
Interviewer: You lived at home?
Melvin: I lived at home. I walked to school every day. But Cruvant – the Altmans lived immediately across the street from the University. On – what’s that street? – Immediately across the street by the streetcar tracks. Millbrook. They had an apartment there. They were affluent. And I had most of my lunches there with Cruvy.
Interviewer: That’s nice.
Melvin: And I usually spent the weekends there too. I was very close to them.
Interviewer: Because socially it was good.
Melvin: That’s right.
Interviewer: Were you dating girls by this time?
Melvin: You know, I hardly ever dated anyone except my wife.
Interviewer: Well, we better introduce her. Where did you meet her?
Melvin: She says she was 12 years old at the time.
Interviewer: All right, what’s her name?
Melvin: Her name was then Belle, B E Double-L E Feinstein. She had a brother Benny, who, if he were alive, would be my age. He died some years ago.
Interviewer: So you knew Benny?
Melvin: Benny and I were buddies.
Interviewer: From where?
Melvin: I don’t know. I’ve pressed my memory, but I can’t recall. We often talk about that. I knew Benny. And I knew that I used to sleep over at their house. They lived on San Bonita. And when I was still in high school I would sleep at their house on weekends. We were buddies.
Interviewer: Do you think you went to B’nai El together? You and Benny?
Melvin: I don’t think so.
Interviewer: Well, he wasn’t in your neighborhood.
Melvin: Because they were all products of United Hebrew.
Interviewer: Oh, but you weren’t in the neighborhood with him. Perhaps you met him at one of your jobs?
Melvin: At one of my jobs, and we were buddies, and I hung around his house. And he had this little sister. And she was too young to even think about having a boyfriend.
Interviewer: When was she born?
Melvin: She’s two years younger than I am. August 14
Interviewer: 1914
Melvin: Correct.
Interviewer: All right. So she was there in your life.
Melvin: Right. On her sixteenth birthday – I don’t think I was invited to her sixteenth birthday party. I remember being there, though. I think because I hung around with her brother. I think she had a boyfriend then. But it wasn’t long after than that we started going steady. We were never separated.
Interviewer: Even before you got out of high school?
Melvin: No, I finished high school.
Interviewer: By this time you were at Washington U?
Melvin: Right. When I started with Washington University I started with Sissie. Her name, Babe called her Sissie, she’s his sister, I called her Sissie. To this day everybody calls her Sissie.
Interviewer: And she likes it.
Melvin: She won’t go by any other name. She refuses to be called Belle.
Interviewer: You knew her in the family.
Melvin: Our families became very close. Her mother and father and my mother and father became inseparable. And every Sunday we’d picnic together.
Interviewer: And they would come to the family picnics.
Melvin: Right
Interviewer: After you were engaged?
Melvin: We were never engaged. It was just assumed that someday we would get married.
Interviewer: Did you wait until you got out of law school?
Melvin: Sure.
Interviewer: So you’re out of law school. What year is this?
Melvin: Sixty-Three. Wait a minute. Thirty-six.
Interviewer: What did you all do on dates?
Melvin: Well, we couldn’t do much. Honest to god, you wouldn’t believe it if I hadn’t – in order to get from her house to my house, I needed a dime for car fare. But sometimes I’d put the dime in a handkerchief and put it in my pocket, and we couldn’t spend it, or otherwise I couldn’t go home.


1) It's interesting comparing my grandfather's discussion of how he met my grandmother, with my grandmother's narrative from her interview.  They're in agreement that they began dating following her sixteenth birthday, and during the nine months between my grandfather's graduation from high school, and starting college.

 2) The two families became quite close, with both sets of parents vacationing together in later years.  However, my great grandparents don't seem to have been close before my grandparents met.  Though, Herman Feinstein managed a laundry, and Barney Newmark changed his career from tailoring to laundry in the 1920s, so there was a possible professional connection there.

3) It is questionable how my grandfather knew my grandmother's older brother.  They attended different synagogues, different high schools, and lived in a different area of town.  What's likely is that they had a mutual friend that somehow connected the two of them.

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