Monday, July 26, 2010

Amanuensis Monday; Interview with Melvin Lester Newmark - Part 7

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 by a personal historian. My grandfather is discussing dating my grandmother, even though they lived on separate sides of town, and he often didn't have much money beyond what he needed for the car fare to get back and forth.


Interviewer: You did get together?
Melvin: We were always together. I sometimes drove a bicycle.
Interviewer: What about, could you have met at the fraternity house?
Melvin: We went to all fraternity affairs, correct.
Interviewer: Did she go to Wash U too? [Washington University in St. Louis]
Melvin: No, but she says she did, because she did all of my work. She could type, so she would type my essays. And she knew everybody in law school, and she grew up with all of us.
Interviewer: All right, so she didn’t go to college?
Melvin: No.
Interviewer: After high school she was through?
Melvin: She was through.
Interviewer: Was she then working?
Melvin: She did not work, no. What did she do? I think she just took care of me.
Interviewer: We’ll have to ask her.
Melvin: Yeah, you find out from her. I don’t think she did anything.
Interviewer: All right, what year did you get married?
Melvin: 1937.
Interviewer: The year after law school? What was the date?
Melvin: January 10th, 1937.
Interviewer: All right, let’s talk about your wedding.
Melvin: There was not much of a wedding. Nobody could afford anything. We did not have a dinner. There were a few close friends like Cruvy Altman, our cousins or whatnot, we went out for dinner after the wedding dutch treat. We were still at the end of the depression.
Interviewer: But her parents couldn’t swing a wedding at that time?
Melvin: But it was all an affair. There was a table, and snacks and things, but there wasn’t a sit down dinner.
Interviewer: Was the wedding ceremony at home, too?
Melvin: Yes.
Interviewer: Who was the rabbi?
Melvin: Thurman.  [Rabbi Samuel Thurman]
Interviewer: Did you have to go talk to him before you got married like they do today?
Melvin: I think we did, yeah. We became very close to Thurman.
Interviewer: And your family was thrilled you were marrying Sissie?
Melvin: Never expected anything else. Everything was taken for granted.
Interviewer: And you really didn’t date others?
Melvin: I don’t have any other girls I remember, she doesn’t have any other boys
Interviewer: Well, she was so young. What happened after you got married? Did you take a honeymoon?
Melvin: No.
Interviewer: No? What did you do?
Melvin: Nothing.
Interviewer: Where did you go?
Melvin: Well, you see, it so happened. I can tell you now. We’d already been married secretly. We had eloped, I think a year before. How can you keep going together all those years? You’re already…years you know when sex gets to be a part of you…so you have to get married. So we got married. But we kept it a secret.
Interviewer: All right, how did you do that, tell me. Where did you go?
Melvin: Waterloo, Illinois.
Interviewer: And who married you there?
Melvin: Some justice of the peace.
Interviewer: And did he ask how old you were?
Melvin: Yeah, we were both, I think, old enough. Sure we were. And we never told anybody. When we got married, Rabbi Thurman never knew it.
Interviewer: OK, but now, did you ever get together now that you were married? I mean, at whose place?
Melvin: Oh, at her house. We got together all the time. I’d stay there late at night. I’d go home at one o’clock in the morning or something. We were together every day.
Interviewer: That’s terrific. All right, so this was even before you were out of law school?
Melvin: Yeah.
Interviewer: Did you get your own apartment, the two of you?
Melvin: No, we lived at her mother’s house for a little...
Interviewer: Where was their house? San Bonita?
Melvin: 6422 San Bonita.
Interviewer: Was it a house or an apartment?
Melvin: It was a house.
Interviewer: So there was enough space for you?
Melvin: Yes, in her room.
Interviewer: That’s it?
Melvin: Yeah.
Interviewer: All right, and you were perfectly comfortable?
Melvin: Of course.
Interviewer: Interesting, isn’t it, to think about it today?
Melvin: When you think about it, but she had parents I was in love with. I loved her mother and father as my own mother and father. We were very close. It was comfortable.
Interviewer: All right, so what happens to you after law school? What do you do? Where do you go to work?
Melvin: My cousin Cruvy and I became law partners. The firm was Newmark and Altman, and we opened an office in the Title Guaranty building.
Interviewer: Just as neophytes?
Melvin: That’s right. And who was our secretary?
Interviewer: Your wife.
Melvin: [Probably nods here]
Interviewer: Well, that’s perfect. Right?
Melvin: Sure.
Interviewer: But how do you get clients?


Melvin: Well, Abe Altman [Cruvant’s father] would try to push some things to us. He was a lawyer, and was in that building. He had a bigger firm, but for some reason he had no room for two youngsters out of law school.
Interviewer: So he would give you a little work?
Melvin: He would give us a little work. Our family knew a lot of people. And I started out doing a lot of collection work. God, before you knew it, I had more clients collecting accounts. Because nobody paid bills in those days.
Interviewer: So, instead of practicing law, you helped lawyers?
Melvin: Well, no, the law practice was in the collection business. Most of our work was in what was then the JP courts. Justice of the Peace courts.
Interviewer: That put bread on the table.
Melvin: Yeah, we ate. But we didn’t draw too much money. I think I started out, our first year we drew $5 a week.
Interviewer: And you had to pay rent?
Melvin: Yeah, we each put up some money. Cruvy and I. We got by though. And we did that for about a year and a half. And then Abe decided we ought to…so we then became members of his firm. He dropped some of his partners, and the firm became Altman, Granger, Newmark and Altman.
Interviewer: That’s nice. In the same building?
Melvin: In the same building. We had an impressive suite of offices.
Interviewer: You look good.
Melvin: Yes, now the sad thing was Cruvy didn’t want to be a lawyer. He had made a deal with his father that he would practice for two years after he graduated law school. His father took us into his firm I think thinking he would entice Cruvy to stay a lawyer. That’s why we got fancy offices. Oo, I was impressed, believe me. Two years to the day, Cruvy wouldn’t go to the office.
Interviewer: He had made up his mind.
Melvin: Oh, yeah. And where did he go? … He went to Tahiti, and he stayed in Tahiti until war broke out. Well, actually, about two years before war broke out, he came home. He knew that we were going to war. He enlisted in the army before war was declared. He moved and was stationed in Hawaii when war broke out. But he would have nothing to do with St. Louis, and nothing to do with the law practice.
Interviewer: Did it break his father’s heart?
Melvin: Yes it did.
Interviewer: But you stayed?
Melvin: And his father resented me for that, for some reason.
Interviewer: Because you were there.
Melvin: Yeah, but I left the firm.
Interviewer: What year did you find yourself leaving?
Melvin: I think the next year.
Interviewer: A year later? All right, so where do you set up?
Melvin: So I then open an office with some lawyers in the same building, they set me up in an office, and I worked hard, and I started building up a practice.
Interviewer: You had people being referred to you?
Melvin: Yeah, yeah.
Interviewer: What was the other firm’s name?
Melvin: Then I was in business for myself.
Interviewer: All alone?
Melvin: All alone.
Interviewer: And your wife was helping you?
Melvin: Yes, but she wouldn’t come to the office. Then I think we fixed a room at home, and a I did a lot of my secretarial work at home.
Interviewer: Had you had your child yet?
Melvin: Yeah.
Interviewer: All right, and at this time, you’re still with the Altmans?
Melvin: 1938, yes.
Interviewer: And your wife can’t be secretary, can she?
Melvin: No, because she’s busy with
Interviewer: The kid. And you’re still living at her parents?
Melvin: No, I think we go housekeeping, and we have our first apartment on Cates Avenue. In the 6200 block, I believe.
Interviewer: And you were thrilled to have your own place?
Melvin: Oh my god yes. We had pretty furniture. I was not doing too badly then. We could only afford one car, and we were getting by.
Interviewer: And did she come down eventually to help you?
Melvin: No, she never did. Whatever work
Interviewer: She did it at home.
Melvin: Yeah.
Interviewer: But you were downtown?
Melvin: I was downtown. Nobody was in Clayton.


1) I'm glad my grandfather decided to mention their elopment.  It was no longer a secret from the family at the time the interviews were conducted, but he began the discussion of his marriage by talking about the second ceremony.  Old habits must die hard.  When the personal historian interviewed my grandmother a week later, she didn't mention the elopement either.

2) My grandfather's cousin, Cruvant William Altman (1914-2008), ultimately returned to the legal profession.  He was two years younger than my grandfather, which could partly explain why he wasn't ready to settle down into a career yet.

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