By literary sleight of hand, we now fast forward from our previously portrayed, childhood days of the 1940s, in East New York, Brooklyn: of the apartment house windows emitting redolent, identifiable intelligence as to the next dinner, of the high-pitched screech and blue electric sparks of the public trolleys, the Yiddish-Slavic accented shouts of mothers from kitchen windows to neighbors and children, the grey rope clotheslines with tan, wooden clothespins, spanning the back alleys of residential buildings, the gothic basement coal chutes, Ebbitt’s Field and the Brooklyn Dodgers, the few remaining horse-drawn carts, to the era of the late ’50s-’60s, evincing our late teens, the era of the Army-McCarthy Hearings, and timorously, the time for College Application.
Throughout young childhood and adolescence, we, in common with most contemporary firstborn, Jewish children, most especially, male children, were, on a regular basis, made aware that we not only had a personal responsibility to succeed at college, [and hopefully, beyond college, in some profession preferably, medical] but a sacred moral obligation to our suffering foreign-born parents to complete the mission underlying their immigrational sacrifice. The sanctity and the importance of such compelling mission to academically succeed and attain professional status was, of cardinal importance.
Unfortunately, for many submissively compliant and able students, such as we, the potential joys of learning and the exciting acquisition of previously unrealized enlightenment, were sadly overridden by the imposed, and compliantly integrated [neurotic] impetus to do well. During homework and study hours, our parents observed radio [and, later when we could afford it, T.V.] silence. Conversations were between our parents, during such periods, were abbreviated and virtually subliminal in volume. The unnatural and enforced silence was virtually palpably noticeable and did little to alleviate our anxiety nor materially improve our concentration. Nevertheless, we excelled at our high school studies, earning an excellent grade average which made College a practical reality.
We will eternally remain grateful to the institution of The City University of New York, regarding which, provided the applicant met the strictures of a determined high school grade average, [or who passed a required entrance examination] could enter one of its tuitionless schools. Our grade average more than satisfied the required standard and entitled us to four, financially existential, tuition-free years, at the excellent Brooklyn College; from which we graduated with a B.A., Magna Cum Laude and as a selected member of Phi Beta Kappa. The thematic balance of this essay is concerned with the personally nuanced, albeit, ultimately successful, college experience.
Such experience is not empirically comparable to the stereotypical contemporary students who emerged from different economic and cultural experiences, or the college students of today. Our own children and especially, our grandchildren are fortunately included among the latter categories. They have undergone the healthy and maturing experience of comfortably leaving home for college, providing for their own needs, and learning to develop healthy personal independence. Such more fortunate students interactively benefited from the growth experience of meeting others of different faiths, cultural ethnos, and folkways as well as diverse economic backgrounds and levels of sophistication. They were enabled to freely interactively socialize with others of the opposite sex and generally, evolve friendships with fellow students, some of which would prove to be enduring. Perhaps the salient feature is that they were self-motivated, as opposed to our acquisitional parent-derived, excessive, and neurotic drive for academic and professional excellence.
We have referred to the context of our early portrayals of our first-generation, emigrant upbringing, most relevant of which was the stress placed upon the child to succeed, not only for his benefit but as a moral and existential parental Commandment. We can see no benefit from a revisit to the fearful, unsophisticated, pogrom damaged personas of the described immigrants, and for the referential context of this writing, we merely request the reader to recall the past, poignant essays on the subject.
Since we, and others similarly situated and described, gained admission to a local, non-tuition college, we became routine and tedious commuters between home and College, both literally and emotionally. Eerily disorienting was the Kafka-like reality that, at the conclusion of each enlightening instructional day, we thereafter, regressed to the familiar, dark ambiance and redolence of our previously unsophisticated, immigrant style of life. These continuous and contrasting experiences were, at times, productive of an uncomforting sense of disorientation and productive of [then] unexplained stress. Such exotic experiences, continuing throughout college and then four years of [merit-based, paid scholarship] law school had the unhealthy and unnatural effect of unnaturally, and stressfully, deferring confident and mature self-dependence, until successfully, and happily acquired, later in life.
* [This is the final essay of the “Growing Up in 1940’s Brooklyn” series]