Friday, May 29, 2015

A drive through 1930s Buffalo

If you’re over 80 and from Buffalo, you might especially appreciate Harry’s musings about life in his hometown in Upstate New York. If you're old enough to drive and from anywhere, you might appreciate his quip about making out in the back seat. And, if you knew Harry at all, you may be surprised by a regret he reveals toward the end. Harry shared these memories in an email to a young confidante, in 2010.

When I was 16, I did what all 16-year-old kids do. I got a learner’s permit to learn how to drive. But, I also got a learner’s permit to learn how to fly. This was in 1937, the middle of the Depression, when money was scarce and I was a junior in high school. I never took a driving lesson because I already knew how to drive – just from watching others. My brother, seven years older than I, took me one day to take the test, which I passed the first time, and I had a license but not car.

Harry (standing on right) poses with buddies in 
1930s Buffalo.
Several friends had cars, so, whenever we went out on double dates, I would drive their cars. The way it worked was we would chip in a quarter apiece for gas – believe it or not, 50 cents would buy six or eight gallons of gas, and I’d drive on a Saturday night usually, to a great diner in Batavia or to Niagara Falls for a late snack.

My date and I would sit in front and talk while my friend, whose car it was, would sit in the back seat and make out with his date. I didn’t mind because I enjoyed driving and talking. I had three such friends who had cars and they always wanted to double date with me because they knew I would drive and they could enjoy their back seats.

When I was 17, I graduated from Fosdick-Masten Park High School. I had already been working part-time, so then I went to work full time. My older brother joined the Army. My oldest sister had married and gone to Palestine to build a home for the Jewish people. My other sister, four years older than I, was married and pregnant, no longer living at home. My parents, both terminally ill, unable to work, depended on me to support them. Which I did, of course.

Every Sunday afternoon, if the weather was good, I took a flying lesson from an old World War I pilot who had a small airfield on Sheridan Drive. At that time, Sheridan Drive from Delaware Ave., all the way to Main Street was uninhabited – empty wilderness. Somewhere way past Niagara Falls Blvd. was this little airfield where I flew. I paid two bucks a lesson – for an hour of dual instruction, and then one dollar an hour for solo flights until I got my private pilot’s license in 1938. It took well over a year for the entire thing.

In those days, I had a motorcycle that I bought for 10 bucks, and that’s how I got around. I paid for it a dollar a week for 10 weeks. I was earning 12 bucks a week and, by the end of 1938, about $15 a week, which was pretty good money in those days. People were supporting families on that kind of money. In 1939, I went to work for a war plant, the Bell Aircraft Co., for $20 a week, which averaged around $30 a week with overtime pay. The war in Europe started in September 1939, and though we weren’t in it yet, everyone expected we would get into it sooner or later.

People ask me where I went to school. I never felt as though I was missing anything. My friends all went on to college after high school. I had to stay home and work and take care of my parents. Looking back on it, I don’t think I ever felt sorry for myself and I don’t think that, at the time, it bothered me that I didn’t go to college. In later years it did, but by then, it was too late. But, we’ll come to that later.

I would say, right now, you and all the kids in similar circumstances, just don’t realize how lucky you are to get the chance to get an education – and more than that, to go to a college away from home, to mingle with others whom you would never otherwise encounter, and to form friendships and associations that will broaden your outlook and give you perspectives you could never obtain any other way.

Harry never went to college for credit, but he did take college classes and volunteer on campus after he retired. Stay tuned for his memories about those days. 

The Zubkoff legacy – it's all in a (nick)name
Harry (right), again with his hand on his hip (a sign of confidence?), working at a summer camp in Buffalo. At age 17, he was already smitten with future wife Jeanette, who worked there, too. It looks like she labeled this photo; Harry was "Zubie,"of course. I was "Zubby" in high school, too. In fact, I would bet anything that all Zubkoffs are nicknamed Zubby in their teens. If you are (or were) a Zubkoff, let us know if your nickname is Zubby (or Zubie), too! By the way, Harry believed that all Zubkoffs are somehow related. Do you agree? Please send this blog to every Zubkoff (or former Zubkoff) you know.

1 comment:

  1. Re the current Blog: When I was a little girl, we lived on Sidney St. in Buffalo and I remember Harry coming over to the house on his motorcycle and he offered to take me for a ride. I guess that I was either too scared or too shy and I refused. Over these many years I have occasionally thought about that with some regret, since now, even at my rather advanced age, no one else has ever offered me a ride on a motorcycle. My one chance and I blew it!