And so our family grew and reached its final size, the perfect American family, husband, wife and three children. We had a little nest egg and I had by now a lot of confidence in my abilities as a hair stylist. I had gathered a very substantial following and a lot of experience in both the practical side of the business and the managing of a shop. One day I found out that one of Pierre's friends would have lost his beauty salon if Pierre had not bailed him out with $7000.--, in those days quite a considerable amount of money. I began to get an uncomfortable feeling that some day Pierre could lose his salon also. I decided to ask him to sell his salon to me. However, he absolutely did not want to give up his shop. I did not even get a chance to make him an offer. No way.
Anita and I talked it over and we decided to look for a location, not too far from Mr. Pierre's beauty salon, to open our own beauty shop. As always, Anita encouraged me very much. She had a lot to do with my success. I would not have done some of the daring things I did without her encouragement and approval.
Now follows one of the most exciting periods of my life. I started to look for a location to open my own salon. Not much was available. I talked to the salesmen and they were all very encouraging. They told me that I would have nothing to worry about and that I would be very successful with the experience I had. It gave me much confidence to proceed. After all, I had now five years of solid experience behind me and I knew all the aspects of the business and I had accumulated some money to pay for a business. I surely did not want to go into great debt and, as always, I did not want to have to make payments.
Finally I saw an advertisement for a shop for rent in Elmhurst, which was close to where we lived. The telephone number connected me with the landlord in Brooklyn. At the first opportunity we went to see him. He was a charming person. He said that it was well located on Broadway, the main street in Elmhurst, with a bus stop on both sides of the street in front of the store and a subway entrance just half a block away. It was located in a strip of stores which included an A. & P., a large supermarket. It all sounded great to me. His first mention of the rent was very high but I felt I could get that lowered during a subsequent meeting. Then came the bad news: it was presently occupied by gypsies who were not paying their rent. If I liked the store and signed a lease he could have them evicted in a short time. That did not sound very good to me. I certainly did not like the idea of throwing a family of gypsies into the streets of New York. But he encouraged me to have a look.
That same afternoon I went to the store. I liked the location very much. It was walking distance both from our apartment and also from Mr. Pierre's salon, so I would not loose my following. It was a busy shopping street surrounded by lovely small private homes. I found out that this was a mixed Irish and German neighborhood. A little farther were several six story apartment buildings each with eighty four apartments. It all sounded too good to be true. I checked the competition. There were two beauty salons very near but they were both old fashioned and dark. These did not worry me at all. All this, and more, I found out before I entered the shop. I was very hesitant to face the gypsy occupants.
I did not know what to expect but what I saw was something from a grade B movie. The front of the store was empty with some wooden boards nailed to the walls. In the back of the store was a space separated by Persian carpets hung from the ceiling. A middle aged lady motioned me in. She was dressed like a gypsy out of a movie, with a red kerchief covering most of her shiny black hair. She invited me to sit at a small table covered with a dark cloth and she asked what she could do for me. I hastened to tell her that I did not want my future told but that the landlord had sent me to see if I wanted to rent his shop. She asked me what business I was in and when I told her that I wanted to open a beauty salon she smiled and told me that this was an excellent location and that I would do very well here. She also gave a little history of the shop; that it used to be a butcher shop; therefore there were boards on the wall where there had been freezers and hooks for the meat and sausages. She and her family had been there six months. I was rather embarrassed. I did not expect her to be so gracious to the person who was going to be the cause of her eviction. I told her that I was sorry but that, if I decided to go through with it, she would have to move out soon, maybe within a few days. She told me not to worry and repeated her assurances of my good future at this location. When I asked if I could come back to take some measurements she told me that I would be welcome anytime. There was no sign of resentment in her tone of voice or in her words. When I left she followed me to the door, held my hand and said: "You know, gypsies bring good luck." It almost made me cry. I immediately called the landlord and told him that I wanted to rent the store.
A hurricane hit New York City on the day we were to sign the lease. Rain is supposed to bring good luck but a hurricane? Anita, who was always ready for an adventure, encouraged me to go anyway. We were so excited about the whole event that we did not even notice the torrential rain and enormous winds until we were on the Brooklyn Bridge. We could barely see more than a few feet ahead of us. The bridge was noticeably swaying and the roadway was dancing up and down under our car. We decided to proceed very slowly and, of course, we were the only idiots on the bridge. Coming off the bridge we had to make a left turn. A little into the street was a small triangle where we had to make another turn. We could barely see the road ahead. As we eased to the left of the triangle a police car appeared out of nowhere with his lights flashing and the cop motioned to me to open the window. I just opened it an inch and the rain came pouring in. He also opened his window a bit and yelled over the noise of the hurricane that I was in a one way street going the wrong way! I was just wondering if he would be crazy enough to get out of his car to give me a ticket when he signaled to me to follow him. I sighed a sigh of relief when he led us out of our predicament and let us go. The gypsy lady had been right: she brought me good luck.
After some negotiating (I wanted a ten year lease plus a five year option to renew, which we got with increases of the rent built in) we left with the lease in our hands. We did not waste any time and the same day we went to one of the supply houses to talk about setting up the shop. We had negotiated three months(!) free of rent to clean out the mess in the store and to prepare it for the opening. We did not waste any time. The supply man was very helpful and recommended a contractor, to rebuild the whole shop. This was wonderful because I was still working and I knew that, if Mr. Pierre would hear about my opening a shop so close to him, he would fire me immediately and I would lose my following.
Now I became like a slave driver. I constantly visited the shop and made sure the contractor stayed on schedule and did what he had promised. I was lucky that Mr. Pierre spent so much time at the horse races which gave me the opportunity to run out once in a while to check on the progress of the shop. Within six weeks the shop was ready except for the painting of the walls and the installation of air conditioning (I was the first air conditioned beauty shop in that neighborhood). I really was so lucky! The painter was an older, experienced man and he suggested that the walls should have a design of gold paint on top of the white background. He did not even charge us much more for it and it ended up with a wonderful effect. After the walls were painted a soft white color he went with a rag dipped in gold paint over all the walls and dappled gold paint on top of the white. It looked absolutely beautiful. I was also lucky with the refrigeration people. I needed five tons to cool the whole area adequately. They suggested two two-and-a-half ton units, one at each side of the store. This was excellent advice for several reasons: if it was not very warm or not so busy I could turn off one unit; if one unit broke I still had some cooling from the other and with cooling coming from both sides instead from one central place, I had even cooling without cold air blasting from one area. It proved to be a real money saver and the store was comfortable all the time. In the meantime, while all this construction was going on, we had a steady stream of people walking in and asking what was coming and when we would be open for business. Without exception, they showed genuine interest in a modern beauty salon. One day, on my day off and with the shop nearly finished, I felt like a master of ceremony: I had to greet people all the time, explain everything to them. It felt very good. I decided that the window area would be open, so passers-by could always look in. That was a novelty in those days. Salon windows were always covered for the privacy of the customers with high wooden dividers between the different stations. I am sure that I was one of the first to have designed a salon which was visible from one end to the other, brightly lit and decorated in bright, lively colors. After much deliberation we decided to call the salon "Elmhurst Coiffeurs." The name had a nice sound to it.
One week before the grand opening, I gave notice to Mr. Pierre. Again, I was treated so nicely and graciously and with great respect by my boss. He showed no sign of anger, just disappointment and he genuinely wished me the best of luck. This was such a relief to me because I did not want to part on bad terms and yet I could not give him much notice. I also promised him that I would not compete with him with my prices. I already had decided to be the highest priced salon in Elmhurst and not to offer any specials. That took courage but at that time I already had a lot of confidence and the salesmen, who knew me very well, convinced me that I would be very successful with that policy.
I set the opening date for Thursday, September 1, 1960. Anita and I spent hours and hours spreading five thousand leaflets advertising the grand opening with refreshments. To my great consternation I realized just a few days before the opening date that it fell on Rosh Hashanah, the Jewish New Year. In all the excitement I had forgotten completely about looking at the Jewish calendar for holidays! We talked it over and Anita and I agreed not to open on that day! It is not easy to be Jewish but I wanted to make that sacrifice. So, I quickly made a sign which said: "Closed due to the holiday." What a way to start a new business! On that day, after the morning synagogue service, we walked past the store with the whole family. We were a little sad for this turn of events but our spirits were soon lifted when we saw the hundreds of people looking into the fully lit store.
The first working day after the holiday was a Monday, not especially a busy day for a beauty salon. The store was advertised to be open from nine to six. Anita and I came in at eight in the morning to set things up for the first day of work. I really did not expect much business. I had a few appointments of my old clientele but not until the afternoon. I had just opened the door when a lady walked in and asked if someone could do her hair. I went to work immediately. To make a long story short, I and my two girls did not stop from early that morning until ten o'clock in the evening when we still had to turn back more people. The next day it continued and we never stopped being busy until I sold the store six years later. I asked Ettie, my mother-in-law to act as our receptionist. She accepted and she was wonderful and charming and a perfect hostess.
I need to talk a little about my help. About one month before the scheduled opening I put an advertisement in the paper for hair stylists. I had many responses but only one seemed to me to be qualified for the kind of hairstylist I was looking for. Her name was Connie. She was an excellent stylist but she was not very ambitious. However she was neat and clean and looked professional behind the chair. I was satisfied with her. I wanted at least one more stylist. One day, before the opening date, a young lady called me on the phone. She sounded so pleasant and so polite that I hired her on the spot even though she told me that she had just finished school. I felt that if she was even half as pleasant as she sounded on the telephone she would do very well with the clientele I hoped to get into the shop. I had judged her correctly. When she showed up she was extremely anxious to get busy. She was good looking, clean, sweet and polite. Her name was Diane (I forgot what her last name was) and the customers liked her instantly. She loved to work and she was a very good hairdresser. The hours never were too long for her and she never was too busy to take another customer. "Diane, can you work in another customer?" Without hesitation she would say: "Oh sure, just make yourself comfortable and I will be with you soon." That is the attitude I needed in this shop which had a steady stream of people walking in. The success of our shop had a lot to do with her cheerful disposition. She was also a good sales person.
For the next three months we all worked from eight in the morning until nine or ten in the evening with little time for rest. It was almost too much so I decided first to get more help. I hired a gentleman, also a good hairdresser who quickly built up a nice clientele. Then I decided to cut back the hours so we would not overwork ourselves and we stayed open until nine o'clock only on Thursday and Friday. Within a very short time the girls were too busy to do manicures, so I hired a manicurist and later one more operator to take the overflow and help with the manicures. The shop was almost always full of people and we all had a good time and we all earned a lot of money which made the operators happy, too. The gypsy had been right: she had brought me good luck. My lovely mother-in-law helped as a receptionist until she needed an operation. Then Connie's sister helped out. But she could not keep it up together with her regular job.
On one busy day, when Connie's sister was off I asked a young lady (I think she was fourteen years old at the time) to answer our phone while she was waiting for her appointment. She did such a fantastic job that I asked her to become my receptionist. She said that she had to ask her aunt. Later that day I got a call from her aunt who said that she was so appreciative of me giving her niece a chance to work and make a little money. Her aunt explained that she had brought up her niece since she was young and an orphan and that this would be so good for her. Well I cannot praise that young lady enough. Her name was Maureen Gannon, as Irish as one can be, with beautiful long reddish blond hair and green eyes, which really were always smiling! She was a real Irish beauty but she was modest and very sweet and polite, a perfect front person for our shop. She never tired of talking to the customers while they were waiting. She gave them coffee, put them under the drier, took the clips out when necessary, in a word, she was a real asset to the store. She kept working for me until I sold my shop and moved to Phoenix in 1966, even after she had graduated from high school, and even after she had become one of the highest paid secretaries in New York.
Within two years after we opened our store we were ready for the next big step for our family: we started looking for a house! And we soon found a beauty in Valleystream, on the South shore of Long Island, just outside of the New York City limits. I always seemed to be one step ahead of myself. Buying a house so soon was a little risky but I had such confidence in this shop that I projected continued growth. Luckily, I was right and we had no problems paying for the house. We moved in the spring of 1962.
Valleystream is located just outside the New York city limits on the Southern Parkway, about seventeen miles from Elmhurst. It was a lovely suburban community with streets lined with maple trees. It had parks and a shopping center nearby, called "Green Acres." Looking now at the hundreds of pictures I took there on several occasions such as parades, fireworks and other special events, I can truly say that it was a town like the one in the movie "Our Town." It was picturesque and the parades were typical upper class suburban events with beauty Queens and the Mayor and sparkling red fire engines from the volunteer fire department and bands with cheer leaders from the local high school. In the later movies we have Mark and Rochelle marching in these parades as boy scout and brownie girl scout.
Needless to say, this move to Valleystream was a major event in our lives. I feel now that this gave me an enormous boost in my self confidence. We had a wonderful family, a small but thriving business, we had good health and our future looked bright. I spent hours in the garden to make it look really special. We planted two maple trees near the street and a spruce tree in the front yard; I dug up both the front and back yards to make good lawns. In a word, we made improvements which made our house look very impressive. And we got our first dog, a gorgeous German shepherd whom we named "Prince." And a prince he was! He was a grandson of a world champion shepherd who had his picture in the Encyclopedia Brittanica and he had the same markings as his grandsire. He was very good with the children and a perfect companion for all of us. There was only one problem: he could not go anywhere with us because he became car sick within minutes of entering our car( even before the car started to move!) but he would always wait for us at the window until we came back from our outings.
This was a good time to invite my mother again, to let her see the progress her youngest son was making. I was so proud of my achievements! Mother was so happy to come again and she enjoyed our house and garden and especially our children very much. We even took her on our regular summer trip to the Pocono Mountains.
Our shop kept growing. I set realistic goals and every year I met these goals. I felt now that the business was established enough so that I was able to take off one day per week. That was a real luxury for me after working six days a week for the last two years. I chose Wednesday as my day of leisure for two reasons: it was a relatively quiet day in the shop, so I knew the girls could handle it without me, and it gave me a brake in the middle of the week and got me ready for the hectic weekends. We took full advantage of those days. Anita and I frequently went on day trips and went out for lunch while the children were in school. Later I combined this day with a holiday to make three or four day trips. Even though it was not a long vacation, we decided to go to exciting places like Florida and the New England states.
In 1964 I invited Mother to come to America again. She was not up to it and I felt confident enough to take two weeks vacation. After twelve years I finally returned to Holland to visit my mother and brother and to get acquainted with my niece and nephew and re-acquainted with my two surviving cousins and their families and some of my old friends. I had kept up a steady correspondence with my mother but only now was I in a financial position to make a trip to Europe. We found a lovely neighborhood lady, Mrs. Bliss, to baby sit with our children. She was a grandmother and she was the lady from whom we had bought Prince, our German shepherd dog.
This was another one of those highlights in my life which left a lasting impression. As we approached Holland and we crossed the coast I became very agitated. Now came back these tense feelings I used to have at times during my hiding days of the war and the fear of what my feelings would be when I would see my mother and brother again. Needless to say, tears flowed freely during the initial reunion. Mother had problems walking and had aged quite a bit. It was a difficult meeting for me. She had to live in a nursing home. It was a lovely place with nice grounds in which the patients were free to walk and she had her own room which was a combination living room and bedroom. We received permission to take her out for a day. So, we picked her up early and helped her to walk slowly to the car we had rented. Then we took her to all the familiar places. We went to Eindhoven, my old home town and visited with Uncle Michael van Lieshout and his family. Needless to say, there was much talk about the war years. I was surprised how much Mother remembered about things in the past. Then we went to the two houses where we had lived before the war. We even rang the bell at our old house on the Tongelrese Straat from where we had moved in 1939. To our great surprise, the house looked exactly the same and we found out that this was the same family which had lived there since we had moved. Unbelievable. The lady even remembered our family. After that we drove past my grade school, the old "Nutsschool" where I went from 1936 until 1940 and the house at the Haviklaan where we had lived upstairs after the war. We looked for the Lorenz Lyceum but we could not recognize it at all and it was closed for the summer. After that we tried to find our little house where we had lived until I went to America but the streets and the neighborhood had changed so much that we never found the street. There were a lot of wide streets and even a highway and I was totally lost. All the farms, which had been behind our house, had been replaced by tracts of small homes.
Eindhoven had become a beautiful, large and modern city
since I had left. Most of it I did not recognize at all. We decided to
go to the old downtown area where my grandfather used to live and where
Uncle Moses Klerk had had his store. That was still there. We went inside
and talked to the owner who still remembered my Aunt Jeanette and Uncle
Moses. I could not help but have the uncomfortable feeling that the present
owner had taken over the business after my uncle and aunt were brutally
removed from their house and that my uncle's family probably never got
compensated for the loss of all his property. It left a bitter taste in
my mouth. We were all very quiet after we left that area. Then we went
to another old street, the Stratumse Dijk. There we saw a butcher shop
which I remembered from the days when my father had taken me on Sunday
mornings to collect money from his clients. I hesitated to enter the store.
I started to feel physically ill from the emotions which were welling up.
It was almost too much for me to bear. The butcher looked slightly familiar.
I introduced myself and he got all excited. He remembered me as that little
kid who used to come with his father to collect money on Sunday mornings
and he remembered my father very well. He was not old enough to have been
that butcher but it was his father whom I remembered and he looked just
like his father had looked some twenty three years earlier. Then he told
me that Joe Doctors, who had been my father's closest friend, was still
alive. I could not believe my ears. Oom Joe was still alive? It seemed
like history came back to life again. This was the man who every Sunday
afternoon would come to our house until 1941, when my father died. He and
my father used to listen to the soccer games while filling our house up
with their cigar smoke.
|I just had to see him. I called and made an appointment to visit him the next day. I recognized him immediately when he opened his door. Except for his thin gray hair, he looked exactly the same. And he was still doing the same work: going to the market place with his cows and selling them to the farmers. Unbelievable. It was as if life had stood still for these people during the last twenty four years which had been so stormy and traumatic for me. It was very hard to say good bye to him and we both had tears in our eyes when we parted. After a long visit with Oom Michael van Lieshout during which we reminisced about the pre-war years, we took Mother to Zaltbommel, a small medieval town where before the war many of my father's family had lived, including his sister, Tante Sara Hess and her family and three great-aunts. They had all met a violent death. I still remembered the few times we had gone there when I was a child and I still have a picture of me and one of my great-aunts when I was only six years old. Nearly the whole Jewish community there was wiped out during the Holocaust, including Tante Sara with her husband and their two children. But a nephew of my uncle survived the war and we visited him.|
|I very vaguely remembered the town but my mother remembered
all the streets and even told me how to get to the house where my three
great-aunts Hymans had lived before the war. That really amazed me. She
did not even recall that we had visited the van Lieshout family a few hours
earlier but she remembered Zaltbommel where she had not been since 1939.
We also went to Nijmegen where my father had had another sister, Tante Anna de Wijze with her husband and four beautiful teenage daughters, all of whom had perished in the Holocaust. It was not a happy time for my mother but she really appreciated me taking her to all the familiar places. On the way back she sang all the songs she used to sing when I was young and which I had completely forgotten. It was very hard to say good bye to her but it was time to go back to the States.
After 1964, Elmhurst, where my beauty shop was located, changed drastically. Gradually, the rich people moved out of the new luxury apartments which had replaced the small single family homes just three years earlier. Almost every week one or more of my customers told me that they would not renew their lease to their apartment because of the type of people who were moving into the neighborhood. This was the time of the "block busting" of good neighborhoods. A lawyer would sign a lease for his clients, usually Puerto Ricans or Black families, and then three or sometimes four families would move into one apartment. It was hard or impossible to remove them legally and so, in the space of about two years, the area changed from a high priced luxury apartment neighborhood into a slum area. We did get customers from the new neighbors but they did not have any money to spend. It was clear that I had to do something. I decided that the time had come to prepare myself to sell the shop.
Anita and I had long discussions about this. It was a major decision. The shop had been so good to us and I was truly proud of my first salon. But it was not the same anymore. We agreed that we wanted to move to a warmer climate. So, one year we went for a long weekend to Puerto Rico to see if we would like it there. We explored the entire island during a long weekend visit and we liked the climate. However, I decided that it was not good for the kind of hairdresser I was. In those days Puerto Rico only had the very poor and the upper class families. The poor had no money for hairdressers and I never felt comfortable catering to the upper class clientele. So, we decided against moving there.
Something funny happened to us while we were there. Our flight and hotel and car rental had been prepaid. So, we did not need very much cash while we were there. In those days there were no credit cards so we carried whatever cash we needed with us. When we arrived at our airport and inquired about our flight to San Juan we found out that our reserved flight had been canceled. They could put us on a plane the next day but I had so few days vacation, I could not afford to lose a day in Puerto Rico. The airline rerouted us via Miami and we arrived in San Juan on the regular day. But that cost us another one hundred and fifty dollars. We had no choice but to pay that. When we arrived there we had little money left for extras. But it seemed not much of a problem as long as everything had been prepaid. On our last full day we had only eighteen dollars left and nothing had been arranged for that day. What can you do for a whole day with so little money? We went to a travel agent (a brilliant idea!) and she suggested a tour to St. Thomas which cost only seventeen dollars for two people and included the flight to and from St. Thomas and a guided tour of the island including a lunch! Perfect! It was absolutely lovely. St. Thomas is a lush garden island with many tropical flowers and forests and a picturesque harbor and market. We had a wonderful time. We saw Blue Beard's Castle and the gorgeous golf course. For lunch we stopped at a country club restaurant overlooking the bay. It was just as you see it in the movies. During lunch they came around with banana dagueries. I would have loved to have had one but it cost seventy nine cents(!). We only had one dollar and I wanted to tip the tour guide. I had to refuse the drink. The driver came over and told me that I really should try one. It was not expensive and soooo good. What could I say? I told him that I did not drink alcoholic drinks. He insisted that there was not enough alcohol in those drinks to worry about but I had to persist: absolutely no alcohol! We finally just walked away; I was so embarrassed. At the end of the tour I gave him all I had: one dollar. The next day we took our rental car back to the airport. We did not even have a dime for a cup of coffee. Then it occurred to me: what if the plane did not show up? Fortunately it did. From the airport in Long Island we had to take a taxi home. We told the driver to wait until some money for our fare which we had to get from inside the house. He must have thought that we were some loony eccentrics. Later we often had a good laugh about this adventure.
The following year we went back to Miami to see if we wanted to move there but we did not like it at all. We were stuck. Where would we find a pleasant place to live? I even started to look into opening a shop farther out on Long Island but nothing appealed to me. Now follows a story which shows how things fell in place for me as they had done before and would do later in my life.
I have to introduce you to Bernie Lande and his wife (whose name I forgot), the parents of a classmate of Mark. We became acquainted with them and we started a weekly bridge game with them. I have to sidetrack to tell another funny story, all true. The first bridge evening we had in their house, he asked what I wanted to drink and I could see that he did not mean lemonade. I told him I would have the same as he had. What did I know! I was not in the habit of drinking alcoholic drinks. So, he started mixing and mixing and came up with some concoction which tasted awful to me and was very strong. The following week they were invited to our house. I had absolutely no liquor in the house and did not know the first thing about mixing drinks. I went to a large liquor store and told the storekeeper about my dilemma. The owner was very helpful. He loaded the car up with all kinds of bottles ("The basics" he said), all kinds of glasses and a shaker and a book describing how to mix all the popular drinks. It came to more than one hundred dollars, an enormous amount for that time. But I was in the "drinking" business. I practiced for hours and when the Landes came over I was ready for anything. He asked for some drink and without hesitation I mixed it for him. And so it went on for almost a year. We became really good friends. One day, in a fit of trust, I confessed to him that I had never drunk alcoholic drinks before I met him and that I had stocked up just to impress him. To my great surprise he told me that he had done the same to impress me! Well that was the end of our drinking while playing bridge.
It was a week before Christmas 1965, and we were playing bridge in our house when Bernie started talking about Phoenix, Arizona where he had been stationed in the army. After his discharge he had wanted to stay there but his wife talked him out of it. He had never forgiven her for that. He gave a glowing description of the wonderful climate and the lovely town and the mountains and desert surrounding Phoenix. It happened that I had also read an article in a magazine about Arizona in which it was described as a wonderful place to retire, how it was growing and how so many people moved there for their health and the good climate. It sounded great to me. If it was so great for retirement then it should be good to live and work there, also. Anita must have had the same feelings because we looked at each other and before I could say that I would like to go there for a few days Anita already had said it!
On New Year's day 1966 we went to Phoenix for a five day vacation. I already had done some research and I liked what I had read. On the way in the plane I asked Anita whether she would be willing to relocate if we both liked what we saw. She immediately agreed. She was so wonderful and adventurous. So, we both had our faces glued to the window as we approached Phoenix. What we saw from the air was not very inviting: miles and miles of dry looking desert with some specks which we later found out to be desert plants. But the airport was very nice. It was at that time a small airport. There was only one terminal and we had to walk on the tarmac to the small terminal, which looked more like a bus station, but inside it was nicely decorated. Two things stood out immediately: the people were extremely friendly and the weather was perfect. We were met at the airport by a couple we knew from our days in Jackson Heights, the only people in Phoenix we knew. They had just recently moved there and were very enthusiastic about the city, the people and the weather. They explained about all the customs and especially about shopping in the city which was already great at that time. They took us to their house. While talking to them I was looking out of their window into their garden which looked very inviting and I noticed all kinds of birds coming and going. As I was an avid bird watcher I just had to go outside. The man of the house (I forgot his name) took me for a walk around the neighborhood. I was impressed with the lovely gardens and so many trees. It reminded me of New England or the wealthy suburbs on Long Island. In those days Phoenix had mostly one story houses and very few high rise buildings. Everything was wide open and the sky was the bluest blue I had ever seen. We walked around in short sleeves and this was New Year's day! We had just left New York which was plagued with snow and cold winter weather.
Later that day we went to our hotel, the Westward Ho. At that time it was the tallest building in Phoenix; if I remember well, it was fifteen stories high. It had a large antenna on top which made it the highest thing visible in Phoenix. It still exists but now it is dwarfed by skyscrapers surrounding it. In the evening we explored the downtown area but there was nothing worth looking at, just some old stores and a car dealership and the old Adams Hotel across the street. We walked to van Buren and had a wonderful steak dinner for three dollars fifty in a lovely restaurant. This would have cost at least twelve dollars fifty in New York if not more. I started to like Phoenix already.
We found out that we had made a mistake getting our hotel in the center of town. We had thought that this would be convenient but Phoenix was different from other cities in those days. Downtown was nothing and all the activities were on the outskirts of town and especially in Scottsdale.
The following day we decided to explore the area more thoroughly. We rented a car and drove north on Central Ave which had a row of palm trees in the center as a divider. Farther north the street became very beautiful with large estates on both sides and trees which covered the entire road. All the gardens in that area were well tended and everything was blooming and green, very different from New York. We also saw some mountains nearby and we were anxious to get close to them. We stopped at a gas station and asked for a mountainous area not too far away but pretty. We also asked about a new development where we could inspect some homes and he directed us to Sun City. We went there first. It seemed endlessly far between Phoenix and Sun City. There was not much development north of Glendale Ave and, as per intructions we received, we followed the railroad tracks until we came to a sign which said "Sun City, a planned community." That was Grand Avenue, then a two lane road. We could not believe the prices of these lovely homes: between eight thousand five hundred dollars and nineteen thousand dollars! For a little more you could get a house which was already too pretentious and too large for us!
Then we asked for directions to Carefree, which the gas station attendant had recommended, and that went something like this: we had to cross the railroad tracks near Sun City, turn east along the tracks for one mile, make a left turn and then follow the graded dirt road north for about fifteen miles. We had to cross three cattle guards and there would be three barbed wire gates. We could open the gates and the ranchers allowed us to cross their lands but we had to make sure to close the gates behind us (so the cattle could not get out). Then we would see high tension wires. Follow the dirt road under the wires east for about ten miles. Then we would see another graded dirt road. Follow that north for another ten miles and we would get to Cave Creek and after that Carefree. We could not miss it! Well, we followed the directions to the letter and we found the little towns, Cave Creek and Carefree, as was promised. On the way we fell in love with the desert and the climate. The desert gave me a high and I could not resist parking the car and walking a short distance into the desert, just to get the feel of being surrounded by this lush vegetation. I took a lot of pictures, as you can well imagine. In Cavecreek we stopped at the only coffee shop that was there. It was nearly empty but there was a man in a cowboy outfit having some coffee. I whispered to Anita: " There is a real cowboy just like you see in the movies." As I am never shy to start a conversation I walked over to the "cowboy" and asked politely if he could tell me something about the area. Well, he could not because he had just arrived from Chicago for a two week tour of the Southwest. So much for our first meeting with a "real" cowboy. On the way back from Carefree which then already had the sundial and a small shopping center, we followed the same graded dirt road all the way back to Phoenix. That was Cave Creek Road. On the way it started to get dark and we saw the most beautiful sunset we had ever seen. We fell in love with Arizona, just like that.
It was too early for a definite decision. We had arranged for two tours, one of Phoenix and one of the Apache Trail. The first tour consisted mostly of East Phoenix, the Biltmore hotel and estates and Scottsdale. One cannot compare that area then with the way it looks now. After we left the Biltmore Estates, where we admired the beautiful gardens filled with colorful flowers, the bus took us through many miles of empty land until we got to Scottsdale. The tour bus followed Camelback road. On the left side was lush desert with Camelback mountain in the background and on the right side one citrus grove followed another. We stopped for a sample of freshly squeezed orange juice with Camelback Mountain looming right in front of us. We did not see many homes until just before Scottssdale. I also need to mention that Camelback Road in those days was a two lane road with dirt shoulders on both sides, no sidewalks. Scottsdale was already developed but only that area which is now called "Old Scottsdale." Going north there were a few hotels and resorts. We spent some time walking around the little shops which still look the same today. Then we drove south on a two lane Scottsdale Road and soon left Scottsdale behind, went through some empty country, through a riverbed, the dry Salt River, over a bridge and into Tempe which already was a bustling college town. We had a last photo stop at the round Grady Gammage concert hall, a Frank Lloyd Wright creation, and then we returned to Phoenix and our hotel. My love for Phoenix grew by leaps and bounds!
The next day we left for our second tour, this one in a limousine we shared with one other couple. The driver picked us up at eight o'clock in the morning and warned us that this would be a full day trip. He was very nice and encouraged us to tell him any time we wanted him to stop for picture taking. I needed no more encouragement. I took many rolls of slides of this wonderful trip. We quickly went through Tempe and Mesa with a short stop at the Mormon Temple with its exquisite gardens. Then we followed Apache Road to Apache Junction. For many miles there was not much development, just an occasional mobil home park and sales lots, but in front of us the Superstition Mountains came closer and closer. Something about this mountain range attracted me. I was mesmerized by this sight. We made a left turn and then went on a dirt road, the Apache Trail, behind the Superstition Mountain range. We would spend a good part of the day on the trail. The scenery was out of this world. The desert was so lush with a lot of tiny wild flowers and beautiful green grass between the shrubs. I kept craning my neck to look at the Superstitions until they were out of sight. We had a coffee break at Tortilla Flat, an old stage coach stop. It was a ram-shackle wooden building with a lot of character. Inside it was warm and cozy and they served the usual bottomless cup of strong coffee with all kinds of sweet tarts. As we continued the desert became even more lush. We were now completely surrounded by the desert and the road started to curve ominously. We climbed steadily until we reached a high point overlooking lake Apache. It was such a glorious sight. The weather was perfect, the sky a deep blue reflected in the lake, the desert the greenest green you can imagine and in the background the gold and red colors of the mountain cliffs. Many times I asked the driver to stop for pictures. We followed the trail further. The road became narrower and more winding with dizzying drop-offs showing up unexpectedly in front of us. There were no warnings and no protective guard rails and in many places it was too narrow for two cars. Fortunately, the traffic was very light and we met only a few cars. At one point we saw a trailer behind a truck with one wheel over the edge while going around a corner with a steep drop-off and at another point we saw a car wreck some hundred feet below us in a ravine. I was too busy admiring the surroundings to feel scared but our companions were very ill at ease. Soon the road dropped sharply along the golden cliffs winding down steeply until we ended up in Fishhook Canyon where we made a hairpin turn to climb just as steeply up the winding trail on the other side of the canyon. It was glorious!
After several hours of this kind of driving we reached Roosevelt Lake. There was an enormous dam with all the gates wide open which made it look like a roaring waterfall. It seemed that there had been a lot of rain a few days earlier which had filled the lakes up above capacity. From the trail we looked over this large lake, the largest of the four lakes which brings water from the more than eight thousand feet Mogollon Rim down into the Phoenix area. We were only able to have a quick lunch at the small restaurant, the only sign of life at the lake, because we were running late due to the many picture stops. After lunch we stopped at the Tonto ruins, old cave homes from the ancient Indian tribes which used to live in that area and had disappeared some seven hundred years earlier. Now we quickly left the beautiful desert behind and entered the busy Globe-Miami area which is dominated by enormous open pit mines. We made a quick stop at an overlook to admire the size of the open mine. Tremendous trucks, looking like little toy trucks, lumbered up and down narrow trails transporting boulders which would be pulverized and purified to create copper. After an hour stop at the beautiful Boyd Thompson Arboretum we again went off the road into a desolate area where we dug "Apache Tears," small black glass-like stones (obsidian) out of caves in the hills. They gave us pails and small tools to hack the stones out of the hard rock. We did all the work and could keep all we found. We managed to fill a pail of Apache Tears which are used in jewelry.
It was getting late and we still had a two hour drive from the five thousand foot high mountains into one thousand one hundred foot high Phoenix. We had to go over a winding highway 60 through narrow gorges until we left the mountains behind us to arrive in the "Valley of the Sun." It was getting dark and in the distance loomed the silhouette of a mountain range. It looked so spooky, I was totally mesmerized by the view. As we approached the range I suddenly realized that we were now on the other side of the Superstition Mountains. Again my eyes stayed glued to that scene until I could not turn my head any further. I literally had tears in my eyes; I did not want to leave the area! But soon we arrived back in Phoenix which looked very pretty in the dark. It was now eight in the evening; we had had a full twelve hours of touring and I had made up my mind that I wanted to move to Phoenix but I did not yet confide this to Anita.
We decided that we needed to know more about the business side of the city and where the better neighborhoods were located . We were getting serious. The next day we had an appointment with a person at the Chamber of Commerce and this man was extremely helpful. He told us about the low salary base in Arizona and Phoenix, the lack of industries (Motorola and Sperry were the only two major employers at that time), that the West side was developing slower than the East side and other pertinent information. None of this was discouraging to me and the good news was that there existed a substantial middle to high middle income class in Phoenix, my kind of clientele. I was sold on Phoenix.
The next day we had some free time so we drove to different neighborhoods and we were very impressed. Everything looked so clean and light and green. We both loved it. It was hard to leave the area but it was time to go home. On the way to the airport we talked about what we had experienced. It seemed that we both were hesitant to say the words but on the plane I said to Anita that I seriously considered a move to Phoenix and without hesitation she agreed. This was very courageous of her; she was born and had lived all her life in New York, except for her college years and one year in Miami; her parents and all her family and friends lived in or near New York and we did not know anybody except one couple in Arizona and we had no secure way to make a living. We talked about the risk of moving to an unknown area with a family with three youngsters and of starting from scratch. I also mentioned that I would like to get out of the hairdressing business and try something else. I believe that I was burnt out. Anita went along with all my ideas and expressed great confidence in me. I have always appreciated that and without her support I would never have accomplished what I did.
Next -> CHAPTER 13: OUR BIG MOVE TO PHOENIX
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