West Orange was my dwelling place….

June 10, 2012 at 2:38 am (Family)

  West Orange New Jersey that is, in the County of Essex. Our family lived there, in a house on Fairway Drive, from 1944 (the year of my birth) to 1952.

Last month, we drove to Plymouth, Massachusetts for  family wedding (with plans to continue on to Cape Cod, afterwards). West Orange lay directly along our route, so we decided to break the journey there, in both directions. This gave me the opportunity to revisit my past in that place.

On this pilgrimage, I had two specific destinations in mind. The first was a very long lived restaurant called Pals Cabin  The original eponymous “pals” were Martin L. Horn and Bion Leroy Sale. In 1932, they founded a modest eatery – literally a ten by twelve foot cabin – as a bulwark against the crushing forces of the Depression. Family lore has it that my parents stopped there en route to Orange Memorial Hospital, as my mother was about to give birth to me. In later years, the family would come here, from time to time, for a meal.

Today, Marty Horn’s descendants still own and run Pals Cabin.

On our way north, Lynn, my dear friend from college days, met us for dinner at this historic eatery. (Lynn lives in nearby Montclair, where my mother grew up. My grandparents had a candy store there.)  On the way back, Ron and I ate there again, just the two of us. That evening, I chose the ‘foot-long’ frankfurter, described thus: ” The first item on our menu over 75 years ago, enjoy our famous frank with sauerkraut or grilled onions on request. Served with French Fries.” Ron had a hamburger, also with a side of fries and some extremely memorable fried onion rings.

As we were leaving, I inquired as to whether there were any members of the Horn family on the premises. “Oh, sure; Danny’s here.” I was directed to a young man who was setting tables. I went up to him and introduced myself. You won’t know me, I said, but my family has a history with this place…. He was warm and gracious. When I asked for several place mats, he gladly obliged, offering me a menu as well:

I expressed my gratitude, and wished him and the entire Horn family a happy eightieth (!!) birthday. 

In  the course of my research for this post, I learned that there are others who have a special feeling for Pals Cabin.  In addition to the expression of affection, this post by Frank Gerard Godlewski contains some fascinating historical tidbits. More of the same can be found on Comestiblog, and on the restaurant’s own site.

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And now, on to the house on Fairway Drive.

Over the course of  this trip, the weather, to put it tactfully, had been variable. In fact, when we left Cape Cod, it was pouring down rain, and continued to do so all through Connecticut. However, by the time we got to New Jersey, it had begun to clear up. That evening we had our final dinner at Pals Cabin. And the following morning, before we got properly under way for the final leg of our journey, we stopped at the house on Fairway Drive. It was a gorgeous day.

You take Gregory Avenue to Mount Pleasant. Go left on Highland Place, then right onto Fairway Drive. Of course. Stop here, I said to Ron. We got out. The house number was not actually visible from where we  stood, but of course, that did not matter. This was the place:

A girl named Sharon strides toward us, a mean look on her face. She hands us a piece of paper on which are written the words, SAY OFF MY LAND. “Off my land!” we shouted at her retreating back. “Off my land,” again, jeering at her.

We go house to house through the neighborhood, with a bag full of records: ‘Wanna buy some?’  (If memory serves, we were later ordered to retrieve the records and return any monies collected by our unauthorized sales venture.)

In the house that backed up to ours lived  a boy named Frankie. He was a very kid with an impish grin and a mischievous look in his eye. In fact, he was continually getting into trouble and taking Yours Truly, a ready if not eager participant, along with him. Once he strung together several lengths of extension cord and blew the circuits in several adjoining properties. Frankie derived great amusement from the name of a particular brand of coffee and used to shout it out loud at every opportunity” Medaglia Doooro!!” 

The memories were coming at me, fast and furious…and for the most part, unverifiable.

I do feel myself to be on somewhat firmer ground when I recall having as a neighbor, at the other end of Fairway Drive, a man known to us as Commander Duchin. This would have been Paul Duchin, purportedly the brother of pianist and bandleader Eddy Duchin. My older brother has the  same memory; in fact, he remembers, as a youngster, playing with one of the Duchin boys. I have no recollection of ever setting eyes on this mysterious Commander Duchin (U.S. Navy – some connection to the Brooklyn Navy Yard?), but one thing I do remember vividly: his wife had been a polio victim and had to sleep in an iron lung. That is the kind of specific fact that stays with you. Nevertheless, it must be said that my efforts to verify this information have been in vain.  (The fact that Eddy Duchin served in the Navy during World War Two, attaining the rank of lieutenant commander, is a matter of record. Eddy Duchin’s son Peter has had, like his father before him, a successful career as a pianist and band leader. I recently discovered that he is also the author of a memoir called The Ghost of a Chance (1998). I’m currently in the process of obtaining this volume.)

Driving around West Orange was an interesting experience. The place felt old, and it looked as though nothing much has been done to update the infrastructure. The road signs were hard to read; I saw no electronic signals at pedestrian crossings. In some places the traffic was ferocious. This was especially true at the intersection where Pals Cabin is located.   But other places were very quiet, the greenery, lush. I saw once again the large rhododendron bushes that flourish there. My old neighborhood lay in a sun drenched stillness, looking more beautiful than ever. Bidding it farewell, I felt a sort of sweet, resigned sadness. With the passage of time have come the inevitable losses; still, I have been fortunate in life, in love, and in family, and I am grateful. 

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Click here to read more about West Orange. And Joseph Fagen has lovingly and eloquently chronicled the life and times of the township of my birth, on a site devoted to its history.

I have a substantial trove of photographs inherited from my parents that I have yet to sort through. Many of them are maddeningly unidentified. And if there are any of our family at Fairway Drive, I’ve yet to uncover them. Still, I felt that this post would be incomplete without some family photos. So here they are:

My mother in her youth, possibly a college graduation picture

Dad and I at the race track

My father

My brothers, my father, and me

My mother, my grandmother, and me

 

Mother and Bon-Bon, much loved family pet, in Central Park

My mother and my son Ben, in September 1975

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We shall not cease from exploration
And the end of all our exploring
Will be to arrive where we started
And know the place for the first time.

‘Little Gidding’  from The Four Quartets, T.S. Eliot

1 Comment

  1. Yvette said,

    Wonderful post, Roberta. Wonderful pictures.

    I have many family pictures that I really should do something about before they fade into total oblivion. That looks like a lovely house to have grown up in. 🙂 Thanks for sharing.

    P.S. I live in New Jersey, though I grew up in Manhattan. But I’m not at all familiar with West Orange except as a sign on Route 80 – The Oranges.

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