So this is America
We were docked at one of the many slips at the foot of Manhattan and were picked up by Bruno Mayer-Rosa who was the husband of yet another Ellerkamp boyhood neighbor named Paula. I think they lived in a row house in Queens and that is where we spent one night trying to find our feet on solid ground again.
Anyone who has ever done genealogical research into immigrant families will find that they rarely just went to random places. There was always a reason as to why they would wind up in Cincinnati or Philadelphia or wherever. Typically they would know somebody who would give them a helping hand as they stood on the street wondering where to go and what to do. Somebody from the old country possibly their friend, neighbor or relative would be the reason they were there. Later they might move and bring others to that new place but the initial contact was very important for the arriving immigrant.
So here were in New York. I do not recall how we got to their house but I think it was by public transportation. I know Bruno never had a car or license to drive one and he was probably used to public transportation rather then a taxi. The next day they packed us onto a train to that magical city of Philadelphia which I had dreamed about as being a Mark Twain type place. Doesn't Philadelphia sound like it should be on the Mississippi instead of the Delaware? I thought so. I had been on many trains before but always in Germany in familiar territory of farmland and forests. The trains would go from village to village and one gets a familiarity to the trip as if it were the local trolley car. New York to Philadelphia was different. The train did not pass through green fields and small villages but rather ran along the grimy backs of town after town. It hardly ever stopped. There were no real train stations here either but surely Philadelphia would be different. Our tickets went to the North Phiadelphia train station just off Lehigh Ave. It was sort of a train station, nothing like those of German cities but it did have the necessary ingredients. Everything is still grimy and dirty. It looked more like a rarely used freight station than a people moving place. So here we are with our baggage waiting for someone to take us to the next step. Theodore Ellerkamp was supposed to pick us up but he fails to show until at least a half hour, maybe 45 minutes, go by. I guess it was sort of scary standing there no knowing which way to turn but eventually he came up the stairs and my dad and he recognized each other and hugged and hugged. Actually my dad did most of the hugging because here was the guy who made it possible for us to be here.
We walk down these many series of steps as the RR was way up high on an embankment and arrive at this huge car. Wow, he must be rich to have such a big car. It was a grey 1946 DeSoto. I don't believe I had ever been in a private car before. This thing was alike a limousine. We were in what I would call a ghetto today. It did not look pretty and I started to have doubts about my dreams. All we saw was miles and miles of the same type of houses built together in a whole block. Philadelphia's row houses were a whole new experience and they just never ended. Even when we got to the Ellerkamp's home on Roosevelt Blvd. it was a row house with a porch and a tiny lawn in front of it. So this was Philadelphia. What a letdown from my ideas of mansions with white columns. It was a big house though. Carpets were everywhere. It was a bit dark as they had no windows on the sides and the porch and a tree covered the front window but there was a nice bathroom with a big bathtub with all the modern conveniences. After eating there we went back out to the car and were taken to 5009 N. 3rd St. where we were to live above one of his dry cleaning stores.
Third Street at Rockland Ave. was on a slight decline and the house next door at the corner was a grocery store, fresh vegetables, fruit and Jewish delicatessen all combined into one. It was in the basement but because of the downward hill a part was deeper then the rest. This allowed one store window with all its displays to be visible from the pavement as one looked down. A small set of steps was the entryway. Being brand new to everything I took note of the varied cases of fruits inside and outside of the store as soon as we got there. The apartment upstairs was big. Everything was big around here. We had no furniture and only the basics were up there. That alone made the place look huge.
The store below was sort of a drop-off/pickup sort of place which was only open at certain times and days. It was Ted's plan to have my mom run it day and night so that people would not have to walk from 3rd St to 5th St to have their cleaning done. His main shop was where my dad was to work was at 5th and Rockland only two long blocks away. At our place, after hours, all people would have to do was ring the bell for instant service. He obviously wished to increase his business by having a live-in caretaker. Mom's pay was minimal, maybe 50 cents an hour, for an 8 hour day with everything else being unpaid. She could keep all revenue from any alteration work though. Ted spent a few hours with my mom showing her the ropes and then she was on her own. The instructions included a few specific words of English and if there was a waiting line people should sit and relax until their turn came. It was not difficult except for the money part and there the idea was to right down what a cleaning order would cost if asked 'how much?' Finished items were all marked with price tags and names. The difficult part was finding an order when a person gave their name. There were many Irish names and they proved fairly troublesome. So much for the background.
I think it must have been the first or second day in business when I told my mom about all the big bananas they had next door. Could I PLEASE buy one? Well, she went into her cash register which had a wonderful kachink sound to it and pulled out a dollar. It was the first dollar I ever held and it was wonderful. I went next door and said 'bananas' plunking my dollar bill on the counter. The lady knew I was German and spoke in German to me or maybe it was Yiddish but fully understandable. She was a nice lady and packed a whole bag full of bananas for the dollar. That was not my intent but I was not about to argue. At 10 cents a pound I thusly landed with at least 10 pounds of big ripe yellow bananas. Mom said nothing about my spending the whole dollar and I started to gorge myself. I ate and ate until I could no more. I finally had my fill of a fruit I had tasted only once until we got some on the ship. But that was not an ideal place to enjoy eating anything. For a long time tropical fruit were highly exotic to me. They came from places I had only read and dreamed about.
A few days later I was to watch a pot upstairs while mom was down in the store. It was slowly cooking away and I had plenty of time to visit the friendly lady in the store next door. Surely I would get something delicious from her store of plenty. Whatever we were talking about, I completely forgot the time (a common occurrence for me). Then came the howling of the fire engine sirens and as I raced up the steps and saw the truck stop at our house, I knew instantly what I had done. The pot had caught fire as it dried out and there would be hell to pay. Just another day in life that was full of adventure. The damage was minimal and the reaction of the firetrucks was mainly to the smoke coming out of the window upstairs. I don't know who called them but everything was caught in time. I got my usual scolding but the matter was soon forgotten. I don't even know if my dad ever found out about it. Mom was like that. She'd cover for me even though she'd threatened to have my father come down with hell and damnation on me.
Somewhere I found a little red metal flyers wagon I would ride around in and take with me when we went shopping. My memory of life in this time period is substantially better than the time from before our exit from Germany. Perhaps it all changed with my sister left standing on the train track as we left for Hamburg and by extension America. That was painful and I still have that scene in my vision. As much as I bothered my sister (it was no fun having older sister continually bossing you around), I still loved her dearly and she was my protector who I could always depend upon. Now she was gone. I missed her already. Now I had to grow up and be the little man in the family who did all the things she used to do. It was a change of life and my memory seemed to be turned on at that point. But I still don't know where the red wagon came from. I must have looked really silly to the people around me. In Germany boys always wore short pants. In the winter we'd have long stockings on but long pants were reserved for First Communion or some other such holy event. I did have knickers and that was what I wore when other kids wore long pants. I just didn't have any.
Across the street were a bunch of garages for the houses on the next street over. They sat behind their backyards. A couple of these were rented out to the local newspaper delivery team. Trucks would come to drop off piles and piles of papers which were then distributed to the various newspaper routes. I tried to make myself available over there but without the language I wasn't getting very far. I did get the message though that there were no routes to be had. I hung around anyway. Horatio Alger was on my mind and somehow a newspaper route should be possible, even for me. How else would I become rich? The other boys knew what I wanted. They were not mean like the boys in Essen who were snotty to me. They were just kids working their routes. They probably felt lucky to have the work. One Sunday this boy had a double route for some reason and he had a hard time stacking all those papers on his bike. Whoever he was substituting had been a problem to the manager and he was hoping to double his route by taking over that account. So he asked me to help him with my little red wagon. I don't think I could talk much but I dutifully dragged my wagon behind him. I think maybe he gave me a quarter or something but it wasn't about the money. I was learning something new. The papers were delivered in the afternoon after school. It was the Philadelphia Evening Bulletin. I became sort of a fill-in paper boy but mostly helping out on Sundays with the big fat paper. One day the delivery manager offered me a small route of my own. I was elated. I had a job. Delivery was never a problem as you would just walk down street after street with house numbers in hand and you would throw the paper onto the porch. Collection was another matter. You had to settle up your route and pay for the papers you delivered. Excuses weren't welcome. That often meant going again and again to the same house to collect. I could not explain and would write down the amount owed on a piece of paper. Generally speaking I got good tips from my people. An extra quarter here and there made a huge difference as the paper route itself didn't pay that much. I saved almost everything I earned to buy myself a real wagon. It was the wooden type with extendable railings. I was now the proud owner of something I earned all by myself but the real goal was a shiny green Schwinn bicycle which I would eye every time I walked by the Firestone store where it stood in the window. It was a Firestone labeled bike made by Schwinn. It was the Cadillac of bicycles and deserved my admiration again and again. I would go in that store. It had a wonderful smell to it. Almost like a Pep Boys store today. I would touch those bicycles and look and look and look. In the meantime I added more customers to my route and had paid for the wagon and had $10 in a saving account at the Henkels S&L in our parish. I would add about $1 a week to my savings book.
One day the salesman at the Firestone store talked to me and said something like, 'you really like that bike don't you'? I told him that I was saving up for it. I think the bike was around $60 and he made me an offer I could not refuse. Take the bike and pay him on a weekly basis. Oh joy! There was no contract. No nothing, just my promise to pay him back. If I could only explain how proud I was when I rode home on that bicycle. I also got a big basket for the front for my newspapers. That bike became my whole life. I adored and loved it more then anything in the world. My eyes moisten as I think of my pride in owning something that wonderful. I was 14 1/2 years old and finally owned a bicycle of my very, very own.
It was America and all things were possible.