Tuesday, January 25, 2011

Columbus: Fading memory was once my home

Blogger's note: I came across this column recently while going through my files. For those of you growing up in my little corner of the world, I hope it brings back happy memories.

Somewhat like the fictional bar "Cheers", Columbus in the 1950s and '60s was a place where just about everyone knew your name — and what you were up to and often what you were thinking. Small town life — especially along the clay-stained streets of central Georgia — could be very special and, sometimes, challenging and difficult.

At its best, Columbus was a safe, comfortable, caring community. It was the sort of place Hollywood screenwriters try to capture in coming-of-age movies and old folks picture in their minds when they grow melancholy and start their conversations with the bitter-sweet phrase, "I remember when ..."

Columbus was mostly about the good life, a "Beaver Cleaverish" little city — at least on the surface — where the Jewish community was an integral part of the fabric of society. In the '50s and early '60s there were no malls or mega-stores or outlet factories. Downtown was a cluster of aging shops on a dozen or so streets hugging the Chattahoochee River. And going downtown was an exciting adventure. On weekends and holidays the streets were bustling with shoppers and soldiers (Ft. Benning was just to the south), working their way around cars and buses and the occasional trolley car left over from the '40s.

My father owned a pawn shop on First Avenue. It was next to Suran's Furniture Store, which was around the corner from the Novelty Shop on Broadway, owned and operated by the Kravtin family. Next door were a cluster of businesses — Blue Ribbon Shoes, Rainbow's Department Store and "Tots and Teens" — all owned and operated by the Rainbow and Shapiro families.

Nearby, on the same block, was Aaron Funk's United Jewelers, Gus Mendelson's Fox's Pawn Shop and Sol and Harry's, a hugely successful clothing store owned by Sol and Harry Cohn. A block north was Phil Pomerance's Kiddie Shop, Charlie Stein's Huddle Shop, and Victor Kiralfy's woman's store. Turn the corner at 11th Street and walk a block east past Kirven's department store and Federal Bakery and you'd be just across the street from Miller's Delicatessen, home of the best corned beef sandwich (perhaps the only corned beef sandwich) to be found in Georgia south of Leb's in Atlanta.

The city eventually muscled its way eastward, down Wynnton road where shopping strips and malls would later sprout, along with tract houses and subdivisions that offered all the modern conveniences that would come to define the American dream as the country grew and matured. It was here that the Jewish community took root, centered around Shearith Israel Synagogue (Conservative) on Wynnton Road and Temple Israel (Reform) about a mile or so to the North on Wildwood Avenue near Lake Bottom and Columbus High School.

The war and Holocaust and anti-semitism were fading memories but the Jewish community remained closed and insular. We went to school and worked with the rest of the community, but we prayed and partied only with one another. Assimilation was not yet a blip on our cultural radar screen.

So we kept bumping into the same people. We all belonged to either the synagogue or temple (some of us belonged to both); prayed mostly at Friday night services (except during football season when we prayed at Memorial Stadium on Victory Drive) and almost always ended the evening with a "sock hop" at the home of the current AZA Sweetheart — Debbie Lapides, Anita Satlof, Pat Robbins and Nancy Rainbow in the mid-60s.

We danced and swam at the Standard Club (until it was torn down to make way for an apartment complex) or the Harmony Club; belonged to both USY and BBYO; attended the AZA Sweetheart Dance and USY Building Spiritual Bridges Dance each year and traveled to Macon and Augusta, Birmingham and Montgomery for youth conventions where we met other Jewish kids doing pretty much the same sorts of things in their cities that we were doing back in Columbus.

We water skied on the backwaters of the Chattahoochee; saw movies at the Georgia or Bradley Theaters downtown; hung out at Pizza On Call in Dinglewood and each fall attended the Chattahoochee Valley Exposition — the county fair. We graduated high school, went away to college and, many of us, never looked back.

For me, Columbus today is a place that speaks of a different, somewhat gentler time. It remains only in my mind and imagination and magically in black and white photos, filled with the aging ghosts of family and friends. This is the place of my childhood, and although it has been over 40 years since I lived on Briarwood Avenue in a tiny three-bedroom home with my parents and three brothers, Columbus remains my home. In a strange sort of way, it always will be.

FADING MEMORY: Broadway, in downtown Columbus, was a happening place (photo above) in the '50s and '60s, especially on the weekends and soldiers' pay day.

6 comments:

  1. Mr Grenbief, I just read your story. I am a Christian and therefore did not grow up in the same enviroment or group. However I am from Columbus, born and raised and was familiar with so much of what you wrote! I enjoyed recognizing the names of businesses and people. Thank You for the story, I enjoyed it very much!

    Jan Page

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  2. Dear Mr. Grebnief,
    The story of Columbus strikes a major chord with me. My fondest memories as a child were the Saturdays when I was fortunate enough to ride up from rural Alabama to Columbus, Georgia with my grandmother who was raising me and my little sister. My experience too was quite different that yours, as I am African American and our first stop was usually "kin folks corner". I got my first real hair cut at the barber shop there, and shot my first game of pool at the Ace High Inn, got my first job at Eagle and Phenix Mill and bought my first suit from Schwobilt. As a child, my grandmother frequented all the stores you mentioned except Kiralfys (too pricey), and her favorites were the 5 and dimes HL Green and Kress. Your story brought back so many memories and yes, I bought a few outfits from Sol and Harry's! What a trip down memory lane. Thank you very much.

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  3. My father retired from the Army in Columbus in the 1960s, and that's where I graduated from Baker High School and Columbus College, got my first job at the Ft. Benning Infantry School, got married at the Main Post Protestant Chapel, and years later buried my parents at the post cemetery. The town is as close to roots as this military brat will ever have, so Columbus has a special place in my heart too.
    Linda (LJT777@AOL.com)

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  4. I grew up in Columbus, went to elementary school at Mother Mary Mission and graduated from Pacelli. In the 8th grade, Brother Charles took us on a field trip to a synagogue in 1968. We were so impressed. The rabbi was very patient and answered our questions. I remember wanting a Menorrah. I later attended Roosevelt University, an institution founded by the likes of Frank Untermeyer, Larry Ginensky and Ralph Meinking. I remembered telling them about my childhood trip.

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  5. Seeing an old bus along side the road

    Caused a stirring inside my soul
    
A melancholy journey down memory lane

    The door opened, a little girl climbed in

    Tightly holding Grandmama's hand
    
Downtown they would go the day to spend

    Mama let me pull the cord
    
To ring the bell to unboard

    When we neared our destination

    Thrilled and excited, anticipation
    
Watching with questioning eyes

    I knew to pull NOW by her smile

    Mama knew all the best places
    
For pretty things, buttons and laces
    
She got supplies to sew frilly things
    
The world's best Mama, loving and sweet
    
McCrorys dime store is where we would eat
    
Chili hot dogs, cherry cola cold drinks

    That's not all she would buy for me

    I got toy jewelry from H.L. Green's
    
All sparkly with glitter and diamonds, too

    Then up the street to Boston's for shoes

    We paused at Kiralfy's to look in the windows
    
But continued on to JC Penny's

    One more store we had to shop
    
Woolworth's, peppermint balls and chocolate drops
    
Coloring books, crayons, and my very favorite

    The box of dolls made of cardboard paper
    
Pages of beautiful clothes to wear
    
I would cut them all out with extra care

    I really wanted the toy nurses kit

    Mama said maybe Santa would bring me that
    
The tiny tears doll had a real stroller
    
Can we add that to my Santa's order
    
With only a few dollars left and bus fare
    
I passed up the barrettes for my hair

    Mothers Day was coming soon
    
I bought her Evening in Paris perfume

    For Mama, I knew just what she loved
    
A Bible book mark and Sunday gloves 

    Tired and thirsty before heading home
    
We had a cool drink from the Orange Bowl

    What a perfect day downtown

    Waiting for the bus to come back around
    
We got on it to head back home
    
Mama's lap was the best to nap on

    Do you want to pull the string

    You do it Mama, I'm too tired this time

    The old bus has stopped but the journey continues
    
The memories remain always within us

    Covered in rust, windows all shattered
    
It can still go back in time to what matters

    Mama is in heaven but it is not so far away 

    Closing my eyes we rode that bus again, today.

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