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Aunt Bert and Moving to Queens,
New York in the 1920s

On the way home from Los Angeles, my parents and I stopped off in Chicago to visit with Aunt Bert, who had now been married for almost two years to Scott Cunningham. He was a charming man, and, at 24 years of age, ten years her junior. Highly intellectual, Scott owned an advertising business and collected first editions. The walls of their apartment living room soared to almost thirteen feet and were lined throughout with built-in book cases, just about every one crammed with editions that today would bring enough to settle a fair part of the national debt.

I had, for birthdays and holidays, always received a book and/or a classical record from Bert before she was married, afterwards, from both of them. Scott, who appeared to have no particular love of children, took to me because we talked about the books they’d sent and my mother had read to me. He showed me how to open a new volume by "cracking" the spine ever so gently in the center first, then about every thirty or forty pages in each direction, then each of the covers. It was from them that I picked up book collecting (though on no such massive scale), good reading habits, and a love of classical music.

Bert had given up teaching and I don’t believe she ever missed it, though years later she’d reminisce with me. Her proudest moments were when a student only a year away from graduation would approach her desk and announce, "Miss Wohlfeld, I think I’m gonna quit school and go to work where I can make some money."

She’d answer, "Fine, Robert (or whomever) I think that’s a delightful idea! With you out of the classroom I’ll have more time to spend with each of my students who are left. Since class is still in session, and your ditch digger’s job will still be there tomorrow, you may take your seat for the remainder of the day." She never lost a student.

When we finally got back to New York, in early fall of 1929, my parents decided to move to Sunnyside, Long Island, a developing part of Queens just across the East River from Manhattan. Sunnyside, and all of Queens, was then no more than open fields. We took an apartment on the sixth floor of a seven-story building. It was the first building on Long Island (and one of the few in all of New York) to have a self-service elevator. All around us were empty lots. Here and there, in the distance, was a private home. There were just enough residents in the area for the A&P to open a grocery store, and for a butcher and a dry cleaner to make a decent living.

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