THREE MOUNT VERNON STORIES
Richard J. Garfunkel
Hopefully these vignettes will not intrude greatly on your peaceful lives, so if you have a moment or two and wish to indulge me on this, read on!
As this momentous year of change, peril, disaster and anxiety stars to wane, I had thoughts of sharing with you three Mount Vernon connections that came my way with a typical dose of serendipity.
SUMMER AT THE PHILHARMONIC
In the middle of summer, Linda and I decided to go hear the New York Philharmonic perform at the Westchester Community College. Every once in a while we would go to this mid-summer event. In fact, one year, while we were in rapt attention, and numb with vino, the then conductor Zubin Mehta fell off the stage. As a result of this unfortunate happenstance, which he incurred injury, Mr. Mehta’s career took a “tumble”.
Not withstanding, the program featured show music by Leonard Bernstein and a classical finale by the Russian master Prokofiev. We were joined by our old AB Davis friend Warren Adis, and his wife, of many, many, years, Mary. ( Mary is an English girl, whose father was in the Foreign Service and who’s livelihood contributed greatly to her birth in India, at the time of the Raj.)
The NY Philharmonic attracts great attention in suburban Westchester County, and therefore over 25,000 other souls had the same idea of picnicking on the grounds with friends and listening under the stars to melodious offerings. Even though we were quite early, and were able to find a few square yards of uninhabited turf for our blankets, the unoccupied terra firma disappeared by the minute. In fact, two hours later, and after the music had started, the enthusiasts were still piling in with their unending march toward the rear. Without the strategic placement of huge loudspeakers, every 50 feet, 90% of the people would have been out of audio range. Meanwhile, because we had not seen the Adis group in a while, I brought some photos albums, and some travel journals that I had been piecing together over the past year.
As I was showing Mary one of the journals, and because of the closeness of everyone around, us our conversation was overheard by our neighbors. Somehow when the Mount Vernon or Davis High School name was mentioned, a women who was sitting practically on top of us, leaned over and said she went to Davis and that she really admired my journals. She was an archivist at the Central Synagogue in New York and understood how difficult it was to do what I had done, and she admired my dedication and originality. That was flattering in itself, and since this was all happening before the music started we did get to talk about AB Davis, where she and her husband had attended and graduated. They were about ten years ahead of us, and of course we were able to match up teachers from both eras. Nobody left teaching in those days, no matter how rotten the pay was! Eventually the music started, we settled down, and after numerous selections we reached intermission. Since we were all a bit spent we decided to take advantage of the intermission, and pick up, leave, and find our car. It was all right, because no one was really in the mood for Prokofiev, the parking lot was jammed, and the port-o-san lines were unending. As we stood up and were packing our gear, I asked the woman, whom we had been conversing with, and I had practically stepped on, what was the name she went by. She told me “Minninberg”. I asked her “was your mother-in-law named Mildred?” She said “yes”, and how did I know? I told her that one of my mother’s good friends was Mildred! Small world! We were ready to go and it was tough stepping over people, so I didn’t get a chance to learn what had happened to the Minninbergs, but I decided to look up their phone number and I’ll eventually ask!
TENNIS AND WRESTLING
Later this same summer, I was playing my usual weekend tennis at the County Tennis Club in Scarsdale, just off the Bronx River Parkway past Fenimore Road and opposite the, Hartsdale Station. I was in a tournament, and our doubles team was scheduled against a pair of guys, of whom one was a new member. As I was musing on the deck of the clubhouse, a young guy came up to me with a magazine in his hand, and asked me my name. I said who I was and I asked him why he wanted to know. He then started to relate to me a strange story prefaced by a series of questions. He first asked me if I knew anything about wrestling, and I said that my knowledge was limited to amateur scholastic wrestling in Mt. Vernon, Westchester County and Section I between 1960 and 1977. Then he asked me if I knew Randy Forrest and Jimmy Lee ( the famous New Rochelle and Mount Vernon amateur wrestlers and coaches from the late 1950’s to the late 1970’s, Randy, NR 1958, and Jimmy, MVHS 1964). I said that knew them quite well from the time I was 16 years old. I was now very curious why this young guy wanted to know whether I knew these people. I looked at him and said, “you are a much younger person, why would you be interested in these people?” Before he answered, he brought out a magazine, The Amateur Wrestling News (printed in Oklahoma, USA) and asked me if I had ever heard of Henry Littlefield, who had coached at Mount Vernon and Doug Garr, who had written the article in the magazine. Again, I told him that I knew Henry since I was 16, and that he was the coach and mentor of Forrest, Lee and also Doug Garr. He was not terribly surprised when I elaborated on the wonderful wrestling program that Henry had put in place. Finally, after a general review of the history of our program from 1960 to 1977, I again asked him why he cared. He then told me that he was currently interested in scholastic, collegiate and Olympic freestyle wrestling, and that this interest had derived from his brother who was a competitor from Roosevelt HS in Yonkers in the late 1970’s. At that time he and his brother had come in contact with the Mount Vernon program and became interested in its history. Since no one seemed to know much about the history, he inquired whether there would be someone out there in the world that would know. So over 25 years ago someone suggested that a guy named Garfunkel would know. Lo and behold in the year 2001, we are matched up in a tennis tournament and he sees the name Garfunkel, and asks someone at the club “does this guy know anything about wrestling.” Of course, we meet and I am that Garfunkel.
Funny world we live in! It seems that Henry’s legacy lives on and on. My new friend, and tennis opponent, told me that in wrestling circles, Mount Vernon High School’s
Program from that 15-year period is legendary. So long after the program waned in Mount Vernon, the dusty memories still evoke some talk among the aficionados of the sport!
MEMORIES OF PROSPECT AVENUE
A long time ago, in late 1945, I moved into Mount Vernon with my parents and older sister, Kaaren. Of course I had little to do with that move and being less then 1 year old my contribution was understandingly sparse. It was a large and roomy red brick house at the end of Prospect Avenue, nestled between Magnolia and Sycamore. The house was quite old even then, having been built in the last century, that is the 19th. Because of moving in at such a tender age, I always regarded myself as being born in Mount Vernon. It may have been a little white lie, but so be it. In fact, when I was on Howdy Doody or something like that, I was asked where I was from, and I said Brooklyn! Boy was my mother unhappy. She said that I was from Mount Vernon! So from then on I was not only from Mount Vernon, but born there!
Meanwhile our house was next the Oshman house, an old stucco Mediterrean type, and our backyards were rather contiguous and we shared a very, very large ice age era rock. This rock was quite fantastic and I eventually was able to climb up and down it from almost every angle. Even today it is quite gigantic and imposing. The Oshman’s had three daughters, Ethel, Marilyn and Betty, who probably were, from the oldest to the youngest 20 to 15 years older then me. Well since the backyards adjoined, I frequently visited the Oshman’s as their married daughters returned with their latest offspring via stroller or carriage and visited with their parents. Even though I was only a few years older then the first of the grandchildren, I got to see babies first hand. Well this went on for many years and as time passed the three girls had nine children. The middle daughter, Marilyn, I remember quite well because she was quite stunning.
It was always an adventure romping around the backyards in those days, and my neighbors got to know me quite well. The Oshmans were older then my parents, and Mr. Oshman just enjoyed sitting in his driveway and holding court with his daughters, their husbands and all the little kids. As I got older, and my interests shifted I saw less and less of the Oshman family. As I entered junior and senior high school I became preoccupied with the conventional interests of a teenager, and my backyard visits were restricted to relaxing on a hammock on a warm summer day and listening to Yankee games. My sister had gone on to Cornell in the fall of 1959 and she was rarely back in Mount Vernon. In fact, I saw little of the Oshman family in my waning years in Mount Vernon. My contact with my neighbors practically ceased in 1963 when I went off to college and my parents finally sold our house in 1965. It wasn’t terribly traumatic, my sister had graduated college, moved into an apartment in New York City and I adjusted to finishing college and adjusting to the strange and dangerous world we were all facing. The thoughts of Prospect Avenue never really faded, but moved into the background. Thankfully many of my friends still lived in the neighborhood, so I was able to visit quite often. It’s a funny feeling of coming back to one’s home neighborhood, but not being able to stay. At the end of the day one must return to different surroundings.
Time past quickly. My friends never came back to Mount Vernon. Their parents moved away, some died and the town changed, maybe forever. Eventually, after meeting Linda at the Mount Vernon High School in early 1969, we were married, moved to White Plains, raised children and like many others, tried to age gracefully.
Over the years I would, through conversation, meet people from Mount Vernon. One day a few years ago I was sitting on the deck of the clubhouse at County Tennis in Scarsdale. While waiting for the next available court, I wound up talking to one Herb Haber, an older member, whose wife was from Mount Vernon. He learned that I was from there and asked me if I knew of the Oshmans. “Of course”, I said and went on to tell them that we were their neighbors for about 20 or so years. I didn’t know much about them, even when I lived there, because of my youth, but Herb, who was over 80 years of age, filled me in about the family. It was quite fascinating, because my impression was quite different. The old man, who I used to see in his cheap beach chair playing with his grandchildren, was not the person I had assumed him to be. As a boy I had heard that he was in the “shoe” business, so I assumed he was a “shoemaker”! Funny, but as I was to learn, I was quite mistaken. Herb went on to tell me that Lou Oshman, was a Brown graduate, a champion collegiate swimmer, a great tennis player, who won a national public courts championship and a millionaire. In fact, they owned a summer camp, and a golf course.
Of course, I told Herb what little I knew of the Oshman family from those days, and I did remember Marilyn and her feisty husband Jules Yarnell, who was a lawyer. One memory of Jules was that we argued politics even though I was a young teenager. He, like the Oshmans (this I later learned) was a rabid Republican and I a “yellow dog” Democrat.
Well, not so long ago, in fact about five months I gather old Herb Haber told me that Jules Yarnell had died. I asked Herb how old he was and Herb told me that he was about 83! I was really amazed. It was probably 42 years since I had seen Jules and the rest of the Oshman’s. Wow, had time flown away! I asked Herb where they lived, and he told me, so I looked up their phone number and called. Unfortunately there was no answer, but I left a message. After a week or so I called a few more times, but with no further messages. I guessed that she was away, so I decided to wait a bit longer and to make one more call. Well not long after, I called, and a woman answered. I asked if she was Marilyn Yarnell, she said ”yes” and I told her who I was. Immediately she thanked me for calling, asked how my sister was, and told me that though she was away, she had been thrilled about my early phone message. She had told her sisters about the call and they were amazed that I had remembered all of them. We talked for about an hour and I eventually sent her a long letter about our lives and family history. It was like entering into a time capsule, and not only going back to an exact spot of my youth, but also being able to enjoy the rare opportunity of catching up with someone who knew me from the time I was an infant to almost manhood.