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Radcliffe Street was not a paved street. There werent too many paved streets. It was a dirt street at that time. Our biggest source of fun was playing baseball or something on that street. And we had two areas of pleasure. One was playing on Radcliffe Street and then one was playing on a railroad lot on Ann Street, which was probably 30 feet wide, much too narrow to play baseball, we did anyhow. At the end of that lot they used to bring in sand from the cement company and wed go down and play in this huge mound of sand on a railroad car. The other thing was that the fire station, which was no motorized engines, they were all horse-drawn, there was one just one block from where we lived on John Street and we could hear the bell from the fire station. The location of the fire was determined by the number of bells that rang at this fire station and we would run out and run after these horse-drawn fire engines. That was another area where we had games. And we played on Marion Square. Marion Square was a little hostile because the gang from lower Calhounwhat we used to call the Buzzards Roostthat gang didnt like us to play on Marion Square. So wed have fights with those boys. So we had three areas of play, either the street or the railroad lot or Marion Square. Those were our three. We were limited to that. We couldnt go to Mitchell Park and we couldnt go to the mall and we couldnt play on the Battery because they each had their little gangs to protect their turf, so to speak.
Back in those days wed make a rubber gun. What wed do is take a piece of wood, carve it out like a gun, and put a clothespin on the back. Then wed take and cut up an inner tube, an old inner tube that we found. Wed get a round heavy rubber like a rubber band, and wed stretch it back and hold it, and youd have a gun. We learned to do things for ourselves in those days. We also got to where we could make a machine gun out of that by cutting notches in a piece of wood and bringing it back and having a piece of heavy string all the way back and as you pull that string up, you released each one of the rubber bands. We did pretty good for ourselves. And, of course, on an empty lot we always played football, got pretty dirty. A dirty lot.
When I was in Courtenay School some of the boys, friends of mine, wanted to see how a cow was killedtheyd never seen this. I took them up to the abattoir with me and they all got sick watching the slaughter, especially when they took the lungs out and they used to have to blow the lungs up to check if the cow was sick. These kids got sick, they would never go back.
Rabbi Bell, about a year into his contract, gave a bad check and we got rid of him. He was replaced by a man named Speck, S-P-E-C-K. He was running the Hebrew school. Speck was a big bruiser, about six foot tall and two hundred pounds, and when hed hit you, youd know you were hit. So by this time I was playing the violin. I used to come to Hebrew school from my violin class, I think every day of the week or quite a few days of the week. And one day as I was walking out Mr. Speck, who had a big mouth, said, Ach, here comes the fiddler. So I said, Dont you wish you could play the fiddle? And Mr. Speck was absolutelyit hurt his feelings. So he told Mr. Glaser about it. The following Saturday at the synagogue Mr. Glaser told my father the story about how I was disrespectful to the teacher. That you never did. You could do just about anything but dont be disrespectful to a teacher. And my father let me have it in full. I must have been ten or eleven years old at the time. Maybe nine or ten because we were already living on the Terrace at that time. He let me have it in full regalia. I never have forgotten that and Ive never been disrespectful to a teacher ever since.
Well, we lived at 182 Wentworth Street which at that time was two blocks from the Ashley River. I remember growing up that there were four major lumber companies on the river and they would haul the logs or float them in or bring them in by barge from where they would cut themit was a very romantic area of growing up. I learned how to swim in the summertime off of West Point which was the old rice building which is now one of Charlestons historic buildings. Where the Chamber of Commerce has a building and where they have a restaurantwhere the marina is right now.
And every spring of the year we would go and find an abandoned bateau and one of the blacks that worked at one of the mills would teach us how to batten up and make it waterproof and I learned how to row or paddle a boat from Charleston to the Isle of Palms. When I was eight to ten years of age, my brother and I, I mean we had a terrific amount of mobility. We were driving a car when we were ten. In those days we didnt need a license. You just needed the ability to do it.
A Huck Finn Existence
The economy in Charleston was such that the exchange of know-how was the way that you managed because the funds were not available. So it was sort of a Tom Sawyer/Huckleberry Finn existence and the fact that my father had this place up in Berkeley County gave us a great experience of liferural and urban. You had two cotton gins there and whatnot. We learned how to drive. We were exposed to various segments of the entrepreneurship of businesses.
I remember the first season we entered the Charleston High School. They had little gangs there and if you brought a sandwich to school somebody would come over and if he was bigger than you were and intimidated you, youd have to share. Not out of the fact that they needed it for survival, but that was just the existence of people there. This was a very poor economic community.
College of Charleston
When I got into the College of Charleston in 1931, the student body was three hundred students. I am going to make a quick guess. Out of three hundred I think there were about thirty Jews there.
My brother and I at the College of Charleston had just finished taking our last exam which was about April the twentieth or April the twenty-fifth.
And we invited two of our classmates, two gentile boys, would they like to spend a week with us at Folly Beach in my mothers cottage. We had a car and a little five-horse-power outboard motor and we each put up twenty dollars apiece which was eighty dollars and we bought groceries and I dont know if we bought beer, I think we didwe werent big beer drinkers then. And we took the outboard motor and went to Folly Beach, and you know, we had hot dogs and we fixed our own meals. And the day after we got there we got up in the morning and went out on the beach and we were playing stick ball. Half-rubber balland this guy came up who was walking down the beach in a pair of cut-off pants. This was before the days of attractive Bermudas. You took your old pants and took a scissor or knife and cut em off. And he had about a ten-day growth of beard and I said, Do you know the game?
He says, Yes, Im from Brooklyn, New York.
I said, Get out in the field.
Anyway, you only got a bat if you caught a fly ball. That entitled you to take a bat. And if you struck out you got back out. Anyway, he never did catch a fly ball or nobody hit one out of there far enough, so about an hour later I called him back in. So he said, Gosh, yall are not quitting on account of me?
I said, No, its eleven something and we are going in to lunch and wed like for you to join us.
So he stuck his hand out and he said, Gosh, I dont know how to begin, he said, But my name is George Gershwin.
And I said, My name is Abe Dumas, and my brothers Joe Dumas, and George Thompson and Lye and Tyler were the two other boys.
So he says, Gosh, I just hope that I am not imposing.
I said, No, no come on in. We are going to have some hamburgers and hot dogs.
And he said, Id love it. So he went in.
So I said, George, or Mr. Gershwin, I think I called him, What are you doing here?
And he said, Im staying with Dorothy and Dubose Heyward.
I said, Yeah, they are my neighbors. So that was all he said.
So we had our lunch and he said, Listen, I want yall to come over and be my guest for dinner tonight.
And we said, Absolutely.
So we went over and there was this huge, typical, not typical but a fine Folly Beach home and they must have had ten or twelve blacks working in there. They had a lovely dinner with wine and whatever. And I noticed in the public room there were two baby grand pianos there and scores of sheet music all over the place just in disarray. So he said when we were about to finish the meal he just left the table and went into the room and started strumming and playing bits and finally he played a piece that I recognized.
I punched my brother and I said, Joe, thats George Gershwin.
He said, Yeah, but who is he?
I said, Hes a famous musician and hes Jewish. I said, Take the car and go in town and get Mary and Yetta. My two sisters. So he went and got em both.
Yetta was an attractive girl and George knew we were Jewish and he liked the young people. He was with these stodgy people from downtown. By that time we knew who he was and we went in there and asked him a lot of questions and he said he was working with Dorothy [and] Dubose Heyward and was trying to write the score for a play that they were doing on Porgy and Bess.
And he asked me, you know, since I had a car and knew the area would I mind help him locate some of the black churches so he could go and hear the gospel music and what not. And I said, Sure, Id love it.
So for that entire summer I would meet with George from time to time and he wouldnt go anyplace socially in Charleston without taking my sister. She was at that time about fifteen and you know, not any romantic thing, he just liked her. She was a very attractive young lady. Anyway, next summer he came down, same thing. And finally in 1935 he came down just for a few days and talked with my sister and took her back to New York and put her in ballet school. She didnt last very long. He got her a job with Bonwit Tellers in New York. She was about eighteen or nineteen.
When my wife and I announced our engagement, I think it was in some time in early 1936 and it was fashionable in those days, if you could afford it, that the parents would take their daughters, Jewish particularly, up to New York and take a trip on the Clyde Line. Then it was like a beautiful trip, a day and a half by boat from here to New York and then stay in New York and then come back on the boat. Anyway, Gershwin gave a party for my wife in New York. And two years later he died and that was it. I never realized the importance of having had that opportunity to be in the presence of this man for two summers and then learn aboutthe state of South Carolina passed a law in the legislature that would not allow the integrated actors or even a presentation of Porgy and Bess, for many, many years after they had gone all over the country and all over the world before they would even allow it in the state of South Carolina.
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