I remember Roosevelt. A little New Jersey community a few miles from Hightstown. It was a rural town filled with writers, painters, sculptors
and members of the Progressive Party. No, not the Communist Party. It was known as the Progressive Party in 1948. I was 11 years old when we moved there. My father was out of work due to the Depression. After desperately looking for a job and a home for us, he found a concrete block and glass house which was architecturally designed by Louis Kahn in the Bauhaus style. Little did I know then that this little town would become one of the Heritage communities in New Jersey and part of a “Homestead” movement founded by President Franklin D. Roosevelt. It was to be one of the most idyllic childhood memories of my life.
It was called “The New Deal,” Roosevelt’s vision put thousands of people to work building bridges, houses, painting murals, farming, etc. The homesteads provided factories so that folks could work and live in the same community. My father got a job in the clothing factory. It was a vision of a genius.
The Jersey Homesteads appealed to many Jewish “thinkers.” Writers, artists, sculptors came to live there because of it’s socialist ideology. Among those who came, were Ben Shahn, David Stone Martin,
Gregorio Prestopino, Jacob Landau and many other luminaries. I had no idea how prominent they were or what their membership in the “Progressive Party” meant. All I knew was my mother called them all Dirty Commies and said the FBI had our community in their sight lines. This was during the McCarthy era. She didn’t like “any of em.”
My best friend was Susie Shahn, Ben and Bernarda Shahn’s daughter. We climbed trees, rode our bikes, fished in the lake and played softball with the boys. We were labeled Tom Boys. We didn’t care. We never kept in touch after we moved to Trenton but I found out many years later that she went to live in London and died from liver cancer.
My brother, Barry, and I went to the public school. My class consisted of 12 students who came from different backgrounds. Joel Levinson went on to fame as a director on Broadway. I’ll never forget the day we were standing in line for 8th grade graduation and he said, “Ya know Barbara you’re not going to get along with the boys in high school.
They don’t like flat chested girls.” I hated him after that.
Tony and Stephan Martin used to come over after dinner during the summer with their guitars. We sang folk songs for hours: Pete Seeger and Woody Guthrie were our favorites.
Some nights we all ran around collecting fireflies in jars. We lived near the pine barrens and the wildflowers, strawberries, skunk plants and ferns were plentiful and glorious during the summer. We built huts out of dried out pine branches and played hide and seek.
My mother and father struggled. It seemed like all my friend’s families were struggling then so there were no “rich” kids. We had one phone in the house. When it rang we all scrambled to answer it! My father taught us how to plant a garden and, of course, I’ve been an enthusiast ever since. My mother was not a happy person. She would be labeled bipolar today. We never knew what we would find when we got home from school. A sweet lady or a screamer yelling at us to get to work and clean the house!
We used to swim in Lake Etra and every weekend during the summer my parents would take us to the beach. Belmar, Bradley or Asbury Park. The egg salad sandwiches my mother made were delicious
all wrapped in wax paper. Lemonade and pickles topped them off.
Growing up in Roosevelt was a wonderful, idyllic childhood memory. I only wish my children and grandchildren could have known such an innocence.
Barbara and her husband, Ron, moved to Aldea in 2004 from Los Angeles. Barbara was a teen leadership organizer for the State of California and retired from the Los Angeles County Office of Education in 2003. Their decision to move to Santa Fe was their daughter, son-in-law and grandchildren live in Albuquerque – what better reason???
Barbara always loved to paint. Her inspiration was Ben Shahn, who was a neighbor of hers as a child in New Jersey. She began to study painting at the Santa Fe Community College. After several years she decided to become serious and get her degree. In May, 2013 she graduated from the University of New Mexico with her Bachelor of Fine Arts degree. Her passion for painting and now glass sculpting continues at SFCC where she is still a student. She also volunteers as a member of the New Mexico Committee of the National Museum of Women in the Arts and is a Board member of the New Mexico Glass Alliance. This was her first attempt at a